AN ONGOING SERIES ABOUT ONE SILLY LITTLE MAN’S FILM FESTIVAL SUBMISSION EXPERIENCE
Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos – Film Festival Feedback!
Article by Justin Bowler
Every filmmaker knows how difficult it can be to submit to festivals. With over 5,000 festivals listed on FilmFreeway.com, it can be overwhelming to say the least. In addition, submission fees can range from free to $150. So, submitting can be pricey. The biggest fear from most filmmakers, I believe, is that their film, whether good or bad, won’t be watched by screeners. Instead, it will be perused. So, that $150 submission fee was just wasted. This does a disservice to the filmmaker on many fronts. First, it is a waste of the filmmaker’s money. If one submits to twenty festivals at $100/fest, that is $2000 just spent on submitting (I know of many wonderful award-winning shorts that had a budget less than $2000). Second, it denies the filmmaker the opportunity to learn from their mistakes (other than don’t submit to a festival that doesn’t watch your film and isn’t filmmaker friendly). For more on that, see my previous article HERE.
On the rare occasion that a festival provides feedback, and I WISH ALL FESTIVALS PROVIDED FEEDBACK, the filmmaker honestly gets to hear unbiased critiques of his or her work. This can be very beneficial, especially when it gives specifics that a filmmaker can recognize and implement for their next film. For example, if a review says “The lighting was very poor. Often, I could not see the character well enough to see who was talking. So, I was concentrating too much on figuring out who is doing what, instead of becoming engrossed in the story.” This is quite specific. The director and cinematographer can approach the next film with the knowledge that they might want to use lighting in a different way. On the other side of things, feedback that is so generalized honestly does a disservice to the festival and the director. For example, “I hated the lighting”. As a filmmaker, I’m not sure what I would do with that. Was the color bad? Was it too bright? Was it too dark? Was it calling attention to itself? Did the reviewer have bad eyesight? Was their laptop adjusted improperly? How does a filmmaker improve with that note? In my opinion, it says that the reviewer can’t verbalize what they did not like or, and this is a worst case scenario, the reviewer is lazy. Is that person a good judge of a film? Should they be the gatekeeper to a festival? Sadly, they often are, like it or not.
Obviously, many things are subjective. What one person finds funny, another does not. What one person finds intelligent/witty, another does not. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to show some of the varying notes that my horror film, OH, THE EFFING HORROR, has received while on the film festival circuit.
Here is a trailer…
Now, that you have seen the trailer, I will tell you that it is a genre picture. The goal was to make a genre picture but weave something slightly more intelligent underneath the generic film one is expecting. Some say I have succeeded at that. Some would say I certainly have not. Both are acceptable to me, as long as they give me specifics to back up their critique. Let’s take a look.
So far, we have made it into sixteen festivals, won six awards, and earned four other nominations.
Awards were for Directing, Editing, Cinematography and three more for Acting. The other four nominations were for Best Script, Best Horror Short, and two for Best Acting. So, with that in mind, I would like to share some of the feedback I received from the festivals that rejected us.
This first review was from an Academy feeder festival that is very large and quite prestigious in the Midwest. They charge up to $110 in submission fees.
Justin T. Bowler’s “Oh, the Effing Horror” is a horror//comedy (Horr-omedy?) that almost delivers its punchline perfectly but for a few small distractions. And if you want to deliver this sort of genre-specific joke to your viewers, one should do their best [to ensure] the joke is perfectly setup.
The film has great scenery and a snappy script. The names of most of the characters are a nice touch – Luci Fuer, Miguel Severd and Sarah Crawling in particular. The zombies are a fun bunch as well, particularly J.B. Books. The distractions are what keep this film from reaching the next level. Those being the forced nature of conversation between Chris and Luci – there was little natural flow between them. But mostly it was Chris’ role; specifically, his style of speaking. Since the role of Chris consists of half of the dialogue, one can see how this might become distracting.
Regardless of this, the joke still delivers in a fun, campy manner that is sure to please those who like this sort of material.
