When it comes to playing the film festival circuit, it often takes more than just a good film to succeed. With thousands of movies competing for the few coveted slots, it has become increasingly important to have a strategy to support your journey. Once upon a time, quality would just shine through and be discovered. In our modern festival era, however, innovative campaigns can increase your chances.
It all starts with proper analysis of your targeted festivals, their rules and their histories. Assuming you have done the basic research to ensure the events you are considering have credibility and there is value in you participating, do the deeper dive. See what films they have played. What films have won the awards? Was there local press, and if so, what did they respond to?
It never hurts to see some of the highlights that have come out of the festivals you are considering. If you really want to do your homework, watch some of them! Even if your movie is already done, seeing some of the stronger films that have succeeded over the years can influence future projects and decisions. We're counting down the Top 50 Festival Movies on our Instagram page.
Take note if the festival has a history specific themes or categories, such as experimental films (Ann Arbor) or an emphasis on foreign fare (Palm Springs). That's not to say most festivals cover a range of genres and categories, but it helps to do your homework and know how their history may affect the odds for you and your film there.
Once you've settled on your list of festival targets, you're ready to begin your applications...
Now you're ready to apply, but don't rush through the applications. Note which fests ask for Press Kits and /or Stills, and follow their policies. If your film is a rough cut, be sure they accept films at this stage. And know that rough cuts better be AMAZING. Most fests won't take the risk. Over the years, rough cuts have been invited to some top fests but then were not ready as the event approached and had to pull out. This is bad for everyone.
Most fests will accept a cover letter. This is an opportunity for you to share something unique about your movie. Is it based on a true story? A hot topic? Any known actors? Did you shoot in the same region or state as certain fests? Find your angle and leverage it.
Festivals also like to have premieres. Be sure, if you have not played other events at the time of submission, to share how eager you are to premiere with their Festival. And if you have already played others, you can share that too. Awards recognition? That helps.
Do yourself a favor and have a friend review your materials and proofread. You don't want to come off as sloppy, and I'm the first to admit, proofreading is not my strength. It's worth another look.
Once you're ready with your first round of submissions, and materials are solid, go for it. And add submission dates to your spreadsheet. Submit for early or regular deadlines when you can. There are typically less slots for those waiting for the final deadline; but you can hold off on your next wave of submissions, for example, if there is a chance you could hear back from others prior to subsequent deadlines. Sometimes, you can leverage festival invites to get fees waived on future festival submissions. Saving money is always good.
Finally, be sure to note the Notification date, and add to your spreadsheet.
Once you've submitted, see if there is someone you know that can put in a word for your movie. Anything to get you on the radar. Here is a short video on the subject of Getting In. And then set reminders in your calendar to follow up with festivals.
Check Notification dates and back out 6-8 weeks, depending on the gap from the final deadline, and revisit the festival. Do you have any updates to share with the them? For a few tips on how to approach the follow up, see our YouTube video here. Just any excuse to get back on their radar before they make final decisions.
The good news is filmmaking is a creative endeavor and if you're gotten this far, you have the passion and resources to develop the right solution for your project. Every film will have its own formula for success, but it's important to find your angles, be innovative and differentiate whenever possible.
When you know you've submitted right materials, to the appropriate festivals, and are on the radar, you've done everything you can do to have the best chance to be considered. And that's all you can ask for. If the film is a fit, you will get a phone call. And if, for whatever reason, you're not invited, don't lose hope. You will likely have other notification dates just around the corner.
Keep the dream alive.