As this article we just posted makes clear, it's just about time for a heavy succession of major film festival submission dates. So we decided to ask a bunch of filmmakers and film festival programmers to wax on their experiences so we could tell you what to do and not do when it comes to trying to get your film into a festival. We know some of it sounds kind of obvious, but from what we've been told -- there's a whole lot of filmmakers who don't abide it. So listen up:
1. Know what your film is, and where it belongs. Not every film is the right fit for SXSW, or Berlin, or Sundance. Yes, for a lucky few they end up in all three festivals (but clearly we don't all have a "Boyhood" in the can), but for most your film -- short or feature -- is gonna be extremely lucky to come close to getting into one. So if you aren't quite at a level of filmmaking that is going to be able to contend with the big guns (yet!), don't waste your time and money and emotional well being getting in over your head. There's dozens and dozens of festivals that while, yes, might not give you the level of exposure that Sundance might, they will give your work a showcase and give you an opportunity to grow as a filmmaker through the experience, giving you some internal notes to take forward into your next move.
2. Lower your expectations. Sort of in the same line of thinking, you need to not let the kind of rejection that can easily, easily come with submitting to film festivals get you down. Festivals like Sundance or SXSW often get well over 10,000 submissions -- over half of them almost always shorts. They only show a small fraction. The odds are against you, and you have to accept that. Sometimes filmmakers make quite a few films that don't end up getting shown anywhere, so expecting your going to get in somewhere big on your first try is just setting yourself up for stress, sweat and tears.
3. Wait until you are ready. DON'T prematurely submit your film to a festival just because you're so determined for it to be in a certain one. If you think you are going to miss the Berlin deadline, then maybe that's just what was meant to be. Submitting something subpar or incomplete (though if say, you haven't finished sound mix or color correction, that's fine) is not going to impress anyone, especially if you aren't an established name. These programmers -- again -- have THOUSANDS of films to watch. They aren't going to have pity for an unknown. It's not their job.
4. Don't annoy the festival programmers. Of course it's totally reasonable to send an e-mail (or maybe two) politely checking in with the festival to make yourself known and make sure all is well with them having received your film. But caution yourself. You have a lot of emotion riding on this, and that sometimes makes us send crazy e-mails that will not help us in any way (never send emails to programmers when you are in a bad place). Programmers have a lot on their plates, and while many of them are certainly nice people that will be more than willing to keep you posted, annoying people you don't really know (or don't know at all) is not a good idea.
5. Follow the rules and don't forget the little things! There are a lot of rules. Deadlines, fees, premiere status rules, putting your film's name and YOUR name on the DVD cover… Sometimes its when we are the most stressed that we forget the simplest things, but sometimes its those simple things that could totally disqualify your otherwise worthy film. Make lists and DOUBLE CHECK them. And double check your film itself. Those DVDs or Blu-rays better play all the way through because second chances are hard to come by in these situations…
And good luck!