5 Tips For Submitting To Film Festivals (For Filmmakers)

Submitting to film festivals becomes a major focus when you have a new finished film. Film festivals can put a film on the map, draw in large audiences and jump-start careers. They’re fun, frustrating, exciting, helpful and many other adjectives depending on whom you ask, but one thing for sure is they’re a wonderful way to get your film out there and (hopefully!) make some deals.

As a filmmaker who’s been submitting their work for over a decade to festivals and is heading back on the circuit with a short documentary, I can attest to the fact that there are ways to make the whole submitting process more user friendly, easier on the one doing the paper pushing and more satisfying overall.

submitting to film festivals

5 Tips For Submitting To Film Festivals

1. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of your submissions.
This could be in Excel or on a pad of a paper or whatever method you want to use. The point is to keep track of your submissions because this simple bookkeeping will help you in many ways. Inputting the information right when a submission is made will allow you (or whoever needs it) to find information within seconds, such as how much you’ve spent, upcoming deadlines, when notifications will be sent out. I personally list the name of the festival, deadline date, cost, notification date and if I have any connection to it. Also, when it comes to tax time, you’ll know exactly what you spent on submissions.

2. Create your film festival submission accounts and EPK before submitting.
The two sites that most film festivals use for submissions are Film Freeway and Withoutabox. Some fests will only do it on their own websites but that is the rarity these days, not the norm. It would be wise to create accounts on both sites and prepare what you need for your electronic press kit (EPK) that accompanies your film submissions beforehand. This typically includes the following: a tag line, short and long synopsis, trailer, any press, bios, awards, theatrical poster, stills and contact info for the film.

3. Stick to your budget.
When submitting to film festivals, it is very wise to budget for your festival submissions during pre-production. If you don’t, know you’re going to have to find a way to get money because festival submissions are not free and they are most certainly not cheap. On average, a short film will run you $25-55 and a feature $40-$80 PER submission. Know what you can spend before submitting because it all adds up quickly and before you know it, the budget will be spent.

4. Make contact with any festival programmers you already know.
Any festival programmer that has been supportive of you and your work in the past is a wonderful person to contact when you have a new film out. Let them know what you’re up too, even if a soft reminder of your relationship is necessary. Maintaining these relationships can help get your film in front of an audience as much as possible but what’s important is to be genuine and respectful.

5. Develop a thick skin. Rejection comes with the territory.
When submitting to film festivals, no one gets into every festival. Most filmmakers are happy to get some screenings, especially at top tier fests, and even more happy if they can find distribution and turn a profit while reaching an audience. Bottom line is rejection is part of this process. Some festivals will provide complimentary feedback if you wait for the festival to be over. Keep tab on these, as they will note it in their “rejection” letters. Feedback is hard to come by in this field so get it when you can, especially if it’s included in the price of submission.

While submitting to film festivals can be daunting and overwhelming, I believe it’s ultimately best to be organized, stay on budget and keep trying to get your work out there for as many screenings as possible, working towards that distribution deal that best suits your film.

Armed with knowledge learned on many production jobs, Christina Parisi began making films in 2006. Her short films have played at film festivals throughout the world and can be found on Amazon and GaiaTV. Her latest short documentary, Just Married, is about to hit the 2017 festival circuit. As Christina seeks financing for her co-written feature script, Driving Your Mind, she spends her time working as a script analyst and writing her personal blog, Life As I Know It. 

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