Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scamdance 2010 - Beware of Bogus Film Festivals!

Ok, so indie filmmakers these days are just finding out if Sundance and Berlin and SXSW film festivals accepted or rejected their films- and for those who unfortunately get rejection letters, it is time to move down to Plan B (or C or D or X) and apply to other lower-profile film festivals in order to get their film screened and reviewed.

We all know that while it is everyone’s strategy to apply to multiple film festivals to increase the chances of getting in. But each new submission costs between $25-$60, plus copies of the film and promo materials. That can be a real ouch as it is- even more so when they go to waste on film festivals that turn out to be scams.

What are scam film festivals? Basically a ploy set up by a con artist who puts out a website and maybe some ads about “Whatever Film Festival” in Bumble-nowhere, Iowa. The small, new film festival is set up only to profit from those ever-present submission fees, when actually no films are watched, reviewed or screened. In other words, there is no actual festival. It is a scam.

These scammers prey mostly on indie filmmakers who are new to the whole film fest thing and who desperately want a chance to have their film, their sweat and blood and money, screened to a live audience on a big screen and hear them ooh and aah. The best way to AVOID them is to be prepared, know what to look for and research. Yes, research.

First off, look for red flags.

· New Festivals- New festivals can be a great backup if you are rejected by the Big Boys like Cannes and Toronto. However, take a close look at their website. Check things like, festivals from previous years, ads, reviews or press materials from previous years. Were there any actual events? In this article, its mentioned how the Alaska Film Festival website mentioned that they had a been around for years but had no mention of films previously screened. Upon closer look at the fine print, it said that movies were never actually screened to a public audience. What kind of film festival is that?

· High $ubmission fees- especially it is from a relatively unknown festival. Really it is only the top tier festivals that can get away with fees above $30. And even then, Sundance only charges $35 and is one of the biggest out there. So if Scamdance in Ohio is asking for a $70 fee, make sure to raise an eyebrow.

· Who the Check is Written to- Film festivals are organizations, so submission fees should usually be requested payable to the organization, not to an individual within the organization. If it is, do some more research.

There are many ways that you can further inspect suspicious festivals. Again, research. For example, Google the festival. Sometimes something as simple as that will bring up forums where victims of previous scams report their experiences. If the festival is legit, then there should be some old news, reviews or blurbs about it in local newsprint.

If you’re still not convinced, look up the local film commission for Bumble-nowhere, Iowa and ask. They definitely should be able to tell you if they have heard good things of the festival (or have heard of it at all).

Another thing is the way you find out about film festivals in the first place. As a filmmaker you should probably be at least skimming film periodicals every once in a while to keep yourself up to speed on the industry you want to be working in. These types of publications will have news, blurbs and updates on legit film festivals.

Withoutabox.com Have you heard of them? Shame on you if you hadn’t. This great little website has streamlined the film festival application process and provided a way to research and catalog and keep track of film festivals. You can be assured that festivals on that website will be legit and your application process will be that much easier. Check them out!

All in all have common sense and dig a bit deeper when you smell something iffy. And remember, you should bee keeping yourself informed regardless, so a lot of these tips should just be extensions of stuff you already do. So good luck with your submissions!