12 Tips for your Film Festival Submission
By Steffanie Finn, Executive Director, Winter Film Awards International Film Festival
Film Festivals are an awesome way to spread the word about your film, network with filmmakers and producers, and possibly rack up some awards. But, Festivals with live screenings cannot select every film submitted, and legitimate festivals generally can only accept about 5-15% of submissions.
You’ve got a great film; how do you increase your chances of acceptance to Festivals?
1) Make sure your SOUND is excellent. No matter how great your script, acting and cinematography, terrible sound will tank your film. This cannot be stressed enough! Submissions judges will forgive muddy cinematography, lighting mistakes and other technical issues for a good film, but bad sound will get your otherwise excellent film turned off and rejected.
2) EDIT your film. In 10 years running a festival, I can think of maybe 5 films the judges thought could have been longer. The majority would benefit by getting cut by about 1/3. The sweet spot for shorts is about 8-12 minutes. The sweet spot for features is 90-110 minutes. This doesn’t mean longer films won’t be accepted, but far too often, a longer film suffers from poor editing and starts to drag.
3) Pick a good mix of local, regional and international festivals for submissions. Also look for genre or demographic festivals. Each will have different criteria for acceptance. Small and medium festivals should not be ignored — they can give you an audience, recognition, fantastic networking and the chance to get your name out there for future projects.
4) Don’t bother submitting to the big boys (Cannes, Sundance, Tribeca, TIFF) if you don’t have a celebrity or huge budget. The chances of acceptance are nearly zero.
5) Cut your credits down in your Festival screener, particularly for shorts. No more than 50 seconds, tops. No one wants to sit in a movie theater and watch 8 minutes of credits for an indie film. Your Distribution copy should include full credits, but the Festival copy needs to move right along.
6) Make sure your film matches the Festival’s genre — don’t submit a documentary to a horror fest. Look at the Festival’s website to see what sort of films they’ve accepted in previous years to see if your film fits in.
7) Submit a completed film, not a work in progress. Festival juries go by what they see on the screen, not what may or may not be fixed later.
8) Fill in all fields on the submission form – synopsis, bio, address, etc. Festivals may use this information when crafting a program and it is helpful to have there.
9) Apply with an email address you actually check. Every year, we wind up having to chase after accepted films and have wound up dropping films because we never got a response.
10) Submit during their early bird period — it’s cheaper for you and their judges are fresh.
11) Check your subtitles. It’s incredibly annoying to watch a film with subtitles that are inaccurate, a weird font, misspelled or too low contrast.
12) About that cover letter – Festival organizers do not necessarily read your cover letter, but it’s still a good idea to include one if you have something interesting to say here. A Festival organizer is looking for films that will bring in ticket purchases, so it is useful to mention if your film was shot in their city with lots of locals or has a large local fan base, potential media interest or promotional support.
See you at the movies!
The Filmmaker Mediazone highlights film festivals that contribute to conceptualizing of the short movie context.
New York City’s Winter Film Awards International Film Festival showcases the work of emerging filmmakers in all genres from around the world. WFA’s ninth annual festival runs Feb 20-29 2020 – submissions open now!