Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Rebekah Louisa Smith of The Film Festival Doctor Is Helping To Change Our World
Gratitude — I used to be a very ungrateful person when I was younger, but it was thanks to my business which helped me to realize that being grateful for the food we eat, being healthy, being alive, a referral and getting a new client is wonderful — and it’s important to say thank you for all this.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith.
Founded in 2010, Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith and her team at The Film Festival Doctor are committed to nurturing filmmakers to help them secure film festival screenings, win awards, and receive positive recognition within the film industry. The Film Festival Doctor helps filmmakers worldwide navigate the film festival circuit. A lot of care and attention to detail goes into all of the films represented — every project is treated individually and with a holistic focus. For more information, visit www.thefilmfestivaldoctor.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I was born in Worcestershire, United Kingdom. I began my career working as a personal assistant at a lot of corporations. I worked my way up to become an award-winning consultant and I now have more than 10 years of film festival strategy consulting experience.
After I finished my PhD thesis, I chose not to pursue a career in academia teaching film studies, and instead I began my film industry career in 2009, working as one of the producers of Wales’s most successful national horror film festival: the Abertoir Horror Festival. During that time, I began to develop a great knowledge of the film festival business, which inspired me to start my own innovative company in an industry that I love.
I’m supported by my hard-working team behind my company, The Film Festival Doctor, where we are creators of success. We are committed to nurturing filmmakers in order to help them secure film festival screenings, win awards, and gain positive recognition within the film industry. Currently, my business has helped win more than 1,900 awards for my clients and one Oscar nomination. I have supported over 850 creatives across the world, enlightening and inspiring their journey towards achieving their goals and following their filmmaking dreams.
My mission is to help filmmakers get their films seen in festivals around the world so they can gain visibility, get their films sold, win awards, and create more opportunities for their careers.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I began to notice that my enthusiasm was for film festivals and not academia, I started to suddenly question whether academia was my passion. Was this what I really wanted to do? I realized that, deep down, it wasn’t. I noticed that when I had previously attended academic conferences I wasn’t as engaged as other academics were; I didn’t feel like I was part of their world or on the same wavelength as everyone else.
During an academic conference, one of my friends said: “I just love the world of academia. There is no other industry like it, is there?” and that was when my gut instinct told me, “Nope!” that this just wasn’t for me. I didn’t love the world of academia, I wasn’t emotionally connected to it, it didn’t excite me, and it wasn’t something I could do for hours or work through lunch and dinner for. Therefore, it really wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. Working in the film industry was where I needed to be. Academia holds an incredible amount of value and I’m proud of my PhD thesis. However, I didn’t have a deep-rooted interest in it, and I didn’t share my colleague’s passion.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
My happiest and funniest memory was during the Abertoir Horror Festival about a year into when I first began working in the festival circuit. Abertoir has always been a “one of a kind” unique film festival and it was always such fun to be part of it all. Gaz, the festival director, had a wonderful sense of humor and always made us all laugh. We would do things that were totally crazy and silly. We screened a “so bad it’s good” blaxploitation film called “The Human Tornado.” Gaz and I introduced the film as a huge surprise to the audience dressed as ’70s pimp characters from the film! It was unforgettable. Gaz talked with a Southern drawl and I stood next to him as his glamorous girlfriend in a short skirt and stockings, wearing a massive wig! It was just like a scene from the film and I have never forgotten that moment — it always puts a smile on my face!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I work with a lot of music artists who are venturing into the film industry and they have been fun to work with as they have so many interesting stories to tell about touring and the big difference between the music industry and the film industry. I’m very fond of Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor and his gorgeous wife Sarina — so down to earth and funny.
I’m also very fond of Steve Dagger who is Spandau Ballet’s manager. That man is a scream! I love working with him as he is very precise and helped me to navigate how to work with music record labels when they transitioned into film as it was so different. His advice helped me to create my own type of infrastructure and systems when working with these kinds of companies so that I didn’t get overwhelmed or stressed and knew how to manage their big global teams.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, when I was new to the world of business, I met several female business coaches whom I thought were helpful but instead were charging me a good amount of money for telling me what was essentially very general advice they got from a book. Not all coaches are like this, and all of the business coaches I work with now I research and get to know before I hire them.
