From February 7th-12th I was in Clermont Ferrand, the world’s biggest short film festival and market, to try and sell my short film Vincent (trailer here). What follows below is a summary of what I took away from that experience.
Was this trip a success?
This is a big question I have to ask myself in the wake of one of the craziest weeks I’ve had yet.
The whole point of my trip was to learn about the world of short film sales (and film sales in general). It was meant to be part of my continuing education in the film industry- by jumping in headfirst and trying the difficult task of selling my short film.
Having spent five days at Clermont Ferrand, I’ve come away with a sober, realistic, and yet overall positive view of the world of independent short film production.
First, the good news: Clermont Ferrand is an amazingly cool festival- meeting people is super easy, and its an incredibly relaxed affair. Sure, deals are being made, but none of them are particularly huge, so there’s very little sharking going on, and bidding wars are pretty much unheard of. Short film buyers have set prices they are willing to pay per-minute of film, and it’s up to sellers wether or not to accept the price.
This kind of transparency is great, if not a little disheartening when it turns out that your hard-worked 6 minute film will sell for no more than 150 Euro per minute (for a grand total of 900 Euro).
I also learned that if your short film hasn’t won any awards, or at least played in a big festival, you can kiss your chances of being snapped up by a buyer goodbye. (Needless to say, I did not make the sale). However, if your film is interesting and does fit those criteria, then getting sales agents interested isn’t too difficult- although wether or not things progress beyond interest is another story entirely.
The cool thing about the whole affair is that people are genuinely interested in finding new films- it’s not a difficult crowd to work at all.
Think of it like this: Film buyers are like people looking for a new pair of jeans- they know approximately what they want, but they haven’t found it yet. The key though, is that they definitely are looking. It’s up to you (and luck) to come up with the film that really gets them excited. So they are, on the whole, a very receptive crowd.
Part of the reason things are so relaxed is that the sales numbers are so low- short films simply don’t make a lot of money. Sure, you can sell them, but it’s doubtful you’ll ever see profits on it. Those kinds of lowered expectations are a great leveller.
Back to the festival:
Clermont Ferrand may be the world’s biggest short film market but it’s got another, much less publicised, but equally important side: There are a LOT of festival programmers who come to Clermont. In my week there, I met the programmers of Aspen Shortsfest, Locarno Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, CERN Film Festival and several others- and this was just by randomly meeting them around town.
This is huge- and something filmmakers should really take advantage of. They are a captive audience- they are there to watch films! Go to Clermont, meet them, give them your film (or, even better, get your film into the festival and ask them to watch it).
Finally, there are a few hard lessons I’ve also had to learn on this trip.
First of all, Clermont Ferrand is mostly a festival of European-style independent cinema. By that I mean long, depressing and ‘deep and meaningful’ films. Not my scene at all, and DEFINITELY not what Vincent, my short film, is like. (Click here to see the trailer).
I made Vincent with the idea of making a film that stands out from other shorts- 6 minutes long, bright and colourful with a positive (yet serious) message. I was very succesful in achieving this, though perhaps too much so- the film is just too different from what was on offer at Clermont, and I can see why a film like Vincent, with no previous history, would not get selected.
Which brings me to my next point: If your film has no previous festival history, it makes it much harder to get into a festival like Clermont Ferrand. And the reverse of this is also true- if your film DOES have a history at festivals, then getting into your next one becomes much easier.
The tangible lesson I’ve taken away from all this is that for my next film, I will plan its release so that Clermont-Ferrand is one of the LAST festivals I hear from instead of the first. (I would suggest an early January completion date for short films, as this qualifies you for all of that year’s festivals, and some of the next as well).
Another unfortunate discovery I made at this festival is that there is an absolute dearth of UK-based short film distributors and sales agents. Apparently the British Council used to visit the film market, but with the cuts happening, they didn’t show up this year. The Scottish and Irish screen agencies were there, but no one representing England or the UK. This, of course, limited me to the 3 international distributors in the whole market- shame really.
And finally, I’ve learned that no matter what, working in this business is always an uphill struggle- wether it’s the struggle to get out of bed in the morning after 4 consecutive days of hard graft and “networking” until 2am, or the fight against people who treat you like an illegitimate filmmaker because your short hasn’t been at a festival yet- there’s always a challenge there, and you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and wear many hats.
Is it a formula that guarantees success? I have no idea, because I haven’t gotten there yet. But I’m pretty damn sure that working this hard is my best chance at getting where I want to be.
What do you think?