Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Another weekend, another film festival. Melbourne, despite its weather, is a small slice of blessed civilisation.

I don't have the stamina I used to though. By Sunday night, I needed a nap that could easily have slipped into a coma. The festival experience was worth the effort.

Keep in mind, I have seen a few festivals by now, so it takes a decent performance to leave me with that warm and fuzzy feeling. The festival buzz.

Don't scoff. It's a real phenomenon, festival buzz. So real, in fact, that film festivals are receiving thousands of entries, in increasing volumes each year.

And, like all things ethereal and wonderful, festival buzz also attracts the malevolent. The exploiters. The deceivers. The grifters.

The mathematics are simple.

Create a film festival, and find a way to associate it with a respected place or existing festival: A

Obtain a database of filmmakers, particularly short filmmakers: B

Entice those filmmakers to enter the festival, via promotional tricks or flattery: C

Enjoy the submission fees that arrive: D

A + B + C = D

For filmmakers, 'D' is also equivalent to the amount of angst you feel when you realise you've been had.

Seems like it wouldn't work?

Don't be naive. This kind of scam has pedigree.

There is a now famous swindle that originated in the U.S.A. with very similar DNA. The scammer would drop a flyer in the mailboxes of a controlled radius, say 10,000 homes. The flyers meanwhile provided a prediction for an upcoming competitive sports event.

Now, here is the sleight of hand. 50% of the flyers would have one result. The rest would have the alternative.

The following week, the scammer would drop a new flyer into the 5000 mailboxes that received the successful prediction. The same split again.

The third week, the drop would be repeated for the remaining 2500, who by now have received three weeks of seemingly perfect predictions.

In the final week, the scammer provides a new flyer offering to place a bet on behalf of the householder. To this carefully curated group of 1250 people, the scammer is somehow a gambling genius. How could they lose?

They never see their money again.

Now imagine that, instead of a carefully curated group of money-hungry, suburban householders, the people receiving the flyer are new filmmakers. Stars in their eyes. Desperate to make their mark in the world.

And into this air of ambitious need, steps a scammer. The flyer now details the scammer's film festival which has existed, allegedly, for only one year. The film festival has even attached a Hollywood star as a patron, apparently. A database of filmmakers has been procured too.

What happens next?

You receive an email, like this one:

On Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 5:54 PM, Hawaii Shorts Fest <info@hisff.com> wrote:

Dear Pete Ireland,

We welcome you to submit Chip for consideration.



Hawaii Shorts Fest showcases the best short films and its filmmakers from around the world on June 17 - 18, 2015 at the Kahala Theatre in Honolulu. Our honorary chair is Hawaii native Tia Carrere. Avoid late fees by submitting today.

Submit online www.HISFF.com



Hawaii Shorts Fest


(NOTE: 'Chip' is our film that has been selected in a few festivals over the last year. It's a very specific email.)

Through hard-won experience, I know exactly where this kind of email is angling. But imagine I was a shiny, fresh out of the box, filmmaker. This email reads an awful lot like a personal invite, doesn't it?

They always do.

Whether it be from the Cannes International Film Festival, or the New York TV and Video Festival, or any of a dozen others, this is their play.

To be fair, I probably should have just let it go.

But, as well as making films, I have been an advocate for emerging filmmakers for a number of years now. I have worked in paid and unpaid positions for not-for-profit entities, to try and make the pathway for early career filmmakers smoother.

So, very few things pi*s me off more than someone defrauding the passion of an emerging filmmaker. Leeching on their dreams. It's insidious.

In my moment of irritated weakness, I replied:

From: Opening Act Films
Sent: Friday, March 20, 2015 10:22 PM
To: Hawaii Shorts Fest
Subject: Re: Submit Today Avoid Late Fees | Hawaii Shorts Fest

Hi Jasmine,

Mahalo to you too. Thanks for your email and for asking me to submit 'Chip'.

I am interested in submitting for your consideration. Would there be a fee waiver?

All the best,


Pete Ireland
Opening Act Films

This is a set-up. I know exactly what the answer is going to be, I just want to force them to say it.

Delightfully, because these people never want to give up on potential submission fee income, they actually replied:

On Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 5:53 AM, Hawaii Shorts Fest <info@hisff.com> wrote:

Hi Pete,

We do not make any exceptions regarding the entry fee. We understand that finding all the funds and resources necessary to complete a film is a difficult task, but it would not be fair to waive the fee in some cases and not in others. This way, the same rules apply to everyone.



Hawaii Shorts Fest


You have to laugh. Notice Jasmine didn't reply?

It was a perfect lead in to my final response.

From: Opening Act Films
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2015 1:49 PM
To: Hawaii Shorts Fest
Subject: Re: Submit Today Avoid Late Fees | Hawaii Shorts Fest

Hi Vicky,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I can totally appreciate your position on fees.

Perhaps then, if all filmmakers are to be treated the same, you should refrain from sending unsolicited personalised invitations to submit to your festival, including both my name and the name of my film?

That way there won't be any confusion in future.

All the very best with your festival,


Pete Ireland
Opening Act Films

Now, you can take one of two positions on the impertinence of my responses.

One, this festival is affiliated with LA Shorts Fest and NY Shorts Fest, so I should cut them some slack. LA Shorts Fest is an American Academy (Oscar) accredited film festival after all.

That is a totally justifiable position to take. Even using the word 'scammers' could be too strong.

Or two, f**k them.

What right do they have to data mine my full name, my contact email, and the name of my film, to send me a totally hollow invitation to put money in their pocket?

And before you answer, remember that this was a hugely detailed email to submit for their consideration. That means no guarantees of selection, and the very real possibility of paying a submission fee to receive a rejection, with not even the courtesy of selection-committee feedback on your film.

I know, I know, it is their right to promote their festival. But preying on people is preying on people. That I am wiser through experience makes it no less predatory.

We filmmakers have to stick together on this kind of behaviour. We have to shout it from the rooftops so that a blinding spotlight careens over to it. Transparency is not just the best, it's the ONLY antiseptic.

Because I haven't forgotten what it was like to be that new filmmaker stepping out into the world. Searching for my first success. Ripe to be exploited.

Have you?

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