Finding Your Audience: Festival Formula

How do you find your place within the festival circuit? Festival Formula’s Katie McCullough and Ian Bignell have over 15 years’ experience in festival submissions and strategy. Ahead of an inspiring masterclass at ASFF 2019, McCullough explores today’s film festival landscape, providing essential advice for filmmakers.

ASFF: How does Festival Formula champion new talent?
KM: We are often nurturing filmmakers who have a lack of confidence in their talent, and once we step out onto the festival circuit and prove they have an audience it’s great to see that talent flourish. We’re always engaging with filmmakers on the circuit telling them how great we think their work is. Whilst we’re a very busy consultancy company we can never switch off being an audience member, so we think it’s always beneficial to let a filmmaker know if you enjoyed their work.

ASFF: What are the challenges facing emerging filmmakers in 2019?
KM: Where do you start… I think everyone automatically presumes it’s going to be funding, but our rule of thumb is that you don’t need to wait to be told to make a film – you just do it. Not everything we look after has a large budget, and I’ve lost count the amount of times a prolific filmmaker says, “just get your friends together and make something.”

I would say the main challenges facing emerging filmmakers are themselves – there are many industry myths that are perpetuated by higher industry spokespeople. People need to stop focusing on “making it big” and actually concentrate and learn their craft. Keep making mistakes, keep learning, always get better.

ASFF: What is one piece of advice you would give new directors looking to screen their work?
Know who your audience is, and don’t forget that. From our perspective the festival circuit is vast with so many festivals all wanting different things so research and appreciate that. If you’re a female horror filmmaker, there’s a festival for that. First or second time filmmaker? There’s a festival for that. Have a documentary about human rights? There’s a festival for that. And so on. There’s no one-size-fits-all for audience, and for individual films, and that also goes for festivals too.

ASFF: What does the future of film festivals look like?
I predicated a few years ago that festivals were going to start merging with each other to be stronger than as separate entities, and I also speculated that large festivals would cease to exist. Both of those things have happened, and they will continue to do so. Every so often someone will cry, “short film is dying!” but it’s very much alive and thriving so much more now than it was before. After doing this job for 15 years (and counting) I have seen so many changes. One of the main ones is just how many festivals there are now, and it’s only ever going to increase.

ASFF: What projects are you currently working on?
KM: Ha, all of our slate! We currently (as of writing) have 186 active films. These are a combination of Submission clients that we handle everything for, or Strategy clients where we’ve advised where they should allocate budget and submit. Safe to say we’re kept very busy.

ASFF: What are you most looking forward to attending at this year’s ASFF?
I’m excited to see the response to the Marketplace, we’re thrilled to be invited to be involved this year. We always get a great response from our masterclass so having more time to meet new filmmakers is always a bonus for us.

The Film Festival Market: Finding Your Audience takes place 8 November as part of ASFF’s masterclass programme. Book your place.

Lead image: We Do What We Can.