Let's face it. If you're an independent filmmaker, chances are it was a challenge to get your project financed. Of course, some filmmakers are fortunate to have investors with deep pockets who will keep pouring money into the marketing and distribution of their projects, but that's not typically the case.
In fact, most are just scraping by to get through post, and then the next stage of the journey kicks in, playing the festival circuit. Start to finish, the festival tour costs a pretty penny, but we're not going to dig into the travel expenses detail for this post. We'll save that for Part II. Let's start with Saving on Submissions.
It all starts with your Submission Strategy, and thinking about how many fests you want to enter, right out of the gate, versus taking the more conservative "wait and see approach."
If you were committed, for example, to submitting to approximately 20-30 festivals, at an average cost of $75.00 for a credible event (shorts avg comes down closer to $50), that's a minimum of $1,500 bucks. Some filmmakers use the shotgun approach, just getting a big batch all out at once. I would argue that is not the most effective strategy.
Entering regular deadlines (or even early!) will save you money. Rates tend to go up from $5-$10 per deadline. This adds up. While you do want to catch early or regular deadlines, I think it's best to stagger and send some out each month, for a few reasons:
1. You can request waivers. You can plead poverty. Email fests and tell them you spend your last dime on your film, how you would love to play in their fest, but can't afford the fee. Or you can get more creative. You're getting married and have to get your fiancee a ring. Whatever creative story you want to make up, it's worth a try. You might be surprised and get a few fees waived. If you are a student, play that card.
2. You might get lucky and be invited early in the screening process. Then you leverage that invite with other fests. Once you dip below the 1st and 2nd tier fests, who really like to stack their slate with premieres, most fests see other invites as legitimacy. In other words, they want to take a look and will often waive fees to do so.
3. This applies to other fests further into your fest run. You might have some fest targets that fall months after your early fest participation. Again, fests look to previous fests to get ideas for invites. Hamptons will look at Seattle program, for example. If you just played a credible fest, possibly even winning an award there, you can request waivers for the next series of fest deadlines. It's worth a shot.
Enter Early in Deadline Cycle
As mentioned above, entering earlier deadlines will save you money. It may not seem like much to only save $10 bucks per entry, but it adds up. You enter 20 fests over a few months and save $10 per, that's 200 bucks!
Of course, you may be waiting on a few Notification dates (see earlier blog about following up), before you decide to pull the trigger on the next wave of entries, but have a plan, create that spreadsheet and analyze your track record before pouring money down the drain.
Cut your Losses
The sad truth is there are more than 10,000 shorts made every year, and typically over 5,000 features. Not all of them are strong enough to earn festival slots. Some may not even be "Festival" movies. I remember selling a genre picture to HBO a few years ago that was not a Festival movie. The filmmaker new this and went straight to a cable deal, without pouring money into entry fees that were going to translate to fest invites.
If you apply to 20-30 Fests and are not seeing invitations, this may not be the route for you. It may better to focus on alternative distribution models, and applying those funds towards marketing your project to your target audiences.
Another consideration is your targeted festivals. Most filmmakers shoot for Sundance and Toronto, and many believe they have a good shot. Less than 5% is not a good shot. You obviously improve your chances to move down to the lower end of the 2nd tier, and even 3rd tier fests, as long as you know they have some credibility and decent attendance for their screenings.
If you have come this far, give yourself a pat on the back, but really analyze your festival strategy. You want to manage expectations and give yourself the best chance to reach your goals, while being practical. Festivals can certainly be helpful for indie filmmakers, but navigating your festival journey can be tricky; and sadly, their decisions are beyond your control.
Think back to the goals for the movie, and for yourself. Be efficient with your fest strategy and assess along the way. Saving money where you can will help you down the road, whether it applies to your travel costs or your marketing costs, it will be nice to have a few extra bucks.