I recently pulled off a film festival without any major technical problems, and it felt like winning the lottery.
If you’re a filmmaker with a history of submitting to and attending film festivals, at one point or another, you’ve probably experienced something going wrong at a festival screening. You were sitting in a darkened theatre, losing yourself in the magic that is cinema, when all of a sudden, the sound went out of sync or the film started to skip uncontrollably
– until it cut off completely and filmmakers and programmers alike scrambled frantically to the projection room to try and fix it. In a worse-case scenario? This may have even happened to your film. So, to try and avoid these terrible moments, here are the top technical problems likely to occur at a film festival screening, and what you can do to prevent them from happening to you.
Problem One: Subtitles aren’t showing up on a film that needs subtitles.
The Fix: Depending on how your DVD was burned/digital file was given, it may be a simple matter of turning the subtitles on… but if not, the culprit is most likely how the projectionist has adjusted the formatting to fit the screen. This was the only technical problem I experienced at my own film festival, and the reason why was formatting. Avoid this by clearly labeling your DVD with the format and any info on subtitles (i.e., are they coming up over the picture or beneath it?) Once the projectionist at my film fest reformatted the picture, the subtitles appeared.
Problem Two: Encryption Gone Wrong.
The Fix: Just don’t do it. A lot of filmmakers are encrypting their films to prevent piracy… but this just adds another layer for potential problems. Although a film may be encrypted in a way that grants the festival access, there’s always the chance that the encryption will not be compatible with the server the fest is working with, or that the fest’s server went through an update that the encrypted film is not adapted for. So even though encrypting might be the norm for Hollywood distribution, when it comes to fests, just stay away.
Problem Three: It just doesn’t play.
The Fix: The short-answer fix is that everything has to be tested ahead of time to ensure it works. That doesn’t just mean by you, but also by the festival – so, get your accepted film to the festival well in advance to meet their test-screening date! If you miss the test-screening and are handing them a DVD just minutes before it’s meant to play, don’t be surprised if A.) It doesn’t work, or B.) They tell you to get lost. Additionally, know that a failure to play can happen for a variety of technical reasons, and always ensure that you’re formatting the drive the film is being delivered on properly.
Problem Four: It just doesn’t look right.
The Fix: DO QUALITY CONTROL. I saved this piece of advice for last, because it really is your best bet for having everything go well. If you’re sending along a digital file for the fest to work with, or sending a DVD that you didn’t watch all the way through to check for quality, be prepared for what you see on the big screen to disappoint. I know that, in the two weeks leading up to my fest, I was scrambling to get all the digital files I received burned onto DVDs, and, through compressing and burning, a few HD films came out looking slightly less HD than intended. The other side of the coin? Filmmakers who sent me the Blu-Ray discs I’d requested basically had total control over what I was getting in terms of quality and what the audience would see. I just had to pop in their discs and we were good to go. So bottom line? Each fest may have different needs – just be sure to give them what they ask for!