Collaborative Progressions & Event Ideals: The 2010 International Film Festival Summit [IFFS] & International Music Festival Conference [IMFCON] – Feature
The reflection between two perceptions of music and film function in much the same way across the board but the intention and repercussions are always interesting to witness.
With the advent of continuing element of the IFFS (International Film Festival Summit) and now the consecutive IMFCon (Internation Music Festival Conference) there is an introspective mix of different elements playing in tandem while these festivals of passion but also business minded gathering maintain their possibilities.
Outreach is always a continuing idea but all the different aspects change at such a rapid pace that usually makes adhering to a few rules seem to make the most sense.
Paul Cohen, who heads the Torchlight Program for Florida State University, whose film school has grown with exceptional leaps and bounds, says that it all balances between the kind of information being put out in terms of business possibilities and raising it to the quality of films being made. The opportunity, Cohen explains, in terms of what a film festival offers is “crossing over”. He points to this in terms of outreach from the industry by talking about new digital institute by Digital Domain being built in Palm Beach. The paradox to the situation is that even though there will be a Torchlight connection, it becomes myopic because of all the budget cuts.
Moving on, the first of the panels dealt with conceptualizing how basic film festivals operations need to be run. A research fellow from St. Andrews College in Scotland proceeded this on the aspect of his thesis. Within his structure, which,though sound, runs counterculture to the way interaction needs to occur, he solidifies an Open System Model (OSM) that begins with securing resources but then transforming it (through programming).
The brimming points of what causes failure are always bent within the confines of film, money or people problems (which is basically all there is anyway). The strategies though that can be balance against these problems involve cooperative alliances, date placements, geographic location, identifiable function, participation-based incentives, legitimatizing affiliations (who the board members are and who comes to the festival) and resource control (24-hour film competitions are an example).
Gabe Wardell, who used to head the Atlanta Film Festival, offers percepective in knowing who and where you are. In Georgia, for example, he says the aspect of funding is motivated purely by business as a red state (pointing to sponsors like Nissan or the like – which provide “pride purpose” bases). By comparison, he says that blue states are more likely to integrate specifically with the idea of the arts consortium aspect of an event. He appeals that a festival should not “compromise the artistic integrity” but that the “mission should indicate diverse work”. He admits though, based on his experience, that it can be “a treacherous environment”. He admits at one point they lost the Georgia Council Of The Arts but only got it back through the tenacity of the community of “naked dancers”. Grants, though, in his perspective are 1/10 of what they were.
In perspective to approaching it from the filmmaker point of view, Robert Baruc, President Of Screen Media Films, who is known the industry over currently for picking up mid tier indie films, encouraged the fests to bring in more distributors. Like media in many ways though, distributors are more encouraged to come if their way is paid. The more they know and the easier it is to get there, the more it will happen (and likely result in possible buys at the festivals besides Toronto, Sundance and the like). He admits though that the best place to watch films is at the festivals because of the audience (even if one is aware of the hometown perspective). He does warn that festival fever has happened where even distributors get into the energy of doing a buy (which happens at Sundance often) but that “the reality of a distruibutor coming to pick up a picture at a festival is more possible than ever before”.
Different other aspects from programming to finance makes themselves known. In terms of genre programming as indicated by a programmer for SxSW, it becomes an aspect of vetting and luck while others are dictated by the extension of what their audience will allow. Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis with its older demographic knows not the engage in too graphic material though Precious went over well there last year. Edmonton Film Festival showed “The Loved Ones” but resolutely placed it as counter-programming on opening night against “Score: A Hockey Musical” which also opened Toronto.
The hurdles of year round programming and box office management swirled in tandem. As with finance and fundraisiing, Liana Bender from Mill Valley Film Festival uses the approach many times of “three times an offer, one time an ask”. John Storm, the Managing Director of the Lone Star Film Festival, approaches the problem using the ticketing process as a multi-tiered task. The first screen is for the ticket. The second is for donation. The third is to join the film society. Another angle that became profitable for them is in “lights up ad -roll” which runs before the regular sponsor trailers. The changing aspect of film festivals has distributors for bigger ticket items not just asking for flat rate but also for part of your gate sales. Grants and sponsorships are important to the process but require intense audits that can cost a film festival $10,000 minimum on the back end.
Pursuing on the alternate end with music festivals creates an interesting dichotomy with the film festivals. Film by community is a widespread experience and many directors and programmers provide progression with filmmaker to play from point to point. Music festivals function differently because unlike the fact that a film can be played wide and far without worrying most of the time if the director is actually there, for musical performers the artist must decide which provide a higher dollar or public bang for their time.
The first of the music fest panels interrelated to the ongoing health involving the “State Of The Festivals”. Different genres obviously create a different amount of buzz in terms of what the fans will pursue.
From a country point of view, Jay Frank, Senior VP of Music Strategy for CMT, says that there is very little middle ground for a festival crowd to see a main headliner and small indie outlays together in the current climate. The rest of the possibilities have collapsed. He continues that there are plenty of acts at the bottom that can play the second stage but “no middles that will draw a bulk of the crowd”. The number one thing that festival goers want, according to Frank, is “value, value and more value”. The event is also about making communities though the acts are still infinitely important. Value though, he states, is “mostly a perception and not an actual”. A great moderator is monitoring conversation of the fans. Franks points to OpenFaceBookSearch as a great way to modulate that though he continues that not all social media is online. Having people go out to talk to the fans during the concerts, even if it is just a junior intern, shows that the organization is listening to its constituents.
