Behind the Camera with Bill Johns: Buyer Beware
Tales of woe -- film festivals costly, often ineffective marketing vehicles

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Filmmaker Bill Johns, usually behind the camera, finds himself behind the eight-ball when he enters one of his films in various film festivals. Ride along with Bill as he uncovers the naked truth about film festivals, many of which aren't exactly what they say they are.

This article has been a long time in writing. At first I thought, "I don't want to write this, because it'll make me look like a fool", but then I thought, "Bill, you're already a fool, whether you look like one or not." After that I thought, "You also talk to yourself too much."

In a previous article, I touted the fact that I won Best Action Short Film at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival in Las Vegas and although that's true, it's only the ignorant who would be impressed by that. My experience with the festival that boasts three festival locations and their own quarterly film magazine, was anything but "toutable".

At the outset, there is a $300 fee to enter, (I know, I know, even Berlinale is only $185) and even though that seemed very high, they were the only ones who promised a complete refund if my film was not accepted. (now every once in a while I'll get creative, but it should be obvious what is fact and what is imagined) I IMAGINE now that their selection committee sat around with the evaluation form and the only question on the form was, " Did the check clear? [ ] yes, [ ] no."

Anyway, big surprise, I was accepted for the Las Vegas Festival. The hook was hanging in my mouth, beginning to tear the flesh a little, when the phone rang and I was offered a spot in both their Los Angeles and New York Festivals! My film was THAT good!… for another $450. These promised to be much bigger fests, with greater draw, more advertising and in the heart of the filmmaking centers, how could I say no. I spoke with my investor, and we decided that, even if I had to drag my own audience there, and beat the streets every day to make contacts, I'd be much further ahead than emailing my life away. We said "Okay" and sent the check.
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Then they happen to mention that they're having an Opening Night Gala and that for an additional thousand bucks we could rent a booth and show trailers and pass out flyers for our film. I said no thanks and was glad, because it turned out to be tables at a nightclub and pretty much unattended by any producers or distributors. Although there were a couple of "producers" who seemed very interested in my Leading Lady, a wonderful actress, who was all of 16 at the time. I IMAGINED by their appearance and the appearance of the ladies they had in tow, that they produced films of questionable merit…

After this fest my eyes were pretty wide open, and I debated even going to the LA and NY fests, however my investor felt that it would be worth it to promote the film and try and make good contacts that might blossom into distribution. We also decided to fork over two grand for maximum exposure at the fests. This included a booth at each fest's opening night gala and film market; our trailer running on closed circuit monitors throughout the party venue; a picture on the official poster and program schedule; and an article in the upcoming Independent Film Quarterly magazine which promised to be in circulation before the New York Fest.

When the schedule was posted it turned out my film was slated for ten days after the opening night party, so I flew to LA and had to stay in a hostel for $18 per night, and ride the city buses everywhere to save money. Anyway, when the 'gala' was about to start, they were in a bit of a panic because the festival posters hadn't arrived from the printer and I thought, "The festival starts tomorrow… and they are just now getting the posters." They did almost nothing to promote the festival in advance! I IMAGINED all promotion must be our job too, and I know for a fact that in Las Vegas we hand-delivered clips and info on our film and the festival to every TV station in town and only one of the five we visited had even heard of the fest.

Well, I was going to be there for ten days so I decided to try and hit as many distributors and production companies as I could, but after about ten, "Is it a feature?" questions and then hearing, "Sorry can't help you," I decided to go to the theater and watch a lot of the films. Hey, I had a free pass and with no money it was about all I could do.

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