I met my business mentor Gerlanda Milioto at what started to be a horrendously dull networking event, a London Business Owners mixer event for entrepreneurs. It was the type of event you are unsure about attending as it could be hit or miss in terms of whom you meet and the overall event quality.
During the event, Gerlanda gave a fantastic presentation that clearly defined exactly what she does and how she can help a business grow and become more successful.
I spoke with her for a long time afterward and followed up with her the next day. Later, we spoke on the phone, and she told me what was missing from my company: infrastructure. I had spent the first couple of years running my business with what I thought was an organized system. However, Gerlanda soon made me realize that my main problem was the back end of my accounting system: it was nowhere near as organized as it should be! I then quickly hired her to work with me as I needed to create a pipeline and monthly key performance indicators (KPIs), and I also needed to position myself as an expert for my clientele. I thought I was doing well by closing deals, but it turned out I really needed to refine my sales pitch so I could work with more clients.
And it’s thanks to her expertise that I now have this knowledge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Yes, a mentor of mine told me “successful people listen” and from that point onwards I began to notice which colleagues and peers of mine would be successful and who would struggle. I always listen to what my clients and peers have to say. I now tend to take longer to process everything as I always like to dwell upon the important information they share with me to allow it time to simmer in my thoughts.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Yes, it’s important to tell the truth and show these people and communities for who they are — no filter allowed and no one else speaking for them or on their behalf. It’s also important that we don’t think of just doing this for financial reasons — it’s all about being equal and without prejudice.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Speaking of diversity, I am currently representing a feature documentary film called “Into the Spotlight.” This film was shot in Dallas and tells the story of how a script, a stage, and a theater program composed of adults with disabilities celebrate their creativity, explore life’s complexities, and empower a community, in their own words and their own way. This is a delightful film and is amazing the way in which the people with disabilities speak for themselves and are inspiring and empowering others. It is having a brilliant festival run and recently had its world premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival earlier this year where it won the Best Texas Feature and the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature Film. Since then, it’s won another three awards and continues to tour the circuit.
I’m also very proud of Tim Webber’s directorial debut “FLITE.” Tim is the Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor of “Gravity” and chief creative officer at visual effects company Framestore. This is a breathtaking short film that has stunning VFX, cinematography, and sound design. The film demonstrates the potential of the studio’s newly developed, never-seen-before and groundbreaking visual effects. The film is doing extremely well on the festival circuit and has so far been booked for six Oscar-qualifying film festivals and has won two awards.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I am proud of each and every one of my clients when they get their film selected for a film festival. It fills me with a huge amount of joy when we receive the email that the film has been selected and also if it goes on to win an award. I love to get creative and think of all the outside-the-box ways to achieve my clients’ goals and ultimately create a successful festival strategy for their film that will get it seen on the festival circuit. Each time I create a film’s festival strategy for my clients, I like to step outside of my comfort zone and take risks, specifically including festivals within the strategy which might be harder to get into, but the film’s strengths could get it selected. When they do that’s when I feel so happy for the filmmakers and it brings me joy that I know that I have significantly helped them.
One particular project I am very proud of is “GEORGE MICHAEL FREEDOM — DIRECTOR’S CUT.” I had the honor and responsibility of representing the Grammy Award-winning artist George Michael’s last work — a documentary feature film of his life which he co-directed with his collaborative partner David Austin.
My team and I have secured 26 festival screening invitations for the film, including official selections at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Krakow, all of the prestigious LGBTQ film festivals and 1 special gala screening: the Raindance Film Festival’s Gay Times London Premiere Gala Screening event. The film has screened in 17 different countries and five of the screenings were programmed as the opening night film. Our team secured the film 12 award nominations and five wins.
I would like to thank David Austin, Lisa Johnson and Sony Music UK for this opportunity and to all of the international film festivals for supporting George’s legacy. I am so proud of the results the film has achieved.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Delegate — I’ve learned that, in order to be more successful, delegating is essential. I used to be extremely controlling to the point where I believed that no one could run my business except for me, which did not make running it a smooth process at all. My family often used the phrase “if you want something done right do it yourself” and that’s what I grew up believing. However, I soon learned that inherited belief was a limiting one for my business, and I stopped believing it when one of my coaches said “How can you grow your company if you think you can do everything by yourself?” As soon as he said that I knew I was blocking hundreds of opportunities from coming towards me. I started trusting my team and delegating more work to them, which soon saw the company grow and gave me more time to spend doing other productive and more inspiring things.
