Interview with Nick Mason, Founder of the Feature Film Project
As anyone who has ever seen their own work projected up on a big screen will attest, there’s nothing like having your movie playing in a theater.
Of course, as everyone else will attest, opportunities to get your movie into that theater are few and far between – and getting scarcer every day as content rushes onto device after new device. Well, call us old-fashioned, but MovieMaker still believes in the magic of popcorn, noisy audiences, and darkened rooms. So does Nick Mason, who founded the Feature Film Project as an offshoot of his MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival. The Project, which had a fantastic inaugural run last year with David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga’s winning film Nairobi Half Life, is open for 2014 submissions from now til December 13, 2013.
The winning feature film will be screened in 100 theaters across the U.S. on March 6, 2014. Audiences at these screenings will then vote on whether the film should return to that theater for a full six-week release – and if majority vote yes (as they did for Nairobi Half Life!), the film gets the six weeks! It’s as basic as that – going from wrapping production straight to theatrical exhibition without the long process in between. The Feature Film Project/MANHATTAN SHORT will cover the cost of posters and other promotional items, too, so you’ll get the strategic marketing push that a traditional distributor would provide. It’s a pretty sweet deal – and Nick has generously given MovieMaker readers 30% off the $100 entry fee, meaning it only costs $70 to submit a film through us.
We spoke to Nick Mason about how the Feature Film Project grew out of MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival, the benefits the winning feature will enjoy, and marketing tricks he learned with last year’s experience.
MovieMaker Magazine (MM): First of all, your short film festival, MANHATTAN SHORT, has been running for over a decade and calls itself a “global film festival.” Share with us the festival’s history and how you came up with the idea of a non-traditional, traveling festival.
Nick Mason (NM): Well, calling MANHATTAN SHORT a traveling festival is like saying there is such a thing as a traveling Hanukkah or a touring Christmas. It’s a film festival that takes place during the same week on six continents around the globe (not Antarctica, but it’s only a matter of time). I first started the festival on the side of a truck in Mulberry Street, NYC. A year later I moved it to Union Square Park with the same concept as before – 10 to 12 short films from around the world. In 2001, the event was scheduled to go ahead on September 23, in the park. I thought after 9/11 the event would be called off, but on September 15, the NYC Parks Department called me for a meeting and asked me to please go ahead with the festival. The park was full of people mourning; those involved with the maintenance and upkeep of the park wondered if the grieving was ever going to end. The film festival was one of the events scheduled that were good vehicles for the community to move on. It was just a relatively small event that happened to be in the right place at the worst and best of times.
The following years the number of entries into MANHATTAN SHORT doubled, including many international films. That’s where the idea of branching it out to a wider audience came from. Why couldn’t we have the same film festival in both NYC, Boston, Bloomington, Indiana and Concord, New Hampshire on the same day? Why not two continents? We just kept adding continents and in 2010 we added Africa, our sixth continent, transforming it into the world’s first global film festival.
MM: Following that, how did you conceive of the Feature Film Project—after showing only short films for years?
NM: MANHATTAN SHORT has evolved into a network of not just cinemas, but people who attend those cinemas – film lovers who like to see new things in the cinema. They don’t want to wait for VOD or DVD. Our network of cinemas has grown every year, so it made sense for us to utilize this direct access to venues with the Feature Film Project. Of course, it is one thing to get a film into a cinema, but another thing to get people into that cinema.
MM: The opportunity to screen in 100 theaters across America is a wonderful reward for the winning film. What about a theatrical screening do you think is special for filmmakers, especially in this climate of VOD and other non-theatrical means to watch movies?
NM: I would think just about every filmmaker out there, when making their film, envisions screening it in a cinema. Personally speaking, the films I remember best, the ones that stayed with me the longest, are the ones I saw in a cinema, not on my TV or computer.
Also, the filmmaker receives 25% of the box-office revenue, which helps. VOD and non-theatrical revenue is great, of course, but the bottom line is any way you can market a film – be it in 100 cinemas or whatever – you should do it. I think the Feature Film Project could be a great springboard for other platforms too.
MM: What has been the most rewarding aspect of the Feature Film Project so far?
NM: That so many cinemas jumped in on the idea of it.
MM: Last year was the first year of the Project, and by all accounts it was a success, with audiences voting for Nairobi Half Life to get a full six-week release. Tell us about the experience and if you’re doing anything differently this year.
NM: Again, we’re planning to do guerilla marketing. It always comes down to how you drive traffic – what’s the hook? Nairobi Half Life was a Kenyan film, so we got the Kenyan Embassy involved who linked us into Kenyan hubs in the USA. There are four to five hubs where people coming from Kenya to the USA reside (Minneapolis, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle). Cinemas in these regions had to turn people away because just about every Kenyan living in that area heard about the film. So, I learned [to use strategic available resources] as the foundation of our marketing strategy.
MM: What is the difference in the selection process when programming shorts versus choosing a winning feature?
NM: The beauty of MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival is that it appeals to an age demographic of 15 to 80. I have always programmed it with that aspect in mind. I think everyone that makes a feature film would like to do that as well: Manage that and your film is half way to being a success, but very few do. So the hardest thing when selecting a feature film is finding one that appeals to a wide demographic. You want to have a reach that is as wide as possible. You don’t want to box yourself in.
Read more about the Feature Film Project at its official website: http://thefeaturefilmproject.com/
The regular entry fee is $100, but submissions through moviemaker.com (with our form) get 30% off, making the fee only $70! MM
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