Ken and Frank:
I’m writing to more fully express some of the reasons behind my negative comments on Twitter following the ITVfest opening night party. I’m making this an open letter since my tweets were as well, and so others can refute any of my points if they had a different experience. I am also speaking on my behalf as only one of three producers at KATR Pictures. I do not speak for Robb or Tanya.
I got your letter this morning, and, truth be told, the two issues you mention in it are irrelevant to me in the end. So here is why I, as an excited and enthusiastic webseries producer and ITVfest participant, was so disappointed and peeved by the whole affair.
Communication is your festival’s primary issue. Your communication is terrible.
I tend to be more of an optimist. I tweeted that “the little hints at trouble with @itvfest have been building for weeks,” and this meant that I had been noticing some problems, but not letting them get in the way of our participation at ITVfest. Because this is your first year running ITVfest, most of these little problems were easy to shrug off. They were noticeable, and sometimes even aggravating, but nothing was detrimental, and I was assuming you were trying your best and working with situations others are unaware of.
Some examples of the early “indicators” were:
1. Lack of communication on festival details.
2. Lack of communication regarding technical aspects of the screening.
3. Inaccuracy of information.
Other issues, like the lack of passes for participants to see screenings and panels, and the expensive awards banquet that we as no-budget producers can’t afford to attend, really are just annoyances and disappointments. It’s the lack of communication that has created an air of “we don’t care” and “you are here for our benefit, not your own.”
To explain these 3 issues now would make an already long (LONG!) letter longer. So I will just talk about why the opening night was such a let-down and, to my eyes, an unprofessional mess.
When I arrived at 7:35 and saw the red carpet set-up, I was really excited. Call it vain—and, really, who gets excited about a red carpet without some vanity being involved?—but I couldn’t wait to take my first walk ever down a red carpet and talk to the media about a show on which I and my friends worked very, very hard and of which we are immensely proud.
There was no check-in table, which was very strange, and the only person with a clip board was the assistant to the photographer. I couldn’t pinpoint anyone there as being an official of the festival.
The red carpet line was huge. Robb and Tanya had yet to arrive, so I found some fellow webseries friends in the line and waited with them to see what was going to happen.
While the line wasn’t moving, word started spreading that we might be able to just skip the red carpet, join the party, and come back out later when the line was winding down. Then about 10 minutes after that, Frank was coming down the line telling people they could get their hands stamped if they wanted to just go up to the party. Some people took him up on the offer. After Robb and Tanya arrived, we decided to finish waiting in the line.
It was nearly an hour after I showed up when some lady with a clipboard started yelling something about being on a list. We couldn’t hear her, so we waited for her to come down the line. Turns out there was a list of who was allowed to be on the red carpet and who was not. This was a surprise, and not just to us, but to everyone around us. People were either VIPs or not. As I waited to check our names, listening to this lady communicate with the others in line made me angry. Her demeanor was brusque, unfriendly, and accusatory. She told every one of us that “our people communicated to us” that only two from each show were allowed on the red carpet. We were told that “our people” had chosen who the two would be. She was either misinformed or was making this up because no one around her knew what she was talking about.
The obvious irritation amongst in the crowd around this woman did not suggest to her that something had gone wrong and that she should take a more sympathetic tone with us. “I’m sorry, there seems to have been a miscommunication and we didn’t get the VIP info out. But let me find your names and blah blah blah.” That would have gone a long way. Instead, her tone was, as I said, accusatory. Whose fault was it that none of us knew about the list? Whose fault was it that we did not know to check in with someone? Whose fault was it that we wasted time in this line? Ours. That was the message.
Let’s examine this for just a moment. Here are well over a hundred people, waiting in a line without anyone having told them what the rules were. There is no check-in table, something even major studio motion picture premieres have. No one is wearing badges to identify themselves as staff. There has been no e-mail ahead of time saying there were red carpet rules for the evening. There has been no request for us to choose who would represent our show on the red carpet. Nothing. So instead, a large number of people wait in this line, then are told much too late in the evening that they should not have been in that line and it was all their fault for time wasted. This is why I called it an invisible lottery on Twitter, and why I felt it broke us all into castes.
