Anna Keizer
September 16, 2022

9 Tips Before You Submit to Film Festivals

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About to dive into the wonderful world of film festival submissions?

Congrats on having a film to submit!. It’s no small feat, which is why you should consider carefully how best to maximize your chances of fest success before you hit the circuit.

No matter how many festivals accept or reject your film, you’ll be spending time, money, and energy during the submission process. While you can’t completely control what festivals accept your film, you can stack the odds in your favor.

Because the film festival circuit can quickly become both time-consuming and expensive, it’s worth your while to step back before you hit the submit button to make sure you have a rock-solid game plan in place. 

Let’s break down some film festival submission best practices!

1. Determine your overall film fest goals

What do you want to get out of your film festival experience? Before you jump into the circuit, it’s key to know what you want to get out of it. You can’t build a strategy if you don’t know what you want it to accomplish.

Some example goals might be:

  • Gain industry connections
  • Get exposure as a creative
  • Find distribution for your film
  • Travel to new states or countries during your run
  • Land your next industry gig

Your goals will dictate everything from what fests to which you submit to whether you attend them and with whom you spend time connecting while there. Once you determine those goals, you can reverse-engineer your game plan to achieve them.

2. Make your genre work for you

If you have a genre film, look into the film festivals that focus on it.

Genre goes a long way in concisely conveying to others what your movie is about, which is why many film festivals structure themselves around it. In particular, horror and comedy are hugely popular genres that have prompted the startup of events like Screamfest Horror Film Festival and Chicago Comedy Film Festival among many others.

Similarly, if you just wrapped on a romantic tearjerker, don’t waste your time or money by submitting it to film festivals that don’t align with its genre. Believe us when we say that there is no shortage of film festivals out there. Don’t worry about the events you have to cross off your list, as it will leave room for the ones that better line up with your genre.

3. Tighten up the film’s length

What gets into a film festival isn’t always dependent on how good it is. The organizers have other considerations at play. None loom larger than runtime. 

Many film festivals want to showcase as many independent movies and the filmmakers behind them as they can. They will cut potential submissions that don’t meet their length requirements. Many film fests cap their short film submissions at forty minutes, so you’ll automatically be disqualified if your short goes beyond that length. 

But given that some fests program blocks of shorts that are perhaps an hour to two hours max, you can see that a thirty-nine-minute film that technically qualifies may still get rejected if they have three or four films adding up to that length that are equally great. 

We can’t stress this enough: tighten up your film’s length as much as possible to give yourself the best chance of getting into your selected festivals. 

Also, pay attention to your opening and closing credits. Especially if you have a short film you’re hoping will have a successful film fest run, keep your opening and closing credit sequences super concise.

Cut what you can when you can. Given how competitive the film festival circuit can be, saying no to a bloated entry is easy for these events. Don’t give them the opportunity to do so.

4. Determine your festival connections

Who you know can make a difference in every part of the entertainment industry, including film festivals. 

That’s not to say you’re a shoo-in just because you know a programmer at a particular event. You still need to have a great film. 

But should all other variables be equal between your film and other submissions – it’s a great story, it has a running time that fits with a fest’s needs, etc. – then having a connection with someone could be a deciding factor in your favor.

Perhaps you actually do know one of the programmers at the film festival. Or you’re friends with a filmmaker who’s a fest alum, and they don’t mind going to bat for you with a recommendation. Some film festivals have a board of directors. Do you know anyone on it? 

When considering a film festival, research who runs it as well as who has been a part of it to determine if there are any connections worth exploring. 

5. Lock in your funds ahead of time

Struggling to find funding in the middle of a film fest run can quickly lead to stress and frustration. So whether that means setting aside your own funds, running a crowdfunding campaign, or sourcing the money in another way, do it before you start the submission process.

You do have some measure of control over what you spend. You can decide to which and how many film festivals you’ll submit. You can decide which ones you’ll attend should you get in. How much money you have to do it with may be largely out of your control. 

You can’t budget on hope and assumptions.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of making it a worthwhile experience, know what you can spend ahead of time and have those funds ready to go.

6. Work out your total budget

So exactly how much will it cost you? That’s up to you. 

What you can calculate right now is the actual submission costs if you have your list of fests decided and know the deadline fees for each of them. A single film festival fee can be $50 depending on what and when you submit. However, the fee structure depends on both timing and the nature of the project. 

A short submitted by the earliest deadline will likely come with a smaller cost than a feature submitted by the final deadline for the same film festival. But it also depends on what each festival wants its fee structure to be. 

If you submit by the last deadline to a smaller film festival, it can still be cheaper than submitting to a widely known and more prestigious film festival by the earliest deadline. 

There are no standards. Each festival sets its own prices.

