chrisrobinsonpic chrisrobinsonpic

ASK THE EXPERTS: Online vs. Festival

We’re launching a new–and hopefully regular–feature on the Brew today where you ask the questions, and we find the answers. I wanted to kick things off with a question that I’ve been asked repeatedly by animation students and short filmmakers, and about which there seems to be an endless amount of misinformation and confusion.

Here is the question as it was posed to us by filmmaker Eric Bates:

I’m just writing to see if you had any advice in regards to submitting a short animation to festivals versus posting online. I remember the status quo while I was a student at the Emily Carr University of Art in Vancouver, was, of course, to submit to festivals, but I remember a negative view of posting online, as if posting online took away from the credibility of the piece. Times are changing, but I’m still not so certain what is the best way to go. Do you have any views on whether posing online before showing in a festivals may be a good thing or a bad thing? Would posting online first negatively affect acceptance in a festival?

For some opinions, I decided to ask two people who program animation festivals: Chris Robinson, the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Film Festival, and Susie Wilson, the Festival Director of Projector and a member of film selection committees at festivals like Annecy. (Also, see the UPDATE below from Mark Osborne.) Here’s what they had to say:

Dear Eric,
I don’t really see why it has to be an either/or situation. Granted, it’s nice for a festival to have a film that few people have seen because it creates excitement, but it’s really not a huge deal if it’s not a premiere. I certainly don’t punish a film because it’s been screened online. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Amid here at Cartoon Brew posted a couple of films this year that we hadn’t received at the festival. I liked both of them, contacted the filmmaker, and invited the films to be in competition. If those filmmakers only went the festival route I might not have seen their films.

I guess the negative side of posting things online is quality. There’s nothing like sitting in a cinema with a thousand people watching a film on a big screen. People talk about the increased connection you get between artist and audience online, but nothing is more immediate that the reaction you get (or don’t get) in a cinema.

It’s also a bit of a different audience. The bulk of the audience at animation festivals are animation professionals or students. Online screenings can open you up to a slightly different audience.

Short film animators have limited opportunities to get there films out there so take advantage of everything available to you.

No, Web exposure is not high on the list of factors I consider when programming. If a film is absorbing/funny/gorgeous (in short: good) enough, then even if it’s been seen a million times online, I’d still want it in my line up. The viewing experience is so very different from cinema to computer that even if I’m pretty sure my audience has seen it on the Web already, I’d still program it. Also, because it will be quite another film depending on what sits either side of it in the program. It’s definitely the quality of the film and what it contributes that counts, not its previous exposure. (In selection at Annecy last year, it was one of the few things all three of us agreed on!)

What do you the film-maker want for, and from, your film? It’s your answer to this question that will guide you in managing its exposure.

Some initial elements to consider:

Is the volume of viewers important to you? Quality vs. quantity. Yes, the Web might reach more people, but also think about the cinema experience which can be far superior, no matter how hi-res the computer screen or how woof the speakers.

Is your film non-narrative, experimental, abstract? If it’s a difficult piece, festival audiences can be more open. (Ok, not counting the notoriously impatient Grand Salle crowd at Annecy.) However, there can be more cohesion in groupings of films online, and the viewer can make up their own private festival. But wait, they can also stop watching it if it’s not satisfying them whereas in a cinema situation, they’d have to sit through the whole damn frustrating prickly amazing piece!

Think a year ahead when you’re planning on where to send your film and read the requirements of what you consider to be the most significant festivals in the upcoming twelve months. If they demand virgin births or non-line pedigrees, and it’s an event that will introduce you to what you consider to be an important audience, abide by their rules.

The clearer you are about where you want your film to go, the easier it will be for you to navigate all the festival and Web opportunities out there. Sit down, think about the ultimate destination, then chart your course. It’s your film, it’s your call.

A closing thought from myself: the trend clearly favors filmmakers nowadays, and most festivals don’t require filmmakers to keep their films off-line. Whenever somebody poses this question to me on the Brew, I always encourage artists to post their films online. The benefits of having your film on the Internet far outweigh the potential (and increasingly unlikely) exclusion from a handful of film festivals. (On a sidenote, the administrators of animation schools that require their students to keep their animation off the Internet should be slapped. They are performing a disservice to their students at a crucial time when these young filmmakers are trying to make a name for themselves.)

Even festivals that require films to be offline, like Sundance, are not enforcing their rules strictly. Last year, Sundance selected a number of shorts that had already debuted online. One of those, From Burger It Came, was a film that was available on Cartoon Brew TV, and at the request of the filmmaker, we removed the film for the period of the festival to comply with Sundance’s rules. However, another short film in Sundance competition, which was already an online hit, remained online throughout the festival without any repercussions.

UPDATE: Director Mark Osborne wrote to say that if you’re trying to get an Oscar nomination, then posting the film online is a bad idea. Mark says:

In regards to the issue of posting films online, please, PLEASE point out that if any one posts their film online they may DISQUALIFY themselves for Academy Award consideration. This is a very tricky issue and the Academy has made it very clear that it wants to honor theatrical production and so they are holding firm to the notion that if a film is on TV or online before it is in theaters it is not a theatrical production. (Article III-b of the Academy rules states: A short film may not be exhibited publicly anywhere in any nontheatrical form, including but not limited to broadcast and cable television, home video, and Internet transmission, until after its Los Angeles theatrical release, or after receiving its festival or Student Academy Award. Excerpts of the film totaling no more than ten percent of its running time are exempted from this rule.) I suspect this rule is why some schools don’t allow posting of films online, which is totally understandable considering this rule. And this is not to say that every film is an Academy contender, but I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.