A lot of times the little guy never gets recognition for their efforts. Winter Film Awards a non profit organisation–a coming together of filmmakers and film enthusiasts dedicated to showcasing emerging and independent filmmakers of all diversity gears up for their 6th annual independent film festival. And we caught up with the executive director, Steffanie L Finn via email to share with us some insight…
Steffanie L Finn
So, i got a couple of questions rambling in my head right now, but i’m thinking a little scope into what Winter Film Awards–would be a great way to break the ice. What you think?
Winter Film Awards was founded by George Isaacs, a filmmaker with 20 years experience in the industry. George’s films had been on the festival circuit and he wasn’t really happy with the festivals he was finding — there were the huge ones, that you only could get into if you spent a ton of money or knew someone or had a celebrity in your film, or the smaller fests that were often poorly organized or scams. George’s dream was to build a completely honest festival that showcased the little guy the same way the big fests fussed over celebrities.
We make an enormous effort to ensure a bias-free selection process for our submissions — each film must be watched by at least four judges and at least one judge must be a woman. The Festival organizers do not judge submissions because we feel that we are biased — we know if a film was invited or was by a friend or is of particular interest to the Festival and we do not think that is fair to the other filmmakers. Our judges come from all over; students, industry professionals and regular film enthusiasts from around the world. Pretty much, if four film lovers love your film, chances are good our audience will as well!
But, we also put a ton of effort into our parties as well. Our Awards Ceremony looks like the Golden Globes — we throw a huge event at a lovely club and have live performances and tons of hoopla. We want our filmmakers to feel like stars!
The other thing really important to us is diversity. We throw the net really wide to ensure that our collection of films is truly representative of everyone — after all, we are in NYC and nowhere is more diverse than NY. We also take that into our screening blocks — instead of organizing films by genre or theme for a given screening block, we toss in a bit of everything. So, for any given 2-3 hour block, you’ll see an animated film, a web series, a horror film, a documentary, a music video and a narrative film.
Right, pretty cool concept. The little guy never gets the honors, its quite nice to see a platform that identifies with indie filmmakers on the come up. How are the judges picked? Is it kind of like a random process or is there like a work through process for the selection?
Judge selection is random. We contact all the local film schools, advertise for judges in a bunch of FB filmmaker groups and other film sites.
L-R | James Wilder WFA 2015 Best Actor And Steffanie Finn
Before i talk more on that,i would like to explore some history. Can you tell us when these great idea became an actual business entity so to speak?
George and I have been friends for a long time. He started the organization in 2011, and the first Festival was winter 2012. I joined as Executive Director around then; I have extensive project management and IT experience so I took over day-to-day details of the operation and our website/communications and George runs the “big picture”, strategy and anything related to the film tech, parties, events and networking. We got non-profit status in 2014 and the Festival broke even in 2015.
We learned early on that if the organization has no money, it is critical to make as many connections as possible. To that end, we are happy to take a chance on startups and to offer whatever assistance we possibly can to other groups. Because of this, despite our laughably tiny budget, we manage to put on a huge and impressively dazzling event all due to the support of our friends, helpers, volunteers, fans, sponsors and partnerships. Our mantra is “it is free to ask!” and we employ that regularly! We also regularly reach out to the vibrant local university community for help.
We couldn’t survive without our very loyal team members — Board Member Joe Mauceri comes from the film, radio and horror world and is an invaluable member of the team, Fernando Camacho is our brilliant video artist and does production, Neal Williams and Vaughn Murphy help with Event Production and Dawn Mecca is our social media guru. In addition, each year, we have about 35 volunteers help with submission screening, 25 who help judge award winners and 50 volunteers on-site to produce our events.
L-R| Yung Jen Yang WFA 2016 Best Webseries and Lola Bastinado
Awesome,i think this is really quite relatable in the infant company and start ups’ demographics–your mantra “It’s free to ask” though does kind of feel like a big question mark pleading to be unveiled. Was wondering if you can expand on that?
We’ve been amazed at the stuff we’ve managed to get for free or for a huge discount. We ask EVERYONE for donations or help on the theory that it costs us absolutely nothing to ask. Worst that can happen is they ignore you and you move on and ask someone else. Even if they cannot help, sometime they know someone who can.
Because of this, we are able to throw a $250k event for a tiny fraction of that. We award our Festival winners with $60k+ worth of awesome stuff.
We knew we needed some market research, but there was no way we could afford that. We wrote to every marketing professor in NYC asking if they’d consider having us as the subject of a student research project. Professor Lowry at Pace responded and we got our research and the students were delighted to have an actual real-world example to work on with a grateful client.
Seriously, throw the net wide. It costs nothing to ask.
Right, I want to do a quick time jump and hopefully see if i can get a little glimpse of the future. Was looking through your Facebook page and i came across your program minute. And was quite fascinated with the line up. One did quite catch my attention a lot, Getting financing for your indie film. And i feel would be a burning question behind the minds of indie film makers, screenwriters and creatives within these context whom haven’t been blessed with the opportunity to be intimated with your past awards and fests. Can you give us a little elevator pitch, well more like an introductory content in anticipation for the pillar content that would be built upon during the award and fest?
Not quite sure I understand the question ….
Aside from the screening of 88 awesome films, we are excited to present five really interesting and useful panels for attendees. These panels are all free.
