More on Film Festivals

August 30, 2009
posted by sheric

Having just participated in an interview on Film Festival Radio that was meant to cover how to “work” a film festival, I realized that a lot of what I prepared to say didn’t get covered. Time ran short, other questions were asked. Anyway, I thought I would share with you the other points I meant to cover in case you are about to embark on the festival circuit. There is a lot to prepare for and here are the questions and answers I wanted to cover.

So why participate in a film festival?

Film festivals are a low cost alternative to booking a screening in a cinema. It may be the only time your film will see a cinema screening unless you find a distributor willing to do this for you. Use a festival as your theatrical release to gear up your DVD sales. I know that most people think that if someone sees your film, why would they buy it on DVD? But it happens all the time, think of how many DVD’s you own that you bought after seeing the film. People who have already seen it and liked it are more likely to buy it. Studios rely on theatrical release to sell their DVD, so can you.

Festivals give you access to your core audience by piggybacking on the marketing of the event in a community. You still have to market your film so that your screening is filled, but you don’t have the total expense of marketing and advertising the event like you would in a self funded screening.

Film festivals allow you to participate in the filmmaker community by meeting other like minded individuals and important people in the industry. You should do as much networking as possible while you are there. It is a time of being celebrated as a legitimate filmmaker. While you may have other jobs to pay the bills, at a film festival, you are known as a filmmaker. They give you legitimacy.

They should be part of your overall distribution strategy. The more audience you gather for your work (and awards too), the better your chances of selling your film through self distribution or finding a distributor who is willing to do a deal with you because you have a provable audience. Even if you don’t win awards, just being an official selection means someone thought your film was watchable. They are a great marketing tool too. More on that in a later section.

How do you choose the best ones for your film?

Do  thorough research about the kinds of festivals to which you should be submitting.  Unless you have an unlimited budget, you need to target and not shotgun because 1)you’ll waste money on submission fees to festivals you won’t get into 2)it is very time consuming to keep up with all the efforts for multiple festivals. For research, you can visit sites like Withoutabox,, or search for genre festivals on Google to find ones that fit your film’s description. Look at the festival’s past lineups to get a sense of the kinds of films they want. You’re searching for a philosophy and a programming style that matches your film and attracts the same kind of target audience you are going for. If the festival you are thinking of applying to does not have an updated website or many press references that cover their previous event, take it as a bad sign. Probably you will not get any promotional activity out of the event for your film either and choose another.

Once you determine your likely contenders, arrange them in order of desirability and time on the calendar. This is going to take a lot of organization on your part as you only have so many copies, especially if they are 35mm prints, and they can’t be everywhere at once. Also, think how much time you have to keep up with what is due when.

Pick the likeliest spot for your world premiere and some alternatives. Pay attention to what the festival rules are for screening, some are picky about premieres or playing their city before the festival. If you are particularly looking for Oscar qualifying festivals for your short film, you can find a list on the AMPAS site here.

What if I don’t get into anything?

You should take a long, hard look at your film. If you have submitted to over 10 festivals with no acceptance, either you are picking the wrong festivals or something is off about your film. It could be too long, need a little re edit. Get as much feedback from outsiders as you can and listen to what they are telling you. DO NOT SEND ROUGH CUTS. It is the rare director that can get into a festival on a rough cut of the film so only submit your best work.

So you submit and get accepted? Then what?

You should have all of your materials together already. Website up, a poster for the lobby, postcards of your film for tables and nearby businesses. Press kits are ok, but most small festivals don’t have a press room so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on this, nothing fancy and expensive. Use email to communicate with local press. Most festivals will only give you about 3 weeks notice of acceptance so be ready when you get the green light.

Have business cards printed for yourself as a filmmaker and the film. Include all contact details and the film’s website.

You should issue a press release as soon as you are accepted and know the screening time. Further releases should announce any wins, don’t depend on the festival to do this for you.

You should find out who the press officer is and contact them about possible publicity opportunities. Attitudes vary among staff at festivals. Some will bend over backwards to help, others couldn’t care less. If they couldn’t care less, see who their media sponsors are and where the festival is directing their news. Contact the outlets directly by telling them you are participating in the event and want to contribute to any articles they are doing. Have bios and productions stills in jpg form ready for media submission.

You should already have your social media pages in place for your film. Promote your screenings on these for your fans. Add yourself to the event’s social media pages too, if they have them, and post a trailer and info about when your screening is. Really use their pages to interact with the attendees, both other filmmakers and the audience.

Having a trailer is super important. Even if your film is only 4 minutes long, have a 10 second clip or something to send around. Do not load up your entire film on the internet until after it has played the circuit. Some festivals will disqualify for that and Oscar consideration for short films is out if you do that.

Actively seek out potential fans in the community where the festival is playing. You can do a Facebook search or a Linkedin search. Don’t bug people too much, but let them know about the festival and when your screening is and that they are invited. Do not make your pitch too sales-y or like an advertisement. Make it more informational and invitational.

Can I make any money doing this?

It is the extremely rare festival that will pay a screening fee for your film, mostly any screening fees go to a distributor of an already established film just for the prestige of having it. For sure there are festivals that offer cash prizes if you win and offer expensive equipment from sponsors. Some will fly you to the festival and offer hotel rooms.

Also, you can check the policies, but you may be able to sell DVD copies on site while you have that audience in front of you. If not, please direct them to your online sales channels with a special code for discount because they saw you at a fest.

Don’t view festivals as lost revenue because you are playing your film for free. View them as marketing opportunities that are a relatively low cost way for the audience to “try out” your film and for you to connect with your fans.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.