Interview by Lila Puskas
The founders of CUT-UP’s Film Festival Strategy Tool, Moritz Schneider and Andrea Sponring, met back in 2008. They quickly recognized their shared passion for film, and founded a film production company focusing on commercials, music videos and narrative short films. This quickly evolved into distribution & sales for shorts. When consulting fellow filmmakers about their films’ festival run, Moritz & Andrea clearly saw the need for a new approach in festival distribution, that should allow exchange of first hand information and experience when submitting films to festivals: a film festival strategy tool. I took the occasion to sit down in their cosy office in Zürich, to talk about their journey so far and their future plans
Can you tell us how the idea of creating a film festival strategy tool came about?
Being involved in film production and working for festivals as programmers, as jury members or festival director, we realized that many of our friends were lost when it came to festival strategies. Most of them didn’t even really have a strategy. When reaching out to responsible persons at their film schools or film promotion institutions for help, the advice they received was rather nonspecific and sometimes left them with more questions than answers. They received some festival lists passed around, but rarely with a selection that really matched their film. Some filmmakers want to follow a conventional strategy where you try to premiere at an A-List festival, others just want to get their film out to a broad audience, the sooner the better. Strategies need to be adjusted to your goals. Google and submission platforms like Filmfreeway or Shortfilmdepot aren’t a big help, either. It is impossibe to check all the rules and regulations and compare submission options, deadlines and fees. After some research on the whole topic we were sure we could do better than that.
Our vision was to compare, select and rank the festivals that could be a match for your film. We wanted a tool to create the perfect festival list for each film, based on the goals the filmmakers set.
That’s why we built our own database and created a matching algorithm, which matches films with the festivals most suited based on various criteria. Initially we thought that it should be easy to develop such a tool. Looking back we were quite naive! The whole topic is much more complex than we first thought, and we constantly found new criteria we wanted to integrate. But in the end we succeed, and now we have an amazing tool, that is both flexible and has the potential to be developed even further. This allows us to constantly improve and update it with valuable information we find while submitting, researching and receiving feedback from users.
How did you approach the development of the tool?
While the tool was taking shape, we started a film sales and distribution company for shorts. We wanted to use and test the tool for an extended period. During this time we learned a lot about festivals, submissions and the industry in general. In the beginning our friends were our first clients. We faced some skepticism, as filmmakers are often approached by many different offers, some of which can be a bit sketchy. But quality prevails, and soon we were taking care of films from Japan to Venezuela, and Rwanda to Iceland with Oscar nominees, as well as BAFTA and Berlinale winners among them. At the same time, it was important for us to have a diverse portfolio, that’s why we also provided festival distribution for genre films. CUT-UP enabled filmmakers to screen their films in more than 90 countries and thousands of festivals. However, our capacity to offer this full service for films was limited. We believe in the importance of sharing and exchanging experiences. With the creation of CUT-UP’s tool, we can offer this kind of festival distribution support to even more filmmakers.
What can filmmakers expect from the tool?
Without even realizing it, filmmakers can spend days and weeks researching festivals, studying rules and regulations, and pondering which festivals would be the best for their film. They are also often budget sensitive, but you quickly lose track if you just submit to one festival at a time. You want to be sure that you are eligible for the festivals you submit to, and the festival is worth the submission fee. You want to make clever decisions. And our tool does that for you.
What part of the tool are you especially proud of?
The algorithm. It turned out really great: it compares and ranks so many factors, filmmakers would go crazy trying to note down all these criteria while researching. The algorithm is flexible, we can adjust and add factors at any time if we wanted to, although I think we already cover the most! We are looking forward to integrate feedback from users, who will surely contribute their own ideas of further improvments.
How do you select the festivals for your database?
There are a lot of festivals which have nice websites, but no proper screening, no jury etc. On the other side some of the really established and even famous festivals don’t have proper websites! If we add a new festival to our database, we always check their previous edition including the program and pictures of the event, and the social media channels. There are a lot mid-range and small festivals with engaged teams, a strong selection, and where you feel that the films are really appreciated. At a later stage of the festival run of your film you might be interested in screening as often as possible, so submitting to smaller festivals does make sense. Our algorithm will suggest the smaller festivals further down the list. If a festival does not reply adequately to our questions, or we experience something that is not of advantage for the filmmaker, we remove the festival from our database. We find it crucial to maintain our independence, so we don’t make deals with festivals. Maybe we are inspired by the famous Swiss Neutrality! And we are very proud to say that our tool is 100% free of fake film festivals.
What are your future plans?
We plan to integrate some usability improvements: fancy dashboards, calendars and maps are all on our bucket list. We ultimately want an application that is easy and intuitive to use. We hope that the user numbers will continue to grow quickly. This would have a truly positive effect, as it would be easier to share experiences that everyone could benefit from. We hope, that we will become a community with its own voice. This would give the filmmakers a certain power in demanding festivals to be more transparent. We would also love to integrate more country specific information, depending on where our future clients come from. However, our biggest dream for the near future is to help as many filmmakers as possible, to have an exchange about the whole topic, and to see where the journey goes.
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