Part II: Film Festival Strategy: Withoutaclue to Withoutabox in 16 Steps

Posted by Mark Stolaroff
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Thanks to all of you who participated in discussing the first installment of Mark Stolaroff's guest post: "Film Festival Strategy: Withoutaclue to Withoutabox in 16 Steps".

Don't forget, Mark's next class, The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking, takes place in Los Angeles on August 4th and 5th from 9:30am to 6:00pm. Stage 32 subscribers are eligible for an additional special discount: 20% off the regular prepaid price. Those signing up before midnight July 21st and receive an additional Early Bird discount. And students with a valid Student ID save even more. You can attend both days or either day individually.

Why take Mark's class? Well, Mark's lessons on how to make a film with little to no budget have launched the career of many a filmmaker, including quite a few right here on Stage 32. Signe Olynyk, a 32 member and recent guest blogger, was a participant in Mark's class before writing and filming Below Zero, her festival darling seen 'round the world.

Mark has been through it all...repeatedly. His expertise is formidable.

My thanks to Mark for offering 32'ers this generous discount and for sharing his knowledge with the Stage 32 community.

Mark is available to ask all your burning questions in the comments section below. Don't be shy. Step up and take advantage. And if you've gained some knowledge from his post, give the "Like" button a click and show your support. Your participation is appreciated!



