Film festival promotion
December 15, 2010 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I need suggestions on how to promote a first-time film festival, and input on how important Withoutabox is.

An organization I work with is launching a film festival for short films about food, farms, food systems and agriculture. Questions:

1. How critical is it to have an upgraded, paid account so we can not only do a basic listing on Withoutabox but allow Withoutabox entries, film uploads, etc.

2. How well does Withoutabox's system work in promoting film festivals — do filmmakers pay attention to their email blasts; do they check their account often to find new contests to submit to, etc.?

3. Anyone have experience starting film festival with or without using Withoutabox, and any tips from your experience?

4. Apart from Withoutabox, what are the best ways to reach filmmakers who may be interested in submitting films?
posted by beagle to Media & Arts (1 answer total)
I asked my boyfriend to answer your questions and he wrote you THIS!
Hi beagle,

I’m a programmer for a fairly well-known film festival and know a lot about the ways in which filmmakers find out about festivals and make decisions about where to submit. Your specialization sounds like it will make for an interesting event, and I know there is a lot of content out there that audiences will really connect with--if you can track it down. I’ll take the questions one by one…

1)For a mainstream, general audience film festival withoutabox has become pretty critical in facilitating and driving submissions, both because it automates the process of submitting the tedious film info paperwork for filmmakers and maybe more importantly because it makes it easier for festivals to accept credit cards without having to set up an online store or involve a service like paypal. However even with an average submission fee of, say, $20 per film (which is still pretty reasonable), simply using withoutabox isn’t going to change your festival from a beg, borrow, and steal affair into a lucrative enterprise…we’ve been around for over a decade now and even now at our peak we’re still lucky to get 400 submissions through their system, and after withoutabox subtracts their commission we end up with well less than $10,000. For a first-time festival I’d expect those numbers to be more in the 50-100 range, and for a festival as specialized as yours even less (10? 20?), so maybe $500 max I’m guessing depending on what your fee is, if you even plan on asking for one. You might not even want to ask for a fee in order to up the amount of films you get submitted. I think in this instance the process of setting up the paid withoutabox account will end up being more trouble than its worth considering the limited amount of entries/submission fees you stand to get.

2)I also happen to be a working filmmaker and a frequent submitter, so I’m also a frequent customer of withoutabox as well. I do typically read through the email blasts that they send out and keep track of which “just announced” or “new listing” festivals are on their home page, and my festival has found that paying for the additional email marketing does give a little bump to our bottom line—not a huge increase, but one that makes it worth the while. Of course it’s economies of scale here, though, if the residual “bump” doesn’t add up to the cost of the extra fee, then you’ve lost even more of your nominal entry fees. And again, you’re targeting a pretty thin cross-section of films to begin with, so it’s not going to be worth the cost for you at this stage.

3)I guess I’ll just speak generally here—this really depends on your ultimate goal in founding the festival. If your highest priority is to make it a profitable (or at least self-sustaining) event, then you might want to look at using withoutabox even this early on to increase your revenue and visibility, even if the first year or two you only break even or even lose a little short term. However if your aim is to simply have a memorable and fulfilling shared experience (as I suspect it is), and the marginal revenue from entries isn’t a huge factor to you, then you’ll be fine using other forms of social media and bulletins to get exactly the kind of films you can be happy with.

4)My best advice is to do as much targeted research and outreach to specific films/filmmakers as you can in order to get work that you’re excited about showing and is relevant to your cause, most filmmakers have some sort of internet presence these days and few will turn down a free opportunity to screen their work to a willing audience. Check sites of other film festivals with similar specialties or sidebars with a focus on sustainable agriculture, ecological issues, etc. and ask those filmmakers for screeners of their films, most will be happy to oblige and contribute to your cause. Having a facebook and myspace presence helps a lot (post links to your submission form or requirements there), and posting to free calls for entries sites like and all the local/state arts council bulletins you can find will also help tremendously. Any university with a media studies or broadcasting department usually has a listserv or mass mail that you can ask to be included in as well, so snoop around to the ones that might be in your area at least.

Anyway hope that helps point you in the right direction. Good luck with the event!
posted by birdbone at 7:51 PM on December 16, 2010

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