A Bit of Advice for Your Film Festival Submission

As we prepare to announce our lineup for the 2015 Winter Film Awards Independent Film Festival, it seems like a good time to update and repost this, originally posted last year ….

A while back, we posted What Festival Directors Really Think from Stephen Follows (Blog) and Your Movie’s Been Accepted to a Festival – Now What? from Filmmaker Forum.

Here is some more advice for filmmakers looking to submit films to smaller Film Festivals or who have already been accepted to a Festival.

In General

  • Be findable! We frequently hear about films that sound interesting and we would love to invite them to the Festival, but are unable to track down the filmmaker. Make sure you have a website with a “Contact Us” option and make sure you monitor the email account. WordPress and other services are free, so there is no excuse to not have a website for your film. At the very least, build a Facebook page for your film and include a means to contact you. Ensure that if someone googles the name of your film, they get a result that allows them to contact you.

Your Film Submission

  • Your film is too long. Of the films reviewed for this year’s Festival, we thought that two films could have been longer and 25% were exactly the right length. The rest would have benefitted from being cut by about ⅓

  • Don’t bother sending us a bunch of press info and such for your film. Really, it goes right in the garbage. The only way to impress Festival directors and juries is by giving us a film we think our audiences will enjoy, that we can market effectively and that will sell tickets.

  • Some film Festivals waive fees, most don’t. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but don’t expect much. Sending us a three page letter begging for a fee waiver won’t help your case any. That said, if you or your film has something particular marketable, you have a better chance of getting a waiver — for example, if the film team is from somewhere we don’t see often (Tanzania or Iraq or Kosovo), or has a woman director, or has won a bunch of awards, or is about a topic currently in the news.

  • Keep the Festival juries in mind. Festival juries are watching your films on laptops or normal living room TVs at normal TV watching volume. Make sure your sound will be clear under those conditions and subtitles are readable in order to put your film in its best light

  • Have an online screener. Whenever possible, ensure there are online copies of your film available for the juries. A Festival could have many judges, and DVDs easily get lost in the shuffle. Use the WAB online screener option or mention the url/password in your submission cover letter

  • Be local. Festivals want to ensure that they have an audience, and the easiest way to do that is to accept films from local filmmakers who presumably will attend and bring their friends and family. If your film was made near the Festival’s location or anyone on your team lives near the Festival, make sure that is mentioned in your cover letter and use a submission mailing address near the Festival. Given the choice between two films with more-or-less the same rating from the judges, we will always select the local one.

  • Submit a Completed Film. We get a surprising number of films with incomplete sound along with a note from the filmmaker to trust that the sound edit will be completed in time for the festival. Festivals are not likely to accept an in-progress film in hopes that an unseen final edit will be OK for screening.
  • Production values and acting are very important if your film is a drama. They are less important if your film is truly funny. We’ll forgive a lot for funny.

  • If your film is not accepted, it doesn’t mean your film sucks. Festivals have limited programming hours and are not able to accept all of the films submitted, much as we may like to. Accepted films need to work together to meet the overall theme of the festival and have to fit in the time we’ve got. It’s disappointing to be rejected and we truly hate doing it, but that’s the nature of the life of an artist and you can’t let it break your heart. And, no matter how disappointed you are, it’s not a good idea to send a nasty note to the Festival programmers, else you will guarantee that they will not contact you if they are able to open another time slot, will never consider one of your films again and won’t recommend you to other festivals that might be more appropriate for your film.

If Your Film is Accepted

  • Your film short synopsis is your primary marketing tool. Most Festival programs will allow roughly 750 characters or so for a description of your film, and this is what audiences will use to decide if they want to see it. Use this to market your film! Run it by everyone you know until it is worded clearly and sounds fascinating. Don’t rely on the Festival Director to sell your film for you.

  • Your director bio is another good marketing tool. Festival programs that include biographies of the Director usually allow about 500 characters. Pick the two or three absolutely most fascinating things about yourself and skip telling where you were born or where you went to school unless it is very much different from the likely Festival attendees.

  • Make your own publicity. Check out some of the many free Press Release sites (prlog.org is a good one) and post a Press Release about your film’s acceptance to the Festival once you know your screening date/time/location. Include your screening info and links to your website and your entry on Festival’s website. Basic format is one paragraph announcing your film’s acceptance and screening info, one paragraph with the film synopsis, one paragraph with the filmmaker’s bio and mention of any local cast members, and one paragraph about the festival itself (you can copy this from the festival’s website). Post the release locally and to the festival’s city.

  • Notify Everyone. If you live in a small town, notify your local newspaper. If you are a student or recent alum, notify your school. Notify any of your local professional or cultural associations. Post on your Facebook page and website, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and include tags to the Festival. If you have any contacts in media or film-related blogs, invite them to the screening and ask the Festival for press passes.

  • Don’t bother asking the Festival to pay for your transportation or hotel. Unless you are a celebrity or have been accepted to a very well-funded Festival, it’s unlikely the Festival is going to provide that, and if they do, they’ll tell you. However, you could try contacting your local Film School, Travel & Tourism Office, Chamber of Commerce, Artist League, professional or cultural association or any local businesses that support film and ask if they will provide a grant to cover your travel expenses. If you are from outside the US, try your country’s US-based embassy. If the Festival is a US 501(3)c non-profit, ask if they will accept the grant for you thereby making it tax deductible for the grantor.

  • Have someone attend the Awards ceremony. If your Festival includes a live awards presentation, try your absolute best to have a representative attend. Even if you do not live anywhere near the Festival, ask around and see if you have friends or family members nearby who will attend on your behalf and make sure the Festival knows if you will have someone there. Festivals want photos of happy winners holding awards, and if they must choose between two more-or-less equally scored films, the Festival is far more likely to award the film that will have someone there to collect the award.

  • Bring a copy of your film with you to your screening. Technology is a huge pain in the neck, and things go wrong no matter how carefully we prepare and test. We’ve had DVDs crack, get lost or not play despite working just fine when we tested it. If someone from the film team is there with a ready copy of the film on DVD, you may save the day!

  • Don’t ask for a ton of free passes. Small Festivals get the majority of their funding from ticket sales and cannot afford to give you free passes for your whole family — most can only provide two free passes. However, if you are bringing a bunch of paying attendees with you, the Festival may be happy to give you a few more free ones or a discount.

  • Post Photos! Lots of Photos!

    • If you cannot attend the Awards but do win, take a photo of yourself holding the award and email it to the Festival or post on Facebook with a tag to the Festival. Photos of happy winners will get re-posted and everyone gets more exposure.

    • If you do attend the Festival, get some good photos that show the Festival’s logo and post them to Facebook tagged to the Festival. The Festival may share them or use these in their press releases or website and such and you’ll get more exposure for your film.

    • If you win a prize like software or equipment or something, get photos of you holding your prize and post that to Facebook, tagged to the Festival and the Festival Sponsor. The Festival Sponsors love these and will likely repost them, giving you a whole bunch more exposure.

  • Tweet and Facebook during the Festival! Be sure to tag the Festival in these. Again, re-postings will get exposure for your film.

  • Keep in touch with the Festival after it is over. If your film goes on to win awards or distribution, or there is a good interview or article about you, email your Festival and let them know. There’s a good chance they will post it on their website/Facebook page and give you some more exposure. They also will be interested in seeing your future work and may be able to help you network.


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