Three industry professionals talked film festivals and the future of independent filmmaking at a “State of the Industry” panel Saturday morning as part of the SLO International Film Festival.

Ian and Katie Bignel from Festival Formula and Barbara Twist, executive director of the Film Festival Alliance, responded to questions from the audience and from moderator Tim Molloy of MovieMaker Magazine.

“A film isn’t completed until it’s been seen,” festival strategist Ian Bignel said, emphasizing the need to plan for marketing and distribution. Festival Formula consults with filmmakers and festivals who want to be noticed.

The cost of making films led the discussion. How does anyone make money making independent films today?

The panelists’ short answer: you don’t, unless you build into your budget the cost of marketing and distributing your film. All three panelists advised independent filmmakers to:

  • do your research: enter festivals with audiences appropriate to your film and that offer a good chance of being selected*
  • collect audience data
  • enter festivals having audience and jury awards
  • try arranging a small theatrical run to attract attention and demonstrate viability
  • attend festivals even if you don’t screen your film there so you can network with festival attendees and programmers

Katie Bignel urged filmmakers to “know who your audience is.” She said the SLO Film Fest is great for “family-oriented” and “contemplative” films. Both Bignels praised smaller film festivals for offering more opportunities than the big ones for films to be seen and for filmmakers to network.

Twist, speaking from her extensive experience in distribution and exhibition, warned that the deals filmmakers could make five to seven years ago with platforms such as Amazon, Apple, and Netflix are winding down as those giants have ramped up making their own content. Now, filmmakers have to become their own marketers and distributors as well.

“There are too many films being made,” Twist said. So new initiatives to get good films in front of their best audiences are needed. She and others organized IND/EX, the largest gathering of independent exhibitors and distributors in North America, and she and Lela Meadow-Conner created The Popcorn List to highlight exceptional films that have yet to secure distribution after a festival premiere.

:: Charlotte Alexander

*Editor’s Note: During the panel discussion an audience member asked how many films were submitted to SLOIFF this year, and how many were accepted? Film Fest ED Skye McLennon later supplied the answer: slightly more than 1,000 films were submitted (including shorts) and roughly 120 were accepted this year.