So hopefully you’ve come here from the previous blog on selecting the film festivals that are a good fit for you, and now you have a list that you want to submit to. Awesome! If you’re just joining now, then I would say it’s a good place to start as you are going to increase your chances greatly by selecting the right fests in the first place.
So, beyond picking fests that are a good fit for your film, location, personal goals, and demographic, what other ways are there to increase your chances? I’m not going to lie, if your film isn’t good enough, you’re not going to get selected whatever you do. The first and most important consideration for us at Rebel is the film itself, naturally, and so it should be for every other fest out there. It isn’t always, but it should be, so let’s work with that as a baseline anyway. Let’s assume your film is decent and that it falls within the criteria of the fest, well then there are a bunch of things you can do that will really help. It will take a bit of time, and some of it will need to be considered even before you shoot your film, but it’s worthwhile if a festival run is your goal, and being as how you are here, I figure it is.
Firstly, and this seems pretty obvious but is actually surprisingly rare, fill in every section of a submission form and check the info is correct. The severity of missing info can vary in degree from being a bit of a nuisance when it comes to programming, to making it actually impossible to get hold of the filmmaker and therefore an exhibition copy of the film. Although you’d probably never find out that you’d been selected for a festival if you typo your email and phone number, it would be pretty gutting to find out that was the reason you didn’t play at a film festival you really wanted to. That’s a very basic example, but it happens.
Make sure the info you fill in sells the film too, that’s what you are trying to do to the film fest, and it’s what they are going to try and do to the audience if you get selected. So help us out, we’re lazy and unimaginative people after all. If you have to write a short synopsis or logline, which you almost certainly will be asked to, try to make it exciting or intriguing rather than a play by play of every scene.
Got It Covered
Most importantly, write a cover letter for every fest if given the opportunity. There is a wealth of info about you and your film already in the directors bio, synopsis etc. (I hope) so don’t use it to elaborate on how you poured your heart, soul and rent into this film which has left you boiling your shoes for soup outside the box you now call home. Sympathy will only get you so far, and you’ll definitely be in good company, with pretty much every other filmmaker making the same sacrifices (or at least saying they did). Instead tell the festival selectors why you want to come, what excites you about getting selected by them, and why you and your film are such a great fit.
Cover letters are a great opportunity to bridge the gap between you and the festival, and show that you would be a worthy selection that would ultimately be a positive decision for the festival. Plus nobody’s immune to flattery right? The festival circuit is actually a pretty small world, and you’ll bump into a lot of the same filmmakers if you travel it for a while. If someone recommended you check out a fest mention them, the festival will appreciate the news of positive feedback and you’ll endear yourself and new friend to them immediately.
Personally I think a cover letter is one of the most important tools for filmmakers in the festival game, so what should you do if there isn’t one? Well, this brings me on to the second bit of advice, communicate. You can do this even if there is a cover letter of course, and I’d recommend it up to a point. That point is when a constant bombardment of generic updates about your films festival run borders on harassment due to the sheer frequency.
Reach out to the festival and show some interest. Maybe about a special guest they have coming, a certain link your film or crew has with the location, or just a friendly “we’re looking forward to the fest” type of thing that lets them know you’ll be there supporting. Good communication goes both ways, and if you’ve ever been frustrated by not getting prompt and satisfactory responses then we feel your pain, so showing you are easy to get hold of and keen to get involved is a good start to the relationship.
Which kind of leads on to the next tip… be courteous and professional in all your dealings. It’s generally a pretty good rule to live by in fact, but definitely don’t rant and rave at festivals that haven’t selected your film. Get used to rejection, it happens in all parts of life, and if you haven’t already experienced it then you have a charmed existence and I am super jealous. Even the best films aren’t going to play every fest, they are unlikely to even play half of the ones they submit to, and if you consider that selection rates are generally between 5 and 15% you can assume that all being equal you are going to get 90% rejections.
Take it on the chin, get in touch to say “no hard feelings” or ask for feedback if you want it, although in my opinion it may not be in your best interest to listen to that feedback, but that’s up to you to decide who’s opinion has value in a subjective matter. Don’t launch a tirade of abuse at the festival and it’s selectors, either directly, or through social media, nobody will be better off, and the temporary relief you feel will not be worth the damage you do your reputation by being a diva.
That being said, it is totally okay to call out fests that are making decisions unfairly, or that are soliciting submissions under false pretenses. Festivals should be open about their selection policies so that you can make decisions that are right for you with all the info available to you. It’s tough to know where the line is of course, but try to be objective, and err on the side of caution, as like I say, it’s a small world.
That’s A Wrap
So I think that’s enough for this week, but I’ll sum up quickly because I seem to have really rambled on for what amounts to a couple of bits of advice.
- Fill in all your info correctly
- Sell your film with a logline or short synopsis
- Write a personalised cover letter to each fest
- Reach out for a chat
- Always try to be courteous and professional
Next week we’ll carry on the same theme and talk about your electronic press kit (EPK). Comments/questions welcome below.