Katharine Steele, Executive Director of CFF, talks w/ Screenwriting Staffing about Film Festivals & Screenplay Contests!

(Note from Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, Jacob N. Stuart) I had the honor and privilege to speak on Cincinnati Film Festival’s 2014 Screenwriting Panel, as well as award a FREE 1-year Screenwriting Staffing PREMIUM MEMBERSHIP to the Special Jury Prize Winner. I frequent film festival’s regularly, either as a participant or viewer. And I think, sometimes, film festival’s seem to skip right past the screenwriter and go straight into praising the video’s “picture” quality, rather than the story. That’s why I caught up with Katherine Steele, a HUGE fan and SUPPORTER of GOOD STORY.

Katherine is the Executive Director of the Cincinnati Film Festival. The Cincinnati Film Festival brings brave and beautiful films and their filmmakers from around the world to the wonderful city of Cincinnati. Each fall, CFM brings around 100 films to the Queen City for an exciting 9 day event.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Where do you rate story when judging a film for your festival?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival: Story is crucial to a good film. We look at 3 values: creative/concept (which includes story), technical/production, and marketability, which can also include story if the subject matter has a potential audience outreach. It’s pretty evenly distributed about 40%/40% with technical/production value with marketability being the remaining 20%. We have had films with less than great production value, but because the story is so compelling, we put it into our program, and conversely, we have had beautiful looking films submitted, but we didn’t program them because the story lacked in some way. Maybe the build up too slow, and ending wrapped up too quickly or not at all. Or maybe using crutches and devices that are cliched.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Can a film still be successful if the story isn’t compelling?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival:  Success is relative in the festival circuit. Sometimes a film can be in dozens of festivals (like shorts) but don’t get any financial end or benefit in sight, and might end up costing a filmmaker more to market to fests. On the other hand, a film with a good story gets passed over and only selected for a few fests, or if the filmmaker isn’t confident in their film, or doesn’t care enough to try to get it in front of audiences, they might not try to get into the fest circuit at all.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What’s the #1 reason a film won’t be accepted into a film festival?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival: It’s really a combination of things, but in the end, how the film makes the viewer feel. Admittedly, good acting and the films look do carry weight to the success of the film, because sometimes bad acting and poor production value is so distracting, it disengages the viewer from caring about the story and its characters or subject matter. That being said, some of our films the story feels incomplete, mainly because filmmakers made the film as a demo for a larger feature project. We are a shorts heavy festival, and have many demos we program, but when a filmmaker is able to tell a story in a short film, there is a bit of magic to it. We’ve had amazing films that told the story in just 2 minutes, and feature length films that leave you hanging at the end.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should a screenwriter submit their script to screenplay contests? If so, why?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival: Most definitely. Screenplay contests are good opportunities to get feedback and guidance on their scripts.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Why would it benefit a screenwriter to participate in a local film festival?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival: It’s always good to promote your own work, and getting it in a local fest, a screenwriter can have support from family, friends, and the community, which is key to where you start to build an audience. And having that support, helps a new filmmaker and/or screenwriter build confidence, as well as getting feedback from the screeners, judges, and audience – positive or negative – on their project to help guide their style and learn from to make their film better, if they so choose to go back and rework based on that feedback.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What genres are most successful in the festival circuit?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival:  I can only speak to what is more successful in ours. Locally made films, documentaries, and thrillers seem to do well. I wouldn’t say it’s as much a specific genre, but the backstory of the making of the film.

SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Does a screenwriter/filmmaker’s location matter in today’s industry?

Katharine Steele, Cincinnati Film Festival:  Fest circuit is different than the industry at large, so there are two answers to this: No, because of the economic divide has lowered with advances in technology and price drops allow up and coming filmmakers with low, micro and no budgets to create films that look good and get grassroots help from their local community. And yes, location also many times brings accessibility to higher quality talent, crew, and most importantly, distribution. Films with bigger budgets can afford to be in done in smaller markets and accessibility to distribution via VOD, theatrical, etc. Many new filmmakers don’t have access to that type of distribution to get any hopes of ROI. Fests are an alternative form of distro, but the only return on investment with many fests is in the exposure and marketing.