Anna Keizer
September 29, 2022

How to Master Your Film Festival Run

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Making a movie is a huge accomplishment. But unless it was made with the support of a production company or studio with a distribution deal, it likely will be on your shoulders to get it out into the world once completed.

Enter the film festival circuit.

The film festival circuit has incredible rewards. It can also be incredibly overwhelming. Especially if you don't have any guidance on how to approach it.

That’s why we have put together a step-by-step guide on how to put yourself in the best position for not only getting your movie into a film fest or two – or more! – but also making the experience a positive one that furthers your professional career.

1. Establish your goals

What do you want to get out of your film festival run? Of course, you want people to see your film, but what else?

Make no mistake, pushing your film through the film fest circuit is a huge undertaking, which is why you should have clear goals for why you’re willing to do it. What is the anticipated tradeoff for the time, money, energy, and emotional investment you’re putting into this endeavor? 

Your goals will impact what film festivals you submit to, how many you submit to, and how you promote your film fest acceptances. They can even influence how you speak about your project when meeting people at those events.

Let’s take a look at what some of those goals may be and how to plan your film fest run around them.

Get Exposure

Are you an emerging filmmaker? Is this your first go at making a movie? If so, it may be a goal to get your name out there to as many people as possible. That will factor into how you approach your film fest run.

To get the exposure you want, consider submitting to festivals with high acceptance rates where the likelihood of getting in is greater. Film fests with niche reputations that align with your movie’s genre are a good bet as well. You may also want to put aside a larger portion of your budget for travel to festivals that industry folks frequent. 

Land a Distribution Deal

Is the end goal to get your film distributed?  Do you want a theatrical release or streaming deal? Then you’ll want to submit to festivals where distributors are looking to pick up new films.

That means submitting to festivals like Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, or Tribeca, as events like these draw a higher number of distributors. You just also have to get accepted into them!

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Where do you want your film to end up? Some film festivals offer the chance for a distributor to pick it up. SOURCE

Competition is fierce for any film festival. The number of programming slots is inevitably smaller than the number of films submitted for a fest, and that disparity only increases for these higher-profile film festivals. 

That’s not to say your film won’t get into one of the more exclusive fests, but remember that’s just the first step to getting that distribution deal. You must also know who to look for at these festivals for making those specific connections.

Expand your network

Exposure for your film can be a primary goal, but don’t discount exposure for yourself as well.

People may not connect with your film for any number of reasons, and it may not ever get picked up for distribution. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t forge professional connections for future collaborations and projects. That’s why wanting to generally widen your circle of industry contacts is a very valid goal for a film festival run.

Making a favorable impression on those contacts can absolutely be a boon for your career, as they might just tap you in the future for another project.

If growing your professional network is a goal for your film fest run, look at how to maximize those opportunities. For instance, focus on the festivals where you have a better chance of getting in, as well as setting aside funds to attend and meet other creatives.

Build hype for a bigger project

Are you hoping to turn your proof-of-concept short movie into a feature film? Filmmakers like Mike Flanagan and Damien Chazelle have done exactly that with their respective movies Oculus and Whiplash that first were shorts before getting made as features.

Getting buzz for your short through a film fest run is very much a viable way to garner interest – and more importantly, financing – to produce a feature version of your movie.

If this is one of your goals, it will impact what festivals you choose to enter. You can only get buzz if you get accepted in fests, but you must also leverage which festivals have in attendance individuals with the kind of financial backing you need.

2. Make your festival budget

When you’re an indie filmmaker who likely paid out of pocket for portions or even all of your film’s costs, it can feel like a slap in the face to then have to pay more just so that people can see it.

We get it. Take a moment to rage about it.

Good? Now,  set a budget for your film fest run.

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Don’t harpoon your bank account by not properly budgeting for your film fest run. SOURCE

The unfortunate truth is that going through the film fest circuit can set you back hundreds to thousands of dollars. Whether you are self-funding, crowdfunding, or relying on the monetary kindness of friends and family, figure out ahead of time how much you can – not just want to – spend on your run.

Festival submission fees

Film fest submission fees might be the obvious place to start, but what might not be obvious is just how big those fees are.

Even if you submit before the earliest deadline, you might be paying anywhere from $50 to $100 for a single film festival submission. The fees for short films are often less expensive than those for feature films, but regardless of category, the costs can quickly add up. 

