Edward and Melissa Lyons are the best kind of tired right now. They’ve spent most of 2017 traveling the film festival circuit promoting their film, Alfred J. Hemlock. Life on the road isn’t always easy, but the filmmakers will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the price.
I recently spoke with Ed and Melissa about life on the film festival circuit, lessons learned, and the future of Alfred J. Hemlock.
“Making a film is really only about a quarter of the job,” Edward explained as the conversation began. “There are a lot of challenges and overcoming obstacles to get the film made, but the real work is getting the film out there. There are a lot of films being made today because of the democratization of technology. Everyone is making a film. So, you have to do something special to cut through the noise and that’s where the festival circuit comes in.”
The first step, of course, is getting accepted into the festivals. The Lyons have worked hard, learning by trial and error, how to most successfully submit their work to festival runners, and to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward each time.
“When we submitted to the festivals, the job wasn’t done,” Ed pointed out. “Having contacts at the festival is important, but you have to have a good reason to reach out to them. If we won an award at another festival or if we had a really great review from someone, we’d send that information along to our festival contact. They’ve got so many films that are being submitted, and if it comes down to your film and someone else’s letting them know what people are saying about your film can really help them make the decision.”
“We also worked social media really hard,” Melissa added. “We tried to keep up awareness about the film by sharing articles and reviews and tagging film festivals and publications on Twitter and Instagram. It was time-consuming, but it was really worth it. I think it increased our visibility a lot.’
Again, though, just being accepted into the festival wasn’t the final step. For an independent filmmaker, especially, it’s often important to attend those festivals in person. It’s a costly endeavor, and all too often hard decisions have to be made. Decisions that, for Ed and Melissa at least, often came down to the opportunities and amenities the festivals offered filmmakers.
“If a festival seemed very excited about the film and seemed like they really wanted us there, then we were more likely to attend,” Melissa said. “If there was very little communication or they just didn’t seem interested, we were more likely not to go.”
“Yeah, it really came down to the festival with the warmest handshake some days,” Ed continued. “If we had to make the choice between two festivals, we would look at the bigger picture. What kind of venues are they showing your film in? Do they have a filmmakers lounge? Do they have panels? The Women in Horror Film Festival, as an example, had really great panels and we were excited to see them and be a part of them.”
But the final decision almost always rested on how the independent filmmaking community was received.
“I think the kind of film festivals that you sort of aim for are those where you get the best sense of community,” Edward said. “The environment is right to make those connections. It’s to see other people’s work and make friends. You can compare war stories and talk about the challenges you’ve faced and see that we’re really all in this together. This year has been a lot of work but it’s also be so rewarding. It’s like being at Summer Camp if camp meant spending four months in movie theaters around the world watching films and being inspired by other filmmakers.”
Of course, traveling with their film from festival to festival also means that they’ve seen Alfred J. Hemlock many times over and I wondered if they’d noticed things in the course of a year’s worth of viewings that they wished they’d done differently, or did the film stand up to multiple viewings? Melissa was quick to point out that she doesn’t really watch the film so much as she watches an audience during a viewing, gauging their reactions and how different audiences viewed different scenes.
“Every festival crowd is slightly different,” she said. “For example, at Women in Horror, we had the Soska sisters hooting and hollering in the background which was great! Then, at other festivals you’d have crowds that were more serious and just very intently watching. It’s kind of an adventure to see how it will be received in different venues. It’s also interesting to see what films you’re programmed with. Where do we fit in the eyes of the festival directors?”
The festival circuit has been very kind to Alfred J. Hemlock. The horror short has won around 40 awards this year including numerous awards for Best Short Film and various acting awards for the talented cast. All of that good publicity and the way it’s been received has cleared a path for a full length feature based on the short film and Edward and Melissa couldn’t be more excited about the prospect.
Still, their time on the circuit isn’t quite over and they’re announcing new appearances all the time. You can keep up with all the latest adventures in the life of an indie film by visiting the official Alfred J. Hemlock Facebook page, following them on Twitter @AlfredJHemlock, and on Instagram @alfredjhemlock.