You are on the festival circuit, you only have so much money to spend (or your country has restrictions and you actually have no way of paying ) but your strategy includes getting into some film festivals. As the head of the Hamilton Film Festival, I completely understand this. We aren't a huge festival but we are growing rapidly and I want to share some tips on requesting a waiver, what it looks like from our side of things, and why you may or may not receive a waiver.
1. It's work.
Our festival has 6 programmers and they are paid to watch, rate, comment and suggest films. Imagine we grant 6 waivers for feature films. That is a full days work. We had around 100 requests and if you do the per-minute math, that is a lot of work. Festivals cost thousands of dollars to run and that includes staff, theatre rentals, printing, advertising, special guest, postage, travel...The smaller festivals are not just raking it in. I can't stress enough how much work goes into the selection process. The festival lasts seven days, watching films takes months.
2. Make it personal.
There is nothing worse than getting an email telling you how important it is that they get into your prestigious festival while you are CC'd with 20 other festivals. Someone who does the research, and reflects that in their request, shows that they likely have a film that would fit the festival. We had a great request this year from someone who knew some specific things about the fest. A little research can go a long way.
3. Let us know what you want to submit.
"I wan't to submit my film but I can't afford the fee. Can I get a waiver?" A message like that tells the programmers nothing and likely gets moved into the trash. The most important information is the length, the genre and a trailer. With those three things, a decision can be made pretty easily.
There are certain countries that have restrictions from making payments online. It is an unfortunate thing and our festival does take these requests seriously as we want everyone to have the same opportunities as the rest of the world. Don't be discouraged if you are not granted a waiver. It could be for many reasons. I will say that some of these films are absolutely incredible and it is a good feeling knowing that we can share their work with our audiences.
5. Paying Customers.
If we have 100 requests, we have 600 paying filmmakers and they do get priority. All our waivers get looked at but they are usually some of the last things we take care of before the final deadline. By the end of the submission process, we've rated some films very highly and you are now competing against them in a jury pool and will be judged a little more harshly.
6. Make notes.
This year I saw the same name, same request, come through about 5 times. We have a form response when someone requests a waiver but they clearly didn't note that we had already responded and they sent the same email on a monthly basis. Please keep a log of who you connect with, and what the response was. A follow up is fine. Five of them is a little much.
7. We're all nobody.
In the indie film world, we are all in the same boat working with similar budgets. Please don't tell us how great you are, how great your team is and how amazing your movie is. Please be realistic, highlight legitimate achievements and believe me, your film tells us everything we need to know and the programmers will decide if it is amazing.
8. Take the discount.
We have often only granted a discount instead of a waiver. This is usually a cue that the festival has exhausted its resources to watch movies and it is offering what it can.
9. We aren't worth it.
You have just finished explaining all the festivals you got into but have now run out of money and need a waiver. Nuff said.
10. It's already out there.
I know exactly how this went down. You made a film and immediately thought the best thing to do was to upload it to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and share it with the world, sat back and waited for the million hits. When that dream didn't turn out so well, you went back to the festivals in search of an audience. Problem here is that everyone who wanted to see it has seen it and the film has lost most of its value. (This also applies to submitters that have paid entry fees) It is true that you could get fresh eyes but there is no way a festival can promote you with your website or filmmaker links because it will direct the audience right to your film before we've had a chance to present it. A venue can cost between $200 - 2000 to rent so empty seats are not an option.
I hope that helps some of you and while our submissions are closed for 2016, next year is just around the corner!
Nathan Fleet operates the 11th Annual Hamilton Film Festival, The Hamilton Film Expo and the Canadian Film Market and is an award winning filmmaker and composer.
Hamilton Film Festival