Sarah Baer, who co-founded the Vans Warped Festival, which graduated its elements to a touring stage element, evidences the comparison by saying from her perspective that it is not necessarily about who is headlining. The advantage of being able to be in different states takes away the aspect of having to be a destination festival. From that same perspective, they can negotiate with an act that wants a $30,000 advance challenging them to a consecutive state where they are being paid. However certain ideas of values beyond that can backfire. Even though they try $10 tickets and group-ons (which offer discounts for larger groups of people), ultimately if someone pays $10 for a ticket but still has to buy a $12 beer, they will remember the $12 beer. In terms of length and stamina of show, if the show starts at 11am, by 5pm people will be going on based on that perspective because they are out of money and hungry. For Vans, most of their actual tickets (72%) are purchased on day of show which causes, from their perspective, a significant amount of nail biting. Trying to trick the public by advance ticket sales isn’t working anymore since concertgoers are being smarter and more selective. That said, from their beginning, Warped has gone from year one playing to 30,000 people to over 700,000 this past year though Baer admits they did scale back but within that structure, didn’t send any artists home, take away catering, alter on the promoter and hold back the production side. It was all in administration but within this ideal they had to make a much more specific look at their writing.
Persuading the ideas of profitability on a free festival offers a much different set of challenges. Andrew Dreskin, who co-produces the Virgin Free Fest sees from the perspective that there is more and more reasonable behavior from the industry. From the high end, there is simply not that many A -list headliners anymore and there are really no new ones. However that translates well for his festival because it is all indie and small artists within a free structure. But it is also about alternative perspectives. When they were a paid festival, they would truck some of the Burning Man people out from Northern California to do art installations. When they switched Baltimore as the free fest, they didn’t want to admit that the audience became blue collar. He details that they charged as a paid fest $99 for a day but that included Radiohead and The Beastie Boys. The last year they had Foo Fighters and Bob Dylan but the promoter told them that he could get 18,000 people for Foo Fighters alone but that number ended up being the take for the whole day. In reality, the reason the fest can be independent is because of their benefactor in Virgin head Richard Branson. The way the money structure works is that Virgin Mobile funds the event and then recoups money from subsponsors. Certain aspects of that can reduce the ticket price on the paid side if you have a main line sponsor. Motorola did a similar operation with Free Fest called The Layoff Louge where you showed your pink slip and then stepped up to a Wheel Of Fortune-type wheel with Branson spinning.
The next panel circling around the periphery of “Agents, Artists & Festivals” approaches its tendency that deals need to be made. Creativity and the artistic rendering only goes so far with money as a perspective is involved.
From the headlining artists perspective, Mark Dennis, who works for CAA out of Nashville and counts among his clients Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band, Willie Nelson and Alison Krause, says that in terms of deadlines, they don’t book 12 months or 2 months. It all works along that 6 month window and not much further. The further out a festival tries to book, the less likely it is to happen. The reality is that there is 18 different ways to play any market. An examples he gives is that with Bumbershoot in Seattle, there is an aspect of playing the casinos versus the festivals. Ultimately though, the negotiating process will take time; Bob Dylan being a perfect example in his mind. However, most agents will not tell you to “hang in there” if it isn’t going to happen. Dennis does admit that there “is no doubt that there has been a difference in the way that offers talk, especially to artists”. The performance fees haven’t gone a whole lot lower but he concedes that they have gotten a lot more creative. Artists like the ones he represents will be willing to work for back end but there always has to be a gaurantee.
Mark Lorre from Skyline Music, as a comparison, handles smaller mid-level acts like John Sebastian, Artuto Sandoval and Ivan Neville’s Stump Da Funk. The aspect of dealing with lower level promoters versus someone like CAA he admits is a completely different ballgame. However, that said, he offers the perspective that many more bands are touring now despite the fact that the festival experience peaked in 2008. He himself advises most of the club acts not to book the summer and instead wait for the festivals.
Bob Babisch, VP Of Entertainment for Summerfest in Milwaukee, offers the perspective for a perennial who mixes many different genres. In terms of negotiation, country always starts early in the season. The Europe Festivals alter the progression since many larger bands work on that schedule but “different genres work at different times”. In terms of variable fees, he offers that the big A+ acts range from $60,000 to $100,000, the C/B+ work within the $20,000 range and the smaller ones between $5,000 and $10,000.
Collaboration rounds out the perspective of life within the music festival circuit adhering to the thought that both community and competition breed together. Different goals breed different inferences of cooperation but everything works in tandem.
Beginning with the aspect of citywide integration, Hilary Leftick, co-founder of the Pop Montreal International Music Festival, finds her balance working within a small team even though the annual event uses 50 different venues all over town. Montreal itself though is very compacted in its festival outlays because of the consistent snow from November to May. One big problem interacting with the city that she encountered was that, even though the metropolitan center was a sponsor, city laws made outdoor posters illegal which made street marketing, which is essential to their outreach, challenging.
Two other different perspectives move within more rural progressions but each present their own initiatives.
Doug Cox, Executive Producer of the Vancouver Island Music Festival, says reaching out beyond the confines can help pointing to the fact that this year is the first where they are hiring an American publicist to become more well known though that can take a huge cut from their budget. On a local level, they do need local hotel owners to buy ads but that ideal itself becomes a Catch 22 because, by that same token, they cannot get cheap rooms.
Bret Mosiman, co-founder of the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival in Arkansas, highlights the wonders of sharing great deals using the perspective that if a festival can find good insurance for $10,000, it helps all to share that information.
The International Film Festival Summit and the newly burgeoning International Music Festival Conference speak to the growing fraternity of such widespread and niche festivals. With the standards of distribution and saturation of material changing at every single point, discussing both the accomplishments, obstacles and tribulations the world over helps to both increase the functionality of these arts outlays but also create cohesive perspectives to increase profitability in an overall sense.