Getting into a film festival today is like getting into college, only harder. Even Ivy League schools have acceptance rates higher than the 2 percent that’s quoted on the Sundance Film Festival’s website.
A new online festival of short films—the Your Film Festival, organized by Google’s YouTube—may not prove less exclusive than Sundance. But it does drastically cut the cost of screening films. And anyone with a broadband connection can attend. Just go to http://www.youtube.com/yourfilmfestival to watch all the YFF-approved entries, and many rejected ones as well.
The general public was invited to submit entries for free, up to 15 minutes in length, by 31 March. Ridley Scott’s London-based Scott Free Production Co., a partner in YFF, culled 50 semifinalists from a field of more than 15,000.
Public voting on the semifinalists, which began 1 June, will close 13 July. A permissive policy—one vote per film per IP address per day—will undoubtedly have entrants pestering friends and family to vote daily.
The top 15 vote-getting filmmakers will be flown to the Venice Film Festival in September, where their works will be screened. The top vote getter, to be announced at the festival, will win a US $500,000 grant to make a film with Scott Free. All 50 semifinalist films will be available on a special Your Film Festival on-demand in-flight channel on Emirates Airlines.
Although YouTube encouraged YFF entrants to post their submissions on the site as publicly viewable and searchable videos, it also recognized that many festivals won’t touch a film that has already been released in any way. Thus many submissions to YFF came in either as private video uploads or as unlisted public uploads. (Unlisted entries on YouTube have no keywords, descriptions, or other indexed text and thus are effectively undiscoverable.)
“There is this traditional sense that people have had that there are gatekeepers to the film industry,” says Nate Weinstein, entertainment marketing manager at YouTube. “And if you don’t put your content through those gatekeepers, then you’re squandering an opportunity.”
Many filmmakers, though, are happy to have their works viewed. “They’ve really opened it up to everyone,” says Thomas Price, an animator and filmmaker based in Nanango, Australia, who had previously submitted his short film Paradise to another festival, which rejected it. “It’s a free platform. That’s pretty incredible when you think about it.”
A wordless story about a kind of stygian journey beyond death, Paradise is a visually arresting live-action short by any standard. In its first month on the YFF site—six weeks before YouTube announced its 50 semifinalists—the film had been viewed at least 6400 times—far more than any other first-round film festival submission would have garnered.
Then, too, it’s vastly cheaper submitting to YFF than to traditional festivals. Reed Martin, author of The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn’t Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film (Faber and Faber, 2009), says that transferring just a 10-minute HD video to 35-mm film can cost upward of $5000. Uploading the video to YouTube’s servers is essentially free.
Martin says that YFF joins a larger continuum of online venues—such as CreateSpace, SnagFilms, and Vimeo—where emerging filmmakers can gain crucial exposure for minimal expense. “What’s going to be the catalyst for seeing more of this stuff is somebody who cracks the code of making a TiVo for the Internet,” Martin says. “Somewhere you can navigate all the stuff that’s on offer and you can realize the dream of the audience of one.”
This article originally appeared in print as “YouTube’s Your Film Festival.”