I have presided over a film festival here in London since 1993. I’m no expert. I didn’t go to film school either. With the help of an amazing team I’ve just somehow managed to grow Raindance into what is now considered one of the top 50 must attend film festivals in the world, according to Variety. I’ve answered a lot of filmmakers’ questions over the years.
With the submission deadline for this year’s Raindance Film Festival fast approaching our programming team get asked many different things. There are ten questions that keep popping up again and again. These questions are always asked right before a filmmaker decides to take the leap to submit their film to Raindance. I suppose that most film festivals keep getting asked theses same questions too. Maybe this will help you when approaching your next film festival, which might not be Raindance!
1. Does a film’s premiere status matter?
Choosing the festival to premiere your feature length film is probably one of your most important decisions. (Shorts don’t have the same problem, see below).
There are five different types of film festival premieres:
– world premiere – the first time your film is screened for the general public- international premiere – the first time your film is screened outside your home country
– national premiere – the first time your film is screened in a country
– domestic premiere – the first time your film is screened in your own country
– continental premiere – the first time your film is screened in, say, Europe or North America
– city or regional premiere – the first time your film is screened in a city ie: Toronto or Ontario
Festivals like to own the highest ranking premiere status of feature films as possible in order to attract a higher profile amongst journalists and acquisition executives. Raindance for example has a UK premiere status which means we won’t screen your film if it has screened at important UK festivals before us ie: Edinburgh and Sheffield. It also means that if you screen at Raindance you will be self-disqualified from London which has a UK premiere status as well.
The advice is to start up as high as you can on the festival pecking order and work your way down the list until you are happy with the festival that has selected you. It’s damaging to accept a world premiere at a tiny festival in the middle of nowhere as the fact you’ve screened there will diminish your attractiveness to a larger festival later in the year. Here’s our list of the world’s top film festivals.
Most film festivals don’t have premiere status for shorts. Raindance will accept shorts even if they are playing on YouTube on the grounds that exciting work by emerging filmmakers’ short films deserves to be seen and lauded wherever possible.
Here’s our list of the world’s top film festivals for shorts.
2. Can I play film festivals after my film is online?
For shorts, generally yes. Check the festival guidelines before putting it on YouTube. For feature films, the answer is almost always no on the ground that your audience has already seen the film and the festival will find it hard to sell tickets.
3. Will your programming team prefer a DVD or online screener?
Ninety percent of the submissions to Raindance are now by password protected online link. We expect that percentage to increase. Please get over questions of security. Festivals aren’t going to pirate your film. Pirating is more likely to be your best friend who didn’t get the leading acting role trying to settle an old score with you.
4. How important are music licenses for films?
If you can’t convince us that you have permission to use the music in your short, feature or web series, we will not screen your film. More importantly, no acquisitions executive will touch your film.
5. How long is a short film?
We hate getting this question at Raindance for three very different reasons:
The first reason? No matter how long your film is, short or feature, what really matters to us is whether or not there is a story. Your 30 minute short can bore us to tears as surely as your 30 second short (yes we screen films even shorter than 30 seconds).
The second reason?
Technically for an Oscar the length is 40 minutes and for Sundance it’s 50 minutes. Figure out your story.
The third reason?
The longer the short the more difficult it is for a festival to programme. We prefer shorts under ten minutes because they can be programmed with a feature. Since 2012 we have seen a huge rise in the 20-30 minute short. These films have virtually no life outside of a festival because they don’t fit into the TV half hour of 22/24/26 minutes depending on the broadcaster.
Here is a selection of ten 15 second short films that played at Raindance in 2005.
6. Does your film festival give awards?
We do give awards. We know how great it is to put laurels onto your film’s online and offline profile.
Raindance Film Festival puts an enormous amount of effort into selecting our films from the submissions we receive from around the world. Each attending film is part of Raindance Official Selection. In addition there are eight other categories. Our programmers select the nominees and our jurors watch and choose the winners.
We hope you display our logo and festival on all of your media. It helps us too.
7. Does your film festival share box office or pay screening fees?
We are appalled by the number of filmmakers who view box office share as a right. I can’t speak for other film festivals, but box office income represents less than 25% of our annual budget. In other words, it costs money for a festival to screen your film even if the screening sells out. At Raindance we spend every single spare penny in promoting your screening.
A film festival should be considered as a loss leader for starting the promotion of your film. Rather than demanding or even expecting a box office share (or screening fee) an astute filmmaker will see their festival screening as valuable PR. Festivals will often accommodate attending filmmakers and contribute towards travel expenses. If this isn’t enough you should revisit your decision to enter the festival.
8. How important is a film’s website? And press kit?
At Raindance we place a great deal of importance on your film’s website. The reason is simple: it gives us a valuable source of marketing extras and PR hooks we may miss from your press kit – assuming you keep it up to date. Your website also gives us something to link back to when we promote you and your screening on social media.
Your press kit is the beating heart of your promotional activity. Learn how to create a great press kit. Please make sure it is constantly updated.
9. I haven’t got an IMDB listing. Is this important?
Yes. Get one. Make sure it includes lots of pictures and video clips.
10 How important is my film’s social media presence?
OMG! I’m going to run out of space. Your social media is all important. Without any social media, how can you expect a festival to be serious about you? As a filmmaker in today’s digital world you are always engaged with your social media. With a good online presence you can crowd source, crowd fund and promote your next festival screening.
Put yourself in a festival programmers shoes for a minute. Suppose you had two films of equal artistic merit, and one film had 800 Twitter followers and the second had only 8, which film would you programme? Enough said.
Have I missed anything? Please leave your comments below – sharing helps us all.