A woman and a man camp while ghosts of murder victims lurk nearby. The use of sound and music was effective, particularly the whispering during the opening credits. The woman casually eating a salad, unaware of the danger surrounding her, created a funny tension. The humorous dialogue with double entendres throughout the film was also funny, but it sometimes caused confusion in the characterization of the duo and the relationship between the pair. The boyfriend chops wood and chats about a haunted forest, while making jokes about the size of the forest in a funny moment. Suddenly, the face of a ghost appears menacingly behind them, in a well-paced, scary scene. As the couple kisses, ghosts lurk behind them in close-up in an eerie moment. The dim lighting by campfire enhanced a creepy atmosphere, and the strobe effect during the murder scene was effective. Oh! The Effing Horror! was an entertaining short horror film.
I thought the filmmaker of “Oh the Effing Horror” did a really great job of keeping the viewer guessing what would happen throughout the entire film – all the way to the very end. And I thought that it provided just enough suspense that there was imminent danger while at the same time keeping things lighthearted enough by having such goofy banter between Chris and Luci. The Luci character was especially well written as she spent the majority of the film appearing to be the typecast “dumb woman” victim that a lot of horror films have. Just as she was appearing to be the most naïve it was refreshing to see her stand up for herself and tell Chris to back off. And then having Chris begin to turn into a hateful character was another genius move because then the ending was all that more satisfying for the viewer. Seeing him become one of her zombies was one of the best final scenes I have ever seen in a horror film.
Those comments, while positive and critical, were exceptionally helpful. They were specific. So, as a director, next time, I can work with my lead, if his style of delivery is distracting. Best of all, as a filmmaker, I know that my film was actually watched and critiqued. I didn’t make it into that festival, but, I learned a lot about what worked, and what didn’t work. That is easily worth the submission fee.
These comments were from an international film festival in Mexico whose submission fees peak at $60.
The film is very funny! The script has a very nice rhythm and great dialogue, it sounds very natural coming from the well-chosen cast which performed very good also. The director is talented and has a good style, nothing out of the box, but he has a good timing for comedy. The sound is very decent, so the only things that I didn’t liked about the film were the bad make up and the flat cinematography. For a horror film, no matter if the film is a comedy or not, the most important thing is the make up. Unless you want your audience laugh[ing] at your bad make up, then as a director you have to show it in a more evident way, in this particular case, I don’t think that was the purpose. The problem with the cinematography is just the lighting. It doesn’t matter if it was shot with a Red dragon or a hi8 camera, lighting makes the difference between a flat image and a well composed shot full of texture and tones. If this two things wouldn’t be bad, this film would be amazing.
This was interesting. The film was critiqued mostly for two completely different reasons than previously mentioned. In fact, it praised the script and acting that were listed as problems in the previous review. To each his own. But, most importantly, the critiques were specific. As a director, I can certainly pay more attention to building dynamic shots and improving the make-up. This critique was very helpful.
Finally, these were from a smaller festival on the East Coast with Submission Fees up to $60.
This tale of a campfire gone wrong was very predictable. Some of the effects were good, and the use of comedy provided a nice touch, but overall this film didn’t really succeed. The performances ultimately weren’t strong enough to carry this flawed story, and the jokes didn’t do enough to make the movie look more like a parody and less of a cliche.
Sorry, I couldn’t get past the bad acting and script.
Once again, this feedback said that the story was predictable, which is the exact opposite of previous feedback. However, the specificity of Reviewer #1 was helpful: the jokes didn’t do enough to make the movie look more like a parody and less of a cliche (In all honesty, as the director, I can see what they are referring to). This part was very helpful. Reviewer #2, on the other hand, provided me with nothing to work with. If they didn’t like the script, what was the problem? Was the story bad? Was the dialogue bad? I would like to know. And what was bad about the acting? Were ALL of the actors bad? One of the actors? Which one? What didn’t they like about the acting? Should I pair it with one of the earlier reviews and surmise it was the leading man? I’m hesitant to do that since there is so much discrepancy from review to review. Furthermore, since, their entire review was ten words without any specifics… Did they really watch the film? Or did they peruse it? Hmmmm.
Overall, I’m happy to hear feedback, as long as it is backed up. Someone shouting “I loved it” is as useless as someone shouting “I hated it.” Give specifics. Give me something to think about, work on, or ponder. I would like to grow as a filmmaker, as many would. So, reviewers, please help us do so.
If you would like to know more about my genre film, follow it on Instagram @OhTheEffingHorror for instant updates.
In addition, I’d like to hear your stories about festival submitting.