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What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals

Jourdan Aldredge

Here are nine FilmFreeway tips and tricks to give your film its best chance at success during festival submission season.

Cover image by lapandr.

It’s film festival submission season! There’s a whole industry full of empty lineups ready for up-and-coming filmmakers and budding film sensations. If you’ve recently completed a project (or are frantically finishing one up), chances are you’ll be logging into film submission websites like FilmFreeway (or Withoutabox) to find a good home for your film.

However, before you hit submit (and the fees hit your bank account), here are nine tips and tricks you should consider when assembling your submission.

1. Create Your Profile

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Profile
Image via FilmFreeway.

I’ll start by focusing on FilmFreeway: the platform strongly encourages you to not only create a profile for your film project but also profiles for yourself, your collaborators, and your crew. Your profile is a bigger part of your submission than you’d think — festivals want to get to know the filmmakers and their unique stories just as much as the projects they’re peddling. Don’t leave any section unfilled, and try to really give life to the who/what/when/where/why of your director bio and your project description.

2. World Premiere

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — World Premiere
Image by Bosko.

Many film festival submission sites (as well as native platforms built into individual festivals) want you to indicate whether or not your film project already exists out in the world. This matters for a lot of reasons, but the main ones are simply importance and authority. Premiering a film is worth much more to the festival than a second (or third, etc.) screening — and it’s much more important than screening a film that is already bouncing around online. However, you can obviously only have one official world premiere, so keep that mind when you check the box.

3. Behind the Scenes Assets

Image by Janelle Lugge.

Festivals love behind-the-scenes assets. Screengrabs and headshots are great, but nothing beats images of the actors on set, under lights, behind cameras, and holding scripts. There’s no reason to over do it, and you don’t have to send everything, but it’s common practice to have an on-set photographer — even if that only means grabbing a photographer friend for a day. Even phone photos and Instagram pics are worth adding to your submission.

4. Customize Every Submission

One great upside of using platforms like FilmFreeway is that, after you create your own and your film’s profiles, you can search and submit to thousands of festivals with only a few clicks. The downside to this process is that, in the interest of time, it encourages boilerplate submissions. Avoid doing this at all costs (or you’ll quite literally just be throwing money away). Festivals can tell when they’re dealing with mass submissions versus genuine interest.

5. Understand Each Festival

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Unique Requirements
Image by Brian A. Jackson.

By the same token, when you find a festival that truly matches your interest (and you match theirs), to create a genuine submission, you need to do your research and determine what makes the festival unique. Just like you and your film, each festival offers an unique angle, mission, audience, and community. If you know what makes the festival special, you can highlight how your submission fits their mission statement.

6. Know Your Target Audience

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Target Audience

Just as you should understand the makeup of each festival, it’s important to understand the audience. You can look at what the festival says about itself on its website, but you can also look at reviews or feedback elsewhere online. Find out which films have screened with the festival in the past — and how audiences received them. If you can see that your intended audience is tightly aligned with the festival’s usual audience, you may have found a match.

7. Follow the Rules

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Runtimes

This should be obvious, but people still mess this up — especially when submitting without thoroughly reading the guidelines. Many festivals have runtime restrictions that you can overlook if you aren’t reading the fine print. To some festivals, a short film is anything under 40 minutes, while others only want films under 10 minutes. If you’re operating in more abstract runtime spaces, like five-minute shorts or one-minute micro-films, these guidelines are absolutely crucial, as even a few seconds could disqualify a submission and waste your fee.

8. The Importance of a Good Story

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Story

Finally, if you’re submitting a film to festival, we can assume that you’re a filmmaker. If you’re a filmmaker, you’re really a storyteller. So, when you’re submitting your film, it’s up to you to deliver a good story for the festival screeners. This requires a combination of personal narrative and the project’s narrative. Ask yourself why anyone would want to read about your film submission just as much as you’d ask yourself why anyone would want to see your film.

9. Go Public

What to Include When Submitting Your Film to Festivals — Go Public
Image by elleon.

Once your profile is finished and your films are submitted, platforms like FilmFreeway give you the option to make your profile private or public. If it stays private, only those reviewing your submissions can view your information. However, you have the option to make your profile and your films public, which means anyone can see what you’ve done and what you’re all about. If you’re serious about finding a home for your passion projects, putting yourself out there is perhaps the last, greatest hurdle you’ll need to leap. Who knows, maybe someone will find you.

For more resources on film festivals and submissions, check out some of these articles.

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