Interviewee: Rebekah Louisa Smith
Company: The Film Festival Doctor
Job Title: Film Festival Agent
Interview Date: June 2013
Q. Hi Rebekah,
give us a little background on yourself before you became the
Film Festival Doctor? (degree, relevant work experience, interests,
A. I began working as a PA at the age of 17 for
various different organizations, I was also studying for my BA
and MA degrees in Film and Media Studies in Cheltenham during
this time and was more interested in the creative industry than
I was the corporate sector. I then moved to Wales to pursue a
PhD in Film Studies and it was in Wales when I got my first taste
for the festival circuit...
Q. And how
did you first become involved with the film festival circuit?
A. When I moved to Wales almost 6 years ago,
a horror film festival called Abertoir was about to run for its
fist year. I helped the festival director and founder Gaz Bailey
produce it shortly after it launched and the 4 of us Nia, Rhys
myself and Gaz helped it grow to become something much bigger.
The festival is now part of the European Fantastic Film Festivals
Q. When did
you set up The Film Festival Doctor and why?
A. I did a little bit of research during
Abertoir and asked producers what they liked and disliked about
festivals and the general consensus was that they loved attending
festivals for the networking opportunities, getting drunk and
seeing their film play theatrically. However what they disliked
was the administration - they didn't have the time or contacts
to design their festival campaign (let alone manage it) and promote
their film, that was when I realised that there was a business
here and I could do all of this for them as I have a background
as a PA and know the right people!
services do you offer and what is the advantage of using your
services rather than film makers submitting their films themselves?
A. I offer 3 different types of services to film
The advantage is that I have an inside knowledge
of the festival circuit and I can get fees waivered on the clients
behalf by pitching their film to festival programmers directly
as opposed to them having to go through withoutabox.
Q. The Film
Festival Doctor seems to be a very specialised area or are there
many players in the market?
A. No, its very specialist. There are about 2
of us in the UK, 1 in France and 3 in the USA that I'm aware of.
important are contacts on the circuit?
A. Absolutely essential, like all things film
its all about who you know.
You represent both shorts and features, are you selective about
what you take on and what types of films do you look for (genre,
production value, etc)?
A. Yes, I have to be as festivals are constantly
seeking quality product so the films I work with have to be of
a very high standard. It doesn't necessarily need to be made for
millions its more about the overall quality of story, script,
direction and acting. I love working with horror films as I'm
a big fan however I work with any film that's festival viable
- shorts and features, fiction and non-fiction.
Q. Is it
only UK films you represent or international films too?
A. No, international. I have clients in Abu Dhabi,
Canada, USA, Turkey and Australia.
does your fee structure work?
A. The prices vary, I designed 3 packages so
that film makers could afford to work with me depending upon the
size of their budgets. Consultations are £60 for the hour,
the festival strategy design service is £750 and the Festival
Manager service is £1K per month on a renewable 6 month
Q. Are UK
based film makers better off targeting international film festivals
as they will stand out more or sticking with UK festivals where
the content is more familiar?
A. International, as if they can breakout in
America for example with their film they could meet some very
useful contacts for their film and also their long term careers.
Film makers want people to see their films - is it best to submit
their films to as many festivals as possible or instead to target
specific festivals only?
A. Before you do any submissions you need to
devise a festival strategy. You need to figure out what your goals
are for your film (i.e. what do you want to achieve from the festival
circuit) and create your festival submission budgets so that you
don't over spend. Its important to target festivals which will
help 'launch' your film.
Q. How can
film makers increase their chances of being accepted into film
festivals? (e.g. length of film, language, genre, etc)
A. Besides from making a high quality, film length
is important as an overly long self indulgent running time is
not going to get your film selected. Ideal length for a short
is 8-10 mins (15 mins max) and ideal length for a feature is 90
minutes. Of course some shorts can justify being 30 minutes but
the narrative has to be strong.
Describe a typical Film Festival Doctor campaign consist of for
a represented short or feature?