- Hiring a Publicist Too Early — When I first launched my company, I chose to hire a publicist. I was eager to inform the world that my niche business had just launched. I was a young woman filling a massive gap in the market, and I was open for business. I had no clients at this point, no testimonials, or any newsworthy results. I just wanted to get my start-up noticed. The publicist secured no media coverage, and I learned the complex and costly way that the best time to hire a publicist is when an entrepreneur has a powerful story to tell, or a business has a viable product and some happy customers.
- Trusting Business Coaches Who Are Not Who They Say They Are — Gerland Milioto is — and will always be — my main business coach (see the response to question 5).
- Don’t be a Jack of all Trades — Back in 2014, I thought I had found a way to resolve a persistent and frequently occurring problem for my filmmaker clientele. In addition to getting their films seen in festivals, filmmakers also wanted to get their films sold to distribution companies (such as Netflix, etc.) so they could make money on their film and/or pay back their investors.
Despite having no previous experience with film sales and selling films I decided that I would take on the task of helping them sell their film and become a sales agent. Little did I know how horrific this was going to be. It taught me a lesson that when a job you are doing feels like horrendously hard work and you are not enjoying it to the point where it is becoming a problem to your wellbeing, stop and go back to what you should be doing — what you’re good at.
As I was trying to sell films, I realized I had no idea how to close a sales deal and absolutely no experience within this area of the film business whatsoever. The more time I spent within this world, the more I learned that it was a very tricky part of the industry to navigate. There were no hard-and-fast rules; you just needed a lot of experience in negotiation and closing deals to get a decent one. I had no idea what you needed to be careful of or what the process involved from start to finish.
It wasn’t until a few years later at the Berlin Film Festival that I came to realize the value of that epic fail. Although it was stressful, the experience helped me to identify another gap in the market and, simultaneously, solve the problem I was trying to resolve several years earlier outlined above. I met a sales consultant named Billy who helps filmmakers find the right sales agent for their film. He had over 30 years of film sales experience behind him, and knew exactly how the sales arena worked — he was in fact the missing piece of my business puzzle! When a client of mine wanted to find a sales agent to sell their film instead of me trying to sell the film for them, Billy could find the right type of sales agent for them! He’s been doing this for my clients now since 2016 and always finds them the right type of agent to sell their film.
- Gratitude — I used to be a very ungrateful person when I was younger, but it was thanks to my business which helped me to realize that being grateful for the food we eat, being healthy, being alive, a referral and getting a new client is wonderful — and it’s important to say thank you for all this.
A meditation teacher I worked with, Jessica Graham, encouraged me to write down three things I’m grateful for at the end of each day. If you do this exercise, you will always find many more than three things to be grateful for, because lots of amazing and miraculous things happen each day. You’ll notice this when you become more perceptive and begin to co-create with the Universe. When I lie in bed before I go to sleep, the first thing I do is say thank you to the Universe for a wonderful day, no matter what challenges occurred. Then I single out three things that happened during the day that were super exciting and filled me with joy and happiness. It’s also useful to say thank you to the Universe for protecting you from something unpleasant that might have occurred, and to be grateful for the support and wisdom that the Universe provided you with.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love this question! That would definitely be giving without always expecting a financial return. And this should be done on a daily basis to the point where it becomes second nature. I always give people who I meet with some useful advice for free and there is also a lot of essential free tips and advice on my brand’s Instagram page and blog.
I don’t expect money in return for this advice. By adapting to this mindset, you actually get more referrals, prospective clients and good word of mouth. When people see that you are passionate about what you do and don’t always expect a financial gain for everything you say and do, they know that they can trust you.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Yes, I’d love to have a long dinner with Gwyneth Paltrow and pick her brain about marketing and running her business. I love her brand Goop that she has created. I’ve seen it go from strength to strength since the day it began as a newsletter with a few cooking recipes. I take a lot of inspiration from her for my business. I love the world she has created and how engaging it is. In addition, the products she sells are of the highest quality and never disappoint. I always learn from her on a weekly basis through Goop’s newsletters how I can grow my own business and brand and I envision my business to eventually be worth as much as hers.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I have 2 Instagram accounts which I’d love you to follow –
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Rebekah Louisa Smith of The Film Festival… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.