You’ve finally finished that short you’ve been slaving over for a year now. You’ve re-scripted, re-shot, edited, edited again, and edited some more. Your film’s been color-graded, sound designed, and reviewed by all of your family and friends. You’ve put more blood, sweat, and tears into this movie than you even thought you had but it was all worth it because now, your film is festival-ready.
Congrats! But that doesn’t mean you get to put away your box of tissues. On the contrary, you’re about to see your perfect film get rejected from festival after festival. However, there are some things you can do to possibly lessen the blows. But first— what are the benefits of entering a film festival?
The Bathroom Situation:
Film festivals (especially *Majors) provide the best opportunity for an aspiring filmmaker to rub shoulders with high-profile people. Everyone goes to the big festivals which means you never know who you’re peeing next to.
Although the Internet can open the doors for your film to be seen, film festivals are a great way to get audience feedback from real, “film people. ” This exposure can also lead distributers to buy your film, which is a lovely, lovely thing. Any buzz about your film is good buzz, and it never hurts to be able to say that your film got into a festival. You may even get your own article!
Potential Opportunity for Ice Cream:
The cool thing about winning an award at a film festival is that you win an award at a film festival. Depending on the caliber of the festival, winning an award could jump-start your career and make your name known in the filmmaking community. You can put it on your resume, and best of all, your parents will be so proud of you that they’ll probably take you out for ice-cream or something. Yum!
“Last year, we received overall, close to 13,000 submissions including shorts and fictions. Of those 13,000, close to 8,000 were shorts. The rests were features. Of those features, I'd say about 1800 or close to 2,000 were documentaries. Of those, we show 41 feature films." -- Courier
You would imagine that based on the magnitude of films being submitted into the festival, there must be a lot of different evaluators. That, or they don’t actually watch the films all the way through. Courier responds to tis concern as well,
“We have eight feature programmers, a whole separate set of shorts programmers and about 35 screeners who are the first eyes on most of those films. They are all people who have terrific jobs in the industry and who want to do this also. We pay them. They rate the films. They write coverage and they grade the film on a 1-5 basis with 5 being the best. One of our programmers covers all of the 1s and 2s to make sure the screeners didn't miss something -- or that possibly, it was an experimental film and it was meant to have burnt footage. The rest of us cover the 3s, 4s and 5s….Every film gets watched in its entirety. They have to watch the entire film even if they think it's the worst thing they've ever seen in their life." -- Courier
Eight people watch 13,000 films. Every year. These people have seen everything. In every panel discussion, interview, or Q&A with film festival screeners they offer the same advice:
Your Film Should Be:
Something different. This goes without saying. If you don’t stand out, you’re going to rejected. Every time. That means don’t open your film with an alarm clock. Don’t be cliche. Going beyond just getting into a film festival, if you have interesting or exciting content, you’ll accumulate more buzz. The more buzz about your film, the more likely distributers or big execs will hear about it. And well, that’s the dream isn’t it?
Some advice specifically for short films:
If your short is 5 minutes, don’t have a 2 minute opening credit sequence. Do you really want the audience to be distracted by a weird font for half of your movie? Just don’t. You also want to avoid making a short any longer than 10 minutes. If you can’t tell the story completely in 10 minutes, make it a feature. Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable a 20 - 30 minute film is to watch? People are either praying for it to end for the entirety of the last 10 minutes, or completely thrown off and feel it ends abruptly.
If it’s a short, make it short. However, if your 10 minute is going to compete with features, then every shot NEEDS to be perfect. Check out any short film that’s won an award at a Major festival. You can pause the film at any point and it looks like a piece of art. If you can’t do that with your film, re-shoot it. Seriously. Also make sure you’ve covered your 3 As. Actors, audio, and art design. If your film doesn’t get into a festival, chances are you’ve either made something uninspired, or you’ve messed up one of the A’s. I’d go more in-depth about audio, actors, and art design but then you’d be reading a novel and not a blog post so I’ll try to abstain. Just make something great. Festival’s are expensive, don’t waste your money on rejection letters.
Speaking of money…
Help Us We’re Poor:
You may have noticed that I’ve been leaving subtle hints about the increased monetary expenditures you’ll be making if you decide to send enter the festival circuit. $50 is the average cost of submitting your film to a festival. That’s not too bad right? It’s not, depending on the number of festivals you “Apply” for. Much like when applying to college, you are paying for the reviewee’s time, so you won’t get that money back even if your film isn’t accepted. Money is just one of the reasons why it’s important to do your research about the types of festivals and which ones would be a good fit for your film. I”ll go more in depth about the types of festivals soon. Unfortunately, applying for festivals is the least of your worries. God forbid you actually get ACCEPTED into one! You’ll need money for travel expenses, hotels, money for schmoozing at the bars with distributers, etc. Furthermore, many festivals with lower submission costs make you cough up an additional fee when you’re accepted. Here’s a doc that you may find useful while budgeting for film festivals. Long story short, production is simply one aspect of the film-spending business. Hopefully by now you realize the importance of long-term budgeting, and are particularly cautious not to spend your entire savings on props and location. It’s great to have a great film, but it’s unlikely to get the exposure it deserves if you can’t afford the festivals.
All the Flavors of Festivals:
As I’ve already mentioned, researching the types of festivals to find the film festivals are divided into categories based on the number of acquisition executives that attend. Major and mini major film festivals charge submission fees, (boo), but they also give you a chance to schmooze with some really important people in the filmmaking industry from all around the world. It is here that your film has it’s best chance of being seen by a wealthy distributor.
Majors: Major film festivals are the ones you hear being thrown around most often; Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam and Venice are the most famous Major festivals. Most of these are foreign film festivals, although Sundance is dominated by American cinematographers and has become a sort of “launching pad” for Hollywood Films.
Mini-majors: Mini-major festivals are also excellent festivals to launch your films, and vie with the majors for industry and celebrity turnout. Festivals such as SXSW, Locarno, San Sebastian, Raindance, Tribeca and Karlovy Vary have hundreds of celebrities and paparazzi attending and can be a useful springboard to getting your film noticed. Also, if you have a really “indie” looking film, you might want to look into the Raindance festival which often shows very, “cinematic” pieces.
City Festivals: Many cities host their own festivals that predominately attract the people within the surrounding territory. You’re less likely to run into any especially important film people, but city festivals still provide great exposure for your film.
Genre Film Festivals: Certain film festivals cater to specific genres. If you make a horror film you would probably make Sitges your number one choice. London has the London Sci Fi and Fright Fest. While fewer acquisition executives attend genre festivals, those that do are there because they are interested in that genre. in marketing speak, these buyers are pre-qualified.In human speak, you’re chances of selling that script is more likely than ever.