INTERVIEW WITH… KEVIN MAYNARD FROM LONDON COMEDY FILM FESTIVAL (LOCO)
We have Kevin Maynard here who works with London Comedy Film Festival (LOCO) as a Short Film Programmer. It’ll be their fourth festival in 2015, and submissions are open for UK comedy shorts and features till (midnight) September 30th <– EXTENDED DEADLINE!
Tell us a bit about that process, and what you do…
I work as short film programmer and also help with the Discovery Feature Film strand. In terms of the short films I’m pretty much involved in every aspect of the process from planning the submission procedures to finalising the programmes and introducing screenings. It’s great fun showing the programmes to a packed room after months of work.
My own selection process involves a lot of whittling down. You start off with everything and keep narrowing it down till you have the right films to create interesting and distinctive programmes for the audiences. I’m keen on presenting complete and thought out programmes so don’t want to just select films and then screen them randomly over 90 minutes.
I presume you must get a lot of sketches rather than comedy shorts, what’s your advice to filmmakers who aren’t quite sure which camp their work sits in?
It’s sometimes very difficult to know where sketch ends and short film begins. Sketch is often described as essentially being one joke or a series of quick jokes building to a punchline, but I don’t think this is completely true as some sketches do explore concepts and tell complete stories. Likewise, many quicker short films only look at a single idea.
This isn’t the place to investigate a definition of short film so I would say that we want complete films with strong stories and fully formed characters. We have programmed films that have been described as sketches but they tend to be very short (one or two minutes). They also absolutely work as single films which don’t entail any wider understanding of a series or the comedians/filmmakers to appreciate them. This is vital as we want films that are individual works and aren’t sketches obviously tied to something else. It’s generally obvious when a character is being set up for future adventures or that this is just one of those adventures.
We also want films that feel cinematic. By this I don’t mean expensive or ‘grand’ but films where thought has gone into all areas such as cinematography, sound design, production design, and editing. Simply turning a camera on a sketch that works well in a comedy club is not nearly enough.
It’s also important to say that many submissions which can be described as sketches are far too long. The few that we have screened tend to set up a funny concept in a few seconds and then bang out a lot of jokes before wrapping up within a couple minutes. It can be nice to pepper a programme with one of two of these quick films. I’m not suggesting everyone should be aiming to do the same thing but with this kind of work brevity is often a plus point. On the flip side simply making your sketch longer doesn’t automatically make it a ‘short film’.
Is there a different approach to programming comedy to other genre strands?
I don’t think so, really. You’re still looking for the best examples of the genre and hoping to put together the most interesting and entertaining programme for the audience.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
Don’t let it knock your confidence. This is much easier said than done particularly if you get quite a few around the same time (as a filmmaker I once got three rejections in the space of two hours). Remember that there are genuinely a lot of reasons why a festival wouldn’t accept your film. Festivals have a hard time selecting programmes and can usually only show a small percentage of what was submitted.
The other advice I’d give is to try and use it as a learning experience. If you were rejected by a festival you’re particularly keen on then attend anyway. Go along to the shorts programmes and try to think about why these films were selected and what it is about them that stands out. It might be a good opportunity to look at your own film from a different angle. Oh, and don’t be bitter towards festivals and short film programmers (many of whom are very pleasant).
Tell us the best and worst part of your job
I like pretty much everything about the job. It’s a varied mix of work from viewing submissions to introducing programmes at the festival and meeting filmmakers. One thing I would single out as exciting is when a film you’ve never heard of really jumps out at you at the first viewing. It’s that feeling of seeing something and then immediately wanting to share it with people. It’s always exciting doing the initial submission viewings. Normally you have no idea what you’re about to watch and every film could be a gem.
The worst part of the job is definitely sending the rejection emails. It’s an important part of the job and I’m glad the decision comes directly from me as short film programmer. But, it’s not much fun hitting ‘send’ on an email that might disappoint or upset someone.
Film length is something that we get asked about all the time here at Festival Formula. What’s your opinion on the length of short films on the festival circuit?
Personally, I love short films of all lengths. Festivals like the brilliant London Short Film Festival have programmes dedicated to longer form shorts and these are often really interesting selections. At LOCO we currently have a maximum running time of 20mins which is mainly due to having limited room for longer films. This may change in the future but that’s how it stands for 2015.
I would say that longer shorts are going to have a harder time finding slots at festivals simply because there is less room for them. If you have one 90 minute programme you’re probably not going to want a 40 minute film in there. Similarly, I would expect programmers would rather show two really good 15 minute films rather than one good 30 minute film.
What’s also important to say is that many longer submissions we see could be shorter. Films that could be wonderful at a few minute are dragged out without the story to justify it. Try to always keep your film moving forward and don’t allow it to get bogged down by unnecessary sequences just because they contain a couple of gags you like.
Having said that what I really want is for people to do whatever they think is best for their individual film. If you are making a longer short and feel it has the story and energy to fill that running time then that’s great. It’s all about finding the perfect length for your film, but sadly that’s not always the length they end up.
As someone who is on the receiving end of so many film submissions, and tasked with a difficult job, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to filmmakers before they submit?
Is it too boring to say ‘follow the guidelines’? [NB. Nope, it’s what we spend a lot of our time doing for clients!] We have submission forms and guidelines for a reason and it’s much easier if they’re followed by the filmmakers. Festivals get a lot of submissions and in order to keep track of them things need to be done in a certain way. We occasionally get emails that have obviously been sent to multiple festivals saying ‘we want to enter your festival, here is a link’. The senders haven’t looked at the submission procedures for any of the festivals and it seems completely pointless. Often the films aren’t even comedies so I can only presume that the filmmakers have a long list of contact emails for festivals they know nothing about. So, research your festival a bit and then enter using the process they require.
Just to add, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with contacting us to ask questions and we’re happy to help you. But, take a look at the website and submission info first as this might answer your query with much more ease and speed.
Show us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
I’ve chosen the fantastic animation ‘All Consuming Love (Man in a Cat)’. This was the first film to win the LOCO Discovery Short Film Award (which at that point was given through LSFF) and it was also one of the first short films we ever screened. Dice Productions, who made the film, have subsequently screened another short with us and become great friends of the festival.
I haven’t selected it purely for sentimental reasons though. It’s an absolutely distinct, original, and hilarious short. It’s also wonderful how it uses the familiar theme of unrequited love but presents it in a truly individual way. The story itself is really strong so the concept doesn’t become wacky or an exercise in ‘doing something odd’ which you see in many other submissions. Definitely one that jumped out at me when I first saw it!
Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to speak to Festival Formula. Submissions are open for London Comedy Film Festival (LOCO) and all info can be found here. The deadline is midnight the 15th September.
Kevin Maynard is the short film programmer for LOCO Comedy Film Festival. He looks after the main short film programmes for the annual festival and has compiled screenings for other festivals such as ‘The Friars Club Film Festival’ in New York, and ‘In the Woods’ music festival. He has also been a judge of the best comedy award at The London Short Film Festival and assists in the short-listing of the LOCO Discovery Feature Film Award. As a filmmaker he has written and directed a number of comedy short films which have screened at dozens of film festivals and events (and been rejected by many more!). In 2012 he completed an MA in Film & TV Studies throughout which he focused on the study of short film and short film exhibition. His own website goes like this: www.kevinmaynard.co.uk and he can also be followed on Twitter at @whippoorwilms