Our strongest recommendation is that you always submit by the earliest deadline to avoid unnecessarily paying more than you need to for consideration by a film festival. 

Yes, it means being very, very organized – we’ll get into that more in just a moment – but it can save you a hefty sum of money that could be used towards other expenses or more film fest submissions.

Just how much can you save? Well, if you submit to SXSW Film Festival’s early deadline rather than waiting until its late deadline, you’ll be saving an additional $50. That could easily mean one more film fest to submit to – and network and promote your film!

Promotional materials

Festivals want to promote your film.

Make it easy for them by having at the ready all the promotional materials they want. We’ll break down shortly just what those materials are. As it regards your budget, though, know for now that some may necessitate additional costs for design or print services.

Travel expenses

Getting a notification that your film got into a festival can be an incredible high. Until you realize that it may cost several more thousand dollars to actually attend it. If you’re across the country – or world – from that festival, you might be on the hook for expenses like airfare, hotel rooms, food, and more… All to say, it adds up. So plan ahead.

It’s not realistic to set aside funds to attend every festival to which you submit unless you’re just testing the waters with one or two entries. And you don’t have to.

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Part of your budget should include what you can allot for actually traveling to the film festivals you are accepting into! SOURCE

Yes, film festivals want the people behind the accepted entries to attend. Some may even politely prod and ask if you intend to do so. However, you are not obligated to attend a film festival just because your film was accepted into it. Moreover, pending how well your film does through the circuit, you can quickly be underwater financially-speaking if you tried attending every single fest!

Instead, determine what is a truly feasible total budget when it comes to festival travel and then make the harder choices down the road of which ones to attend once you start getting those acceptance notices.

3. Finalize your list

Just beginning to think about a film fest run? If that’s the case, feel free to create your dream list of festivals. Sky’s the limit.

Now kill those darlings and edit, edit, edit.

Why? 

Because while you might be excited at the prospect of getting into all the festivals on your list, not every festival is going to accept your film. In fact, probably most of them will not. And that’s okay!

Many factors go into a film festival acceptance. The overall quality of your film is just one of them. You also have whether your film is too long or too short for their programming needs. Programmers also consider if your film is too similar to another movie they recently showcased or one also in their batch of submissions. They even look at if you have any high-profile names attached to your film.  

Some factors you have no control over. Some you do. Focus on what you can control: does this film fit the objective of the festival? Lean into the events that align with your project.

Are you a female-identifying filmmaker? Look into festivals that give a platform to that community. Does your film have a clear social justice message? Plenty of fests want to promote movies doing just that. Or perhaps you have a great horror film you’re looking to showcase. Again, there is certainly no shortage of festivals geared specifically to that genre. Is your film a short? Yep, there are a host of festivals geared specifically towards them.

The point is that most festivals have platforms that can be identified through their messaging, past film selections, or a combination of both. Study them to find out where you stand the best chance of getting in and then cut down your list to those events.

4. Set your schedule

Now is when you’re going to have to put those organizer extraordinaire skills to use. With so many festivals out there – each with its own set of deadlines and event dates – it is absolutely necessary to plan ahead before entering the circuit. 

Whether you lean on your Google calendar for all of your scheduling needs or rely on good old pen and paper, these tips can get you sorted for a successful film fest run. 

Submit your film

The actual logistics of submitting to film festivals can be a lot of work. While the rise of FilmFreeway as the primary portal for submissions has been a godsend for filmmakers, it still takes time to cull your final list of fests to which you want to submit, note their early submission dates, and budget accordingly for them. 

So don’t wait on creating that calendar of submission dates and stick to it. Remember, very quickly a missed early submission or two can mean several hundred dollars more in fees. If you can afford the extra expense, so be it. But if it means foregoing submitting to other festivals, make adhering to that calendar a priority.

Communicate with the festival

Congrats, the film festival acceptance e-mails are rolling in and you’re feeling good.

Doesn’t end here, we’re afraid.. The film festival organizers will reach out to you for a host of reasons. They might need a specific version of your film that you haven’t already provided to them. They might want those aforementioned promotional materials. They may even want you to participate in pre- or post-festival videos to help promote them.

All this to say that you have to set aside time and attention to ensure you are quickly and efficiently communicating with fest organizers, which can take up a decent chunk of your schedule.

At the end of the day, what you don’t want is dropping the ball on your fest communications and having your film dropped from an event’s programming. Because it has happened, and they will do it.

