As a filmmaker, you’re probably wondering what’s the best format you’ll need to submit your film to festivals on. What are most festivals accepting today, and what formats are they projecting? It’s important to know what deliverables you’ll need for your festival strategy, understanding that every festival is different, so you can budget for them. I talked with Doug Jones, Associate Director of Programming at The Los Angeles Film Festival, which is in full swing this week, about trends he’s seeing from this year’s submissions.
Let’s start with the obvious question, how many entries did the Los Angeles Film Festival receive this year?
It was right around 5,300, and that’s everything — feature films, short films, and music videos.
What preview formats are filmmakers generally submitting?
It’s still primarily DVD, and it looked for a while like Blu-Ray was going to take off. But this year, online screeners are definitely the next big thing, maybe even leap-frogging over Blu-Ray and going straight to online. It’s a familiar pattern from when VHS switched over to DVD — when it happened, it happened very quickly.
Does the filmmaker provide a link, or do you have a protected upload area?
There’s a few systems out there, and it varies festival to festival. For us at LAFF, we work from a link a filmmaker would send us, whether it’s a password-protected Vimeo link, or some other private site they have set up for streaming.
How do you feel about watching something on a computer, how is the quality?
The quality definitely varies from film to film depending on who you’re dealing with or what site you’re on. I’ve see things that recall the VHS era, and then I’ve seen things that look great. I think the biggest problem to adjust to, in terms of the selection process, is management. It’s easy to keep track of a DVD and who’s hands it’s in at any given moment. It’s more complicated to keep track of who’s seen what link and what the current password is. When it becomes intangible, it adds another layer of management to it.
What has been the quality of the images, in terms of the overall submissions?
Majority of the films we’re looking at, especially American independent productions are shot digitally on one format or another. And even when we screen them at the festival, they’re remaining digital as well, not a lot of independent productions are bumping up to 35mm until they have distribution in place. In terms of quality, we see films in all stages of their development and production, so a lot of times we are looking at something that is a rough edit, or it hasn’t been color corrected, or still has scratch tracks on the sound mix. Then, you see films that are complete, or are 95% done. So we’re used to seeing things that may not look quite as “pretty” as they will eventually. That’s part of a festival programmers skill set, to be able to look at things and evaluate what’s in front of you and also be able to project what this might be at the end of the process.
Filmmakers are always conflicted about whether or not to send in a work in progress. Sometimes they feel like it could get tainted if it’s really not finished, and ruin their chance. Do you have any words of advice?
It can be a tricky thing. The most vital thing that can really affect that, is sound quality, much less than image quality. With an image, you can extrapolate what it will look like eventually. With sound, if you can’t understand what you’re hearing, that’s a big variable that’s hard to get past. It doesn’t have to be the final mix, or final soundtrack, but the mix needs to be clean enough so that you can hear it and understand it. In terms of a rough edit versus a fine edit versus waiting for the final cut, I always tell filmmakers that they need to be comfortable with where the film is at, and releasing it into the world for people to see. If you know you’re going to tighten up the third act, or add a scene where character one meets character two and they talk about this and that — it’s always fine to talk with the programmers at the festival that you’re working with, and include notes, add inter-titles with information about what’s not there yet or what’s to come. Any little information that a programmer at a festival can have, as there looking at films and evaluating things, is invaluable.
At the same time, you don’t want to deluge the festival with one version after another version after another as your editing progresses. There’s never anything wrong with calling and saying you have a new edit and the one you have is too old, and ask if they are able to swap them out? Depending where in the process a festival is at, that’s no problem at all. But sometimes it doesn’t make sense because the people that already watched it aren’t going to be able to go back and watch the new version. But it never hurts to call and make that ask — once. You don’t want to do that six times.
There are a lot of considerations that need to be taken into account for a filmmakers when submitting a film. I always want the filmmakers to be comfortable with what they’re sharing with other people. So if a filmmaker has a feeling that it’s not quite there, they probably should take that extra week or so to tweak something or tighten something up.
In terms of this year’s line-up, are you projecting any film or is it all completely digital at the Regal?
We’re still definitely doing some film projecting. In Europe, the situation seems to be a lot different. There’s still a lot of films that end up on 35mm. Films we’re showing from Europe, Asia and generally from overseas, still end up on 35mm. This year we’re still getting 35mm prints from distributors, but we’re also getting digital formats from them. DCP is gaining acceptance very quickly, especially from the studios and the major distributors and the more independent distributors — even they’re adapting to DCP very quickly. The screening format for a majority of our independent films is also HDCAM, but some of them are making DCP’s as well. My understanding is the cost is not that great a difference.
As far as film goes, there are still people who shoot film on their short films. There are people who shoot on film and then post digitally. It’s still a choice for filmmakers. There are filmmakers who feel very strongly about the aesthetics of celloid, and they feel like that give them a certain look that matches the story they want to tell.