Film Festivals are a thing unto themselves. Everyone wants to get in the door and the door feels like it keeps getting smaller. All of your friends keep getting their acceptance letters and you can't seem to get your break. Here are three things that should help you become an Official Selection. Wait make that four...five? Okay this was intended on being a short list, but it now stands at Six... plus a great trick to getting your film into festivals for free.
6 - Submitting to the Late / Extended Deadline
Many first time filmmakers treat submitting to film festivals similar to turning in a class paper. They get right up to the deadline and then ask their teacher for an extension. Maybe if I have just another week to get that sound just right, right? Some filmmakers even go to the extent of asking a festival for an extension past their late deadline.
I'm going to turn your world on top of its head for a moment... Extended Deadlines are only a way for festivals to collect more submission fees. Most festivals are already completely programmed before the extended deadline hits and unlike YoungFilmmakers, which is rolling submissions and year round, these festivals don't keep your film around for next season.
Save yourself the money. Only submit to early and regular deadlines.
5 -Forgetting a Cover Letter
WithoutABox and FilmFreeway have these handy dandy boxes called "Cover Letter / Directors Statement" and you should fill them out! In fact you should fill out every single field with helpful information that the festival is asking for. You never know if it is one of the actors you added into the cast crew or your 1st AC who actually has a relationship with the festival.
Do your research. If you are submitting to a festival out-of-state let them know what makes your film interesting to people who might come to their festival. You can no longer depend on friends and family to buy tickets. Let them know about your promotional plans and if you would plan on attending if chosen. It is not a festivals responsibility to fill the seats and if they don't think tickets will sell why would they program your film?
Keep it short and concise. A festival does not want to read your two page story outlining all of the hardships in production and your essay on the more symbolic portions of the film which appeal to your academic sense. Use talking points and whet the appetite of the programmer. Put them in a position where they want to ask you more questions.
Let them know if you've screened with them before. Programmers change and so do film judges at every festival every year. They are not responsible for remembering that you were previously screened by the festival. A simple "Hey thanks for last time!" would suffice.
4- Asking for a Change of Date or Time
You were programmed in that date and time for a reason. You submitted knowing what the dates were. Festivals run on very tight schedules. It is like a very complicated game of Tetris.
Your short film was programmed in a block of other short films for a reason. You most likely share a thematic element that the programer felt belonged together. You are also in a block of like minded filmmakers and these are fantastic networking opportunities. People who make a specific genre film generally continue working in that genre. A group of sci-fi filmmakers who screen together is one big pot of gold opportunity. Seize it!
3 - Asking for a Waiver
Festivals do not make money. Most barely scrape by on what they can bring in through submission fees and then that money goes to pay for the location and projector and staff and refreshments and t-shirts and programs and flyers and promotion for your film.
Sounds like a long list of things that need to be bought and paid for doesn't it?
You want the real secret to getting your film into festivals for free? Develop a target list of press people and publications local to that particular festival. Hit them with press releases, pitch notes, talking points, trailers, videos, and offer up talent for interviews and features. Prostitute yourself on the altar of the media and sell your left kidney to get articles about your film written.
The only times in which fees are waived is when a programmer spots your film, sees your hard work drumming up press, and says...hmmm we can waive the fee because these people are going to sell tickets. The programmer will contact you, not the other way around.
2 - Forgetting to Send a Screener
There is nothing worse for a festival then dead air. Just this last week at NewFilmmakers, which I program direct, we had 2 films totaling over 30 minutes in run time that were not sent in. That is thirty minutes in which as many as three filmmakers could have seized the moment, thrown a reception, enjoyed some wine and conversation with friends/industry people, and gone home feeling accomplished.
1 - Forgetting to say Thank You
And while we are on the subject of Thanks for last time. The number 1 mistake a filmmaker can make is forgetting to say thank you after they have been programmed. Festival programmers rarely hear a thank you and this will go a long ways towards developing a relationship with someone whom you may be depending on to screen future films.
The Thank You email should be separate from any questions you may have or requests. It should be heartfelt and genuine. This programmer just took a chance on your film. There is a filmmaker somewhere, who did not get in.
Brandon Ruckdashel is the Festival Director for YoungFilmmakers. He has been the Program Director for NewFilmmakers for the last three years and Marketing Director for six. Brandon is a filmmaker who is most well known for his acting work in the HBO series Co-Ed Confidential and numerous B-Movies. Brandon has worked with Roger Corman alumni Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski along with a number of other very talented directors. Brandon's Directorial debut GRINDER will be out in theaters in 2016.
YoungFilmmakers screens quarterly in New York at Anthology Film Archives. Opened in 1970 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage, Anthology in its original conception was a showcase for the Essential Cinema Repertory collection. An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form. The project was never completed, but even in its unfinished state it represented an uncompromising critical overview of cinema’s history, and remains a crucial part of Anthology’s exhibition program.