So What Kind of Movies Do We Really Want?

Five Tips from the Festival Director

Festival Director James A Lee (right) with filmmaker Robert Brink (left) during 2013 Filmstock Arizona.

Festival Director James A Lee (right) with filmmaker Robert Brink (left) during 2013 Filmstock Arizona.

With each new season of Filmstock submissions, we continue to see terrific work pouring in, and we find ourselves very privileged to have the opportunity to watch and discuss the most raw, entertaining and challenging work the independent film community submits to us. We take the responsibility and honor very seriously!

As we continue to take a look at submissions, I wanted to take a moment to give five key tips on being successful with Filmstock (as a filmmaker), putting your work in the best light possible, and making the best impression to the festival staff responsible for juroring (choosing Official Selections) your work.

1. Story, or the idea, is king.
Audience experience is paramount to us at Filmstock. We are looking for strong, original content that clearly communicates the conflict, challenge, narrative, or entertainment value in an engaging way.

You may be surprised to learn that production value is not #1, but that just leads me to point #2.

2. Submit through an online screener on the submission platform of your choice.
We know that the Withoutabox online screeners, and in many cases, even Vimeo screeners are not the best resolution or quality, and often times are unable to be played on a ‘big’ screen like a 55″ TV or other entertainment-consuming device. However, at Filmstock, most, if not all, of our jurors are nuts about the online screeners. It is by far the fastest way for the most people on our team to watch your film and have a good dialogue about it. The internet has improved dramatically over the past ten years, and the quality is actually not as bad as you might think. We absolutely watch DVD screeners of your films; but logistically, these are harder to pass around to the entire team.

Oh, and by the way, before we make final decision on our lineup, we watch the films on a 140″ screen with a 7.1 surround sound system, to get the best idea of how a film will play out to an audience in a theater.

3. We are a short film festival. Length matters.
The longer your film is, the harder it is for us to program. This is due to the fact that time on a movie theater screen is the biggest and most prohibitive cost that a film fest has, and runtime is real estate in the festival programming world. The shorter the film, the easier it is for us to program. We are proud to have programmed many 20-30 minute length films, but the ‘real estate’ for those films are much more competitive than the real estate we allow for our 5-10 minute length films. If you have a longer film, we do not want to discourage you from submitting. If you believe in it that it is a strong piece we could not live without, we welcome the submission and fight the hardest about programming pieces like it.

It is also worth noting that most of our Filmstock Four Corners winners are in the longer category of films.

4.  Include a cover letter/director’s statement.
We are about Creative Visionaries, and connecting them with an audience, and we view filmmakers more as business partners than as submitting customers. Telling us more interesting details about your film, your film career, and your aspirations is helpful in our decision-making process, and we do read them and take them into consideration as we’re watching the film. We don’trequire press kits or these ‘extras’, but they help with Filmstock more than they would with other festivals.

We want great filmmakers to talk about, now just the great movies they provide.

5.  Get your film in- early!
This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. If you submit a film…. send it to us! Through online screeners (save on postage!) or DVD’s. the earlier you get your film, the more eyes we can put on it, and the more discussion we can have as a team about it.

I’ll re-emphasize that the story, or the idea, is king. We want films that people walk out of the theater talking about- films that are either clear in their story (conflict), or in the type of idea they are trying to present (an art film, for instance, may not have a traditional narrative, but still has the responsibility of communicating a specific theme or feeling). We have programmed every genre imaginable, and we place them in the most appropriate 90 minute blocks that will be best received by our audience. This is good for you, because our audience will be seeing your film in a positive light, ready to be engaged by your terrific, off-the-beaten-path, entertaining, original, and most importantly, independent movie.

Don’t hesitate- submit your film today. If you have any questions, please address an e-mail to me personally at the address below.


James A Lee
Filmstock Director