Film festivals: how to do it?
August 13, 2010 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Film festivals: how to do it?

I have two projects I am currently submitting to film festivals, and I'd like to be as successful as possible, and also just understand the process better.

CAVEAT: I am aware the best way to get accepted is to make a really awesome film. I won't claim I have done that, but I have made the best film I could.

So, here are my questions:

1) How important is it really to get the submission in early? I have always heard this is big, but wasn't sure why. My speculation would be that they watch films on a rolling basis, as they come in. So maybe if a film gets there late they'd have to bump something off their "like" list to make space for it? And that's a higher bar than filling an empty slot?

Practically speaking, I'm wondering if it's better to send a rough cut earlier, or a completely finished film closer to the deadline?

2) A lot of festivals optionally allow submission of a press kit. Given that I am an unknown, as are the rest of the cast and crew, is there any value in submitting a press kit? Would it even be looked at? If so, what would they be looking for?

3) I understand that some festivals fill slots by scouring other festivals and then "inviting" films they like. How prevalent is this? How many slots are typically even available for people like me who are just mailing in a DVD cold?

4) When receiving cold submissions, do festivals care where else a film has already been accepted? Is it better to go for major festivals first, hoping to get seen there and then invited to other fests, or to get accepted to smaller ones first before trying with the big boys?

5) Anything else at all that would help me maximize my chances, that I can reasonably do as an unknown filmmaker with a very limited budget. Anything specific regarding the Park City -Dance festivals would be extra super helpful!

Feedback from people who have actually worked for a festival would be most helpful, but anyone is welcome to answer of course. Thanks!
posted by drjimmy11 to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's important to know if your are submitting a feature film or a short, as the submission rules are usually different between the two formats.

First of all, get hooked up on Withoutabox, it makes the submission process a lot easier.

1) Many festivals have a reduced "early-bird" submission price so right there you're saving some cash. They encourage early submissions because they get flooded with entries toward the end of the submission period. Send the best version of your film as early as you can.

2) Press kits get passed out at the festival to pimp your film. Each fest usually has a list of materials that they're looking for (this is where Withoutabox comes in handy).

3) Festivals like to screen films that played well at other festivals, so sometimes they do curate certain films. It's hard to know how many slots are available. But you won't know unless you submit, right?

4) This when it depends if your film is a short or a feature. Again, Withoutabox helps here, by listing eligibility requirements for each festival. Generally the fests are tougher on features.

5) I've submitted to Sundance and Slamdance several times but not been accepted to either so I can't help ya with this one. ;)
posted by shino-boy at 5:21 PM on August 13, 2010

"4) This *is* when"
posted by shino-boy at 5:22 PM on August 13, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I use Withoutabox to submit and am well aware of the prices. I'm more wondering about the decreased chance of acceptance for late submitters.

Re: press kits, I am talking about when they want it with the submission itself, before the film is accepted or not. Most say "requested, not required," so I'm wondering about the benefits of submitting one with the film.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:29 PM on August 13, 2010

What they really need is a great meta-story. Their business is getting folks to come to the festival, why would anyone want to come to some undifferentiated flic? What's selling the showing? The log line is important but if there is something amazing about the director, an event that happened, the touching (crazy, scary, something) story of what got the film written and produced. Heck make up a good lie. But give them a reason to to believe. So a full blown press kit? Hmm, but a page of good stuff for their brochure, a few neat stills. Gives them something to sell. Make it as easy as possible for them to do their job.
posted by sammyo at 5:44 PM on August 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, that's helpful. To clarify, I am talking about shorts; I haven't made a feature yet. So it would probably be marketed as part of a group of shorts anyway. But I get what you're saying.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:51 PM on August 13, 2010

I produced a film that played in the Toronto Film Festival a good long while ago and owned a small video label for a few years so was also a buyer at fests and received many cold submissions in my in box. My answers:

1) How important is it really to get the submission in early?

Everyone who makes a film submits it to all the major fests for which they are eligible. Imagine yourself one of the programmers. Would you be in a more receptive mood before watching the ton of crap that arrives on your desk or after? (Before is the correct answer.)

