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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.

  • The only aspect that hasn’t been addressed is money. If you intend to sell your film, giving it away for free is not going to get buyers to want it. This is why you see so few of Bill Plympton’s films, for example, on line. I might suggest that if you really want to put it on line you do it for a limited time, then pull it back so its cash value doesn’t go dowd framatically.

    However, there’s always the SIMON’S CAT films which show just the opposite. A great film – or series of films – is always valuable.

  • Something important that wasn’t covered here is the factor of the Academy Awards. Their rules state that your film must premiere in LA and NY before being available online, on TV, etc. So if you think you have a film that has a chance there, you may want to wait until you clear that bar.

  • I have always preferred public screenings no matter what the size of the venue.

    I have had buildings literally shake from the sound of 1,000 people laughing themselves silly for half an hour solid while watching the last half of a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film.

    Because audiences are composed of so many different people gags that I miss are picked up by others and vice versa.

    One of the main reasons I continue my in-house programs at The Cineforum is that I love the sound of hearing people laugh.

  • compn

    as a fan of animation, in the past it would take me YEARS to see some of the short films because they were released only in theatrical festivals. most of which were outside of my travelling budget.

    there are still short films that i’ve read about in festival advertisements which i havent seen and cannot find online.

    even when the festival home video version is available for sale, like with Spike and Mike’s, most of the shorts shown in theaters are not on the home video because of distribution rights.

    There are still shorts from anthology shows like mtv ‘liquid television’ , mtv ‘cartoon sushi’, scifi ‘exposure’, techtv ‘eye drops’ and others which arent available online, on tv or in stores.

    if you are worried about online views hurting your chances of being picked up as a pilot tv/movie/festival pick, keep it offline. but after the festival is over, or the pilot pitch has expired or the movie deal bottoms out, please post it online so we can enjoy your film.

  • Interesting reading. It’s an issue I’m constantly looking for clues about. Fortunately our film has some way to go before we have to decide for sure, but I am more and more of the opinion as time passes that it’s foolish to withhold great work from the internet for anything other than financial reasons… and since short animated films have little to no chance of making money they may as well stand as good online calling cards for the artists that created them.

  • Awesome little feature, guys. And definitely a good question to field first. Hope there’s more good question answering in the future!

  • The only aspect that hasn’t been addressed is money. If you intend to sell your film, giving it away for free is not going to get buyers to want it
    Yes it is. (or rather, it can.) Worked for M dot Strange for example, he releasesd his feature We are the Strange on youtube in its entirety and also torrented a HD high quality copy, and sold enough copies of the self-published DVD to fund his next film.

  • Bill Kroyer

    To further clarify the ACADEMY AWARD qualification:

    If you want your film to be eligible for consideration you may not exhibit it in its entirety on-line OR IN ANY NON-THEATRICAL VENUE (including cable and TV) until AFTER you have met the requirements for qualifying.

    In brief, those requirements are:

    1. Screening it in a publicly exhibited PAID ADMISSION theater in L.A. County for at least three consecutive days with at least two screenings a day (NOTE: New York exhibition is not considered);

    2. Winning Best-in-Category Award in an Academy-approved festival;

    3. Winning the student Academy Awards.

    You may preview NOT MORE than 10% of your film on-line before qualification.

    You can find all the rules at:

  • Michael is right, the question is really money vs exposure. The Animation Show would license shorts that had screened online if we loved the work but as a short becomes over exposed online it certainly looses its luster. The trend towards rushing your film online robs filmmakers of potential licensing opportunities. If you have a great deal of content you can sustain a youtube channel but for most short film filmmakers this isn’t the case. Explore your options before you give your work away.

  • Some of what I’m reading above conflicts entirely with what I have actually seen in reality. I have visited the sites of many film festivals, both minor and major, where they very clearly state that films shown on the internet will not be accepted. Period. In fact, the situation is so outmoded and so completely archaic that I would under no circumstances whatsoever, enter a film into a festival anywhere.

    There is no film festival. Only online. I reject all ‘crowd reaction in a theater’ arguments. That argument made sense in 1917. Festivals are for hand-shaking and eating lunch. Films go online.

  • Animation’s an “art” medium. And whatever art people make, they have they’re own reasons and/or intentions for displaying it.

    Some want to make money, some want to simply show to friends, some may want to have it made into a series or get hired by a certain company(*aka – money)

    In the end, i think both venues have their pros and cons. Great discussion though.

  • good work brew, i like this new feature.

  • pizzaforeveryone

    Many of these films end up online anyway, regardless of whether the filmmaker puts them there. This makes for another tough call–should the filmmaker preemptively release a film online, and thereby benefit from possible exposure? Or keep the film offline, and risk having other pirated copies go up?