I was not on the list, but Robb and Tanya were. This is not what upset me. Robb and Tanya can sell our show maybe even better than I can. Nor am I upset at your rules. Many projects have a large number of cast and crew, and to limit who gets to represent the production publicly at the event makes sense. (Though a case-by-case exception—in our case for 3 equal producers—would have been fantastic.) I am upset because you never told us—and apparently most others—about the rules. Being told by some rude woman that I should have known about it made me angry. We were, as I tweeted, treated like pigs. An exaggeration in the metaphor, perhaps, but the tone is accurate, and it’s how many of us felt.
That the limiting of red carpet participants didn’t do anything to speed up the process is another, most likely organizational, issue entirely.
I went into the party others who were also not on the VIP list. After being in the party for a while, many of us started getting texts from our friends below that they were not being allowed up because the bar was over capacity. Our colleagues, the supposed VIPs of the party, were shut out.
One of your defenses later that night was that you told us all to get there early because the event would sell out. Shouldn’t you have made sure there was room for your own festival people and designated VIPs? How does it help arriving early for a red carpet that starts, according to all communication, at 7:30? You guaranteed that people who were part of the festival would be left out.
Who was the party for? We had mistakenly assumed this event was for us, the participants, to kick off the festival and meet other folks involved. This was obviously wrong in hindsight. According to your letter from this morning, it was a success because the confusing and poorly-planned amassing of people brought press and dragged some executives back from Hawaii. Your defenses make it sound like gaining some cliché obnoxious Hollywood bragging rights helps us all. Exposure in 33 media outlets makes no difference if it comes with disrespect.
Drai’s can be blamed for kicking us out early, it seems, but they were not the ones selling tickets. That was all you guys. To have oversold the party to the point where people who are actually involved in the festival could not even get in is not Drai’s problem. And yes, to us, they did close us down early because your Eventbrite site said the party was from 7:30 to 1:00am. If the party was scheduled to end at 10:00 and you told us 1:00, whose communication error was that? (I can not find the Eventbrite page now, so I can’t confirm the ending time that I remember. But I know we all had 1:00am in our calendars.)
Event planners should know a thing or two about capacities, venue expectation, contracts, and attendee numbers. All of that, I imagine, would have been helped had you had a knowledgeable PR and event planner team to communicate continuously with you, with the venue, with the attendees, and amongst themselves.
We can try to argue over who this festival should benefit. But, really, it’s your show. You can make the rules. You can have all the expensive banquets and gift bags and more VIP-than-the-VIP VIPs and Hollywood-style attitude you want. It’s your show. Just make sure you communicate. Make your event professional. Allow us to work with you to create an amazing event for everyone. Apologize and recognize when your efforts may not have worked as you wanted them to. And if everything has indeed gone off just as well as you planned, then perhaps ITVfest is not what we were expecting based on the past. We cling to last year’s ITVfest because it was low-key, yet energetic. It was attendee-focued. It was friendly and accommodating. Since I was not part of an official selection last year, I can not speak to communication. But I can say that the vitriol you are experiencing from many of us is in response to the apparent New Douchebaggery of the event. That may be fine for the TV and the movie people. They’re used to it, I guess. And you’ll find plenty of webseries people who will join you in a more Hollywoodized ITVfest. Just know that the whining and complaining about gift bags is a symptom of real concerns. We have our own vision for what this new media can be, and a lot of us strive for a professionalism and honesty that, are we to take Thursday night’s events into account, do not mesh with the goals of this year’s ITVfest.
I’d love to be wrong about your intended tone and goal for ITVfest. The reason I’m even bothering to write this detailed letter is to see if I am wrong, and to give you guys a chance to see that maybe we aren’t just thoughtless complainers but truly passionate participants in what is hopefully the new and different future of entertainment.
We are not pulling out of ITVfest, as others have. Frankly, we understand why they have. But for our own selfish reasons, we are staying in. We have fans who want to come, we have prizes to hand out, we have fellow artists in our screening block who deserve our continued participation. We are hoping for a really fun screening. It could be by the end of the week, the festival will have righted itself from the mess of Thursday. I personally am withholding final judgement until the end, which is as it should be, I think.
Thanks for reading.