Because Data Is King!

December 13, 2019

 
 
Over the past year, filmmaker and producer Michael Forstein created and launched The Film Festival Database, an online resource for filmmakers and film festival organizers. The response from the filmmaking community has, to this point, far exceeded his expectations.
 
We recently spoke with Michael about the database and what went into creating it. 
 
How did the idea for the database come about?
As a filmmaker, I’ve always made little spreadsheets to track festival submission deadlines. I figured many filmmakers around the world were doing the same thing, and it felt like a lot of reinventing the wheel, and that there had to be a better way.
 
Meanwhile, a couple years ago a colleague asked if I’d be interested in starting a film festival in my hometown. My first thought was that I wouldn’t want to step on any of the other festivals in the area in terms of scheduling, or on other similar festivals nationwide. I went online to find a calendar that showed all of the year’s festivals, so I could scan through and look for openings. Turns out, that calendar didn’t exist. So I started making one. I quickly discovered that in order to make a calendar, I would first need to compile the exact data I’d always compiled in my festival submission spreadsheets. That’s when it occurred to me that it was possible to kill two birds with one stone. 
 
What was required to execute its creation?
Time, happenstance, and a perhaps unusually high threshold for brain-numbing data entry!
 
I had just finished producing a festival, and for the first time in about a decade and possibly last time for a long while, I had a large chunk of time available. I decided if I was ever going to try out the idea, this was the time. 
 
I enlisted my friend Paul Fischer to help on the web and graphics end, and then just drilled down on it for a couple months. Figuring out the design of the spreadsheet and calendar – with filmmakers and festival organizers in mind – was the fun part. Paul and I enlisted the help of Nick Baldwin to write a custom script for the calendar, which made that feature possible. 
 
Of course, the big challenge with something like this is maintenance and upkeep. I knew that in order for the project to be sustainable we would need support, and fortunately a handful of wonderful sponsors in the film and festival worlds came on board to help make the 2020 edition possible, and a number of people have donated since we launched, which has allowed me to spend time maintaining the database throughout the year. 
 
How does it work and how do you see it serving as a tool and resource for filmmakers?
Each component – the database, calendar, and map – work slightly differently, but they’re all meant to save filmmakers time in their festival research and submissions, and provide festivals and industry in general with a bird’s eye view of the festival landscape. You can sort festivals by submission deadlines, location, niche category, etc., customize the map to show only the festivals that are most relevant to your film, and browse the calendar tabs on the spreadsheet to see which festivals are happening when. 
 
In addition to these primary components, this year we added an additional database of curated festival lists. With such an abundance of festivals to consider, one of the biggest challenges I hear filmmakers talk about is knowing which festivals they should submit to. We’re exploring a number of ways to address this, but for the time being, I thought it would be helpful to have the existing curated lists all in one place. 
 
How did you make your way into the world of filmmaking?
I started out shooting and editing, mostly for documentaries, before getting into directing and producing. I’ve directed a number of shorts, the most recent one viewable here, and produced a handful of narrative features and shorts (you can see most at michaelforstein.com). I’m currently producing this doc feature, and am developing a couple narrative projects.