By Tino Carlo, founder and director of the Jolt TV Festival
When you see the word “festival” written in trade paper headlines, you normally think of Cannes, Sundance, and recently Toronto. Festivals like those rival the Golden Globes or Oscars in terms of their celebrity sightings and taste-making influence.
Those events carry some prestige, but a TV festival can be just as glamorous? Festivals like the New York TV Festival (NYTF), ATX, SeriesFest, and the Monte-Carlo Television Festival have been growing in both number and popularity over the last 10 years. And I’d argue that they can offer more bang-for-the-buck for aspiring producers than film festivals offer aspiring filmmakers.
At film festivals, a filmmaker’s odds of getting a worthwhile experience are stunningly bleak. 50,000 independent films are produced each year. Sundance accepts only 3% of its 4,000+ yearly submissions, and the majority of the films it accepts will never recoup their production budgets.
Even with thousands of film festivals currently held each year, you could still argue that there are not enough festivals to meet filmmakers’ needs. But over the last decade, TV festivals have grown to accommodate the needs of producers, along with the needs of TV networks and digital outlets. “There’s a ton of content out there,” says founder of the New York Television Festival Terence Gray. He believes that TV festivals will continue to grow since demand for great TV programming is only getting stronger. Furthermore, the potential outlets for content (hundreds of cable channels, plus Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo!, etc.) are more numerous than anything offered at the most prestigious film festivals.
“Before an artist even arrives, their work has been seen by hundreds of decision-makers across the industry and they have additional opportunities to pitch buyers show concepts with guaranteed deals attached.” Gray continues. Festivals like NYTVF give equal value to TV executives as well. “Buyers across the spectrum – scripted, unscripted, etc. – continue to look to the NYTVF community for new voices and ideas.”
As a TV festival event manager myself, I have to figure out what makes festivals worthwhile, and I believe that good ones should be measured by the value they give to both content creators and networks looking for that content. A festival’s reputation—and hopefully my own—should be built upon the opportunities it creates for up-and-coming producers that may not have had their content seen otherwise.
This summer, Saralyn Ward became one of the newest members of the NYTVF community. A Pilates instructor and full-time mom living in suburban Colorado, Ward enlisted a friend to help her conduct on-camera interviews with other moms at a playground. The material from those candid sessions became the genesis of The Mama Sagas, a sizzle reel chosen as a finalist in the first annual 360 Unscripted Competition. The contest is sponsored by A+E Networks and is part of the many events curated by NYTVF.
With a minimal budget and maximum conviction, Saralyn turned her homespun idea into a potential hit docu-series. “What I thought I was going to shoot with a student filmmaker on a Canon Rebel turned into a sizzle reel I’m now pitching to A&E!” exclaims Ward.
She’s about to join an impressive list of creators. In 2014, NYTVF facilitated 7 new development deals for unscripted programming. In Austin, the ATX Festival accepted 10 finalists this summer to pitch their scripted pilot concepts directly to a panel of industry professionals. The initial submission fee was only $25.
That’s value. Now, it’s easier than ever to embrace the indie spirit and send your show to festivals. With the Jolt TV Festival, I’m hoping it becomes another venue that creates opportunities for people like Saralyn. Her success story lets us know that the right people are tuning in. When we measure the true value of a festival, let’s also consider its power to inspire others to create and share. “There’s so many ways nowadays to put it out there,” Saralyn advises. “Don’t wait until the idea is perfect. Just get your art out there. Just do it!”
Tino Carlo is the Founder and Director of the Jolt TV Festival, an L.A. event dedicated to showcasing new unscripted content for television and online platforms that will hold its first event in the summer of 2016. Carlo earned his industry stripes in the NBC West Coast Page Program and has worked at Evolution Media and E! Networks. This is his first look at the growing popularity of TV festivals.
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