All this month, we will be sharing advice geared toward filmmakers heading to the festivals in Park City in January. Notorious for brisk weather and brisk sales, the festivals offer unparalleled access to close to 1000 members of the press as well as film buyers looking for the next big acquisition. Preparation is key as is an alternative plan in case that big sales opportunity doesn’t present itself. Today’s post will examine the outcome of documentary jury winner from Slamdance 2013, Nicole Teeny’s Bible Quiz.
SC: Did you go into the festival with sales representation or a publicist? What kind of press coverage resulted from Slamdance? From the rest of the festival run?
NT: “Most features and a handful of shorts that went into Slamdance had a publicist. It was too expensive for me so I did my own publicity. It ended up being a lot of work juggling the premiere and press, but I enjoyed the process and learned more about my audience. I was also happy with the range of publications that covered BIBLE QUIZ.
We were lucky that my feature documentary BIBLE QUIZ struck a chord with and intrigued a lot of people. We’ve received reviews and articles in Hollywood Reporter, the BBC, The Christian Post, IndieWire, San Francisco Guardian amongst others which can be seen here: www.biblequizmovie.com/press.
When we initially heard BIBLE QUIZ was selected to screen at Slamdance, I got varied advice whether it was necessary to have a sales agent, and if so, whether to wait until after the screening to sign with someone. Since this was my first film and I was learning, I ultimately decided having a sales partner would be helpful to me. I have been working with Steven Beer for domestic distribution and he’s been fantastic. He is also an entertainment lawyer so that works out well when it comes to contracts. I think that if a filmmaker decides to go with an agent, they should try to do so before their premiere.
For international sales, everyone I have talked to says you must have an international sales agent. I’ve been working with Forward Entertainment and they have been great.”
SC: What happened after Bible Quiz won the jury prize at Slamdance? Did distribution offers materialize? What lead to continuing on the circuit?
NT: “It’s hard to say exactly what caused what, but it’s a fair guess that screening and winning the jury prize at Slamdance led to a lot of interest in the film. Many distributors asked to see the film, many film reviews happened, and many other film festivals asked me to submit the film to them as well. It was great to have this kind of momentum.
Ultimately, though, each festival and distributor decides for itself whether a film is right for their audience. I think the main reason for success has been that Mikayla’s coming of age and identity story in BIBLE QUIZ is relatable to people of all ages regardless of creed, so the film connects to a lot of people, and as a result, many different festivals have screened the film.”
SC: What marketing assets did you already have in place by Slamdance? Website? Email database? Social media presence? Organizational partners? Or did those start after the festival?
NT: “Prior to screening at Slamdance, I had a website, Facebook page, Twitter account and newsletter list. I’ve found promoting the film comes way before the first film festival.
SC: In continuing to show the film at festivals, what did you learn or gain from the experience?
NT: ”Timing is everything. It’s important to strike when the iron is hot. When you have something newsworthy like partnerships, press, festival acceptance, distribution etc. it’s important to use that leverage to your advantage. For instance, I found it really helpful to use festival acceptance as a way to have a reason to connect with press and get them interested in writing about the film. It’s also great to post news (articles, festivals, awards, etc.) on your film’s social media sites to engage and build your audience.
For documentary filmmakers, whenever possible, I highly recommend bringing the subject of the documentary to screenings. Mikayla,the star of BIBLE QUIZ, was great to have at Q&A’s. We have a good dynamic on stage sharing stories together plus after she endeared the screening audiences, they liked seeing where she is today. On that note, I’ve learned that audiences like to have a personable Q&A. I try to swallow my nervousness, let my personality come through and talk to the audience as though we’re at coffee together and whenever I can, use stories to answer questions.
I also try to do as much of the press before the festival so when I get to the festival I can primarily network and meet other filmmakers. It goes without saying that it’s great to have an audience and share your film. But, one of my other favorite things about festivals is hanging out with other filmmakers, festival staff and industry. Many are inspiring, fun to hang out with and end up becoming friends outside of the circuit.
I also try to see as many other filmmakers’ movies at festivals as I can because it’s important to be supportive and it is a great way connect to what’s happening in film now and find inspiration. Also, I just love movies.”
SC: Did you guide and manager the festival distribution yourself or did you have someone help you?
NT: “I managed the festival circuit mainly by myself although my associate producer, Katheryn Warzak, accompanied me to a of couple festivals. But I feel fortunate to have had many kind people give me great advice. My dear friend and mentor filmmaker, Marco Williams, was my professor at NYU and he guided me during the filmmaking and after the release in understanding which festivals to apply to. (As a side note, I think many film students do not take advantage of getting to know their professors—they are incredible resources and have vast amounts of knowledge and experience).
Festival programmers were also helpful in knowing other festivals that might be good fits for my film. I am particularly grateful to Paul Rachman and Peter Baxter at Slamdance who helped answer questions, gave me great advice and recommendations. Slamdance is truly a film festival for filmmakers and kind of like a big filmmaking family. I could not have asked for a more awesome festival at which to premiere.
Michael Feldman was our MVP when it came to the logistics of finishing the film. He was our online editor, colorist, helped me incorporate tweaks from screenings, make discs and so much more. He and I have co-directed projects together in the past so it was awesome to work with someone I trusted and knew my style.”
SC: Has any revenue been generated on the festival circuit?
NT: “Not really—if you have suggestions I’d love to hear how! I have generated some from various screenings outside the circuit though.”
SC: Has the film had the release you envisioned? Do you feel satisfied with what the screenings have accomplished?
NT: “I had no idea what to expect with the release of the film. A couple of people told me a film’s life doesn’t start until after your premiere. I disagree. I think a film’s life starts the moment a germ of an idea pops into your head, but manifests itself in two phases: The first [phase is creating the story and the second phase is sharing it.
There’s a whole caboodle that goes into getting your film to the audience: press, festivals, awards, distribution, social media/online presence, outreach partners, etc…. Managing it is almost an entirely different skill set. I personally found it thrilling and useful to learn about. The audience is always on my mind when I’m making a movie or writing something and I found this process to be another way to understand how audiences think.
I am very satisfied with where the film is now. We are planning for an early 2014 release and I can’t wait to share the film with an even broader audience. Stories and movies are moving and they connect us to one another. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences to have someone share with you that they felt touched and connected to your characters through film.”
Thanks to Nicole for sharing her film’s journey beyond its Slamdance win and good luck to those attending the upcoming Slamdance Film Festival with their films.