There are a ton of improv and comedy festivals in the spring that are all starting to accept submissions. In interviews with festival directors and producers there are a number of pitfalls that seem to come up again and again. Thusly do I submit the below rookie mistakes to be avoided if you are submitting to a festival.
1) Poor Sound:
The video is the chance for the director to experience what you do for the audience. Your goal should be to provide for the camera what you provide for the audience and unless you are group of fantastically talented mimes doing silent improv (which just about any festival director anywhere would jump at the chance to book) they need to actually hear what you are saying. Good sound doesn’t mean recording how much the audience is laughing; it means ensuring that what’s making them laugh is intelligible.
2) Poor Lighting
In line with the above, how you react and listen on stage is important to see. The audience may love you but that’s no guarantee to a director that you don’t perform improv for this audience every single week. “Home Town Hero” syndrome is best avoided by demonstrating to the director that you can actually act and that you’re ensemble work is solid. This is best documented by making sure that your faces aren’t whited out and that you aren’t just using one wide static full stage shot. (If you tape with two cameras and actually edit it together it will go a tremendous length towards providing you with credibility.)
3) Sending less than your best work with less than your full group
It is bizarrely common to have submissions of lackluster taped shows with different individuals than those who will be attending the festival. If you can’t get the group together to film a show where you live, what confidence does the director have that you are going to get all your members to some separate location? Additionally, if you don’t like the show you taped, why are you sending it? The pressure of taping a show can make people do funny (read: Not funny) things. Tape a few.
4) No group concept
What is your show about? I can’t emphasize this enough. I hear it from theater directors and producers, festival managers, marketing directors, etc. I know you are real fucking clever. I know you have an awesome group dynamic and you and your friends make really amazing and creative stories. But if the best you can do to describe it is to say: “_______: really awesome improv!” You’re fucked. You need to be able to communicate in one sentence what you do that no other group is doing. If what you do is also actually interesting then even better.
5) Not making a cohesive package
If you have figured out step 4 then the next thing to do is to not half-ass involving it in your application. Costuming in a press photo and in the video, fonts on a poster, copy on a website/poster/resume; the more it all communicates one thing about your group, the more memorable you are going to be. Streamline the information. Producers may see hundreds of submissions, none of them need to know that you have seen Springsteen in concert 14 times. If it doesn’t relate to your show, take it out. A festival director is thinking big picture; they want their lineup to be diverse, but specific. Give them an input they can easily remember and you are more likely to find yourself in the lineup.
Examples of cohesive well produced videos that avoid all of the above: