Why every film festival needs an online strategy

A few posts ago I wrote about how film festivals would look like in a post Coronavirus world.
It was a combination of prediction, analysis and yeah, a wishful thinking too (disclosure: I’m a founder of a digital platform for film festivals).

Less than six months later and it’s partly becoming true: Hybrid events, about which we talked from Day 1, are becoming the new normal. This is due to the fact that in the territories we mainly operate, venues are beginning to reopen. Yet, some audience members choose hybrid over the in-person (physical) option.
As expected, I must add.

Why is this happening?
And what does it have to do with the need to plan an online strategy for film festivals?
We’ll get to it shortly, bear with me.

In the meantime, some pictures from hybrid events conducted in Movies Everywhere recently.

Q&A with director Gil Karni after the screening of his film Trip of Compassion. Small audience at his home, accompanies by a much larger online audience, who also submitted their questions via chat
A hybrid event in Ennis Multicultural Center. That specific video was screened simultaneously from a local projector and from our server. The speakers on stage were broadcast live through Youtube Live
One operator is enough! Portable switcher (ATEM Mini Pro by BMD), a DSLR with HDMI output, small mixer, wireless (for the director) and dynamic (for the audience) microphones, tripod and headphones. Basic. Enough.

What is an online strategy?

An online strategy is the approach which the festival has towards the use of online tools and the manner with which they are integrated with the festival’s vision in the long run.

How do we translate this statement to real life action?

Allow me to suggest a path.

Every film festival director (and her or his team and board) have nowadays a great opportunity (and in my opinion, a duty) to sit and think about the following topics:

(based on the assumption that almost every festival has at least some online experience)

  • Is online for us a Necessary Evil?
  • Does online make us spend more budget? — If yes, can we think of ways to make it more efficient?
  • Does online allow us to gain more revenue? — If not, can we analyse why?
  • Did we get to a wider audience through online? — If not, do we know why?
  • What does our audience think of online? What feedback did we get?
  • What were the characteristics of a successful online Q&A we had? — Was it the moderator? The guest/s? The lineup?
  • Is online making filmmakers more lonely because they don’t meet colleagues? — If yes, can we plan any events where they meet?
  • Is it possible to conduct a successful pitching event online? Do you have any experience with it?
  • Is it harder or easier to get sponsorships for online events (compared to in-person)?
  • Is it harder or easier to raise public funding for online (compared to in-person)?
  • Logistically, is online easier? Assuming there are no hotels, transportation etc? Does it cause other logistics challenges?
  • Does online require a personnel that is hard to recruit or train? Is that team more expensive?
  • Which communities and social group like or prefer online activity?
  • Which festival-goer personas are more likely to prefer an online event over in-person, assuming they can choose between the two (i.e in there’s a hybrid event).
  • Does online hurt the very notion of “ film festival”?

I suggest to discuss those questions totally openly, encouraging everyone in the team to express their opinions freely.

Some topics are ideologically driven, other are fact based. Things might be mixed. That’s Ok.

Note the first question: “is online a Necessary Evil”.
That is a totally taste-based question. It has no right or wrong.
Some festival directors simply hate online and regard to it as the most alienated thing they ever experienced. They miss the hugging, hand shaking, networking and partying that are at the core of film festivals.
Others find the online more efficient in terms of time saving and there are those who actually like it and prefer the online.

That discussion is of course not just happening in the film industry. It happens in every office-based workplace and company discussions about productivity and team work are all taking place everywhere today.

Yet, film festivals, just like trade shows and conferences, are different.

What we are experiencing in Movies Everywhere

Some clients turned their back and disappeared when the cinematheques were reopened. Talking to them, they admit it’s an emotional step, coming from the longing to meet in-person again. At the same time, they are certain they will integrate hybrid events in the future.

Backed up by market research

That approach (that film festivals will turn hybrid) was strengthened in a survey made by the Italian film festivals association (AFIC): Most festival directors who participated in the survey believe that hybrid is the future of film festivals. It’s a very interesting survey and relates to many of the points raised above (expenditure vs. revenue, sponsorships, funding etc.).

It’s happening right now

Others decided to make hybrid part of their routine and procedure.
They encountered logistics challenges in the first and second events, but when it became a routine (following a decision to do so), it became much easier.
That brings us to the financial aspect:

Does a hybrid event create a burden on an organisation? Or does it open new opportunities for revenue through ticketing and sponsorship?

The answer is one word: Efficiency.
There are available tools for screening films and then broadcasting Q&A sessions. The power of our ur platform, Movies Everywhere, is that it provides out of the box solutions that enable a single person with basic gear to operate a hybrid event, as seen in the picture above. And when multiplied in many screening events, it becomes more and more efficient, thus economical and with a greater outreach.
From there, the organization can move to gain more audience which means more revenue, either through ticketing or sponsorships (or both).

Enjoy both worlds

I, of course, am a strong believer in the hybrid approach. Online cannot and should not interrupt the in-person. It is a benefit and a complementary element. Not a replacement. I see Q&A sessions in which questions from online audience trigger and fuel discussions in a venue. I see film directors naturally relate to the audience at home. It actually fascinating, to see how natural it became.

Hybrid in action: A Q&A with Laliv Sivan, main actress in Stripped, a film by Yaron Shani

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Digital film distributor and founder of Movie Discovery VOD platform, QuickRights and Movies Everywhere . A former documentary filmmaker.

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Yoram Schaffer

Yoram Schaffer

Digital film distributor and founder of Movie Discovery VOD platform, QuickRights and Movies Everywhere . A former documentary filmmaker.

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