Behind the Curtain of the Beaufort Film Festival

Did you know that the Beaufort International Film Festival – one of the hottest and fastest-growing film festivals in the country – just turned seven years old? This comprehensive film showcase is held every year in the lovely coastal city of Beaufort, SC, better known to Marines as the home of the Parris Island recruit training depot.

Ronald E. Tucker, one of the founders of the Beaufort International Film Festival is a retired Marine Corps captain, a documentary filmmaker, and a longtime resident of Beaufort. In this exclusive interview, he shared with me his perspective on filmmaking, the behind-the-scenes story of Beaufort’s film festival, and a few tips for filmmakers who want to get their projects noticed by festival judges.

Ron, you were one of the first people to suggest a Beaufort Film Festival. What gave you the idea, and how did it become a reality?

I came up with the idea after attending Film Commissioner training in Las Vegas in 2004. I was the newly appointed Chairman of the Beaufort Regional Film Commission. In Las Vegas I met other State and Regional Film Commissioners. In one of our training sessions we discussed how to get your area noticed when you don’t have money for marketing and advertising. A person from West Virginia started telling me how she had started a Film Festival in her region, then people started to notice what a film friendly area it was. This got the notice of a few aspiring filmmakers who attended their festival. I thought it was a brilliant idea and would work for our beautiful lowcountry as well. After all, Beaufort already had a film history, with more than 20 major motion pictures being shot here, including Forrest Gump, The Big Chill, and The Prince of Tides.

Tell me a bit about how the festival has grown since it began in 2007.

In that first year we had managed to attract some pretty good movies, but didn’t do a very good job of letting people know about the festival. One of the pitfalls of having no advertising money. This was also before Social Media was as pervasive as it is today. Nevertheless, we had about 500 people attend and I was thrilled. We even had a couple of filmmakers attend. I was a bit naïve and thought we had done really well … for Beaufort.

You play a key role in the judging process. What advice would you offer filmmakers who want to ensure that their work catches a judge’s eye?

We have a grading criteria that includes scoring in four categories. They are: Technical; Content; Impact; and Festival Fit. The top score in each category is 10 with a perfect score being 40. In that we receive so many entries, often more than 200, it’s evident that many of these films would never screen at BIFF, so the first tier of judges is me and my wife Rebecca. We screen every film that comes in and score them all. For a film to go to the second tier of judges it must score a composite 20 out of 40 to move forward.

The second tier judges complete their scores and then the top 5 in the separate categories advance to the Finalists Judges. The highest score in each category is the winner. We have a tie breaking formula as well that includes the scores from all judges. The categories are: Feature Film, Documentaries, Short Films, Animation, Student Films, and Screenplays.

Having such a hands-on look at all the films, my advice to filmmakers would be to create a package which includes not only a screening disk that works, but for those who want a second look, make sure that a trailer is posted on YouTube or Vimeo. A digital press kit is also helpful. All of this will be asked for if the film is selected as a Finalist.

In the years since the festival began, there have been quantum leaps in the affordability and quality of filmmaking tools. What impact, if any, has that had on the submissions, and the standards by which the submissions are judged?

Well, first of all, our submission application requires the filmmaker to include the format, budget, and other details about the making of the film. This information is available only to me and Rebecca. When the film is forwarded to the judges from here, it goes without any background information. No information about film format, budget, talent used, etc. is passed to the judges. They judge based on what they see and hear. It’s kind of a “blind” judging. Our judges don’t know if it was shot with a RED or a PalmCorder.

Your own background is as a documentary producer. Do you have any advice for aspiring documentarians?

Yes, I would say to get second opinions on your work before submitting. Very often, especially in the case of documentaries, the producer is also the writer, director, cameraman, press chief and everything else. You tend to get close to the project. Too close. The film has become your baby and you don’t want to cut anything. I would say that most documentaries we get are too long. While we have received many great documentaries over the years, many would have been better if they had been 10 to 20 minutes shorter.

The advent of websites like Vimeo, where filmmakers can share their work with an international audience, has led some people to question the relevance of film festivals. Yet the Beaufort International Film Festival continues to grow by leaps and bounds. How do you see film festivals and internet film sites interacting?

That’s a good question. I think you will always have film festivals. While Vimeo and sites like that are great, the filmmaker misses the interaction with the audience when shown online. The question and answer period after a film’s screening has actually broadened the experience of the filmmaker and very often the experience serves as an inspiration to keep making films. One filmmaker told me that there is no bigger thrill than to sit in a theatre with a couple of hundred people watching your film and then not know how your work is being perceived. If it’s a comedy then you hope to hear people laugh along the way. You don’t won’t to hear them laughing if it wasn’t suppose to be funny.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for the independent filmmaker?

I think you will always have independent filmmakers. Whether you’re an artist, a writer, or a filmmaker, people with a passion for something will always find an outlet for showcasing that passion. From script, to storyboard, to the screen, it’s an emotional evolutionary process that takes place very often without monetary motivation. In reality, few independent filmmakers will achieve the financial success of a Spielberg, Coppola, or Zemeckis, but they will certainly feel enriched for the experience and so will the many who will view their work.

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