Making an independent film is hard. Even the shortest of shorts relies on the talents and dedication of writers, directors, actors, sound designers, and editors. Long hours, low (and often no) budgets, blood, sweat, and probably more than a few tears.
Then, it’s finally done. For many filmmakers the next step is a festival run. Film festivals are a great way to network with peers, get your work seen, and make valuable industry contacts. But where to begin? Read on for tips from finding the right festival to
There are literally thousands of film festivals out there. Some are big and corporate, some are very small and may not be worth every filmmaker’s time. The first step in any festival plan should be making a wish list of the fests you would really love to get into. Understanding, of course, that everyone else wants to get into them, too, so the competition will be fierce. And the truth is, many of the really big fests program through deals with studios, so submissions from emerging (unknown) filmmakers are fighting for even fewer slots. Your plan should include festivals that you think you have a good shot at getting into: ones that match your film’s genre or represent a scene you’re a part of. For example, AoBFF is the only fest in the world exclusively devoted to works that emerge from Brooklyn, and filmmakers connected to our scene respect and support that.
Your plan should include festivals that you think you have a good shot at getting into: ones that match your film’s genre or represent a scene you’re a part of
Once you have a list of festivals you think you want to enter, do research. Check out their websites. Are they up to date? Do they have testimonials? How’s their social media presence? Social media is a good way to get a sense of how much time a festival devotes to building community (as opposed to lying dormant most of the year, waking up just to take submission fees and maybe post a screening schedule.)
Also take a look at their recent highlights, press mentions, screening locations, etc. See what they’re up to and if they work hard for filmmakers. For example, at AoBFF we created our very own streaming platform called Brooklyn On Demand to showcase Brooklyn film and media to a worldwide audience. Our Roku channel alone has over 15K subscribers. We knew we had to innovate to stay relevant for 21st-century filmmakers and audiences, so we do. Constantly.
Social media is a good way to get a sense of how much time a festival devotes to building community
When it comes to your festival run, decide if you want quantity (lots of laurels that look good on a poster), or are more focused on quality festivals that can potentially help your career. If you have a good film, you’ll get into festivals. But doing your homework will make sure they’re the right ones for you.
Entering film festivals can get expensive, especially if you’re scrambling at the last minute to enter ones that are about to close submissions. Map out the submission schedules of the fests you want to enter. Getting your film in early will maximize your budget. Speaking of budgets, do you have one? Is there a maximum amount you have decided to spend on festivals? Remember, they can add up quickly and the frantic impulse to enter “just one more” can end up costing you a lot more than you were anticipating.
Remember, they can add up quickly and the frantic impulse to enter “just one more” can end up costing you a lot more than you were anticipating.
Also, try and do some research on which festivals are the most likely to actually VIEW your submission. You might assume that if you pay a lot of money to a festival, somebody will watch your film and it will be considered for programming. Sounds logical, but it’s not always the case — especially for late submissions, which ironically are also the most expensive. At AoBFF we have an Ethical Submission Policy where we guarantee to watch every single entry, even up to midnight on the last day of submissions. If a filmmaker is paying their hard-earned money, the least a festival can do is watch it. Plus, if you get a rejection letter for a film that was never screened, was it truly rejected?
Think about what each festival can do for your film, and spend your money accordingly.
Once you have your plan in place, make sure your submission materials are in the correct format, which varies by festival. If a fest specifies online screeners only, don’t mail a DVD. Make sure your film’s sound is as good as it can be. Bad sound can eliminate a promising film because it’s the single most distracting element. If a festival has specific or niche guidelines, read and follow them. If your film doesn’t fit, don’t submit.
Bad sound can eliminate a promising film because it’s the single most distracting element
· Don’t misrepresent your film’s premiere status. Many fests prefer to program premieres, especially for features. And be sure to update its status if it changes. Online platforms like Film Freeway make it easy to keep your film’s information current.
· Double-check your spelling and grammar. It makes you look more professional, and festivals don’t like proofreading your text when they pull it for their schedules and promotions.
· Keep your eye on the prize. We’ve had filmmakers pay to enter without even uploading their screener (and vice versa.) Don’t make festival organizers chase you; it makes you look like an amateur. Filmmakers who are organized and professional will see more benefits than someone who is talented but difficult to deal with.
· And always remember: Film festivals exist for filmmakers, NOT the other way around. Don’t ever feel bullied or intimidated by any festival organizer. Respect and consideration go both ways, and you deserve to be treated well.
Good luck and keep making films!
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