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From The Front-lines - Best Practices When Emailing Us About Your Projects: Part 1

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 9, 2012 9:56 AM
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As these come to me, I'll post "Best Practices" entries for filmmakers primarily, who contact us with information about their projects, especially those who are doing so for the first time - a daily occurence, and sometimes en masse.

Keep in mind that (I can't speak for Sergio, Emmanuel, et al) I receive anywhere from 150 to 200 emails daily, and that's no exageration; the vast majority are very much legit; Gmail does a great job of ensuring SPAM emails don't make it to my inbox, so I read practically every email I receive; although there are times when the subject heading alone tells me what the email contains, and whether it's something I need to actually open and read.

The point here is that, I don't have a lot of time to go through every single email thoroughly, and I'm relying on you, the senders, to make receiving your emails as simple and straightforward a process as possible.

Let's help each other out here.

In terms of "Best Practices" when emailing, here are the 3 of many things to consider; these are the most common frustrations I experience in receiving and reading emails alerting me to new film projects.

1. Keep the intro short. No offense at all, but I don't have a lot of time to read your entire history, or life story, how much you love S&A, how long you've been reading, and all the wonderful things we've written, and how moving they were to you, etc, etc, etc. Not that I don't care about your background, or that I don't appreciate the compliments; but what I really want you to get to is, why you're emailing, and what is it you want me to do for you. Just be direct; most of the emails I receive want something from me, which is perfectly ok, given what I do for a living. So, I'm fully expecting that your email is really no different than the countless others I received before yours. Don't dance around the issue/request; just start with something like "Hi Tambay," and jump right into what it is you're emailing about. Keep it short, sweet and simple. It makes my life and job easier. If I then require anything further from you, I'll obviously let you know. But that first email is kind of like your first message to someone you're interested in, whose profile you've read on a dating website you're a member of. That first message is usually succinct, and then if they like what they read and see, and they reply, then the conversation grows.

2. If you're alerting me to a film project, which is often the case, make sure all the vitals are included: Title, director, writer, producer (and any other key crew you think should be mentioned), actors, synopsis, status, and if any are available, media, like a trailer, clips, photos, etc. If you read most posts in which we're anouncing a new project, you'll get an idea of what info we need in order to complete an entry. If I have to email you back, asking for any of these really basic pieces of info, chances are that I might not. If I'm not immediately drawn to what you're selling, AND you omit relevant info, or if I have to go search for any additional info, I get frustrated, especially when it's info that you really should have given me from the get-go. In those case, there's a very good chance that your email will likely get pushed aside, and potentially forgotten. I've got another 149+ to go through. So, be sure all the basics are included. Your first email essentially serves as an ad to me. So think of your email in the same way that you'd think of a trailer, or a poster, and what those two pieces of marketing material usually contain. Or, to use the dating website analogy again -  each member usually has a profile with their vitals so that other members can get an idea of who you are from the information provided. Your profile isn't meant to tell your entire life-story, or for potential mates to get to know you entirely from your single profile. The point is to grab the recipient's attention quickly, with the most basic of information they need to decide whether this is something they want to see, or in my case, know more about, and want to share with S&A readers.

3. On occasion, a filmmaker will direct me to the Facebook page or website they've set up for their project, which is fine too. Just make sure that the above 2 items still apply. Make sure that your project's Facebook page or website has all the vitals, and is in some clean, orderly, sensible structure that makes it all easy to locate. Status especially often gets ignored. I need to know where exactly the project stands, because I need to be able to give readers that information when I write about your film; those who are interested, based on what we write, will want to know things like: when is this coming out? Where can I see it? Etc, etc, etc... so always include your project's status... along with everything else.

That's it... for now anyway. If any others come to me, as I go about my daily S&A work, I'll write about them as well, in future posts. But these 3 are the most common *infractions*, and it was about time I said something.

As I've said before, help me help you.

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  • Geneva Girl | October 10, 2012 6:03 AMReply

    I don't have a project to send to you, but a suggestion: Show an example of an excellent email that got your attention. Perhaps, that's coming in Part II, but I've found that people work better with a boiler plate example. Teaching filmmakers and writers how to get your attention, will help them learn how to get the attention of others. Thanks for the work you do.

  • SMH! | October 11, 2012 11:40 AM

    Yes Outside Observer, I'm saying help yourself create LONG LASTING solutions, and build a positive give and take community. Organization signifies that you care and have RESPECT for the ENTIRE community you are serving.

