What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Film Festivals

Once you have a film in the can, polished off, and you press your finger on the "export" button -- what next?

So many people enter into their projects with little to no plan for after the film is completed. It's not entirely their fault. The film industry is notoriously locked tight to outsiders, though that's recently becoming less-and-less true because of the internet.  But unlike other professions and industries, there's no one way to do things. And this is ridiculously frustrating. How is one to know which path leads to redemption? You've managed to find money to create a film, put the team together, and get it made. Now you stand at a fork in the road. Do you go left? Or do you go right? They both look equally treacherous.

Be Selective

There's no reason to blast 100 film festivals with your submission, even though services like FilmFreeway make it very simple to submit your film to as many festivals as you'd like.

"But why not send to as many festivals as you can? This seems like better odds of getting in!"

Sure, this may be true statistically speaking. However, not all film festivals are made equal. Some film festivals are very specific about the types of films they are looking for and accept. An obvious example would be submitting a Holiday Romantic Comedy to a horror film festival. Now, I hope this is so obvious that no one would ever do it. But I'm certain it has happened.

The key to being successful in the festival circuit is truly knowing your film

If you truly know your film and the potential audience for your film, you will be infinitely more successful both in the festival circuit and the distribution arena. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the avatar of my ideal audience member?
  • If I was creating a film festival that my film would be PERFECT for, what would it be like?
  • Are there any festivals that target my ideal audience member or fit the bill as the perfect film festival for my film?

Make Yourself a Budget

Films are expensive.

The last thing you want to do is add to your already substantial debt by spending beyond your means. So, do yourself (and your investors) a favor - make a budget for your festival run.

I know... Budgeting is no fun, and seems like it's limiting your overall possibilities. But actually, budgeting allows you to laser target your efforts so you don't waste any time or resources on festivals that you can't afford to submit to or shouldn't submit to anyway because it doesn't align with the overall plan.

There are so many expenses at festivals that many filmmakers aren't immediately aware of.

Promotional Materials are often overlooked by filmmakers. If your film gets into a festival, don't expect or rely on the festival to promote it to it's best ability. Printing out posters and flyers to pass out to get the highest turnout for your film possible is not a terrible idea.

Beyond promoting your film, what about promoting you as a filmmaker? You want to lean into your current attention by having everything lined up to point you in the right direction. This means business cards, perhaps a concept poster for your next film created, or copies of your script that you can hand out to select people. These don't seem like they will cost that much money, and you are right. But, it's all these little things combined that really add up in the end.

Travel and accommodations may be the biggest expense for attending a festival. Does this fall on each individual person to pay for their own way, or will the film cover it? What if you and your cast are invited to participate in a Q&A, but your cast can't make it because of the cost?

Creating screening masters seems pretty straight forward these days. I mean, isn't everyone just streaming digital versions of the films? No. Not at all. In fact, some places will ask for a pretty extensive list of deliverables in order to screen your film. Things like HDCam masters, or 35mm prints are still alive and well at some festivals. On the cheaper side, they may require a BluRay disc, which can also cost you money if you don't have the ability to create the master yourself.

This is just a handful of things to think about. I'd suggest speaking to the festival representative in order to make sure you have everything you need and everything they recommend to have a successful festival experience.

Read the Rules

Like I mentioned before, it's really easy to submit to festivals these days. Just because you have the world at your fingertips, doesn't mean you should forget about all the fine print. 

Film festivals tend to make their submission rules very accessible and easy to find so that the filmmakers can read through them and make sure their films are eligible contenders.

There's nothing worse than losing your submission fee because you failed to read the rules.

Double Check Your Submission

Just like you proof read your script before you start filming, you should double check your submission information and materials before you actually click the submit button.

Generally speaking, it's not until the moment after you hit submit that you notice the typos and the missed fields that you failed to fill out. Don't be that person...double check everything before you submit.

Know When to Take a Chill Pill

It is a great idea to be in contact with the people at festivals. Especially if you've been accepted. But you should know when to relax and let it be. Don't be too aggressive or too needy. If you need to get information, try to get all of it in one go instead of sending 100 emails over the course of 8 days. Not only does this annoy the recipient, but it demonstrates a lack of professionalism. 

You should take the same level of care as you did when you first submitted your film when you are corresponding with official representatives from the festival.

If you leave a lasting impression, there's a better chance to build a quality relationship with the people at that festival, which will be to your benefit during the next festival run that you do.

Keep in mind that each film festival receives thousands of submissions. Sundance Film Festival routinely receives over 13,000 submissions! That's a lot to handle. So be patient and considerate of the festival representative's time. Be sure to be polite, and don't forget to say please when you make some requests. As the saying goes. A little kindness goes a long way.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

One of the biggest things that filmmakers forget to do during the filmmaking process that ends up screwing them over when it comes time to submit to festivals and distributors is Production Stills.

Production stills are what end up on posters, flyers, DVD covers, and websites. They are one of the most important marketing materials for your film aside from the film's trailer. 

I know, many people these days think that pulling high resolution stills from the finished film is probably good enough!

Wrong. Sure, it can pass for the bare minimum. But do you really want to be doing the bare minimum when it comes to promoting your film?

When shooting your film, you can't always afford a dedicated set production photographer during the entire shoot. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Schedule a day when you can have your key talent take photos in front of a white backdrop. These photos are crucial for key art design that will end up on your DVD covers and movie posters.
  • See if you can double dip a BTS videographer and set photographer. Often times people can do both when you can't hire a dedicated person for each. Just know that you will be diminishing the quality of both products by doing so. But, having "okay" stills is better than having no stills at all.
  • Be sure to take a second during your most dynamic and important scenes to pause and make sure you have the best stills that you can get on lock. Yes, it's good to just have someone snapping away, but quality over quantity applies here. Having 10 great photos is better than 100 mediocre photos.

Don't Get Discouraged

This is possibly the most important tip of all. It can be easy to get discouraged after the first couple "No" emails. But, if you can power through the pain and re-visit the previous tips with a clear head, you can increase your chances for success.

Best of luck on your festival journey!

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