10 Festival Submission Tips from a Festival Director

Festival Submissions 101

Posted by Kelly Michael Stewart on March 1, 2018

10 Festival Submission Tips from a Festival Director

As the Festival Director and Creator of the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, over the past four years, I have devised some tips I would like to pass on regarding submitting your films to festivals. These are the things that our programmers and I find that are common mistakes that filmmakers make year after year when submitting.

These suggestions will not necessarily get you into the festival in itself, but will eliminate some the more logistical and technical factors that go into the decision making process for festivals picking your film. It should be noted that every festival is different and their rules for selection vary, but I think that this is a handy guide to have when you are at the beginning of your festival submission process. These are just suggestions and there are always exceptions to the rule. So treat this advice for what it is.

Have a Festival Strategy
If you do not know what a festival strategy is it is likely that you do not have one! BEFORE you premiere your film or even submit it to festivals you should figure out what you want the film to do —realistically.

Ask yourself, what are your goals for the film at festivals? Exposure? Networking? To attract a distribution deal? All of these factors will play into what types of festivals you want to screen at.

Your timeline is important as well. Map out your release schedule based on the main festivals that you want to play. Knowing this will increase your chances of having your World Premiere at that festival and then you can roll out the film to first and second tier festivals in the first year — then move to third tier festivals in the end of the year or in its second year.

Understand What a Premiere is
I get this question a lot: “If I play a festival/event but only a few friends are at it, does it count?” Yes it does. Any public or paid event where somebody sees your film is your premiere.

If you are doing a private test screening, a private cast and crew screening or a P&I screening (Press and Industry only) then it does not count as a premiere. If you used Kickstarter to raise money and you need to do a screening just for them, then that is fine too.

Do Your Festival Research
I can not tell you how many films we have received that do not meet the submission requirements of our festival. Filmmakers will submit films from around the world when in our case we only accept films by Canadian filmmakers or Canadian co-productions. I can only imagine how many unqualified films are submitted to Festivals every year because they did not read the submission requirements! Do not waste your money on festivals that you will not get in to.

Also, before you submit, look into what types of films they have played in the past. If they do not have a track record of playing films in your budget range or genre type, then there is a slim chance you are getting in.

Be Flexible
The tricky part about playing festivals is that it really is out of your control if festivals play your film so you really will not know what will happen with it until you get it out there. Once you do, you will likely want to make adjustments to your plan at some point.

An example of this is a feature that was advised to only play large top tier festivals (TIFF, Sundance..) and avoid the smaller ones. This turned out to be a bad plan because the film was not at the level of those types of festivals and did not get into any of them. Luckily the filmmaker got wise and started applying to more smaller festivals and had a much more successful run.

Do Not “Give Away” Your Premiere
On the other side of the coin, do not give your premiere away to some small event. You only have one premiere - do it right! We have had films get into our festival only to disqualify them because they played a bar night or student festival eight weeks before the larger festival.

You Did Not Play Cannes
Please stop trying to promote your film by saying: “Our film is premiering at Cannes” when it actually is not. In this case you are likely playing the film market, of which anyone with 90 Euros can pay to have their film in their booklet, which is completely different than playing the Cannes Film Festival itself. So when you go on social media and say this it is just misleading. It might impress your friends but anyone in the industry will see through it. So do not bother.

Do Not Put Your Film Online Before Your Festival Run
This has become a real problem especially for short films. Putting your film online for free will disqualify you from most festivals. Why would people go see it in the theatre if they can just glance at it on YouTube? The only time you should consider this is when you have completely finished your festival run and it is the final stop for the film.

Do Not Sell Your Film Online or Put on DVD Before or During Your Festival Run
Same as above. This will disqualify your film from most festivals if your film is in the market either through a distribution company, sale agent or film festival in most cases.

Avoid “Cast & Crew” or “Industry” Screenings for Local Premieres
We have had filmmakers that want to do a private “cast and crew” or “industry” screening before their festival run. This is never a good idea and will affect your attendance at your premiere. Technically it is ok to have but avoid if possible.

If in Doubt, Ask!
We would rather you send an email if you are not sure about conditions of festival requirements than risk you not getting in on a technicality.

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