Festivus Film and Laugh Track festivals call it quits
Two bastions of Denver's DIY scene won't be back in 2014. The Festivus Film Festival, which was founded in 2007, and the Laugh Track Comedy Festival, which spun off the FFF, both ceased operation at the end of last year. Beyond providing many local comedians and filmmakers with a valuable opportunity to network and hone their craft for a hip audience, the festivals also helped grow that audience, paving the way for other ambitious events, such as last August's High Plains Comedy Festival. We reached out to the founders and organizers of both festivals for their thoughts on the end of their brainchild; read on for their quotes and clips of highlights throughout the years.
Festivus co-founder Johnathan McFarlane: "Basically, what it comes down to was some pretty significant life changes for the principals of the organization. Myself, I actually moved to Canada for work last August. We made it work for our sixth season, but it was a challenge. After that we knew that even if I was to continue with the festival, it would have to be in a very reduced role. Tim, the other principal, got married and just recently had a baby.
"Both Tim and I did contract work, which allowed us to take time off and make the festival our fulltime job as we got closer to the event. Additionally, running a film festival (especially one like ours that really rolled out the red carpet to our filmmakers) requires a unique combination of skills. It's event planning on an incredible scale, with about a million different moving parts. It took us three seasons before I feel like we really nailed it. It's the most complex and difficult project I've ever worked on in my life. On our staff, there was really nobody primed to take out spots. There were a few folks who had enough experience at the top that had the ability to step into the director role, but it's tough to convince somebody to give up their fulltime jobs for something that provides very little financial incentive.
"We actually approached the Colorado Film Society to see if they would be interested in taking the reins, but they didn't have the resources. Surprisingly, it turns out our advertising budget was far larger than theirs.
"Anyway, we came to the conclusion that as much as we hated to admit it, there was really no way to continue. We made a post on our website and Facebook page that announced our decision. The responses to our post were pretty heartfelt and remarkable. We made a significant impact on the arts scene in Denver, facilitated and nurtured tons of creative partnerships between filmmakers, and generally threw an awesome event. We're really proud of those accomplishments."
Laugh Track co-founder and filmmaker Evan Nix: "It's been a long time coming, and we've put it off as long as we could. Both Festivus and Laugh Track have been huge parts of the local film and comedy scene for the better part of a decade, and obviously the loss of them is pretty sad for us (as well as a ton of filmmakers and comedians). We've tried to keep them going as long as we could, but after seven years, many of the careers and lives of the staff have changed to the point that we were looking at running both events at a significantly diminished capacity in the coming year. Since we're volunteer-based, and we've never done what we do for profit (we operated as a 501c3 nonprofit), it really relied on the passions and availability of its principals to stay afloat.
"I feel confident that the hole that's left has already been filled by a ton of other great events in this city. Among others, the High Plains Comedy Festival, Starz Denver Film Festival, Open Screen Night and the Emerging Filmmakers Project all contribute significantly to the rapidly growing film and comedy communities that Denver has. As creative artists, we're losing something great with Festivus, but looking at where we were seven years ago when the festival first began, it's obvious we're kicking ass, culturally speaking."
Keep reading for more on Festivus and Laugh Track.
Co-founder Tim DeMasters: "The Laugh Track Comedy Festival was a spinoff for us, so we managed it and funded it, but LTCF required the Nix Bros to be effective (but thanks to Kate O'Neill for directing it our first year and getting it ready for them). They really helped up the level of success on that festival. And as you probably well know, they are pretty busy creative dudes.
"Evan told us in one of our regular meetings that he doubted he and Adam would have the personal time to invest in Laugh Track Comedy Fest after the 2012 event in August. They had the Grawlix videos going full swing then, including their Amazon Prime spot, and were starting to push their careers in a direction that wouldn't have much time left for Laugh Track.
"With Festivus, as Johnny said, there were some major personal changes for both of us. Those changes were probably the largest contributing factors to us making the decision to close it all down, but leading up to him moving out of country and my wife and I having a baby, there were some business factors that just didn't quite all line up in our favor. We were financially doing fine from year one, even -- the event was self-sustaining, and made money -- but it didn't ever make enough for us to call it a halftime/fulltime job. I think if either of us had gotten to that point, we could have kept it alive. Then, while we were trying a few new marketing things, and stretching our internal budget a little bit, our sixth year event in January 2013 happened to fall on the same week as the first major blizzard of the season. The type of snowfall that actually shuts the city down for a day or two. We avoided bad weather for five seasons prior, but I guess Mother Nature caught up to us. The snow event didn't shut our attendance down by any means -- people still came out for it -- but the snow hampered our income just enough that year to leave us wondering if we could do it again (especially remotely for one of us) and keep it rad.
"I think that's a major point: Both Evan, Adam, Johnathan and myself don't like doing something if it can't be done well. And that should be said for the solid team of ten people we had with us year after year as well. So it started to seem like our time was up, however unfortunate that was, and we decided to close it down instead of risk having an "unmemorable" event. If we had landed a major title sponsor, or had a fully sold-out event, I think we could have been talked into staying together pretty easily. We both feel really good about the achievement, though, and we know we helped pave the way in Denver for a handful of other festivals, most of which had founders present films or standup acts as part of Festivus or Laugh Track prior to their inception."
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
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