"Am I a douche if I ask for a fee waiver from a film festival?"
This question was posed to a well-known blogger from a "respectable" independent film organization. Her answer was "Yes", you are a douche. Um. OK. I whole-heartedly disagree. And I couldn't sit idly by and read this without commenting and putting this into perspective for us filmmakers living in the real world.
First off, the answer is "No", you are not a douche if you ask for a fee waiver from a film festival. You're a douche if you ask in a douchey way and expect them to say "Yes". Now, the people running film festivals are big boys and can decide whether or not to grant you a fee waiver. Often they deny your request and then you have to decide whether or not you want to pay the fee. If you get indignant with the festival and act like an a-hole about it when they deny your fee waiver request then, yeah, that's pretty douchey. But, no, it's not douchey to ask for a fee waiver. I do it all the time. And more often than not, the fee is gladly waived. Now keep in mind that most of the waivers I ask for are from festivals that have previously screened my work and it is customary for festivals to waive fees in those instances. If you're just starting out, you should expect to pay a lot of entry fees. That's the unfortunate reality.
Now, there is the rare instance of a fee NOT getting waived by a festival that has previously shown your work. That is douchey. Beyond douchey. This has only happened to me twice (that I can remember) and I won't mention names, but one of the festivals was pretty BUFF and the other one just happens to take place where that giant hippy music festival happened in the 60s. Damned hippies.
Let's keep something in mind here: I'm not bashing festivals. I love festivals. Festivals have expenses. They have to rent a venue to show the films. They have to print programs. They have to print tickets. They have to pay a projectionist. They have to rent a projector. And these are just the bare minimum expenses that I know about - I'm sure there are many many many more, depending on the festival. And keep in mind that festivals are taking a HUGE risk when programming your work: They are literally banking on people attending screenings based on the quality of your film and your ability to draw a crowd. I love festivals and hope that they continue to make money and thrive and survive so that I have a venue to show my films in front of a live audience.
If a festival is relying on MY entry fee to run their festival, it's generally not a very well-run festival. The better festivals have sponsors and advertisers that cover the bulk of their costs. They don't rely solely on entry fees. And they are savvy enough to seek out and program films that will cater to their audiences. Audiences that they've built over the years by being well-run, well-programmed festivals. And, unless it's a festival that puts on free screenings, these festivals are generally charging regular movie ticket prices to show your films. So festivals have a few sources of revenue to draw from.
Sadly, CineVegas isn't happening in 2010 which is a real shame because they are one of the great film festivals. But they decided that they couldn't raise the funds to pull off the kind of quality festival that their audiences and filmmakers have become accustomed to. Now, did they put the burden on the filmmakers by raising entry fees or telling alumni filmmakers that they couldn't waive fees this year? No. They did the respectable thing and just postponed the festival for a year. This obviously isn't ideal, but I use it as an example of how a well-run festival doesn't rely on submission fees to pay for their festival.
In 2008 when DIRTY WORDS: The Letter C was doing the festival circuit most of the festival directors I talked to were disappointed because of the sad state of the economy which had diminished their sponsorship funds which forced them to scale back their operations. Not a single festival director told me they were forced to scale back because their submissions were down and they weren't making enough money from submission fees.
Catch my drift?
Festival entry fees average around $35 each. If you submit to 100 film festivals, that's $3500! At Dirty Little Shorts the average budget of our films is $200. At Misfit Films the average budget of our feature films is $5000. I'm glad the blogger I mentioned has lots of money to throw around at festivals--more power to her--but some of us could make another film for the money we would potentially be spending on entry fees.
And, by the way, entry fees are mostly a U.S. phenomenon. Most European and Asian film festivals don't charge an entry fee (with the exception of Great Britain). Granted, most of them are government subsidised, but most also offer prize money which is a big incentive to submit. Most U.S. film festivals don't offer prize money.
So I call shenanigans on the idea that asking for fee waivers is douchey.
A fellow filmmaker suggested this (which I thought was pretty brilliant): Ask festivals if they'd be willing to waive the fee contingent upon your acceptance into the festival. If your film is accepted into the festival, you'll pay the entry fee. It hasn't worked for me the few times I've proposed it, but apparently it's worked for her.
All they can do is say "No", right?
Having said that: Always be courteous and respectful. You're dealing with human beings here. Most of them are really nice, reasonable, intelligent human beings, too. No one wants to waive the fee for a douche. Let alone programming the film of a douchey filmmaker.
But I couldn't let some blogger accuse me of being a douche for asking for fee waivers without speaking up and letting y'all know the real deal from my own douchey perspective.