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10 Tips for Submitting to Film Festivals

Danny Greer
By Danny Greer
By Danny Greer

Get your project accepted to fests by following these must-know tips for film festival success!

Film Festival Tips

Film festivals provide a great way to get your film (and you!) exposure in the industry…but with escalating competition how can you increase your chances of acceptance? Cream rises to the top, so much of your success is reliant on your creative vision and execution – the film itself. BUT, there are certain steps you can take to insure that festival programmers and judges give your film a fair chance to be considered. Follow these 10 must-follow tips for submitting your film to festivals!

Is the Film a Fit?

Do your research when it comes to which festivals you’ll apply. Take a look at past films that have screened. Read reviews from past festival attendees. Do the programmers primarily accept narrative? Is there an emphasis on short films? Maybe a preference for the avant-garde or experimental? Is the fest geared toward a certain audience? Closely examine any film festival before you spend your time and money submitting to it. Is your project a good fit for the fests overall goals and theme? If it’s not, don’t try to ‘make it work’.

Niche Festivals

Instead, seek out fests that align with the genre or subject matter of your film. There are more festivals than ever before and many are micro-focused on a niche subject such as horror, environmental, documentary or shorts. These niche fests provide a great opportunity for new filmmakers to get their work in front of a captive audience. The big league film fests are for the ‘big leaguers’ . It’s great to dream, but remember that time and money are finite resources– set realistic goals and shoot for what’s attainable.  Check out our list of 15 Fests You Should Enter.

Budget Appropriately

Film Festival Budget

When raising money for your film (through crowdsourcing, private investors or your own pocket) it’s important to factor in a realistic cost for making any film festival appearance a success. Aside from the cost of submission (around $50 on average) you need to consider what it will cost to market the film at the festival, as well as any costs you might incur from attending the fest yourself. Some high-profile film festivals will cover costs such as hotel (or at least offer a discount), but you certainly won’t receive this with smaller fests. Check out this rundown of film festival budget considerations.

Submit Your Film Early

You’re free to submit your fest throughout the submission period, but the truth is the later you wait the harder it may be to land a spot. Festival programmers may (and likely) begin viewing and choosing films before the end of the submission period. As time goes on the programming slots will fill, possibly making it more competitive for late applicants. If you’re confident enough in your work to be submitting to fests, than you need to submit early – when the judges/programmers are fresh and less stressed. As an added benefit, many festivals offer a discounted submission fee for early applicants.

Screen with Test Audiences

Screen with Test Audience - Film Festivals

It’s all too easy for a director to get married to a shot, or an editor to get married to a cut. BE FLEXIBLE. Show your work to other filmmakers and friends whose opinion you value and trust. Tell them to be brutal in their feedback! Nothing will kill your film festival submission like a film that drags. Keep it moving by incorporating what your test audience responds to.

Don’t Neglect Sound Design

Poor sound mix and design is a sure sign of amateur filmmaking. Generally, sub-par visuals are more forgivable than a poor sound mix (in fact some entire film styles are based around lo-fi shooting!) Use commercial microphones and ensure that the audio levels are mixed within acceptable ranges. NEVER use commercial music without permission from the creator. Instead, check out royalty free music options to soundtrack your film.

DVD Best Practices

DVDs for Film Festivals

Ah, DVDs.. For better or worse, they’re still the submission format of choice for most festivals so you’ll need to make sure they’re given a thorough quality check before sending out. A few things to think about:

  • No sticky labels – Sticker labels can wreak havoc on DVD players automatically guaranteeing your project won’t find a home on a festivals lineup.
  • No complicated Menus – Be straightforward. Festival judges and programmers are watching batches of films at a time. They shouldn’t have to struggle to find your “main feature” or have to wait through a complicated DVD menu video. In most cases an autoplay is preferred.
  • No looping – Again, simplicity is best. When the video/film is done, it should stop. Double check that looping is disabled in the burning software.
  • Test the DVD on multiple players – Spin up the DVD in your computer DVD player, a commercial DVD player, etc. Although most players can now read all DVD types, it’s important to check it on multiple systems before sending it off.
  • Check aspect rations – Chances are your project was shot widescreen so you’ll want to make sure that the DVD program you are using for burning is set to the correct aspect ratio.
  • Compression – Maximize the quality. Poor compression and encoding will get immediately tossed out.

Don’t Watermark Your Film

Unless your last name is Scorsese or Spielberg you really don’t need to watermark your film when you submit it to festivals. Overlaying “for your consideration” or “festival copy” will only serve to be distracting to the programmers and judges. It may also show a little pompous on your part, as if people are clamoring to pirate your latest masterpiece. Practice humility…and trust.

Send A Finished Product

DVD Film Festivals

Some film festivals will allow you to send a “work in progress.” Word to the wise: don’t. Even if you miss a deadline, it’s more important to send a polished film. Have you ever shown a client a rough cut? Many have a hard time imagining what the polished finished product will be…what the full potential of the project is. Same logic applies here. Instead, when you’re in production and post keep an eye on the submission dates. Work from a schedule early on to make those deadlines, so you won’t be faced with running against the clock or having to wait a full year to submit a finished project.

Follow the Rules

Every film festival has different rules…..how they’d like media labeled, how they’d like to be contacted, what info you need to provide. The list goes on. Follow the film festival rules. It may seem elementary, but it’s just too easy to let a simple oversight ruin your chances for entry.

Additionally, don’t send any more information than what is asked for (this includes extravagant press kits!) Resist the urge to bug the festival programmers about your submission. If you weren’t contacted about your entry there is a reason! Suck it up and submit elsewhere! Don’t get blacklisted as an annoyance, thereby ruining your chances for submitting any future projects.

Now, follow these tips for film festival submissions and let your project stand on it’s own creative strengths!

Are there any tips you would add for filmmakers looking to enter film festivals?  Let us know in the comments!