  • Outside Observer | October 10, 2012 11:53 PM

    Listening from the sidelines, I understand both SMH and Charles Judson's position. Charles and Tambay are lamenting the need for more contact information in submissions to film festivals and in this case, submission requests to this blog. On the other side, SMH, for the most part, wholeheartedly agrees with the ways and means of the problem. However, SMH believes their method of approach is self-serving, redundant and is nothing more than a band-aid affect. I believe she is simply saying that if the problem is a revolving door (they've admitted seeing it happen over and over) all the writing and preaching and "look at me" could have been averted by a simple "TAB" for all to see and reference EACH TIME one visits the site. Instead of a long post "that will soon be buried by many other posts in a matter of days".

  • SMH! | October 10, 2012 10:51 PM

    Charles Judson, thank you for providing your perspective, however I'm returning to my position for further clarification. Here me out. Also, great post about the film festival/website/facebook page. I see the relevance and applicability in the topics you addressed. Now I notice that the Atlanta Film Festival has a submission tab with a Frequently Asked Questions section as well as Withoutabox link that also provides more details on how the festival would like to receive submissions. Now whether a filmmaker follows up for something else or ask any other question not related to the submission process through email is beyond what I'm discussing here. So based off of what is posted there, if filmmakers READ the instructions and follow them when they submit, they will receive consideration for your film festival. So my concern remains implementing something similar in regard to this blog. This is a post that will soon be buried by many other posts in a matter of days. Why not post requirements/expectations for submissions to write about films on a tab for all to see and reference each time one visits the site? Why write something for the blog only to possible rewrite it later down the line? THAT'S what I meant by help yourself help other people. While I do understand that "emails" may be a challenge, I think its important to distinguish what type of emails we're discussing. And if we're talking about submissions, the requirements for the Atlanta Film Festival are set in stone and posted online.... Here? Not so much.

  • Charles Judson | October 10, 2012 1:02 PM

    @SMH! I can attest to the email problem. I pretty much blog about this problem every year for the last few years from a festival perspective. Talk to festival programmers and everyone of them will tell you that probably 80% of the emails we get from filmmakers don't do them any favors. When you're getting 600 films on the low end to 3000 on the high end, one more email with little to no information means that's one more film that won't stand out and just bleeds into the background. Bloggers, Journalists and Critics face the same problem. You're fighting to get noticed just as much as the 15 other people that emailed that writer, that film festival, that website. So it's frustrating to see Tambay telling you EXACTLY what to put in the email and you want to bitch and moan that he's not doing enough. What's even more frustrating is that this is EXACTLY the same type of post Basil Tsiokos, a Sundance Doc programmer, would put on what (not) to doc. Or Chris Holland on Film Festival Secrets. Or Sheri Candler at Film Collaborative or on her own blog. Or Raindance Film Festival's blog. Hell, I've made this same type of post on CinemATL, not once, but at least 4 times in the last 3 years. I'm now working on a piece advising filmmakers on their cover letters they include with their submissions. Many of the suggestions and complaints you read here are exactly the ones programmers offer and sent me to include in the piece. If people just follow half of this advice, they'd start to see better responses, not always on an individual level, but across the board. I'm pretty sure the same people that email Tambay with little to no information are frustrated that they've emailed 20 other people with the same approach and they've not made the connection that the no or poor response is because "there is no there" in their emails. Even people who work in the industry on a high level are guilty of these mistakes. We've gotten emails from award winning filmmakers and high level actors and we've struggled to figure out not only why are they emailing us, but sometimes we don't even know the name of the film they're talking about because they didn't include it. If I have to Google you or click on a link for the most basic information, you've probably already lost me. And don't forget, some of us are getting our first look on our smartphones, so we may not have more than a minute to glance at it and decide if it's one of the ones we should get back to immediately or put on the back burner.

  • SMH! | October 10, 2012 8:43 AM

    Geneva Girl, your heart is in the right place but surely you cannot take this post seriously. He could have already posted under his contact tab or about tab a simple outline to better organize emails he receive. I've heard this help me help you nonsense before and I'm asking him to do the work and help himself help other people. Writing such a post where you do exactly what you are complaining of (long posts sharing too much info about what you're going through etc instead of getting straight to the point and outlining clearly and succinctly exactly what you want) challenges your credibility. All things have to be learned. In other places, virtual and physical, people with little to no melanin are taking the time to productively mentor and teach those filmmakers who they want to succeed. And they are sharing info and letting them know how it's done EARLY ON and not through frustration. They're not making it about them and they truly care. They're thinking about the bigger picture and not trying to be the biggest person in the picture. We need that same type of urgent positivity and communal support within Black Cinema and every other field where Black people can thrive but may be a bit behind because of Bulls#!t It's ok Geneva. You didn't get the memo about our silent protest.

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