    The later means you’re not in control of the quality or the arena your film is uploaded in, and in some cases, won’t get the deserved credit. I would rather put the film online myself or be in a situation where I can easily pull it down if festivals require.

  • chris robinson

    Good point about the Oscars. Ottawa is an Oscar-approved festival so if a film does win a first prize (it has to be on the independent short side, not commissioned films) in a category or the short film grand prize than it is qualified for the Oscars.

  • on programing films that have already appeared online:

    Remember when the Animation Show 4’s program was announced, and many Brew commenters complained that the program was weak because some of the films were already available online ?

  • I highly approve of this new feature. And I’m really glad you chose to address this first. As someone currently working on a film with the intent to submit to festivals (including Ottawa) I’ve been unsure about the best way to share my film.
    I’ve been considering this work-around to the Oscar ruling. Vimeo allows you to post a video but lock it with a password, so only those who have the password can view it. So is this now a privet exhibition or still public?

  • David Essman,

    Exactly. Good point. They were already online. Delete the festivals. Keep YouTube.

    If you’re going to release a film, then release it. The money doesn’t come from selling the film as far as I can tell. The money is elsewhere. Let the film out into the wild and what happens to it simply does.

    My other big big gripe with film festivals, animated or otherwise, is when they zap you in the final submission step with some format requirement that is straight out of 1989. As far as I’m concerned, any festival that puts a physical mailing address online is completely out consideration because they seem to expect some sort of a package to arrive with a film in it. Bizarre.

  • Animal Party

    Not sure that animation fest directors are the most qualified to answer these here. I am also not sure animation festivals are the best forum for animation.
    I work in acquisition and distribution, and I was more excited by animated films in the non-animation festivals last year, primarily because most other film festivals do not include stuff from the tv networks as part of their program. When I go to an animation fest lately, their is always a ton of stuff from TV.
    Seems like recently Ottawa and other animation fests have struggled to stay relevant in the independent film world (internet, economy, being huge issues for them I guess?).
    The result is situations like last year at Ottawa where there was a lot of the yo gabba gabba stuff…there is sort of already a major forum for that content and it is readily available in great quality on the tube, provided you have a decent tv.
    Anyway, myself and my peers are looking to fests outside of animation for the time-being until animation festivals get current. I know it is a struggle to stay relevant, but seems to me maybe Ottawa, Annecy, and Hiroshima could do well to appoint some younger, more in-touch people, instead of always the same old figure-heads that are regrettably not with it. Just my two cents :)

  • You can either

    ~ pay a hefty entree fee and pay to burn a dvd (or buy a dvd burner) and pay to mail it to a faraway place to a festival and make no money


    ~ pay nothing. stick it on a media site. make no money

    decisions, decisions

  • We’ve have great success with our, The Cat Piano (in part by some postings here on Cartoon Brew), by putting it into festivals AND online. And we’ve been offered distribution too.

    We did have to be mindful of the timing of when we made the film publicly available online. There are festivals that insist on getting premieres and that the film isn’t shown online (eg, Academy Award regulations require that the film does not screen online before its US premiere).

    We made Cat Piano available online about 6 months after it first screened. By then it had won 3 awards (2 Oscar accredited) and had gotten into Annecy and a few other festivals. We get invited to festivals (as Chris talked about) when people recommended the film.

    It also helped that Cartoon Brew featured out film – We consider any exposure of our work on Cartoon Brew to be as significant in getting it out there as getting it into a festival.

    We want our films to be seen by people who are passionate about animation, and in the modern era, Cartoon Brew has got to be somewhere on the top of that list.

    Since our film featured on Cartoon Brew, the flow on effects have seen our film get close to 200,000 views and counting. compare that to the attendence numbers on – it’s nearly twice as many people who attended Annecy!

    i think to get the best out of your film, you need a bit of both – Festivals, and online. Online might give you wide reach, but it’s the die-hard animation junkies that are going to tell people to watch your film when they see their friends, when they go online etc. The Cat Piano wouldn’t have had so many people watch it if it weren’t for both festivals and online.

    Putting your film online also tells you a lot of handy stuff about your film. youtube tells you; who’s spreading your film around and where; how old the people watching your film are; at which points in the film they are interested, and when they drop off; how many people are “virally” spreading the film through email and IM.

    Lastly, i think people putting films up online makes animation better. When I was growing up in high school with the other co-founders of my studio in a small city in Australia, our only exposure to international animation was when we got the touring highlights from the Brisbane International Animation Festival. Maybe once a year if we were lucky.

    Nowadays, people can see the works of guys like Pez, Hertzfeldt, Svankmajer etc all online. It means the people who go on to make animation are brought up on better animation diets. it means the people that go on to pay and go see animation are more animation literate, and more willing to accept that animated features can be like Mary and Max, Persepolis, Waltz with Bashi instead of just 100M+ blockbusters.