That said, unless the deadline is now and you're not finished DO NOT send a rough cut.

2) A press kit will make you look more professional... assuming you have a professional press kit. If you read movie reviews or music reviews and wonder how the critics all seem to draw take the same paths, regardless of what they think of what they're reviewing, it's because it's in the press kit. (ie, The press kit info will make the critic sound more informed about the film/movie than relying on their own research will.)

The press kit will be drawn from if your film gets into the festival. They will use that info in their catalog. In addition, without a press kit, a film that hasn't been released yet is a pain in the ass to list the cast of.

As to submitting it with the film, I think it just makes you look more professional. It's especially useful if there's something in the press kit which makes your film worthy of consideration that wouldn't be evident by screening the film. For instance, if it was made with credit card finances, shot on short ends (The Unbelievable Truth), cost less to produce than the Paramount bumper at the head and made with money raised by donating one's body to science (El Mariachi), shot on the streets of NY without permits (Laws of Gravity), etc etc.

3) There's no solid answer to this question. It doesn't really work that way.

4) Some festivals do care and others do not. Toronto, for example, prefers to have premiers. The more prestige the film fest, the more they will care about that. They're the largest film fest in the world so obviously they don't only screen premiers, but they prefer them.

Outside of what they prefer, your film is far more likely to sell at a major film fest than at one where the buyers don't go. Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance are probably the three most likely to result in a sale.

5) Do it right ONCE. If there's anything that'll drive these people batty it's you contacting them telling them not to screen your submission because you now have a cut you prefer, or whatever, or them getting your package and it's out of sync or missing a reel or ... etc.
posted by dobbs at 5:52 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts:

(a) If you go into it as an unknown, it's a crapshoot. Any decently-known festival is getting thousands of submissions for just a few slots. They will parcel out the DVDs to one of their random volunteers. The person might watch your film for 2 minutes and eject the DVD, or they might not watch it at all 'cause they don't like the cover. (Make a nice cover, if you can.) Once you've made and submitted the film, the process is entirely beyond your control so the best thing to do is forget you submitted it.

(b) Always try submitting to the "major" film festivals first. They put a priority on being able to premiere a film 'cause it's a prestige thing. (Less important with shorts, but still.) Pick the 10 or 15 most important festivals you'd like your film to play at, submit to those, and wait. Only if you get rejected from all of those should you start looking for other opportunities. It's a social proof thing: if your movie premiered at Toronto that's likely to get you an invite or a waiver from, say, the Jacksonville Film Festival, but the traffic doesn't go the other way. You can only premiere once so don't get too excited and blow your opportunity to try doing it somewhere big.

(c) Personally I'd skip the press kit, especially for a short. Just more paper waste for the panel to deal with. Put anything interesting or relevant on the jacket for your DVD amaray case.

(d) If you have premiered at a good festival you'll get invitations either to play outright at other festivals or, more likely, to submit. If you're invited, ask for a submission fee waiver. This can save you tons of money. The worst that happens is they say no, and in that case you're not bound to send them a DVD anyway.

(e) Understand early on that the use of a festival to you is going to be a rubber stamp, a prestige thing you can stick on your DVD case or resume to say "these people liked my stuff." That has real value, of course. But don't expect money or huge networking opportunities from the festival circuit. There are only a handful of festivals worldwide that have major industry presence, and even at these your short is just another cut of beef on a long row of hooks. (The majority of films that play even Sundance now do not get deals and are barely heard of again.) So take it easy, lower your expectations, and have fun. You might get flown out to some cool places and get to meet some cool people.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:41 AM on August 14, 2010

Don't submit a rough cut. Submit the most polished, professional, best version you possibly can. Make sure all your releases, licenses etc. are completed.

You don't really need a press kit, but if you've got a website or a blog, it should also be very slick, very pro. The more buzz that exists about you and/or your film even before the festivals, the better for you. Everyone Googles.

Do you belong to any of the various film groups around? Doculink for documentary makers, for example.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:09 PM on August 14, 2010

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