7 Game-Changing Film Festival Tips

by SparkMedia
November 7, 2014  |  Festivals

Earlier this week, Women in Film & Video (WIFV) hosted an eye-opening panel discussion about that ever-important step in getting your film out into the world: joining the film festival circuit. Expert festival programmers Jon Gann (DC Shorts) and Andrea Passafiume (AFI Docs), along with festival veterans Jason Osder (Let the Fire Burn) and Karen Whitehead (Her Aim Is True), covered everything from choosing target festivals to budgeting a festival run to making the most out of the festival experience.

Here are 7 of the biggest takeaways:

1) “There’s a festival for every film, but not a film for every festival.” Before submitting your film to every festival under the sun, take the time to do your research – study what the festival has screened in the past and what demographic generally attends the festival. At the end of the day, festivals are programming for their viewers and make decisions based on what they think will interest them. Just because you’re sitting on the next Academy Award winner, doesn’t mean it’s right for every festival.

2) What do you want out of a festival? It is important to be honest with yourself about why you’re submitting to a certain festival. Are you looking to sell your film? Do you want to screen in front of a passionate, issue-driven audience? Is the festival in Australia and, heck, you’ve always wanted to go there? These are all legitimate reasons. Being honest with yourself about your goals will help you sharpen the focus of your submission list.

3) Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Make phone calls, gauge the festival’s vibe. You can absolutely interview the festival before deciding to submit. Just make sure you are respectful of their time and make a genuine effort to get to know them.

4) If it’s Sundance or bust, think again. Films rarely get discovered at major festivals. Often times, the programs at these major festivals are pre-determined long before applications are accepted. By all means, submit to all the top festivals if that’s what you want your experience to be. If you get in to all of them, congratulations! But don’t let a Sundance rejection ruin your day. Again, there is a festival for every film.

5) Include the festival run in your overall budget. If you’re destined to make a festival run once your film is wrapped, budget for submission fees and travel before you even begin production! Festival costs add up quickly, and festivals don’t like waiving fees unless you have a really good reason (sorry, being a broke filmmaker doesn’t cut it). Make a plan, do your research, and budget accordingly!

6) Market your film, just not to the festival. Once you’ve submitted your film, it’s okay to send a follow up email to the festival, but don’t be trying to sell to them – let your film speak for itself. Festival programmers would rather see you putting that energy into actively building an audience for your film. Active marketing and community engagement will show the festival that, come time for your screening with them, you’ll be pushing people to attend that festival!

7) Once you’re in, enjoy the experience! Festivals love to see active filmmakers. Share that you’ve been accepted with the whole world (once the festival says you can announce)! Go to the festival and talk to programmers, meet other filmmakers, engage with your audience. Festivals talk to one another and will pass along a good word if you help make their festival special!

**BONUS!** Be careful where you are submitting. Do your research! A lot of festivals have nothing but the best intentions for their filmmakers. But then there are some that are just interested in grabbing submission fees. Before submitting to any festival, really take the time to research that festival and make a judgement call. Get in touch with attending filmmakers from past years and ask them what their experience was like. For more about fair submissions, check out www.fairsubmissions.com.