Bad Film Festival Screenings

by FilmCrewe

I’m working on a larger post with some of the film festival tips I’ve learned from FAR‘s two year plus run. In the meantime, I thought I’d address something I hear filmmakers complain about all the time: bad festival screenings.

Bad screenings do happen and nothing is worse than being at the center of one. Your short can be placed in a block of low quality films or an overly long shorts block that places your work in a bad / unintended context. The technical presentation can go horribly wrong. I once had a film with a 5.1 sound mix and the festival turned off the rear channel by mistake. We had key dialog being spoken by characters in the rear speakers, so part of the story got totally lost. Lesson: be sure to do a tech check of your film with the festival staff before the audience goes into the theater.

All that said, I’m here to tell you, as bad as it can get and as painful as it can be to sit through, there is no such thing as a 100% bad screening. There is always something positive to be pulled from an event.

It’s important to understand, I’m a film presentation snob. I always push to see films under the best circumstances possible. Doesn’t matter if it’s my own film at a festival, a new theatrical release on Friday night, or a Blu-ray Disc I bought on Amazon. If I had my way, my films would only be shown off a Digital Cinema Pack (DCP) print in a professionally calibrated theater, like FAR recently was at LA’s Chinese Theaters for the HollyShorts Film Festival.

However, if I stuck to that mantra, my films would almost never be shown and I wouldn’t find an audience. So, as a filmmaker in need of viewers, I very often compromise.

Still, you will understand my horror when FAR played a small Sci-Fi con at a hotel. I walked into the ‘screening room’ and was appalled to find the facility was a conference room with a couple computer speakers, a $200 projector, and a screen that was one step up from a bed sheet. I kid you not. I had friends there who would have been seeing FAR for the first time and I told them to go wait in the lobby. That’s right, I kicked them out! I was not going to let this be their first impression of my work. I almost bolted myself, but decided I should be responsible and stick around to do the Q&A. I’m a professional.

Once the film started, little happened to improve the situation. The doors to the room were left open for the entire 23 minute run time and people walked in and moved around constantly. A popcorn machine was running behind the audience, popping non-stop. At one point someone distractingly entered with a dog! Basically, it was my worst nightmare.

I had plastered the convention with $5 11×14 posters to promote the film, which had drawn people in and the room was full by the end of the show. Bottling my presentation frustrations, I went up to do the Q&A. To my surprise, I proceeded to have the most lively, fun and engaging question and answer session of FAR‘s entire festival run.

This audience loved the film, I mean they loved it! They wanted to dissect it down to every last detail. I even got to listen as they outlined a sequel, independent of my input, in fact hysterically ignoring it. It was awesome!

After the Q&A I went to the lobby to meet up with the friends I had kicked out. There, I unexpectedly heard the opening music of my film coming from the still open doors of the screening room. Sure enough, that wonderful and enthusiastic Sci-Fi Con audience had decided to watch FAR a second time.

While we filmmakers should always push for the best technical presentation of our films, our work can transcend whatever venue or conditions we find ourselves in and connect with an audience. Connecting with an audience is really what it’s all about. It’s up to us as filmmakers to find that positive take away from a festival. Even if it’s just the laurel you put on your poster to promote your film’s next screening.

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