7. Decide where those funds are going

Let’s say you’ve earmarked $2,000 for your film festival run. Are you spending the entirety of it on submission fees? Do you need part of it to commission a poster designer? Will you use any of it for travel expenses should you get into a festival?

It’s tempting to throw everything you’ve saved towards submitting to as many film festivals as possible, but keep in mind that other expenses come with a film fest run.

For one, there are promotional materials. Some you can create or gather for free such as stills from your film or bios from your cast and crew. But if you want a poster – which is often requested by film festivals – it’s common to hire a professional to do it. If you have the chops to design all of your promo materials, great! If not, factor that into your fund allocation.

Two, there’s travel. If you get into a film festival, you have a fantastic opportunity to attend an event where you can not only promote your film but also meet and make connections with others in the industry.

If your film is performing well on the film fest circuit, you may be accepted into more film festivals than you can realistically attend. That’s okay. Just know ahead of time which ones are non-negotiable for attendance and plan what it will cost you to be there.

Alternatively, you can put aside a chunk of your funds for general travel and decide as you receive your acceptances what is feasible given your time, schedule, and current costs.

Either way, be clear and realistic about where your money is going.

8. Calculate each festival’s overall value

Every film festival has value, but what that value is depends on the aforementioned goals you’ve set for your fest run. That in turn will help in deciding which fests to submit to.

Let’s say you’re looking for film distribution. The truth is that very few U.S.-based film fests garner the interest of distributors. You’ll need to get into a high-profile event like the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, or Tribeca Film Festival where films have been picked up for distribution to accomplish that goal. 

For example: let’s say you want to use this chance to travel. If you’re based on the West Coast, maybe that means submitting to the Atlanta Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, or New York Film Festival or where you can explore these different cities while still promoting your film and making industry connections. 

If you want to land your next industry gig, focus on the festivals that are hosted in your home city. For instance, if you reside in Los Angeles, look to the many festivals there such as AFI Fest, Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival, or Outfest for networking and hopefully scoring that next gig.

Again, reverse-engineer what you want to get out of your circuit experience and use it as a compass for selecting your film fests.

8. Factor in locations

Big or small, festivals local to where you live are great because they’re only a drive, train ride or bus stop away! No need to worry about flight or hotel expenses. Plus, they offer an easier opportunity for your local friends and family to attend and support you.

Check out what film festivals are in your neck of the woods and see if they align with what you want out of your film festival experience. If it’s a fit, submit!

As far as non-local film festivals go, it again depends on what the value of getting into a particular film festival would be for you. Whether you can afford to attend if experiencing that festival is one of your goals.

Domestic film festivals will entail some travel and additional expense for lodging. Those costs will invariably increase for international events. Some international film festivals might also require other expenses like needing to add subtitles to your film.

That doesn’t mean you should forgo submitting to film festivals several hundred or even a few thousand miles away. If the value is there for you, go for it. Just be sure to factor in the associated costs of time and money.

9. Know your submission timetable

If your film is doing well during your fest run, it can be tempting to just keep submitting it to more events. Often fest runs will go for one to two years, which all depends on what resources you can devote to it and for how long.

If you have gotten into ten or fifteen film festivals over a year, what is it worth to you to keep going for six more months? Have you hit your goals, or do you feel like there’s still some to-dos to check off that list?

Some festivals have requirements for when a film was produced or if it has already premiered in the immediate area, which can prevent you from submitting to them. However, many festivals don’t have those stipulations, which means that you must be the one to decide when your timetable has concluded and it’s time to move on from your film fest run.

Also, don’t underestimate the toll your film fest run can take on your personal life. Because it is an exhaustive process, be mindful of your physical, mental, and emotional health as you go through the circuit. 

A few more acceptances may not be worth the time spent away from family, friends, and other interests.

Speaking of, the longer you stay on the circuit, the more likely you’ll have interested parties ask about new projects. If you continue to focus on the fest circuit, will you have the time, energy, and financial resources to work on other productions? Check in with yourself to ask if it might be time to move on from one successful project so that you can begin on another. 

Wrapping up

The world of the film festival circuit is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming one. Especially when you experience success through it, you can easily veer from your initial intentions by spending a couple thousand more on fest travel or having event parties monopolize your time instead of potentially more worthwhile panels or screenings.

However, it all comes back to what you want to get out of your film fest experience. Only you can decide what those goals should be, but whatever they are, the tips above can prepare you for a personally and professionally fulfilling experience throughout your film festival run.

Want to learn more about film festivals? Check out our list of upcoming festivals you should know!

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

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About the Author

Anna Keizer

Anna Keizer originally hails from the Chicagoland area. After receiving her B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago, she moved to California and finished her M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has also graduated from UCLA’s Writing for Television Professional Program and is currently in post-production on the short She Had It Coming, which she wrote and is executive producing.

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