How to Make a Film Festival

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The 2014 edition of the Kickstarter Film Fest is finally upon us! This Friday, July 18th from 7-11pm at Ft Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York you'll be able to see excerpts of 18 incredible Kickstarter-funded films on a real-life big screen (imagine a laptop screen, except like a million times bigger).

This year we opened the doors to submissions of Kickstarter film projects and got over to 1,000 entries. No small amount. We spent countless hours watching submissions. It was a crazy process. Crazy enough, in fact, that we thought it would be a good idea to talk to Kickstarter's resident film specialists Liz Cook and George Schmalz about how they made their selections.

What special qualities do you look for when watching submissions for the film fest?

Liz: There was no one specific niche that we were hoping to fill necessarily, but we were looking for provocative, interesting—whether that means stuff that we wouldn’t have seen on the festival circuit or being distributed by a big company—but really authentic and interesting voices.

George: We had a wide range of creators who have used the platform, and we wanted to use the festival as a showcase for their work. Ideally it wasn’t something that had been all over. It would be great if you’re showing stuff that hasn’t been out there that long, or creating a unique experience for the people that are attending the festival. It isn’t a proper film festival, it’s a two hour program, so we were looking to fill that with a good representation of what Kickstarter film is.

Liz: A lot of these films touch on cultural zeitgeists that have happened in the last year, so in some ways it’s a survey of what’s being created right now. And then also just thinking about a wide range—we wanted to have narratives and documentaries, experimental and other different types of films.

How does the presentation of these films as a series of stitched together clips factor into the decision making process?

George: We had two hours so we couldn’t show a full feature, and we were trying to keep things under a certain amount of time so we could showcase as much as we could, which ended up being about 18 pieces total. There were some things we liked but didn’t really lend themselves to anything shorter than half-an-hour. It was really hard. You have to make cuts, which is unfortunate. There were 15 of us watching these things in the theater weekly, which was helpful. Just us sitting there watching them in our don’t get the same reaction, you might think something is amazing and then you bring it to 15 people sitting in a theater—you get a pretty good audience reaction of what works and what doesn’t work.

Still from Tomorrow we Disappear
Still from Tomorrow we Disappear

Do you find that you’re watching the films as a whole or watching with an eye for specific segments?

Liz: There are a couple of different ways this happened. We had asked people to send us excerpts or specific sections of a bigger piece they would like us to consider. That was the first approach. Otherwise it was looking for stuff that would stand alone well. A lot of times, if it's an intro to a film, maybe that’s an interesting way of setting up the story. Sometimes it’s the middle of the film that makes the most sense as its own capsule.

There were about 1,100 submissions. Did you notice any overarching theme or trend watching them all?

George: We had a lot of really strong animation. Pretty much any animation we watched was great. We could have had a separate festival that was just that. 

There are a couple trailers in the mix as well. Why did you decide to run those instead of clips from the films?

George: With Rich Hill—they have three different stories and we loved the film. it was really hard to figure out one clip that encompassed the stories, but the trailer does it perfectly. Basically we would have ended up making a version of the trailer if we picked clips from that.

Liz: Obvious Child sent us a couple clips that they thought we could use and they were all really short. It was another situation where we felt like just to give a broader sense of the story itself we should show a combo trailer plus a clip they put together for us. Kind of a hybrid.

Still from Obvious Child
Still from Obvious Child

How did you select what went where in the two hour program?

Liz: We thought about duration. Each act had to be a specific amount of time. We thought about balancing out types of narrative and documentary and animation so we had a little bit of everything in both acts. Emotionally we didn’t want to slam people in the first act.

Did you notice any themes once you watched the entire program?

Liz: Yancey came up with an amazing narrative for the way it’s put together. Basically he was able to coherently walk through the big ideas of every piece and how they work together and how they work together in a bird’s eye view of the program. Night of the Living Deb is an interesting transition from trailer to film. It’s taking a regular project video and making it into a standalone little movie in itself.

George: And then you head into Tomorrow we Disappear and Backstreet Atlas. Tomorrow We Disappear is about a fading community

Liz: And movement.

George: And Backstreet Atlas is literally moving from Boston to New York. Then you get into the suite of Elvis Loses his Excess, Planet Money and The Burning House. Elvis Loses His Excess is about the world’s longest yard sale, there’s a lot of people talking about getting rid of their material possessions. And then you roll into Planet Money which is taking you through the process of making a t-shirt, and then The Burning House—this guy is taking pictures for a blog about the things he would save if his apartment was on fire, and then his apartment was set on fire and he basically ends up having to start at square one.

2014 Film Festival Notes
2014 Film Festival Notes

Why did you accept submissions this year?

George: We would not have seen this stuff if we didn’t open submissions. As much as it was a crazy four or five or six weeks, it was so worth it.

Liz: Totally. Everybody is doing incredible, cool stuff. It’s been a really inspiring process.

George: We ended up going through the favorites and then narrowing it down to seven to eight hours, and then we got it down to five hours. We wanted to get it down to three. It took forever to lose those last 10-15 movies. It was the hardest thing ever. Getting it down from seven to five to three was really trying. That was the hardest part of the whole process, really. You end up liking so many things.

The fourth annual Kickstarter Film Fest begins Friday, July 18th in New York. You can find more info about it here.

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