Producer Aaron Wood discusses animation-festivals.com, his helpful festival website, and how to make a global impact with your short.
Animag: Please tell us about the origins of your website, animation-festivals.com.
Wood: It started when my production company was submitting our first short film. My director and I had spent two years researching and submitting to every film festival we could find. This involved a lot of Googling and trawling through live-action film festival lists, identifying those with an animation category. There were a few websites that listed some festivals, but the information became quickly dated. Once our submission period was over, we were left with a detailed spreadsheet of about 300 festivals that were specifically for animation, or had an animation category. Our first thought was just to add this list, or the spreadsheet, to our blog, in the hope that it might help others who were submitting their first film; but we realized this information would also soon be out of date.
animation-festivals.com was born when we had the idea of creating a website similar to Wikipedia – a listing of all these festivals but with the ability for anyone (not just the festival director) to create an account and edit any out of date information. Despite early worries that this kind of system could be abused, this has never been the case – the animation community are quite an honest lot! It took a while to get traction, but now that the majority of festivals know about us, their profiles are updated regularly – and we thank them for this continued support.
We review the site twice a year to check for any festival listings over two years old, any dead links, and remove festivals that have sadly ceased to be.
How has the industry and your site changed and evolved over the past 10 years?
The site has fundamentally stayed the same. At the heart of it, we have always given the user what they need: the festival name, festival dates and deadline. We always welcome user feedback and try to implement any useful or interesting suggestions, which have led to us adding our downloadable festival spreadsheet list; plus, information such as whether the festival includes a marketplace, or whether they are recognized by ASIFA.
From an industry point of view, we have seen the categories and types of award options open up a lot more, embracing commercial work and new technology with categories such as Commissioned Films and VR/Immersive Films. Many festivals have added these categories, allowing a broader variety of short films to be showcased.
One other industry change that has been reflected in our site is how people submit their films now. Ten years ago, festivals were asking for films on DVD and VHS (or even 35mm film!), whereas now it is all online via web forms or submission platforms; which our site links directly to, with FilmFreeway leading the way.
What advice would you offer animation creators who want to enter their shorts or projects in festivals?
I think the key is organization and to have a strategy. It doesn’t have to be anything complex or over the top; just a simple spreadsheet. I believe animation-festivals.com is a good starting point to identify, say, 200 or so possible festivals to enter — then create a spreadsheet and start submitting to the ones with the closest deadlines. On your spreadsheet you should record the festival’s dates, the category entered, whether you have entered your film yet and whether or not it was selected. I know people who have created very elaborate spreadsheets that record everything, but I would advise to keep it simple and just start submitting.
Also, festival submission isn’t a one-off task; you really need to set aside some time every three months for about a year and do a big push with all the festivals that have since opened for submissions.
I would advise not to be disheartened by rejections. Not every festival will be the right fit for your film, and it can be a numbers game – you may submit to 200 and only get selected for 20 – so don’t give up after only a handful of submissions.
There are so many festivals around the world, you could practically do nothing but attend festivals year round … which ones are your favorites and why?
This is true – aside from maybe December, you certainly could bounce from one festival to another all year long!
Of course, festivals exist to showcase films, but I would say my favorite thing about them is how they bring people together in one place (from all over the world) to meet, discuss and “geek out” about all things animation. I think animation is a rather unique industry in that it can feel like a family when you all get together, and for this reason my favorite festivals are those that foster this friendly, inclusive environment; putting an emphasis on informal networking.
There are many that achieve this over the world, but the ones that I regularly attend in my corner of the world (the U.K.) are Manchester Animation Festival, Dublin Animation Film Festival and Cardiff Animation Festival.
One predicament animation creators often face is, should they post their shorts online for free or wait until they are picked for festivals. What do you recommend?
It used to be the case that you submitted to festivals first and waited, say, two years until the festival circuit was over before you posted it online. There was a lot more emphasis on
“premiere status” for films, too.
However, over the past 10 years there has definitely been a shift and it is deemed a lot less important, with the majority of festivals dropping this rule altogether.
As a producer myself, I am now of the opinion to both upload online and submit to festivals simultaneously. I have done so with the past few films that I’ve produced and it did not seem to harm their selection. At the end of the day, filmmakers make these films to be viewed — and online platforms give this added opportunity, which will always be a very different viewing experience to a film festival.
Aaron Wood is the Managing Director and Producer at London animation studio Slurpy Studios which specializes in commercial and entertainment content. When not working on Slurpy, he runs animation-festivals.com which aims to list (and make it easy to find) all festivals that accept animation.