Why Do Film Festivals Care About My Biography?
First of all, a Director’s Biography and resume are not the same thing. This is an item that is often overlooked or omitted by Writers and Directors. Perhaps some people feel that if they don't have enough filmmaking experience to write about, that it isn't important. Sometimes, filmmakers and screenwriters don't want to boast about themselves and let their work do the talking. While this is noble, I feel like it's also a mistake to leave this field blank when you submit to Film Festivals. Reading about every university, theater group, film, and television show that a person was involved in, can be overkill, for a Director’s Bio. Why do film festivals care about your biography? Because it gives a potential viewer an idea of who is involved in the film festival. A common question I get, especially from people that are not in the film industry is, “who made these movies?” For potential attendees, who are curious about what a film festival event is all about, this entire concept is new to them. A short 250 word or less bio, allows the viewer to understand where the filmmaker is from and what stage of career stage the filmmaker is in. As well as, the next possible steps in this filmmaker’s career.
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A Director’s Biography or Writer’s Biography is a basic description of the creator’s background.
One of the first things that you want to establish in a good bio is, what state, city or country you are from. In my experience, film festival submitters omit this information 25% of the time. True story, at the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival a couple of years ago, we nominated 3 different films that were shot on location in Texas, for the "Best Texas Film Award." We typically nominate 5 films per category, but we assumed that only 3 were selected that year, so we nominated those. I even emailed every filmmaker and asked them where their film was from. Most responded, but some did not. We went on to have a wonderful two-day screening and one of the films got so many laughs, it was unbelievable. It was one of the most "talked about" films we've ever had. I realized that the filmmakers didn't attend the screening and never responded to emails. I decided to call them. The director told me that they didn't attend the festival, because they didn't get nominated for the "Best Texas Film Award." They felt that the other films were of lower quality than theirs. I was shocked to learn that the film was shot on location in Texas. The submission form didn’t include a bio or director's statement. The phone number’s area code wasn’t from Texas. They didn’t list an address or social media accounts. There was nothing that indicated where the film was made or where the filmmakers were from. They would have easily won the Award if we knew.
A little communication goes a long way. Simple, fixable problems with a film festival submission form like this, may affect the success of your submission. The first few sentences in your bio should let people know where you are from. In addition, it’s good to let people know what career stage the director is in. Viewers will consider this during the screenings. I’ve heard great compliments from film festival attendees like “Wow, the production was so good! I can’t believe the director is only 22 years old.”
Finally, I’ve found that people are genuinely curious about the “next steps” in the filmmakers career. People don’t generally understand that independent films can serve as a resume item for a director. Part of the reason why filmmakers put creative energy into a film, is to use it as a stepping stone in their career path.
Two Examples Of A Director's Biography
Here is an example of a bio with the three elements I discussed.
“Director Silvia Coy grew up near Detroit, Michigan and moved to Southern California at the age of 18 to attend film school. Upon graduation, Silvia returned to Michigan to direct the short drama film ‘Lasting Memories.’ After working as a crew member on several shorts in college, this film is her directorial debut. Silvia will return to Southern California soon, to work as a 2nd AD on the studio feature film, “Saving Chloe.” Her main career goal is to direct a feature film for a major production company.”
I cannot stress this enough. Your Director’s Bio is not a resume. You are not applying for a job. I've had filmmakers send us over 1000 words, listing High School plays and fast food customer service experience. It's OK to include these things if they are relevant, brief and have had an impact on your career goals as a filmmaker. People have a general curiosity about who you are. It’s OK to talk about some of your accomplishments, education and previous work, leading up to this submission. Just don’t over-do it. 1000 word bio’s are a turn-off. Trust me.
Here are two more examples that I’d like to show you. The first, is very typical of what film festival submitters send us.
“John McCartheson is a director, writer, best boy grip and editor that currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but grew up in Albuquerque. John has several film credits, some of which are on IMDb and others are uncredited. Award winning films like the Vegetable Detective, Gone Boy, the Bizarre Adventures Food Truck Pilot and two days on the new Transformers spin-off "Bumblebee" film as a production assistant for the 4th unit. John has been named to the Dean's list 3 times in his academic career. Once at the University of Southern New Mexico and twice at Shale Film School where he is set to graduate in late 2020. John has scored an A or a B grade in every film related class and his first student film, McCartheson directed the comedy film, Living With Billy Black, in 2016. Billy Black finished 3rd in the audience choice award voting at the San Juan International Film Festival, was an official selection to the Norwich Mountain Goat Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. An official selection to the San Antonio Giggle Fest, but the film did not screen because the projector wasn't working. Billy Black was nominated for Best Editing at the Northwest Short Film Festival for a local film won it, because the one his friends was judge, but whatever. John starred in seven high school plays including McBeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Wonderkin, Free For All and a play that his friend Rachel Marks wrote called Straight From Southshore. These experiences propelled his career in filmmaking to new levels. After meeting Adam Sandler's stunt double at a 2015 festival, John has been preparing a screenplay that will be handed directly to Adam Sandler when it's finished. Hopefully he will get an opportunity to direct a film with his hero.” (298 Words)
If you actually read the entire example above, then you get a gold star. Believe it or not, we get Director's Biographies like this all the time. It's better than getting nothing at all. We will typically take time to cut some of this out. But do you really want an unknown Film Festival employee, making changes to your bio? Make sure that you have a few people read your bio before you publish it and try to keep it brief, if possible. The next example, has been edited to create a better reader experience.
“John McCartheson is a filmmaker based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. John works part-time as a grip and production assistant on local independent film productions in New Mexico and is also a rideshare driver. John sometimes gets ideas for the characters in his films, from his rideshare driver experience. He is currently a part-time student at Shale Film School and is set to graduate in late 2019. McCartheson directed the micro short comedy film, Living With Billy Black, in 2016, which was selected by seven film festivals and was nominated for Best Editing at the Northwest Short Film Festival. John enjoyed his theater classes in High School and has been hooked ever since. His dream is to direct a comedy film starring Adam Sandler one day and is currently building his body of work as a director.” (137 Words)