Film Festival Success
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : J.C. Bouvier : Film Festival Success
Festivals are not holistic endeavors that only screen the best work provided. They are cut-throat, political cabals. With 10 years of festival experience from Sundance to the Boston Underground festivals, and having spent the last eight years actually programming festivals like the one in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, that I currently run, I'm here to testify to that.
Of course, that same experience brings five rocksolid tips for getting your film into one of the more than 2,000 festivals around the world. Or at least getting programmers to watch your movie from start to finish.
1: FIX THE SOUND MIX
Audio is probably the last thing you worked on, but it's the most important thing. If I can't hear your movie, I won't watch it.
This year I received a well-shot short in my first bag of screeners, but a supporting character's audio was totally in the mud. The whole film was a distraction -- most definitely enough to move it to the bottom of the pile.
Are you happy with every single element of your audio mix? Are you proud of every single element? If not, you're not ready to submit your film.
2: HAVE A SHINING PRESS KIT
All the programmers might receive on a given day is a list of the films that they've been given for the rest of the week; your screener, and a one-sheet describing your piece.
Make sure it supports both the story of the film and the story of the filmmaker. Many film festivals, like the one I run, will take a piece that may not be as strong as another if the filmmaker shows promise.
Have your one-sheet well written and proofread. If your film makes the initial cut, your press kit really needs to shine. Have a good graphic designer package these materials.
On a related note, if your DVD art doesn't look professional, send your film without any. Bad art and summary copy is a sure way to get put to the bottom of a screening pile. Even Sundance accepts submissions on an otherwise blank disk with the title written in Sharpie.
3: KNOW YOUR FESTIVAL'S AUDIENCE
I saw an article in the New York Times about a film called "Zoo." The topic: guys who sleep with horses.
Don't submit something like this to my quaint New England film festival. While our audience is diverse, accepting and supportive, we have to think about the people we'll face before, during and after the festival.
So ask yourself if your film will fit into their world. If you hesitate at all, you might want to save your entry fee for an underground or alternative festival.
4: KNOW THE FESTIVAL'S PRIOR PROGRAMMING
Get as many past years' programs as possible. This will help you understand what they want to program in the future.
It's your team's job to lobby without beating festival staff over the head.
Follow your entry up by phone or email. Offer to provide additional materials, letting the staff know that you're excited about the opportunity. The more relationships you can establish without coming off like a stalker, the better.
Also, let the event know that you'll be able to attend a screening should you be chosen, maybe on personal note card included with your submission. That can go a long way in the selection process. It may even be a tie breaking factor in tight decisions.
We see people submit who believe documentaries are easier than narrative film. Maybe to shoot, but they're harder to get to the point. Making tough choices is what editing is all about. Make 'em.
Although even a festival as small as ours will consider making exceptions, the festival world is largely SD. (It's true for big festivals, too -- SD with exceptions.) DVDs are fine for screeners, but prepare to deliver a BetaSP or HDCAM copy for event screening. Many programmers find home-cooked DVDs too flaky to rely on for "The Big Show."
You may have heard that showing your film at other festivals will keep you out of Sundance. True. (Sundance generally looks the other way for Slamdance...even if that's not what the rules say.) But people keep their work off the circuit who probably shouldn't. If you're honest, you'll know whether yours is really a Sundance film.
Many Sundance films have distribution deals already lined up, so it's not always the best choice if your primary goal is distribution. Distributors generally don't go to smaller shows, but a string of wins at smaller shows will get their attention.
You can't win if you don't get shown. Small, general-interest festivals like ours will show up to 100 films -- half the number at Sundance, from only 6% as many entries! Special interest shows offer even better odds. All the more reason not to needlessly cross small festivals off your list.
This might all sound daunting, but don't let it stop you. With everything I've said, most festival programmers are pulling for you. Festivals have sprung up around the globe like mushrooms because there's an allure to creating spaces for filmmakers whose works might otherwise not be seen. A sort of romance if you will. Those moments when an audience responds to a film and the filmmaker is there to see it are some of the most rewarding a festival programmer can witness.
And if you're the filmmaker, the rewards are even greater.
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