    Respect the festivals and their requirements for premieres etc. But when you can, put it online. Festivals, online and distribution doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive (even though it’s online we still get asked by people who have streamed the film when it will be available on DVD). Besides, unless you’re Bill Plympton, you’re unlikely to make any real money out of your shorts. And when you put it online, know that you’re making animation better for everyone.

  • vzk

    How was “The Chicken from Outer Space” nominated for an Oscar if it was a TV pilot from (then) Cartoon Network?

  • chris robinson

    Animal Party:

    Most of the Ottawa audiences (hell, same with Annecy and Hiroshima, Holland, Fantoche, Bradford, Stuttgart) are young, independent/student animators. We have one of the youngest festivals in the animation circuit (something routinely mentioned by the vet animators).

    Given that we’ve broken entry records every year since 1992 and continually have a strong attendance records, I just don’t get your comments. We have no problem maintaining relevance to indies.

    If anything, festivals struggle (and this is because of money) to find some way of attracting industry without sacrificing indie work–and let’s face it, industry people WANT indie work…that’s where they find new talent, new work… new ideas to steal).

    As for Yo Gabba… I sought Yo Gabba Gabba out. Their short animations were among the best kid’s work out there last year. It’s a great kids show that few people in Canada knew about at the time. We also edited the shows and showed on the animation—shorts that were created by a variety of independent animators. Sure the show is readily available now and has a lot of attention, but we were celebrating the shorts, pulling them from the TV context and highlighting their accomplishments as indie short films. Gabba has an indie spirit and you don’t come across shows like that often in the mainstream. That’s work that needs to be celebrate for what it achieved.

    Also…to Zekey: most animation festivals (at least outside of the U.S of A) do not charge entry fees. Ottawa never has, never will.

  • Great topic to do an article on! Thank you.

  • Animal Party

    Chris Robinson,
    Having a lot of entries has nothing to do with relevance, does it? I mean, doesn’t “record number of entries” just reflect that it is becoming easier and easier for people to make animation, and not necessarily indicate that your festival is relevant?

    The argument is not whether or not Yo Gabba Gabba is good (it’s great!) nor whether or not you caught onto it later in Canada; the argument is do we need to see stuff from network television at an animation festival?

    Do you see episodes of The Office at Tribeca?

    Personally, it drives me nuts being at animation festivals that show the same batch of films over and over and mine stuff from TV and commercials. There is so much stuff at Ottawa this year that has done the rounds that I am definitely ducking out and saving my travel stipend for Sundance. I have found that the animated categories at “live-action” festivals and the internet are better resources working in development and distribution. This may be personal taste, but it has done us well.

  • amid

    Animal Party: Would you mind giving a few examples of animated films you’ve seen at live-actionn festivals that trump those you’ve seen at Ottawa and animation-specific festivals. I’d like to understand specifically what you mean when you say animation festivals don’t show the type of animation you need to see for your job.

  • Thanks for posting Amid & commentators, this is highly informative

    What if a film is sold on iTunes? is that a different story than youtube or any other free website?

  • One more point, and i forget who I’m referring to that said that festivals require outdated formats to view and lots of mail correspondence to make it work, but I’m a filmmaker who’s been applying to a ton of festivals lately, and I’m happy to see that some festivals are starting to bypass needing tapes/DVDs. I’ve applied to festivals by just providing a link to the animation online (whether it be public or private), and many festivals even prefer that you upload the final screening version to an FTP or send a hard drive in if it’s uncompressed HD and is too big. I know Ottawa is one of those with an FTP, and I just wanted to say that I appreciate that they are making the step into newer technology and making it easier to get your work shown.

    Online + festivals has worked great for me so far, though I do wish I had talked to Mike Rauch a bit earlier to learn about the Academy rules so I could get an LA screening secured. Well that will be in mind for the next film!

    Great article by the way.

  • Fascinating topic!! It’s great to hear from Chris and Hugh. Great new feature, Amid!! :)

    Personally speaking, I know when I’m looking for films for ASIFA-Atlanta’s Animation Attack! festival (only in existence for three years), online is where I first go, since we don’t get many submissions yet. This is where I saw “MUTO”, Aaron Augenblick’s “Golden Age”, “The Astronomer’s Dream”…

    I got a few films from seeing them at Annecy (thanks Rauch Bros. and Signe Baumane!!), but the ones I found online outnumbered those.

    I think “MUTO” is an interesting case- does anyone know if it went to festivals before it was posted online and spread everywhere?

    I’m also really glad to hear festivals are accepting submissions via ftp We’re using FTP this year to do our exchange for International Animation Day- it saves on postage and reduces (for me at least) the chance of losing something!