Advertise on social media

You want to get the word out about all those film fest acceptances, right? Well, it’s never been easier to do so through online platforms. 

Thing is, it also can take up a lot of time to post, message, and email about your good news. Especially when you’re juggling all that messaging alongside other parts of life, it can be a lot of balls in the air.

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How to plan to share your film fest circuit news? Decide on your social media strategy and the time you can devote to it before your run. SOURCE

Of course, it’s a good thing to have acceptance news to share, but just be realistic about how many platforms you want to use for that purpose and how often you want to connect with online audiences, as it can quickly add up in terms of time and energy.

There are ways to make it easier on yourself, though! Social media scheduling platforms such as Buffer, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social can help you set it and forget it when it comes to scheduling posts. 

In addition, consider your potential audiences and where they live online. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok… Where do you already have followers who would want to know about your film fest run? Focus your time and energy on the platforms that make the most sense regarding interest for your film.

Plan your travel

Do you have a day job? A marriage? Kids? Other commitments? If you get into a film festival, will you be able to leave those commitments for a few days to attend?

If you get into a film festival, part of your next steps will be deciding if you can attend it. Some film festivals will directly ask if you intend to come. Most won’t make it a requirement of your screen status. B But they understandably want the filmmakers to show up for their films.

That can be a challenging prospect for filmmakers who have submitted across the country. Even more so if you’ve submitted to international film festivals.s. 

Be honest with how much travel you’re capable of. How much work you can miss. How much you’ll miss your family.  Plan ahead for what you can or cannot do schedule-wise for film festival travel.

5. Organize materials

We’ve mentioned several times that part of a successful film fest run is having the materials on hand that both you and film festivals will use for promotion. You’ll want to prep those now so you’re not scrambling at the Kinko’s outside your hotel.

Some of these materials include:

Posters

A poster is a fairly standard asset for any film fest run. Some festivals will print your poster for display at the event; others may need it for inclusion in their programming catalog. But that means creating one first. Unless you’ve got graphic design skills, you might want to budget out a graphic designer.

Make sure you have your poster ready ahead of the start of your fest run so that you can immediately send it out if requested after getting those acceptance notices.

Film stills

Film stills, or images taken on set, are commonly used in the promotion of a movie – and film festivals are no exception. Be prepared to provide film stills to any festivals  that your project is accepted into.

Given that filmmaking is nearly entirely a digital pursuit at this point, it’s actually quite easy to get those stills. Simply freeze on the frames you think best convey pivotal moments in your film and screenshot them for use.

Bios

In addition to having a poster ready to go for your film fest run, don’t forget about those cast and crew bios! 

In particular, you want to have bios for the director, producer, starring cast, and possibly even all the cast and other main crew like your cinematographer and editor. Whether they put together a physical catalog of all event programming or simply add it to their online listings, many festivals will request bios of the main players from your film for the promotion of it. 

Keep in mind, though, that your cast and crew will scatter to other productions as soon as they are done with yours, so get their bios during production. When they’re still a captive audience.

Promo channels

We mentioned social media in terms of the time it might take to monitor them during your film fest run.

It can be tempting to just forgo creating online platforms for your film because, hey, time is precious and you may not want to use yours for that purpose.

The truth is that online promotion of your film is critical to a successful film fest run. If you want people to know about where your movie is playing, how else do you plan to tell them? A phone call? A knock on the door?

We all know that social media is one of the quickest and easiest ways to spread the news. Plus, film festivals want you to have them as an additional means of promoting their event with your acceptance into it.

Also, don’t overlook any built-in audiences, such as the one created if you crowdfunded for your film! It’s especially important to update these individuals who financially supported your project. After all, it was their donations that helped to make your film and fest run happen. Social media is still a great way to inform them of your project’s success, but some crowdfunding platforms have their own messaging systems that you can also use for updates.

Other assets

Have behind-the-scenes photos? A short doc that details the production from development through post? Postcards or even a film trailer?  

These are just examples of other promotional materials that can be great tools for getting people interested in your film and just as excited about your fest run as you are!

Wrapping up

A film fest run can be a hugely fulfilling – and exhausting! – experience. There are multiple factors to consider ahead of your run, including the time, funds, and energy you can realistically put towards it. Though, the benefits that the film festival circuit provides can make it worth it.

Next up is our film fest tips and fests to bookmark for your run!

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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