Five Tips for Submitting Your Film to a Film Festival for the First Time
With more and more film festivals popping up all over, it's easier now than ever to show your film or any type of visual story to an audience. On Friday July 20th, a music video that I conceptualized, shot, and edited for Dallas based musician, Carlos Young, was screened at the 5th annual Fort Worth Indie Film Festival in Fort Worth, Texas. It was my first submission to a film festival and I was honored when my submission went from “in consideration” status to “this will be shown to live audience”.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Andrea- you submitted a music video- that’s not a film!” And you’re right. I never would have thought of it until I saw this video back in the spring which inspired me to look for local film festivals that had a music video category.
I found Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase on FilmFreeway. Now this post is not sponsored, but I do think FilmFreeway is a good “one stop shop” when it comes to locating and submitting the same film to multiple festivals.
I wasn’t able to attend my big debut screening due to a work commitment so I checked back on the festival website (the organizers will send you this info) and was super excited to see that Home Sweet Home was nominated for the music video category award at that Sunday’s award ceremony. My music video didn’t take home the prize but what an honor it was for my very first film festival submission to have made it that far! This experience encouraged me to submit Home Sweet Home to 3 other festivals. I’m back in the “in consideration” stage and can’t wait to see where it goes.
I highly encourage you to get yourself and your work out there by submitting your film to a festival. So here’s a few tips to help you navigate this experience:
Tip #1: Research the festival before submitting your film
This isn’t a job application. You don’t have to go crazy trying to locate personal interests of the festival founder to include in a cover letter. Just really read the festival website with a fine-tooth comb. And if the website is more than 1 year old, look at the past winners. The reason is that each festival has a theme that they’re trying to fill with film submissions. For example, if you have a sci-fi film, submitting it to a Women’s film festival may not be the road to go unless the festival has a science-y theme or they are looking for films produced by women directors. I’ve also found festival organizers to be helpful- especially the smaller ones. So if you’re not sure if your film is a good fit, email them with a quick summary of your film and let them tell you. Why go through all the work of doing this? Two reasons – first, you don’t want to waste their time or yours. Smaller film festival organizers usually have day jobs so they are juggling their everyday life with putting on a festival. It’s a lot of work and no one wants to feel like their time is not valued by someone who couldn’t take a few minutes to read the website. Second- submitting to a film festival is not free. It can add up quickly so don’t waste your money if it’s likely to not be screened.
Tip #2: Save your pennies
Film festival submissions are not free. Sometimes film festivals will waive a fee or reduce it, but this is RARE. Someone would have to plead their case really well as to why they couldn’t afford the $20 - $100 USD average submission fee. Now these are the average submission fees for the lesser known or more regional festivals. The Big Guys- the Tribecca, Sundance Film Festival, etc… - can be upwards of a couple hundred dollars for each submission. If you plan on submitting your film to numerous festivals, you can see how that can get expensive fast. So refer back to tip #1 to make sure you’re selecting festivals where your film is a good fit and likely to be selected for screening.
Tip #3: Be Patient
Film submission entries are usually collected several months in advance of the actual festival. So it’s not a big surprise that it takes time to know if your film has been selected for screening. Don’t email the organizers asking for a status. They will get back to you. And if you submitted your film via FilmFreeway, you can check their website for your status. Just know that you’ll be waiting several weeks before an update.
Tip #4: What it’s like at a film festival
If your film was selected for screening- congratulations! I highly recommend you to attend at least 1 day of the event to not only see your film screened, but to also see the other films. Every festival is different but there usually is a socializing event for all the filmmakers at the start of the festival which is a great way to meet folks to work with on your next project. There are sometimes panels (usually reserved for features) or Q&A after a screening with the filmmakers. The festival organizers will let you know if you’ll be doing this. You can search online about the festival you’re going to attend for reviews from previous years’ attendees to get a better grasp of what to expect. But the most important thing to remember is you get out of what you put in.
Tip #5: Plan your film projects for film festivals
Film festivals usually occur around the same time every year. So if your film was not selected, you missed the deadline, or if your film wasn’t a good fit, you can now plan to produce a film that will be a good fit for that festival(s) next year. Start making a list of your festival searches and see if there are some with similar themes for which your new film will be a good fit. Unless you have some sort of contractual agreement around your film that limits you, chances are you own the rights and can submit your film to as many festivals as you want.