On Film Festivals - Part 2
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
HOLY CRAP, there are a lot of film festivals. How do you pick? Which ones? How many? Let's get into it. It won't be easy because it's natural for us artists and creators to think everyone will like or benefit from seeing our work, but the truth is, everything is not for everyone.
FACT: You will not get into the majority of festivals you submit to.
When looking at all the potential festivals you could submit to ask yourself, why submit my film here? What this fest's purpose/ mission? What do you hope to gain from the festival?
Your festival submission budget should be factored into your production budget. Film fest submission aggregators like FilmFreeway and WithoutABox, are basically crack for filmmakers. Glossy websites enticing us to enter our work for the promise of reward. Some fees are big, some are small, all have a cost. Knowing your spending limit will temper your submission addiction.
Submitting to film festivals is like loaning money to a friend, don't do it unless you're comfortable never being paid back. #ThingsMyDadTaughtMe
Unless you have a celebrity, major film program (AFI, USC, NYU, FIND, etc) or a grant... don't waste your money on big famous festivals. The major fests (Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, etc) have power players jockeying for submission slots and unknown filmmakers, whether you are from Los Angeles or Peoria, will never get into those fests without the right pedigree.
Next, unless you're rich, focus on festivals near you. The best part of screening in a festival, besides an audience seeing your work, is the ability to be AT the festival. It's an event to participate, network and promote yourself. I have RARELY found it beneficial to spend the $1000 or more to travel across the country just to see my 10-minute short film on the big screen.
Focus on festivals that specialize in your genre of film. Know your audience, you'll have a better likelihood of getting accepted. Though I write and direct in a variety of genres, I always hire diverse casts and crews and feature people with a disabilities. So I prioritize festivals that want to showcase those people, characters, or creatives. After that, I submit to the local, genre, and finally famous fests if there is money left.
Be wary of festivals newer than 3 years old. Learn about the festival before submitting. How long has it existed? What do other people say about it? Some scumbags have created a business of hustling filmmakers with fake festivals that only exist to collect submission fees. Fests with no networking, audience, prestige, feedback, reward, or promotion opportunity are a waste of money. My films have gotten into festivals that have been poorly managed, presented, and attended. It makes me and my film feel violated. One time I got into a festival where the screening room was actually in some guys garage (that actually happened to me... and I was pissed).
You can always submit to more later. If your film finds an audience and starts to become a regular Official Selection or an Award Winner, then submitting to more festivals is a good investment. But if your inbox begins to fill up with rejection letters, it's probably best to consider your film a teaching vehicle to becoming a better filmmaker. As an added bonus, consider yourself a winner for not blowing wads of cash that could have been used on your next production.
Those are the basics. Sadly some of these lessons you'll have to learn on your own. I have no doubt that some of you think your film is an exception to the rule. Hell, how do you think I learned all this stuff? My hope by sharing this experience is that you have a fighting chance to spend your money wisely, and in the end, have a better festival run.
I wish you the best, and remember, if all this seems like too much for you to handle, I write, direct and produce freelance, so shoot me an email I'd be happy to bring my skills and sarcasm to your next production.
In Part 3 of this series I will be a list links to the best respected festivals to submit to.