Rebekah Louisa Smith
Joining us in The Green Room is a guest that we have been keen to connect with for a little while. We can officially say "there's a Doctor in the house!" Dr Rebekah Louisa Smith AKA The Film Festival Doctor thank you and welcome!
I always find it fascinating finding out how people's journeys began in the industry, I know a certain Mr Tarantino became a huge part of your inspiration and focus. Tell us the first steps you took on your journey and if you had any hesitations in what you were pursuing?
Yes Mr Tarantino is certainly a big part of my life. I wrote a PhD thesis on him between 2008-2011 at Aberystwyth University in Wales, U.K. In my early 20’s my goal was to work within the world of academia and become a film studies researcher. My PhD focused upon how his fan base in the UK & USA responded emotionally to his work (I used his most recent film at the time Death Proof) and how they engaged with him and his films. I loved every minute writing my thesis and it’s what helped me to become an official Doctor. However it was when I began co-producing the Abertoir Horror Festival that my journey took a change in direction….
Tell us how you developed your 'The Film Festival Doctor' brand...was it a case of a problem needed solving and you had a lightbulb moment?
The Film Festival Doctor brand was born via co-producing the Abertoir Horror Festival (which is an amazing festival) – I did this job in-between writing my PhD and what began as a hobby or a happy distraction from writing every day was – oh this is my life’s purpose! The more I got into producing the festival I realised that I really want to carve out a career in producing film festivals and working within this area of the film industry.
Whilst I was talking and connecting with filmmakers during the Abertoir festival I asked them what they liked and disliked about film festivals and there was a pattern in their responses – they all loved attending festivals, seeing their film on a big screen by an audience, networking, parties and winning awards however there was a frustration as they didn’t know how to create a festival strategy and there were no festival strategy consultants who they knew of at the time (back in 2009) who they could turn to for help. They were literally logging onto withoutabox, randomly submitting to film festivals and hoping for the best
It was at that point when The FFD was born as clearly there was a need for this type of business and there was a big gap in the market. I knew that I could create successful festival strategies for filmmakers and get their films seen on the festival circuit due to the connections I’d made with festival programmers from other festivals and learning from them what type of films they wanted to programme and how their festivals worked.
The film festival circuit is a very busy place with lots of niche festivals operating on so many tiers. What do you focus on when building a strategy for one of your clients?
Yes indeed. A festival strategy is created around the quality of the film, the clients goals and their budgets. First of all we watch the film and assess its festival potential. This will help us determine what level and tier of festivals the film is suitable for and where the best festival ‘home’ is for the film. These factors include knowing who the festival’s audience is and if it is suitable for their audience and personal programmer taste (or in other words if our contacts at those festivals would like it). We then take into account what the filmmaker wants to achieve from the festival circuit, the budgets which they have available to spend and then curate a streamlined and focused film festival strategy which will get them results on the circuit.
Are you finding that you are always adapting your offering to keep in line with the ever changing industry landscape and the world of festivals and content?
Absolutely all the time – every time I connect with a new festival it’s important that I understand what types of films they are looking for and what type of films they want to show to their audiences, right now every day I’m closely monitoring how our festival contacts are adapting to CV19 and working around the pandemic to produce their festival.
Many take the 'shotgun' approach to festival submissions- do you feel that laurel collecting is almost a negative as opposed to a positive? Or do you think you can never have too much recognition?
That all depends upon the filmmakers goals. I certainly do not recommend the ‘shotgun’ approach as that never really works and is never a good thing when it comes to planning. If the filmmakers goals are to get the film seen as far and wide at as many festivals as possible that’s fine to collect loads of laurels, if they are taking a more structured approach and their goal is for quality not quantity that works too. If their goal is to attach a sales agent to their feature film that will also require a very targeted and structured approach.
Apart from VOD and online streaming what have been the biggest changes you have seen in the past decade in the independent film industry?
The decline of theatrical screenings for independent films – it seems like most distributors are bypassing this and going straight to VOD which makes sense due to the expense and that obviously VOD is rapidly on the up. I’ve always known that festivals are incredibly valuable for theatrical screenings for both short and feature films and that they provide an alternative distribution opportunity for filmmakers to get their films seen theatrically around the world.
We both studied film to a degree level and beyond and now we are involved in the industry we love but in perhaps a different capacity than we initially envisaged. I think that's a nice tale to motivate others. What would be your best bit of advice to those at the start of their educational journey?
Indeed it is – my advice would be to always know what you want to achieve and what your end goal is – once you have that set in stone enjoy the journey and be flexible regarding what you learn along the way as it will help you to grow as a person and be the best version of yourself.
As part of your brand you have a great podcast and are launching your 'Rebekah Film Dr TV' platform- tell us more about that?
Thank you – I love my podcasts! I’m so excited about the upcoming launch of Rebekah Film Dr. T.V. which will happen in September.
This is an on-line subscription based channel which is for filmmakers who are seeking support to develop and expand their filmmaking careers.
It is a digital learning and educational platform which is designed to help filmmakers grow and become part of a global support network which offers a collaborative platform
Members will have access to –
* Bi-weekly webinars with industry professionals who they can meet and connect with
* Bi-weekly private group mentoring with myself
* Access to digital shows including 1 minute ‘Tips From the Doctor’ videos as a ‘go to’ resource to answer their questions revolving around all aspects of film – screening, production, post-production, festivals, sales and evening else!
* Access to a filmmaker forum where they can connect with other members and our team
Okay so let's get creative- you are Producing a film, Quentin is the Director. What's the title, logline and who are the leading stars?
The Vega Brothers starring John Travolta & Michael Madsen (the original Vega Brothers!)
Log line – The notorious Vega Brothers Vic and Vincent have one last job to do together for their Mexican client before they go their separate ways – but what they find in Mexico is beyond their wildest dreams and their biggest challenge yet.
In light of the current Covid19 pandemic lots of festivals are exploring the idea of the online festival. This is something we have steered clear of, for us there has always been a negative stigma here. What are your thoughts?
I can see and appreciate your point of view on that. I can also see the value in them for sure especially during CV19 as it’s something which audiences in certain parts of the world can watch during this period and the film still gets the official selection laurel and is eligible to win an award. There are many tricky issues with on-line festivals however especially for feature films as lots of grey areas come up regarding will it affect premiere policies? should they launch their film on-line or wait until a live festival? Will it affect their distribution deal? and will it affect their sales strategy?
It’s all about adjusting your goals and strategy and knowing what the filmmakers want for their film. Also, the biggest thing that is lost is organic networking; it’s very limited on-line how you can connect with other creatives when you’re not at a film reception or a party.
A final question- with the current Covid19 pandemic do you think the film festival industry will come out stronger or be impacted negatively?
Overall I’d say stronger, as although cinemas will have to pick themselves up they will and also this has been a very productive and creative time – lots of people seem to be responding with creative solutions to these new problems that have occurred in order to help pick themselves up when the pandemic has passed. This situation has forced people to think outside the box and come up with different solutions. Everyone is adapting well during this time and I’m excited to see what everyone will be doing next.