USC filmmakers adapt to virtual film festivals

USC alumni said the coronavirus pandemic has not only shifted fall film festivals, but filmmaking in general.

The 2020 fall film festival circuit is officially underway; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s festivals will be conducted online, forcing many USC filmmakers participating in the festivals to adapt to the changing atmosphere.

Normally, the film festival circuit provides an opportunity for film students to showcase their work and network with filmmakers from around the world. USC alum, filmmaker and festival curator Mary Rachel Gardner explained why she thinks festivals are important for students and new filmmakers.

“There’s a lot of valuable takeaway for building your network, getting inspired by what other artists are doing," Gardner said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to also put yourself out there.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic is taking many of these opportunities away from film students.

“You’re no longer able to interact with people and have that conversation with your audience where you’re able to learn something from them and they’re able to learn something from you,” said recent USC alum and filmmaker Allison Waite. Waite shared her experience participating in the virtual BronzeLens Film Festival this year.

“They screened it online, which was great it was able to reach a whole bunch of people,” Waite said. "But it was a weird feeling afterward because it was literally radio silence. There’s no avenue for a response.”

Without the in-person component, Waite said the number of people interacting with her films has been at a minimum. “The most interaction that I received was through social media for those people who made an effort to find me and look me up," said Waite. "They would DM me saying either, ‘I liked the film’ or ‘It resonated with me,’ and that was great, but it’s not the same.”

Because the film market was forced to partially shut down, Gardner said the film industry itself is becoming more competitive.

“If Hollywood wasn’t hard to get into before this pandemic, it’s almost impossible now," said Gardner. “As an independent artist, still trying to pitch with the big leagues and still trying to get into motion picture and television, development is extremely intimidating now because there’s even more of a door that’s been shut.”

Film students and new filmmakers are not the only ones who said they are struggling. The pandemic will continue to impact film budgets in the future, Gardner said. She addressed the financial future of the film industry and how it would be affected by the precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

“We also have to now hire a health professional. There’s actually a whole new health coordinator position,” said Gardner. “And it’s actually jumping up every budget about 10 grand.” Gardner continued, “I think sets are going to be safer, you’re going to be healthier and I think more cost efficient and effective. So there’s positives to take away from it.”

The future of the film industry is still bright, according to Gardner and Waite, and there are still upsides to the virtualization of film festivals.

“I have seen timed screenings online where people will have a film that will upload itself onto YouTube and then it will delete itself. And then afterwards they have conversations on Zoom or on film festival platforms,” said Waite.

Gardner expressed that she thinks the online market will continue to expand as theaters begin to open back up, which will create multiple avenues for filmmakers. Filmmakers can continue to create art and share stories, despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought, said Gardner.

“I think we need we need more laughter and empowerment right now," Gardner said. "There’s just a lot of darkness and hatred going on right now. So I like to positively think that through our filmmaking, we can continue to heal humanity.”