The Clearwater Film Festival

The Clearwater Film Festival was a grand experiment I performed from 2009 through 2012.

With the best of intentions at heart, I schemed to create a brilliant film festival that everybody would love.  Inspired by my wonderful experience at the Festival du Cannes, where I won the 24 Hour Film Challenge, I set out to create a new festival for Tampa Bay that would, in time, rival all others internationally.  I did create a lovely event that had feature length and short films, animations, documentaries, elegant parties with live entertainment and a film industry trade show.  Looking back, I believe I had the right idea, but presented it to the wrong community.

Links to our festival programs and news stories about us are at the bottom of this page.  Enjoy!

THE 2010 FESTIVAL

One day in late 2009, as I was writing a check to send a short film entry to another festival, I thought to myself “I wish somebody would send me a check.” At that moment it hit me that there was no reason somebody shouldn’t.  If I had my own film festival and somebody had a film to submit, sure, they would send a check right?

That night I mapped out a business plan. The next day I targeted theaters and hotel venues to take part, introducing myself as Mike from The Clearwater Film Festival.  Some people said it was about time we had a film festival in Clearwater, others insisted that they had attended prior exhibitions but had not come last year for various reasons.  My due diligence proved that there had never been a Clearwater Film Festival at all.

Being welcomed into every door I knocked upon was a fresh respite from the reluctance of those who would shy away from my advances when selling advertising.  It felt natural and right. Within 48 hours of designing the film festival and mocking up a website I was informed by my employer that my services were being terminated.  Such timing set me onto the task of building the festival into the spectacle it became, complete with elegant parties, stellar entertainment and the introduction of our trophy, the Wavecrest Award, to honor key talents and the Triple Threat Filmmaker.

I reached into my pockets and funded the entire event to my last dime.  I have over $60,000 in receipts to prove it. Although the financial return was vapid, the event itself proved to be exceptional. I was told by everyone there that I had created a beautiful festival, some said the best they had ever attended. Attendance was nowhere near the thousands I had anticipated.  It was much smaller.  My best estimate ranges from 450 – 500 people.

One film veteran was so impressed, he told me “You created a first year festival that looks like a ten year festival.  It’s really fantastic.”

But fantastic did not equate to profitability.  Most attendees came to see one film only, prodded by friends or relatives involved in the production.

STATS

  • 72 Films
  • 11 Educational Panels
  • 19 Featured Panelists
  • 6 Musical Acts
  • 3 Theaters
  • 500 Attendees
  • ROI $1.00 for every $6.00
2010 Festival Program

THE 2011 FESTIVAL

Immediately on the heels of the 2010 festival, I set out to build 2011 with a more cost effective campaign.  Having developed the infrastructure from the beginning, everything fell into place rather simply.

This time around I narrowed the production down to a simple venue at a hotel on Clearwater Beach.  From there, we branched out to include music stages at bars and other hotels in the immediate vicinity.  In addition to entertainment we also hosted a film and music industry trade show for performers and producers to network and reach out to new clentele.

Having learned that the general public was not our target audience, I set out to reach artists and producers to attend and wound up with around 300 guests. While the audience was a bit smaller, having a better focus on who the participants were proved beneficial in a networking aspect and the trade show participants were particularly pleased with their results.  Musical acts, on the other hand, seeking an audience, were not greeted with the vigor I had anticipated.  Other local annual music festivals, which had also provided free entertainment, always brought reknown performers, whereas the undiscovered talents on our stages were found begging for listeners.  A power outage on Clearwater Beach knocked out one band and two films.

The results of this festival proved that what I had was a rather expensive hobby, not the paying job I was attempting to create.

STATS

  • 57 Films
  • 6 Educational Panels
  • 12 Featured Panelists 
  • 12 Musical Acts
  • 2 Theaters
  • 300 Attendees
  • ROI $1.00 for every $1.00
2011 Festival Program

THE 2012 FESTIVAL

Never one to leave without a fight, I collapsed the festival and sought to move it away from Clearwater.  I interviewed theaters throughout Tampa Bay to reinvent the production in a place it would be better received.  My goal in rebranding as Tampa Bay International would be to find the local audience it needed for sustainability as well as a venue to call home.  

Despite “my naivete, my cockeyed optimism,” to quote Professor Robert Tregenza who struggled with his Tampa International Film Festival at the University of Tampa from 2003 – 2007 I pushed quality foreign and independent films to the brink in seeking acceptance.

The Studio at 620, a tiny theater space in downtown St. Petersburg, offered to assist with the development and marketing. Their loyal audience and local sponsorships appeared to be the right vehicle for this latest incarnation to grow from.  

The Global Film Initiative allowed us to procure films from their catalog for monthly screenings with the goal of raising funds for a bigger, stronger festival in the fall or 2013.

Even with keynote speakers and discussions on the films themselves the screenings did not gain the momentum needed to propel us forward.  Our fourth screening had only seven attendees and an equipment failure which forced that event to be cancelled.  Future screenings at this location were aborted.

In a final attempt to find an audience I partnered with Tugg, a film distributor who helps independent films get shown. We devised a one day festival at a theater in Tampa to showcase the remaining GFI films I was contracted to screen and planned to show several short films procured from Florida based filmmakers we screened at the first two festivals.

I did all of the free advertising I could as I had nothing left to invest.  Not a single ticket was sold.

STATS

  • 3 Films with discussion panels
  • 50 Attendees
  • Fees paid through sponsorships

Tampa Bay Creative Loafing 1/6/13 News Article –
A world of cinema — all that’s needed is an audience