Filmmaker Feature: Find Your Festivals w/ Ryan Larkin
May 21, 2021 ~3 min read
The intersection between art and business can be tricky, especially for filmmakers.
Streaming versus festivals. Vimeo versus YouTube. Creating the film is exhausting enough, now I need to plan my distribution strategy? With seemingly endless ways to distribute your film today, it’s overwhelming to find the best approach that works for you. That’s why we connected with Cquence filmmaker and video producer Ryan Larkin for advice on how he navigates the film festival landscape today.
Q: What general advice do you have for navigating film festivals today?
At any given stage, I’d recommend thinking about who your movie is for. The list of film festivals you target will primarily be based on that. While you can always apply to big international festivals like Sundance, Cannes, etc., you have to remember that even some of the best filmmakers in the world struggle to get selected for these programs. It’s fine to apply to them as reach goals if you can afford it, but don’t neglect smaller, more local festivals in the process, especially early in your career. These local festivals will help you get used to the festival experience, and they’ll help you learn how to talk about your film in front of an audience.
Q: What do you like most about local, community-driven festivals?
I love interacting with people who share my interests. Local festivals are frequently run and attended by people that are there for the love of filmmaking: they’re a great way to make friends and meet future collaborators. Local festivals also provide an opportunity to see how well your film plays for its intended audience. This is especially important when there’s something unusual about your film’s aesthetic or subject matter: like many filmmakers, I’m constantly looking for new ways to surprise people. Sometimes my experiments work, and sometimes they don’t. But I know in either case because of festivals.
Q: How do you decide which festivals to apply to?
I try to understand what specific festivals are looking for by browsing their websites and reading testimonials from years past. Sometimes it’s obvious, i.e. a horror fest wants horror movies, but other times it’s more subtle. Your personal story can be just as significant to programmers as the story within your film, especially if there’s a strong connection between the two. If you want to emphasize this connection, you’ll gravitate towards festivals that align with your identity and values.
Q: Does your personal story influence your films?
Yes, to varying extents. I haven’t literally experienced everything that I write about, but everything I make is based on some aspect of my personal story. Take STUCK, a short film I wrote about a man who sees unflattering labels appear on his own body whenever he speaks to others. This film was inspired by the anxiety I experienced growing up due to physical and cultural differences I noticed between myself and those around me. STUCK played best for viewers who could relate to that feeling.
Q: How do you get yourself noticed by film festival decision makers?
When applying to a festival, I always write a letter to the Festival Director or Programming Coordinator. I use this letter to introduce myself and my film, and I try to explain why the film is a great fit for that festival in particular. While there’s no way of knowing if such letters will be read, taking the time to write one is a nice gesture that demonstrates seriousness of purpose. Plus, FilmFreeway has made it easier than ever to do so.