How to Dominate Your Film Festival Run Part 1

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So you made an independent film. Gladiators, I salute you. Now, it’s time to show it off to the world because as awesome as your parents and their 80-inch OLED are, they’re more than likely not going to get Oscar Isaacs into your next film for you. So unless you get the right people in front of your film and impress them, you’re going to have to put those high-profile meetings on hold for a while.

But have no fear, because I’m going to walk you through how to not only succeed on the festival circuit but how to absolutely crush it so you can meet the people you want to meet and set yourself up for success.

Do Your Homework

There’s a reason this is the first step to any successful festival run. Just like you put the work into your film, so too do you need to put the work into plotting your festival journey. Fortunately, film festival entry services can make this task a breeze, like FilmFreeway.

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Set up a spreadsheet on the side and rigorously search festival databases that provide submission information on film festivals and events from around the world. Find the festivals that are a fit for your film, bookmark them, and research everything and anything you can about every single festival that interests you. Visit their websites, read the ratings and reports from filmmakers who attended, and look at the films they’ve programmed in past seasons. Then watch those films too.

You’re going to want to do this for at least several days before you even submit to your first festival. Yeah, it’s work, but the work leads to winning time. Finally, with all your well-earned research in hand, ascertain if the film you made is a fit for the festivals you’re researching, and start building your own database that you’ll maintain throughout your run as you prepare for glory.

Be Realistic, Yet Ambitious

Ambition is the driving force behind greatness — it also can be the catalyst for failure too.

Thus, be sure that you’re looking at your goals and objectives with clear eyes. How have test audiences reacted to your film? Is it something more for niche audiences, or is it something that has wide appeal? Is it a short, a feature or something experimental? How many official selections would you consider to be a success?

The truth is that the more honest you are with yourself and your film, the more likely it is that your film will receive selections to the festivals that are a fit for you and your film, as well as the opportunity to have your film seen by your target audiences. That said, never be afraid to go for festival glory with gusto and confidence.

Prepare for Rejection

You are 100% going to get rejected by festivals, and more often than you’d like. You’ll get rejected by festivals you really wanted to get accepted into and you’re going to get bummed out by that. Don’t worry though, it’s happened to the best of us, and it just means you’re a part of the club now.

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Yes, that means you’re more than likely not going to get into Sundance. That’s OK. A lot of Academy Award winners didn’t either. So welcome to the team, and wear that rejection badge with honor and pride.

In the inevitable event that you are rejected, remember to take each one in stride with grace and humility. There are countless decisions that go into both the rejections and acceptances of films into fests, and it’s very possible that while you were rejected this time, you and your work were noticed and your odds of acceptance with your next film at the festival have only increased.

Budgeting for Festivals and Building Momentum

While this isn’t the first step, it very well could be. Before you even shoot a frame of your film (or your next film), make sure that you allocate enough money within your film’s budget to not just submit to festivals, but also to attend festivals.

While everyone’s situation is different, from my experience, I would recommend that you budget a minimum of $500 for submissions alone, but I’d try to plan for $2,000 to cover the number of submissions you’ll likely need to get your film everywhere. I’d recommend adding another $2,000, minimum, for travel expenses and making a “wish list” of the festivals you hope to attend.

Yes, this can add up very quickly, and there are no guarantees this self-investment is going to pan out. So you need to ask yourself if you’re prepared to do this. Keep in mind that the more you submit, the more likely you are to rack up selections, build momentum and get your film seen. There’s a lot of risk involved, but making a film is already risky.

The good news is once you start racking up festival selections, other festivals take notice, and festival directors absolutely talk and share projects with each other. So don’t be surprised if you start seeing random emails from festivals inviting your film to the festival, no entry fee required.

Speaking of, while you can email and ask festivals for entry fee waivers, you’ll find more success (and a lot more money saved) if you instead reach out requesting a discount on the entry fee. Most festivals are willing to do this and already have a discount available, usually between 10 percent to 25 percent, and it all comes back to doing your homework. Many festivals either advertise their discount codes on their social media pages, their newsletters or slyly make them available via the FilmFreeway discount page.

What to Look Forward to in Part 2

Be sure to set your DVRs and check back in soon for part 2, as we’ll be diving into the deep end with more tips and secrets about: attending festivals and meeting people, good communication and participation, winning awards, managing expectations, good fests versus bad fests, and more. See you in the sequel!

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