So you think that you’ve made a good – nay, a great film. That’s all well and good, but what now? What about film festival submission?
You didn’t just make that film for you, you made it to share with other people. A great place to ensure your film starts to reach people and get some critically important attention is to enter a film festival.
Getting into a film festival – and maybe winning an award or two is a great way to build your film career. Positive word of mouth generated from participation in festivals can really jump start your career. Some examples of filmmakers who got their break through their participation in film fests are Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez.
1. Avoid the Big Donts
There are many film festivals held annually that bring together rookie and veteran members of the film industry and provide them with a venue to showcase their work.
Film festivals are also a great way to reach film lovers who are looking for something “new and different.” There is no question that getting into a film festival is a good goal to have. The question is: how exactly do you achieve it?
Filmmaker Elliot Grove has produced over a hundred short films and five feature films. Not only has he submitted many films to film festivals – he’s founded two film festivals of his own, the Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards.
“Sitting on the festival side of the fence,” he writes, “There are a lot of things that filmmakers do that really annoy film festivals.”
Annoying a film festival selection committee is the last thing you want to do if you want to get your film into any film festival.
Other big film festival don’ts include:
- Don’t being overly wordy in your first email contact with the film festival. No one wants to read your life story, I’m afraid.
- Don’t send lots of gifts in an attempt to win the festival’s favor before you submit. Yes, sending flowers as a “thanks” is fine once you’re accepted, but doing so before you’re accepted is quite cringeworthy.
- Don’t expect the festival to do everything. Most festivals will merely screen your film – the rest is up to you. Yes, that means press, selling your movies to people and organizing Q&As most likely fall on your shoulders.
With those important don’ts out of the way, here’s some more pointers.
2. Act like a professional
One of the first things Grove stresses is to read, understand and abide by festival rules and regulations.
“Each festival has its own reason for being and devises a set of rules in order to make sure no one wastes time,” says Grove.
If you have legitimate questions about the festival, Grove adds, go ahead and ask. But don’t waste your time and the organizer’s time by not doing research beforehand.
Grove also stresses that filmmakers need to complete their submissions as festivals do have an “incomplete submission form” pile where films who don’t complete this first basic requirement get placed. And if you find your way onto this pile, your film doesn’t get watched, much less considered for submission.
Making sure you understand and complete basic submission requirements falls under the category of ‘professionalism’ as defined by Chris Holland of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and author of Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook for Independent Filmmakers.
Holland identifies 3 basic festival rules, one of which is: to get professional treatment, act like a professional.
“I’ve only seen festivals ‘uninvited’: a handful of films in my festival career. Each time it was because the film was good but not good enough for the festival to put up with the jerks who made it,” he writes.
That’s right, simply don’t be a jerk. Seems like a crazy thing to need to suggest, but it makes sense.
Along with following film festival submission instructions, he identifies five other qualities of professionalism you should display in order not to sabotage your entry by being a jerk:
- Be communicative, but not too communicative.
- Be respectful of others people’s time.
- Put some time and thought into developing marketing materials and establishing a web presence for your film.
- Finish the film before submission.
- Treat the film as a step towards a long-term career, not just a chance to be rich and famous.
Proper communication is also important to Grove who scolds filmmakers who send wrong contact details. Grove stresses the need to be able to reach filmmakers after they submit their film but also scolds those who are “too communicative” and pester film festival organizers about the status of their submitted film.
Grove also believes that filmmakers should be capable of – and prepared to – do some of their own marketing and have your own press kit.
“Remember that all festivals have limited marketing budgets and the more you help, the more successful you’re screening will be,” says Grove, who wrote another article on the essential elements of a press kit that you can find here.
3. Submit a lot. Submit early. Submit RIGHT
As we covered earlier, it’s important to do your research ahead of time with regards to the film festival rules and regulations regarding submissions.
One more thing we need to stress here is to research which film festivals you are going to submit to. Picking the right festival is important.
A good way to gauge if your film might do well in a particular film festival is to do some research into the history of the film fest. Check what types of films the festival has accepted in the past and which went on to win awards.
