Preparing Your Film for Festivals

Everyone knows the key to distribution and industry exposure is to submit your film to festivals. What everyone doesn’t know is how to present your submission to festival programmers. I’m going to give you some insider tips to getting your entry from envelope to big screen.

This is a heavily-debated subject and please keep in mind the fine details may vary between organizations. So you’ve blown your budget, refinanced your home and sold a kidney to get your movie made. Unless you want your blood, sweat, tears (and money) to collect dust in a drawer, you know you need to submit to festivals. The average medium-sized film fest receives between 600-1,000 entries each year. How can your film possibly stand out?

If money grew on trees, I would whole-heartedly recommend submitting to any and all film festivals and competitions you qualify for. I’ll allow you to use that advice in conjunction with your budget to decide how many to enter. Festival submission fees can add up quickly and it should be a prominent bullet point on any production’s budget sheet.

  • If your film fits a niche program such as LGBT, Jewish, Shorts, etc., submit to those fests!
  • Events in big cities will maximize your exposure with large, diverse audiences
  • If you are unsure if your film qualifies for a particular fest, ask before submitting
  • Create a deadline calendar of all festivals of interest – save on fees by submitting early
  • Joining Withoutabox will save you time, money and headaches

Your film could be the greatest cinematic masterpiece ever created but if it doesn’t reach the festivals safely and intact, what’s the point in sending it at all? I can’t tell you how many entries ACEFEST receives that include a naked DVD disc sandwiched between two slabs of cardboard and some scotch tape. C’mon guys! We get it – money is tight and you’re probably submitting to dozens of festivals at a time. That’s no reason to send a half-assed package out.

  • Use a appropriately-sized padded mailing envelope or secure shipping box
  • Don’t use USPS Media Mail (it’s slow and unreliable)
  • Be sure DVD or tape is secured in appropriate case
  • Shipping can be a violent adventure for a package – tape your DVD case shut if necessary
  • Ensure that destination address is correct and neatly displayed on package or envelope
  • For your own sanity, splurge on delivery confirmation service

Again, the contents of your submission package can vary depending on the festival’s requirements. However, the general rule is – give ’em what ya got! Will cast photos or press materials get your film selected? NO! But, it can’t hurt. There is certainly no harm in wetting the pallets of programmers by giving them extra goodies to accompany your entry. Over the years, we’ve received everything from t-shirts to posters to bloody props. I feel it’s necessary to exclaim once again that this will not help your chances at all (and, frankly, sending a blood-soaked baseball bat made me scared to leave my house for a week).

  • Nobody cares about production photos or headshots (sorry)
  • Don’t let your marketing materials overshadow your DVD – keep it simple and tasteful
  • Film festivals love projects with built-in buzz so including press clippings is a smart move
  • Leave posters out of the submission package – one postcard is ideal
  • Toss in your business card if you have one
  • A letter to the programmers is a nice touch if kept brief and clearly personalized
  • Gifts and/or money will get you disqualified
  • If you include bonus or press content on DVD or CD-R, label the disc
  • A backup submission copy is an appreciated gesture, when possible

So you’ve sent your film for consideration and now that festival holds your fate in its hands. What to do? Nothing! My personal recommendation is to not bug the programmers unless you absolutely have to. Any questions or concerns you may have can most-likely be answered by doing a bit of detective work on the festival’s website, Withoutabox page or using plain old common sense. Checking-in to see if they received your entry, although diligent, can be a bit draining on an organization’s customer service resources. If they cashed your check or banked your entry fee, they got your film. Don’t worry, you will be notified if they need anything else from you.

  • Don’t pester programmers after submitting. You could get labeled a “problem child”
  • If you need to submit an updated version, contact the festival for their policy and instructions
  • Wait one week after missed notification date before inquiring about your film’s status
  • Don’t just twiddle your thumbs – submit to more festivals and contests

Well, I gave you the hard facts. Best of luck to you in your current and future runs on the film festival circuit! Please feel free to leave comments on your personal submission experiences.

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