  1. Be resilient. If it's not already painfully obvious, you have to have thick skin. Perseverance is a very handy quality to have at this stage. I can tell you from experience it hurts to be rejected. And it really hurts to be rejected over and over; they add up and pile on and when there's nothing but bad news, you have to believe in your film, even when seemingly, others don't. Pig, for instance, has been a successful festival film by most measures, but we were rejected by eight festivals before we were accepted into our first, (and some of those programmers I knew personally). And I don't even want to tell you how many festivals in total we've been rejected from. And hear this: No one else will tell you either! Because it's embarrassing and it makes the filmmakers and their films look bad. But know that every film gets rejected from festivals, even films that were accepted into top tier fests get rejected from some smaller fests. And I can pretty much guarantee you that if a film has 50 laurels on it's website and one of them isn't from a top tier festival, then they were rejected from over 100 festivals.
  2. Attend the festivals you get into. My mentor and co-worker Peter Broderick, who founded Next Wave Films and now runs a very successful distribution consulting business says, if your film goes to a festival and you're not there, it's like a tree falling in a forest. Was it really there at all? Everything you gain from playing in a festival, you get from being there, (other than the laurel you put on your website). Realize that many festivals will not be able to pay for you to get there or be able to put you up. This is one reason you'll want to pick fests in cities where friends and family live. So, why do you want to be in a festival in the first place?
  3. Set goals. You need to know why you are playing festivals before you can do any of this stuff. Here are some of the things festivals can give you:
    • Recognition (a stamp of approval)
    • Awards (a bigger stamp of approval)
    • A distribution deal, (really only at the very top festivals like Sundance can you maybe expect this)
    • Press
    • Marketing information, (who likes your film and why; what marketing materials and techniques work, etc.)
    • Investors for your next film, (even small regional festivals are great places to meet rich, potential investors, or in the case of Sundance, agents and production companies)
    • Fun (I think you can imagine the possibilities)
    • Future collaborators, (DP's, writers, actors, etc.)
    • Buzz
    • A community, (more on this in a bit)
    • Intangibles (maybe the most valuable thing to gain from attending a fest is the thing you could never predict). Realize that some festivals are better than others for obtaining different items on this list, so know what's important to you before you decide which festivals to apply to.
  4. Build a community. It goes without saying, I hope, that you already have a website and robust social media pages going before attending any festivals, so you'll want to use festivals to help you build on your existing communities. Besides posting on the festival's wall and tweeting back and forth with the festival and festival goers, work on getting those in attendance to join your Facebook page and follow your film on Twitter. Here are two Million Dollar Ideas:
    • bring clipboards with email sign-in sheets to every festival and pass them out after the screening, while you're doing Q&A. This is the best way to build what will become a very valuable email list. Yes, it seems old school and tedious, but it WORKS! Asking people to go to your website once they get home and join your mailing list does not.
    • hold a Twitter contest to encourage activity about your film on Twitter. We told audiences at our screenings that we were giving away a free DVD of the film to the person who tweeted the "best" tweet about the film in the next 30 minutes, using a prescribed hash tag. People got on their smartphones immediately and started tweeting nice things about Pig, which we later re-tweeted, after following them, and then we sent the one we liked best the DVD. So, it cost us about $2 per screening to generate all those positive tweets. Just be aware that with any social media, you can't control what people might say, so be ready for the occasional negative tweet with your hash tag!
  5. Feed the social media beast. Give your Facebook page something to post. Take plenty of pics at the festivals, and include the programmers and others you meet in the pics, so you can then tag them when you post. Video you shoot of Q&A's can make great DVD extras.
  6. Go with a presence. Even on a small budget, you need to have a presence at the festivals you attend. Go to the parties, meet other filmmakers and fest goers, go to other screenings. At a minimum, you should be printing postcards. I use the online site and it's pretty cheap to make 1,000 two-sided 4.25" x 6" postcards, (about $80 if I pick them up; less when they run specials; and it's only a 3 day turnaround). This is a good size to both drop off in different areas and also to put in your back pocket to hand to people you meet. You'll want to have great artwork on the front that lures them in, and pertinent information on the back, such as: an intriguing/provocative synopsis; a billing block, (yeah, not entirely necessary, but it makes you look real and it reminds them who they just met); website address; Facebook page; Twitter handle; your contact information; review quotes; festival laurels and/or a list of fests accepted to; awards; and maybe most importantly, screening times. I only make 1,000 at a time because this information is going to change throughout the course of your festival life. You may find your artwork sucks and you'll want to change that. You'll want to add new quotes, awards, and laurels as you obtain them. To make your postcards last, I design the spot where the screening information goes to be the same size as an Avery 5160 Address Label. For the first fest, I might print that information on the back of the card, but then I'll cover that spot with a label adorned with the screening times and place of the next festival. Big one-sheet posters can be expensive, but I recommend printing a few, (if you print three with, they're about $30 per), and then make sure you get them back after the festival is over! I like creating at least one cool, unique, eye catching promotional thing. For my film Some Body, it was a tongue cleaner adorned with the film's name and screening info, (you have to see the film to get the joke); for Pig, we created a mini comic book, (it's a sci-fi film and we handed them out at places like Comic Con and WonderCon). We also printed a huge 6' x 4' vinyl banner of our movie poster, which ended up not costing us that much and really made an impact when we hung it up.
  7. Don't overdo it. You don't want to play festivals forever. Know your goals and once you achieve them, move on. This can be hard, especially with a successful festival film. Applying to and going to festivals can be addicting. There's always just one more you hear about and want to apply to. But realize that for all you can gain from going to festivals, there is an opportunity cost for going and ultimately, a point of diminishing returns, (I'm sorry--two economics terms!). Is going to the 20th or 30th festival really more important than working social media to build a community online? While you may say you don't have the time or money to hire someone to work on aggregating your niche audience, realize that it takes a lot of time and money to attend dozens of festivals. I spent, personally, not the film, thousands of dollars traveling to festivals last year. Could that money have been spent more effectively? Maybe. You need to ask yourself these questions throughout the process. It's very difficult to concentrate on distribution or the next project you want to make when you are spending months on the road at festivals. And also realize that while festivals can do so much, they don't necessarily get you distribution. Know what you want to get out of them and leverage them to the hilt, but then move on when you've gotten what you've needed from them.
  8. Be nice. This either sounds completely obvious, Pollyanna or Machiavellian, depending on the type of person you are, and to be honest, it's a little of all three. You will get pissed at a festival; it's one of those immutable laws. They are going to fuck you around, screw up your projection, lose your blu-ray, give you shitty screening times, promise you something they don't deliver on, or worse than all of those, not accept your film. I try to be nice to everybody I come across in this business, but I've learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to be an asshole to a festival, no matter what they've done. Yes, you need to be firm and fight for what's best for your film, but being polite and understanding goes a long way. And here's the Machiavellian part--being nice can pay big dividends. If you want to win awards at festivals, be a nice guy (or gal)!

