You’ve made a film – congratulations. Are you hitting film festival brick walls?
Every year about this time I start getting emails from filmmakers complaining about their treatment at the hands of film festival programmers who have skipped over their film. There’s even expensive professional advisers who train disgruntled filmmakers how to do better with their next festival submission.
The funny thing is, none of these advisors or tutors actually run film festivals or make movies. That’s where I differ. Without throwing tonnes of numbers up on the wall, Raindance has screened over 7,500 shorts, features, documentaries, web series pilots and VR projects since I started Raindance Film Festival in 1993. Each film we’ve screened has been selected by our professional programmers from several dozen submissions. I’ve had a lot of time to sift through a whole bunch a whole bunch of films. I have some interesting data I would like to share with you.
Firstly, submit early. This gives the programmers more time to consider your film.
Let’s suppose you have made a film that’s gone out to a bunch of film festivals and received nothing but rejections. What possibly could be the matter?
Film Festival Brick Wall #7: You’ve picked the wrong festival
It is very possible you have entered you film to an inappropriate film festival. You should know whether of not the London Children’s Film Festival accepts horror films! Festivals spend ages, in my case decades, defining their voice. Research the festivals on your short list. Speak to past attendees. for example, here’s our pick of the essential horror film festivals.
I just hate it when we get a submission from a filmmaker who hasn’t looked at our festival’s history and had a feel for the types of films we programme.
Film Festival Brick Wall #6: You haven’t read the submission rules
I know it’s boring. You simply have to read the rules silly as they may appear to be. Each festival has rules so they can automate as much of the submission process as possible to save on manpower or to deal with premiere status issues.
I just hate it when a film comes in with some detail left out of the page. It means our programmers waste valuable time chasing down the missing information when they could be watching submissions.
Another nitpicker I have with the so-called festival consultants is they all advise on how to save money by getting fee waivers. Really? You want to start the selection process at a festival with a big black mark against your film?
Film Festival Brick Wall #5 You haven’t cleared music rights
This is probably why 15% of the hundreds of films submitted to our festival get turned down. Full stop. There is nothing we can do with your film if you haven’t cleared the music rights.
Film Festival Brick Wall #4 You have no social media
Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Suppose I’ve taken my time and watched your film. Now I need to market it. I discover to my horror that you haven’t a website and no social media. I have to decide if I am going to take more time out to build out social media for your film.
Except at the very top, festival directors are poorly paid if at all. Having no social media that you can vend into their festival screening is a very big ask. Make it easy for them to say yes.
Film Festival Brick Wall #3 You have no press kit
This is a bit like having no social media. You create an instant brick wall if you don’t have key art work, excellent photographs and a trailer. If you submit to a festival without these elements it makes it really difficult for the festival to accept your film. They don’t know how to market your film and face the prospect of an expensive empty screen.
The natural rule of gravity is that water runs downhill. You are trying to make it run uphill when a festival programmer get to your film. Make it easy for them to say yes. Deliver a press kit.
Film Festival Brick Wall #2 You’ve aimed too high
I know you think your film is amazing and I know how much you’d like it to play at Sundance, Toronto, Cannes or Berlin. Let’s do a reality check. You have virtually no hope of getting into one of these festivals unless you have a white knight championing your film. Move on.
Every time I produce a film I go through the ritual of sending if off to Sundance at $150.00 an entry thank-you-very-much. What makes my submission even more comical is that I’m UK based – meaning there are only a dozen slots for international films. Fat chance! Move on. There are dozens of excellent film festivals.
Film Festival Brick Wall #1 Your film isn’t very good
Maybe just maybe your film isn’t good enough. Perhaps you rushed the production. Maybe you sent it out before the sound mix was properly finished. Or perhaps the script wasn’t very good. Perhaps you submitted very late in the submission process and the festival you sent it to didn’t have the time to properly evaluate your film. I have made every single one of these mistakes to my horror looking back.
What to do in this situation?
Make another film. Remember the golden mantra of success:
Winners never quit
Quitters never win.
Best for your film and hope to see you at Raindance.
Elliot Grove, Founder, Raindance | British Independent Film Awards