A. That is quite a big question, so I'll give
you a taster! We target the festivals which we would like to launch
the film at and then have a back up plan of other festivals we'd
like to screen at if we don't hit our target ones. We submit to
all of them and then wait to see if we get invited to screen.
Most festivals charge a fee to submit your film, is it always
necessary to pay to get into festivals?
A. No, and you should never pay late deadline
fees as they are very expensive.
Are some of the smaller festivals just money
A. Sometimes, not all though as some are just
starting out and want to grow their brand.
Q. Many of
the larger festivals insist a film to premiere at their festival
or to screen it exclusively – how do you decide which festival
is best in this situation?
A. Do your research - if the festival screen
films which are similar to your film and it is their type of movie
for their audience then defiantly submit it as that will straighten
your chances of getting invited to screen.
Q. How long
is a film’s shelf life on the film festival circuit? For
example if a film is completed in January 2014 how long can it
live on the festival circuit for?
A. A short film's festival life is 18 months
where as a feature films life can be alot shorter especially if
it gets picked up by a sales agent and gets sold to different
territories as distributors control where the film gets screened
and if it can have any festival screenings.
Q. Is it
worth submitting your film into smaller festivals below your films
par just to win awards?
A. Not really as you need strong festival laurels
on your films marketing materials as opposed to festivals which
are on the tier 4 level.
Q. What are
your top 5 festivals in the world to get your film shown at?
A. Apart from the obvious ones (Cannes, Sundance,
Berlin etc) definantly London Short Film Festival, ECU Independent
Film Festival, Doc/Fest, Encounters and British Urban Film Festival
are your top 5 festivals in the world to attend?
A. Cannes, Berlinale, ECU independent Film Festival,
Sitges, Toronto and Karlovy Vary.
festivals have the best parties?
A. Cannes - they are insane and can go on forever!
Does much business gets done at film festivals or is it mainly
visibility and making contacts, and any business gets done once
everyone’s gone home?
A. Lots of business gets done at the festivals
which have markets (Cannes for example), for those which don't
have markets its more a case of making the contacts and exchanging
e-mails upon your return home.
percentage of features get picked up by sales agents and distributors
A. About 20% and that's mainly at the business
Is it naive of film makers to get music rights for festivals only,
in case the film gets picked up and the film maker can be ‘held
to ransom’ to an extent?
A. Yes very naive, the music rights of a film
need to be cleared as part of the production process.
What do you think about 3rd party film submission services such
A. They are useful to a certain extent but you
have to be careful not to overspend. Alot of the festivals on
there are American or Canadian, its important to research the
festival before you submit via Withoutabox.
is changing the film distribution model, as such there is currently
a growing trend for film makers to skip festivals all together
and go straight to YouTube or Vimeo where their films can be seen
sooner and to a wider audience – what’s your view
A. If there is no budget for PR and Marketing
then Vimeo is there for film makers in this position, however
I'd encourage Vimeo to be used when film makers have finished
their festival run as networking is important for film makers
and often this is done at festivals and not via Vimeo.
Q. Can your
film be on Youtube or Vimeo and still be submitted to film festivals?
A. Sometimes - ensure that you check the festivals
rules and regulations before you submit.
Q. How do
you see technology changing film festivals in the future?
A. I don't think it will affect festivals too
much, it could be more of a positive change as DCP is certainly
a stunning screening format for festivals.
Do you see many film festivals going purely online or is the human
element too important that festivals will always exist in the
A. I don't see many festivals going purely on-line
as the human element is what makes a festival what it is.
Thank you Rebekah, we look forward to seeing you
again on the circuit and the films you represent
"If you are a film maker who
requires assistance understanding the film festival sector
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strategy, this e-book is for you.
The cost of the e-book is £15.00
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The first 10 people
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Please mention 'DirectorBase' in your e-mail."
Rebekah's Contact Details:
Contact: Rebekah Louisa Smith
Tel: +44 (0) 7530 953 676
Facebook: Rebekah Louisa Smith