I saw something today I’ll never forget.
There was this guy on a unicycle on Bloor doing tricks while riding, and it was AMAZING.
I wanted to see how other people would react so I watched as he passed three people, each looking down at their phones.
Can you guess what happened?
Not a single person lifted their head. Not a single person noticed.
There are wickedly cool things around us ALL the time, but we’re too busy on Facebook or Pokemon GO to even notice.
The funny thing is, we like to think of ourselves and our films as the “unicycle.”
You know, that crazy cool thing that if people would just notice they would bolt out of their cars and give a standing ovation.
And you may be right, but it doesn’t matter. Why?
Because festival programmers are the pedestrians looking down at their phones.
You may think you’ve done all it takes to stand out but it means NOTHING if they never see it.
Me and Piers Handling. You know, the CEO of TIFF... just chillin’.
So how do you stand out?
What I’m about to tell you comes straight from the CEO of TIFF, Piers Handling, so listen.
The Rule of “The First 3”
The first 3 shots have to hook the festival programmers AND if it passes that test, then only the next 3 minutes have to hook them.
If you haven’t hooked them 3 minutes in, then the film will get tossed in the reject pile and expect a letter saying “Unfortunately, the competition was tight this year…”
That’s right. TIFF watches only the first 3 shots (then 3 minutes if it’s good) at most and if it’s not amazing, then they never watch it again.
Oh, and by the way, this rule is for FEATURE films. It’s even worse for shorts.
The good news is that you’re an indiefilmTO student.
Therefore you’re a ROCK star that TAKES ACTION, so we’re gonna give you the top three things (irony, yes) to focus on when you are constructing your “first 3.”
#1 Have a gimmick.
Yes, gimmicks have a bad rep but here’s what I’ve found: Have one gimmick, and your film’s “pretentious.” Have two gimmicks, and your film’s “inventive.”
Make sure the gimmicks work well. Don’t just slap Memento’s time jumping gimmick onto Nymphomaniac’s sexual gimmicks, unless it’s consistent with your story.
PS: Come to think of it, a time-jumping-porn film sounds fantastic. Send it to me personally if you create that.
#2 Find a current event people are angry about, or have “high valence” emotions for — then give a shocking unpopular twist.
If something pisses you off then let other people know. If you can create a film that touches on something current that people are angry about, then you will spread.
According to studies, things that evoke “high valence” emotions get shared the most. This is why Black Lives Matter and Trump dominate the news.
Now, put an unpopular twist on this subject so you can stand out, and so that you demonstrate you actually have a POV instead of jumping on the bandwagon.
#3 If it is a story that has been done before, find a way to do it so different that it becomes it’s own sub-genre and be bold.
Here’s a tip. Don’t copy off of one person’s film. Instead, take a couple existing ideas and mold them together to create something new and genre defining and you’ll create something brilliant.
“Thieves steal. Innovators combine.” – Curt the Great.
Your Action Step
Brainstorm TEN ways you can make your opening 3 shots more eye catching. Your first few ideas will come easily and then you’ll start to struggle to get to ten, which is good since you’ll find the bottom of the list is where your most creative ideas will come from.
Remember to think from the POV of a festival programmer. They’ve seen every type of film and so you have to appeal to them first and foremost; not necessarily to you.
Okay, I gotta choose some films. Remember, I’m a festival programmer too!
Write a comment and let me know what frustrates YOU the most about film festivals.
Bye bye for now.
Director / Writer / Producer
You know how Eminem is the Rap God? Well up North there in Canada, Curt's referred to as Toronto's "Film God." Studying mathematics and physics, his switch to filmmaking has given him a unique eye where he sees how things are traditionally done in the industry and goes "Um.. WTF." With a focus on results, and not just "festivals", Curt has taken cues from the startup world as well as deep psychology to help other independent filmmakers get connected, get funded, and make money with their films.