Lessons from a world premiere at Cinequest 2017

It had been a few months since finishing my new short film ‘Tiphany’, a short documentary/ visual poem about a wonderful woman and fitness model by the name of Tiphany Adams. I had inquired about the film going to Cinequest but hadn’t expected to hear anything back in weeks. 
One morning, I woke up to an email saying the film was invited to have it’s World Premiere at Cinequest 2017! I was floored- and then panicked to realize just how much work I needed to do over the next few months to prepare for the experience. After doing some research about Cinequest and film festivals for short films, I was startled by not fully knowing what to expect.

Like most filmmakers, I’m an avid reader of filmmaking blogs and articles- I like to know what I’m going into before diving into something. So just as there have been so many resourceful articles out there, I thought I’d pay it forward and try to share some tidbits and insights I gleaned from my experience at Cinequest 2017 with my short film “Tiphany”.

Community > Corporate
It was a difficult road to get a chance to be at a festival like Cinequest. It’s unique in that it prides itself on hosting a premiere status for it's instead of ‘cherry picking’ from the Sundance crop. This means smaller, intimate and edgier films with heart and a little eclectic types of films. Interestingly, Cinequest is also an Oscar qualifying festival which means there’s a slight possibility to circumvent larger festivals as a window to the Oscars, especially for shorts.  It was so refreshing to be among avid film lovers, a large film community that started as a grassroots movement and grew to a pillar of the Silicon Valley calendar. Some larger festivals feel rather corporate and for ‘the masses’, so it was nice to feel part of a thriving community and just talk about film. 

Have good collaborators
I was lucky to be friends with professional photographer Kai York who assembled the team for our film. We didn’t know what the film would be at those early stages, but we mainly had long discussions around the idea of beauty and balancing authenticity, delicacy and strength. He introduced me to Tiphany, and to his credit his insights on knowing this would be a good story is a valuable skill as a producer. Tiphany is a celebrity in her own right and a wonderfully talented woman. Without each of us equally contributing our best to the project, this film would have never been made. Being at the festival and leveraging 3 key collaborators instead of myself was a team effort, and accelerated it’s success. I’ve learned there’s benefits in finding your VIP collaborators and sticking with them like a band. 

Have the confidence in how you tell your story
The most interesting shorts I screened while at Cinequest, were the ones with both interesting stories and a unique and interesting way to tell that story. I was mentored early on that it’s always a good approach to start with documentary films even if you want to make narrative films. Being able to focus on character and the language of telling a story in the edit has been invaluable and also becomes almost like muscle memory. 

A Film needs a soul
At festivals like Cinequest, your film doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to emotionally connect with the audience. Most of the feature films I watched ranged from around 40k to just under $1million. This is the perfect price point for a budding filmmaker to have enough creative constraints with low expectations to make something unique, emotionally fine-tuned and unique. With online distributors like Netflix and Amazon purchasing more films, the emotionally engaging films are the ones that end up on the platform. 

The main theater at Cinequest with a capacity of 1,100! One day I'll premiere here!

The main theater at Cinequest with a capacity of 1,100! One day I'll premiere here!

Don’t undersell the real budget of your film! 
Sweat equity is valuable and should be accounted for when scoping the budget. Our hard costs for Tiphany were pretty modest- the flight to Vegas, the Airbnb, the lens and equipment rental. But the time put in between both myself and Kai shouldn’t be ignored. Our usual day rates for shooting, scoping out editing costs, VO rental costs, colour correction and sound, marketing and promotion are all costs we absorbed or had for soft expenses. These should be factored in when pitching a budget. It’s not valuable to undersell yourself or your film and come across as the ‘cheap’ or ‘low budget’ filmmakers because distributors will undersell you too.

Boots on the ground, Postcards in hand.
There are two components of being in a film festival, the physical and the promotional. Being physically at the festival, the strongest way to build buzz and word of mouth is to hit the parties, screenings, sidewalks and meet people. Postcards are a great way to introduce your film, and tease the visual aesthetic. I made sure to include my screening times, screening block, and email so whoever I gave it to had everything they needed. Vista print seems to be the best price as long as you can afford the few days. The quicker the turn around, the more expensive it will be.

Film Festivals are kinda like the Circus
The Maverick Spirit award was given to Jason Reitman for his career in Writing and Directing, he’s a natural storyteller and among his treasure trove of stories, his most interesting insight was how he talked about film world. He said the film industry is just like the circus, and the type of people that attracts are kind of like circus folks. It’s full of the rebels, the misfits, the artists, the hippies and vagabonds, the folks who like to lift the human spirit. To entertain and to be entertained. So act accordingly! 

We had a blast and are continuing on the festival circuit with “Tiphany”. Follow me on instagram @justinferrato for updates on the film or if you’d like to get in touch. You can check out the website or join us on Facebook for more information as well!

justin ferrato