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Do Film and Video Festivals Really Watch Your Video? And What To Do About It.
It certainly is bad enough when you have been accepted by a film or video festival and your work receives a public screening. Unless you win a prize, you rarely receive any compensation, despite the fact that they show your video and charge admission. Even when your video plays to a sold out house, you seldom see a cent. In addition, you're still out the hefty entry fee. But what if the festival judges didn't even watch your video? Really, for your fifty or a hundred dollars they watch your video all the way through and provide some insightful comments, don't they? Not necessarily.

Check your video tape when it comes back from film and video festivals. Is it either rewound all the way to the beginning or stopped at or past the end of your program? If so, that's good-- they may have watched your video all the way through. On the other hand, is the tape parked just a few minutes into the beginning? In this case, it is a good indication that the judges watched only the opening of your work and black balled it without giving it a fair shot. Now, you might imagine that they would have the presence of mind to rewind the video cassette and not give themselves away, but I assure you that often they don't. I have seen parked video cassettes more than once. A couple of them have been feature length, parked at two or three minutes in. One of these video features went on to win a major award at another film and video festival.

Some film and video festivals require judges to watch at least half an hour or even all of every single entry. Most film and video festivals, however, don't have any minimum viewing requirement at all. They may not even be embarrassed about it. Once, when politely asked if they had watched all of our entry (the tape came back parked at two minutes), one festival organizer replied rather firmly "We're not obligated to watch anything". He wasn't in the least embarrassed, and, in fact, seemed surprised that we would ask.

To be fair to judges, entries can stack up, and slogging through more entries than you having waking hours can be rough. Still, it often seems that some festival organizers could show a little more regard for video makers by organizing the viewing so that there is adequate time for judging. As a video maker you may wish to make your voice heard on this. In the meantime, here are some tips to help make sure you video gets watched all the way through.

First and foremost, get your entry in early, early, early. Send it in the earliest the film and video festivals allow, and definitely not at the last minute. Check festival rules for the dates. There is always a deadline, of course, but often also an opening date for the acceptance of entries. This is one of the great advantages of video over film. You can afford to make enough copies to have copies to go in early and stay late. With film you might have been able to afford a single film print. So take advantage, and get your video in early. Your video may get its viewing before the deadline, perhaps well before the entries start stacking up. In the early going, of course, your video has a much better chance of being watched all the way from start finish.

Second, and almost as important, look for film and video festivals that use one or more film or video makers as judges. They are your peers and have the kind of interest in and respect for the work that, often, many critics and scholars and others just don't have. Film and video makers are much more likely to give you the benefit of watching your work all they way through. Generally, they wouldn't want anyone judging their work prematurely and they won't judge yours prematurely either.

Calculate the viewing schedule. How many entries does the festival receive? How long are the videos on average? How many judges are there? Are there judges for separate categories? Read the literature, check the website, call or email and get the information. Then, do the math. Are there enough judges and enough time allotted to screen all the entries? Where is the film and video festival held? Is it in some resort town where the judges are away from the distraction of their home town activities? If the film and video festival looks to be overbooked, you may want to weigh your odds of success against the cost and hassle of entry.

Also make sure that your opening presentation sets the stage. Prime the pump. Use good looking video cassette labels. Use a full sleeve video case, one that allows you to insert a full color graphics cover. Design the cover well to impress the judges with the professional quality of your production, suggesting that yours will be one of the videos worth watching. Unless film and video festival regulations prohibit it, include along with the video any press materials, including still photos, press releases and press clippings. Create some excitement and anticipation.

Also make absolutely sure that the opening of your video looks and sounds good. Make sure your titles look good. Professional looking titles create a positive expectation. Make sure there are no technical problems, not even minor ones in the first few minutes. If your images have color problems or there are shots that are too dark, use a video proc amp to correct them.

Also make sure that the video copy you are sending in is the best possible quality and will play interchangeably on another VCR, particularly if the film and video festival is asking for VHS copies for screening. Play the tape back in some other VCRs to see if it still plays well just as a preliminary test for interchangeability. You can also often improve the quality of the copy by using a video proc amp which will allow you to correct color, luminance, reshape sync and meter video levels. Using the proc amp meters, you can make sure the adjustments to the video signal you are recording are within industry standards. These are the signal standards that video equipment manufacturers use as a guide for designing their equipment. Manufacturers make every effort to make sure that signals within industry standard will play properly on their equipment. If the video signal you record falls outside these standards, the resulting tape may play well one some equipment and not on other equipment. In other words, it may look good on your equipment in your studio and have real problems playing on the VCR used by the film and video festival judge. The picture might even tear, roll or disappear. With non-standard video there are just no guarantees. Use a proc amp with metering for any signal processing. Also use the sync feature to reshape sync to prevent any sync deterioration in making a copy.

As always, put your best foot forward and let your video do the rest.

© 2002 by Garry Hood

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