“Some filmmakers never spend any time researching the profile of the festival they are submitting to, and then complain bitterly of why they weren’t selected,” noted Grove.
Most film festivals have some sort of theme or focus – it will probably be in the guidelines if not stated by the film fests name itself. Evaluate your film and it’s goals:
- What are you trying to say with your film?
- Is the message of your film a match to the film festival’s theme?
It doesn’t matter how well-crafted and moving your black comedy about the welfare system is. It’s not going to win, and it might not even be considered as an entrant, if you submit it to a film fest that focuses on documentaries about the impact of environmental problems on society.
Zack Daulton’s short film Mayfield was accepted into more than 20 festivals in 2016 and garnered multiple awards and critical buzz from the exposure. He recommends submitting your film for festivals that are a “right fit” and, that this right fit can be found in plenty of places if you just take time to look.
“No matter what your film is about or what genre it is, there is a film festival out there for you, so don’t get caught up in only entering the big ones. Seek out festivals that would be a good fit for your film,” he advises.
In many cases, being open to submitting your film to the appropriate film festivals means start scoping out the scene early. Don’t be obsessed with the big festivals everyone has heard of, such as
Sundance. Instead, be open to smaller festivals.
As Dalton points out, the short film Stutterer didn’t get accepted into Sundance but it still won 2016’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
Dalton and Holland both recommend submitting your film to film festivals early. As soon as your film is completed, you should look around for appropriate film festivals to participate in and send in your submission.
As Holland points out, most festivals have an early deadline where submission fees are very low, sometimes half of what you would submit during the regular or late deadlines.
“By any sane logic, most filmmakers would submit on the early deadline every time. They could submit to twice as much festivals and effectively double the number of chances they have to be accepted at festivals,” says Holland.
“Submitting on a late deadline is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but paying more for no greater chance that your film will get into the festival should be all the reason you need,” he concludes.
Grove also stresses the need to submit a film that the festival organizers can view properly.
Grove recalls that, when DVD’s were popular, they would get submissions on scratched disks – meaning they couldn’t even watch the film, much less consider it for submission.
Grove also discourages filmmakers from asking organizers to watch their films online. Submissions without viewable films or previews are a waste of time.
4. Make and submit the best film you possibly can
This one is obvious, but bears repeating.
According to Daulton, the best way to make sure you’re producing a film festival worthy film is to find your voice and have something important to say.
“If you’re not evoking some sort of emotional response from the audience, your film probably isn’t personal enough. The last thing you want is for your film to be forgettable and lukewarm,” he says.
It is also a good thing to add an interesting hook to your film. A good hook will make film fest organizers curious to see your film. It also gives them something they can use to promote the film, and the festival, via social media platforms.
Holland advises that you get feedback on your film from other people, preferably people who don’t know you.
A small test screening with a live audience can help you know if your film is indeed getting the emotional response you want and that you want film festival organizers and audiences to have.
You can also consider getting feedback through online test screenings with surveys or through releasing your film by uploading it on YouTube.
Film Festival Submission – A Conclusion
Making a film is hard enough, but the complexity of film festival submission should not be undervalued either.
Once you’ve finished your movie, you are only part of the way on your journey. Now comes film festivals and potential distribution deals. Look into Video On Demand (VOD) as a potential avenue, too. We have a couple of articles on that very subject on the site.
So remember the dos and don’ts of effectively submitting your film to festivals: don’t expect the festival to do everything for you, don’t try to bribe them and don’t be overly wordy in your initial contact with the festival.
From there, do submit a lot, submit early and be professional. Following these rules will hold you in good stead as you navigate the shark invested waters of festival submission.
You never know when your film will hit it out of the park at a festival, so approach every festival submission as if it could charge your life. It just might!
I hope you’ve got something helpful from this article on film festival submission. If you have any questions, thoughts or queries, let us know in the comments section right below this post.
Have you successfully submitted a film to a film festival? Let us know in the comments below.