Monday (Feb 27), we offer the opportunity to meet with the team behind the new app “Cinematcher”, which is the Tinder of film jobs. People can post jobs and scroll through available candidates, filmmakers can meet each other and network and more. We’ll have wine and cheese (free!) and demos of the app
Tuesday (Feb 28), we are taking a look at indie film in Iran. We’ve been amazed at the enormous number of indie films coming out of Iran — we had at least 50 submitted this year– and we’ve all heard stories about repression and censorship there. WFA has teamed up with AFTAB to host a talk by 4 Iranian filmmakers about the state of filmmaking. Interestingly, one of our Iranian filmmakers wanted to attend the Fest, but his VISA was denied just before the Trump travel ban.
Wednesday (Mar 1), we have pre-eminent entertainment lawyer Steven C Beers in to talk about Finding Financing for Indie Film. We all know that financing is the hardest part of filmmaking; this discussion and Q&A will discuss the various pros and cons of the available options.
Thursday (Mar 2), we again have Steven C Beers in to talk about Legal Issues in Filmmaking. There are so many potential legal fails out there — copyright, ownership, credits, issues with talent, liability, workers comp, nudity clauses and on and on. It’s important for filmmakers to know the primary legal issues to keep in mind, how to avoid lawsuits and what not to worry about.
Friday (Mar 3), Angela Peri and Lisa Lobel from Boston Casting, the largest casting company in New England, will talk about how to cast an Indie film including how to find talent, how to choose the correct person for the role and what issues to keep in mind. The event will be following by a cocktail party and networking event.
Oh my, Donald Trump seems to be everywhere causing some mess. With my previous question i was attempting to like get you to simplify getting financing for indie films, like you rightly stated funding tends to be one of the hardest part and i think is one of the most intricate part of any business generally speaking. But i do see that a keynote guest speaker Steven C Beers will be headlining that participative section of the fest. I just looked up Steven C Beers, he does look like he knows his stuff. For the sake of the readers though, can you tell us more about Steven C Beers?
Steven Beers has been all over the industry for a long time — George Isaacs, WFA founder, worked with him 15 years ago when he was producing music videos in LA. Steven is a leader in the entertainment law field and knows the ins and outs of the entire legal and financing process.
Ok, Can we go back a little bit. Can you tell us what inspired the name Winter?
Ha! That was before I was on the project. Each year, while loading the theater in the snow, I swear that next time I start a film festival, it will be called the SUMMER Film Festival!
The plan was for the Festival to run in the sweet spot between fashion week and the Oscars — there is literally nothing going on in the City that week. Since the fest expanded to 10 days, we wind up with some overlap – this year, the Oscars happens in the middle of the fest.
Constance Ejuma WFA 2016 Best Picture And Best Actress
Lol, funny one…you earlier mentioned that 88 films have been screened for Winter Film Awards and Fest 2017. And you also mentioned picking film enthusiasts from socials and film schools around for judges. I’m sort of wondering what’s the entry submission process like, in regards to diversity how far out does that go–is it globally friendly or does it come with a few restrictions in regards to geotags?
We accept submissions via FilmFreeway and WithoutABox, and we post our Call for Entries in about 250 FB groups (we throw the net wide to all the various country and ethnicity film groups we can find) and at least 100 film sites from around the world. We are in the Top Ten Best Reviewed Film Festivals on FilmFreeway, which puts us in front of a ton of filmmakers, and we utilize the FilmFreeway promotional tools to get the word out as well.
We contact film festival organizers in areas from which we don’t get a lot of organic entries (particularly Africa and Latin America) seeking contact information for interesting films to invite for consideration. About 18% of our 2017 submissions were invited.
That said, all films go through the same judging process. To ensure quality of our selections and remove bias, judges are not told which films were invited and which submitted on their own.
Awesome. Are there any entry submission rules?
Submission rules are basic … film needs to be made within the past couple of years, be in English or with English subtitles,you have to have rights to the film (no copyright issues).
Ivy Rong Liu
Ok, that’s pretty simple and cool. It’s been interesting talking with you. Would you like to add any final words though before we round this up?
Final words, huh?
Putting on an all-volunteer Film Festival with no money is an utterly insane proposition. We all have day jobs and do this on our “free” time and none of us get any sleep between December and March. There’s no way we could possibly do this without our army of helpers, judges, photographers, video people and more. Our policy has always been to help out anyone we can, to be absolutely honest,to run a completely clean event and to treat everyone we come across as decently as we possibly can.
I’d be more eloquent, but Festival starts Thursday and I’m exhausted.
It’s exciting, though, and fun. It’s awesome to meet all these people from around the world, and we keep in touch with them for years afterwards. We get so proud when they get distribution and can’t wait to see their next work.
I had say i can relate, but i’d probably be lying. But wow, its been an amazing interview. The festival kicks off roughly less than 24 hours, Thanks Steffanie Finn for making out time for this interview–if you had like to keep up with happenings and events on the soon to be on-going 6th annual independent film festival (WFA2017), i would enjoin you to visit Winter Film Awards
And you might want to look out for some promising films like Enora and some actionable advice from entertainment lawyer and speaker Steven C. Beers
Loved the interview? Or got questions? Let us know on our comment boxes below.