Submission fees (Was: The Tank, Tanked, Anthology, etc.)

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Aug 27 2006 - 08:21:50 PDT

First, an observation about this list that applies to Internet
discussion groups in general. I've mostly stopped reading FrameWorks
because it has become just too time consuming. People are not editing
themselves. Ask, are you really making an interesting and original
point? And even if you are, if you're making ten posts in on a single
topic in a single day, maybe you should reconsider how you're spending
your time. So many posts discourage most of us from contributing. A few
people making that many posts that quickly just make the list too time
consuming for many or most to read. Not changing the subject line to
something informative doesn't help matters, and changing it (as some
did) without referring to the previous subject makes things tough for
those entering late.

About submission fees, it seems just plain wrong to me to ask filmmakers
to pay to have their work viewed in a non-festival situation. The result
of this is that the venue is supporting its program in part through fees
from filmmakers whose work is rejected. That doesn't pass the smell test
for me. I think it would be more honest to just say that we cannot pay
rentals, or can only pay low rentals.

Jim's point about labor unions is an excellent one, but it's hard to get
free spirits like "freelance" filmmakers to cooperate in the way union
members do. I found that out when I was a member of the National
Writers' Union, which is for freelancers. And historically it must be
acknowledged that unions have been bad as well as good. Still, there's a
point to be made here. If more and more filmmakers took a stand against
practices that seem exploitative, those practices would find less and
less support and perhaps in some cases would die out. Brakhage took a
stand against the Museum of Modern Art's no rental policy when they
offered him a retrospective 35 years ago, and Frampton took a similar
stance a few years later, and as best as I can tell they improved things
for all filmmakers as a result. Yet there are still many festivals that
pay no rentals. They pay the projectionists. They pay the electric
company. They do not pay the filmmakers.

Sure, some venues and festivals would die out if more and more people
refused to use them, but others would adapt, and still other situations
would take their place.

As a writer I'm sometimes asked to write an article for free. Recently I
was asked to write a book virtually for free. I do occasionally accept
such things in special cases, but usually I decline. I always ask, "Is
the printer getting paid?" Or, "Surely the printer is only accepting
reimbursement for his costs and foregoing profit? No? Hmmmm." Something
seems really wrong about the filmmaker or writer not getting paid while
others, such as the landlord who owns the theater in the case of rented
spaces, collect their usual fees.

This is not to say that I think people should boycott all festivals that
charge entry fees or that don't pay rentals. As has been pointed out,
many festivals return money to artists in the form of prizes and/or
rentals. I have mixed feelings about festivals and entry fees. But we
could start by urging the boycott of situations that most of us deem
truly exploitative, if a consensus can be achieved. The "let each
filmmaker decide" method leaves the community ripe for exploitation.

The idea that having your film screened for free by a curator who is
actually paid to choose it is a privilege also seems a dubious one.
Accepting this as the natural state of things is to cede power to
curators and institutions. If, as was true, not even Brakhage could make
a living from his work, then what does a screening in the Promised Land
of Manhattan lead to even in the best of circumstances? If you're trying
to get a tenured teaching job and are looking for resume items, that I
can understand, I suppose. But that is not true of most filmmakers. So
what else? The "privilege" of having a few critics and other filmmakers
see your work? Please.

The curators I know who are involved in high entry fee or no rental
screenings are mostly fine people who care deeply about film. A few of
them are friends, and will I hope remain so. I only ask that all of us,
in this imperfect world that seems perched on the brink of apocalypse,
think seriously about such situations, and how to improve them, rather
than accepting them unquestioningly as the natural state of things.
Especially for filmmakers, each time an expensive print is screened, it
gets a little bit more worn, and a little bit closer to having to be
replaced. I know as a writer I have felt much better about "insultingly"
low payment -- $25 at least pays for some long distance calls and
photocopying I might do in the course of writing -- than none at all.
Recently I bought a $50 book in the course of writing a $100 review.
This didn't make much economic sense in terms of time and money spent,
but at least I wasn't paying for the privilege of getting published, the
way filmmakers who show with no rentals are asked to do in providing prints.

Fred Camper

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.