So, I've said a lot and yet there's still so much more to say. If you have any tips or questions, be sure to comment below and add to the conversation. And here's hoping to see your film at a festival soon!

Mark Stolaroff is an LA-based independent producer. His most recent project is the award-winning feature Pig, written and directed by Henry Barrial. He is also the founder of No Budget Film School, a unique series of classes specifically designed for the no-budget filmmaker. Stolaroff was formerly a principal of IFC's Next Wave Films, which provided finishing funds to exceptional low-budget films, including the first features of directors Christopher Nolan, Joe Carnahan, and Amir Bar-Lev.


"The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking"
Saturday & Sunday, August 4 & 5, 2012 * 9:30am - 6:00pm
Raleigh Studios - Los Angeles, CA

For more information and to register, visit:

No Budget Film School presents its famed two-day micro-budget filmmaking class in Los Angeles August 4 & 5, 2012. Specifically designed for no-budget filmmakers who are ready to finance their own projects, the lessons, tools, and techniques gained will maximize limited resources and minimize critical errors that can doom otherwise worthy projects. Producer Mark Stolaroff - former principal of IFC's Next Wave Films - and guest experts teach the specific methods, models and priorities unique to micro-budget filmmaking, whether the budget is $200,000 or $2,000, in this in-depth, one-of-a-kind class. Attendees will walk away with powerful ideas that they can use immediately, saving them time and money. These cutting edge techniques can NOT be found in a book, at film school, or in other film classes. Guest speakers include:

Peter Broderick (President, Paradigm Consulting). Considered one of the world's leading authorities on alternative distribution strategy, Peter will be giving an empowering presentation on Hybrid Distribution and Crowdfunding.

Drake Doremus (Writer/Director). Drake's micro-budget feature Douchebag, premiered in Competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. His next no-budget feature, Like Crazy, won the Grand Jury Prize there the following year and was released by Paramount, grossing several million dollars.

Michael Mohan (Writer/Director). Mohan's no-budget feature One Too Many Mornings premiered at Sundance in 2010 and his follow-up feature, Save The Date, premiered there this year, and was picked up for distribution by IFC Films.

Jacob Rosenberg (Chief Technology Officer, Bandito Brothers). A post production expert who devised Bandito's innovative workflow for Act Of Valor - a studio film shot partially on inexpensive DSLR cameras - Jacob will discuss no-budget post production.

Louise Runge & Samantha Housman (Producers). Their production company OneZero produced the recent no-budget Sundance hit 28 Hotel Rooms, written and directed by Matt Ross and starring Chris Messina and Marin Ireland.

No Budget Film School has partnered with Write Brothers to bring you an incredible offer. All attendees will receive Movie Magic Screenwriter software absolutely FREE! (a $250 Value!). Attendees will also receive special discounts on Budgeting and Scheduling software by Showbiz Software, on Quick Film Budget's innovative budget-making tool, and on LightSPEED eps' new cloud-based production management system.

If you're through talking about being a filmmaker and ready to become one, this will be the most practical filmmaking course you will ever take!

Stage 32 subscribers are eligible for a special discount: 20% off the regular prepaid price! Sign up before midnight July 21st and receive an additional Early Bird discount. And students with a valid Student ID save even more. Attend both days or either day individually.

To get the discount:
1. Go to No Budget Film School Event Registration/Payment page:
2. Click ENTER PROMOTIONAL CODE at the bottom right-hand corner of the Ticket Information section. Type STAGE32 and click APPLY DISCOUNT. You will see the prices adjust for your discount.


No Budget Film School is also presenting Tom Provost's "Cinema Language: The Art of Storytelling" class the following weekend, August 11-12, and I am offering a special discount for students who take both classes. More information on Cinema Language can be found here:

Can't make the class? For more information on future classes and to sign up for the No Budget Newsletter, please visit:

Going Blind - A Filmmaker's Journey
Part I: Film Festival Strategy: Withoutaclue to Withoutabox in 16 Steps
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