Last Update: Monday, 20 January, 2014 11:03 PM




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The Film Festival Doctor

Rebekah Louisa Smith
a.k.a The Film Festival Doctor




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, etc)
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 Federation.

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!

Q. What 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 makers:

  1. A Film Festival PR Management Service - which includes the design and implementation of a film festival PR campaign, managing the campaign (submitting films to festivals & pitching the film to festivals directly), fee waivering, promoting and organising film festival screenings & managing the social media campaign.
  2. Creating a Film Festival Strategy - where a film festival strategy is created for the film which is then managed independently by the client.
  3. 1-2-1 Surgeries - 1 hour, 1-2-1 consultations in person or via Skype. Consultations offer bespoke and constructive advice to help the client approach the festival sector correctly and to design an effective campaign for their 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.

Q. How important are contacts on the circuit?
A. Absolutely essential, like all things film its all about who you know.

Q. 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.

Q. How 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 contract.

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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. Are some of the smaller festivals just money making exercises?
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

Q. What are your top 5 festivals in the world to attend?
A. Cannes, Berlinale, ECU independent Film Festival, Sitges, Toronto and Karlovy Vary.

Q. Which festivals have the best parties?
A. Cannes - they are insane and can go on forever!

Q. 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.

Q. What percentage of features get picked up by sales agents and distributors at festivals?
A. About 20% and that's mainly at the business festivals.

Q. 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.

Q. What do you think about 3rd party film submission services such as Withoutabox?
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.

Q. Technology 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 on this?
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.

Q. Do you see many film festivals going purely online or is the human element too important that festivals will always exist in the physical world?
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


The Film Festival Doctor


Film Festival Exposure E-Book

Rebecca says:

"If you are a film maker who requires assistance understanding the film festival sector and designing, implementing and managing your film festival strategy, this e-book is for you.

The cost of the e-book is £15.00 and can be purchased here

The first 10 people to who contact Rebekah directly about it via DirectorBase will recieve it for £10.00. Please mention 'DirectorBase' in your e-mail."


Rebekah's Contact Details:
Contact: Rebekah Louisa Smith
Tel: +44 (0) 7530 953 676
Twitter: @FilmFestDoctor
Facebook: Rebekah Louisa Smith





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