I haven’t met a filmmaker yet who doesn’t want to make a festival worthy film. But the process of finding and selecting an appropriate film festival is time-consuming and expensive.
Getting your film accepted by an international film festival can be fun – and can really help with the distribution of your film. Acceptance to the right kind of festival can stamp ‘quality independent film’ all over your film and your independent film career.
How do independent filmmakers create a film that’s worthy of film festivals? How can you navigate the ins-and-outs of film festival programmers?
What does a Festival Worthy Film mean?
Did you know that there are over 9,000 film festivals that have happened in the past 15 years?
Some festivals just want to take your film festival submission fees. But there are awesome festivals like Raindance that take your fees and are considered excellent value for money.
As a filmmaker starting out it’s important to understand the different categories of film festivals.
The 5 categories of film festivals
Film festivals are ranked according to their importance. By importance I mean by the number of acquisition executives who attend. At the top of the pile are the Major film festivals like Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Rotterdam and Toronto. There are about 20 major film festivals in total.
Then come the mini-major film festivals – still brilliant, but not as many acquisition executives. These festival are more accessible than the major film festivals, but still important. Raindance Film Festival falls into this category.
Next come the city film festivals – organised by civic fathers to promote tourism. London, Edinburgh and Toronto are all city film festivals. Toronto is also a major film festival.
If you are into genre films, then consider one of the world’s many genre film festivals. Like London’s Sci-Fi film Festival and London Frightfest. Genre film festivals are attended by acquisition executives interested in the particular genre. Though fewer in number than those attending major or mini major film festivals, they are those who are only interested in the particular genre on show.
Last on the list are the novelty film festivals – run by film fanatics to celebrate heir chosen favourite films or filmmakers. Virtually no acquisition executives attend these festivals.
Choosing your film festival
With such a diverse range of film festivals it’s easy to see why choosing the right festival for your film is difficult.
You wouldn’t send your teenage romance film to London Sci-Fi or Frightfest would you?
I would highly recommend using Filmfreeway.com to research your festival. This is also a primary submission platform many festivals use.
Making a festival worthy film: 6 top tips
No matter what kind of film you have made, or want to make, it’s a good idea to look at what the festival programmers at festivals like Raindance look for.
1. Keep shorts short
Festivals like Raindance have slots for shorts before features. If you have made a 22 minute short, it won’t easily fit in front of a feature. Besides, it’s too short for a TV half hour. The marketplace for your short becomes minimal. If you make a 28 – 35 minute short – it’s too long for a TV half hour. This means your short needs to be programmed with two other shorts of the same length. if it’s 45 minutes long, then it will likely be programmed as a mini featurette.
Try and keep your festival-headed short under two minutes.
And why not consider a micro short?
2. Clear music rights
A film festival and it’s host cinema will be sued if you use uncleared music rights. MAke sure you have these rights cleared or no festival in the world will touch your film.
Here’s a great tutorial on clearing music rights.
3. Consider your promotional assets: poster ands trailer
A film festival needs to market your film. Your key artwork and trailer will be tested by the festivals where your work is laying. Make certain you deliver eye-catching images. For feature length features and feature documentary film make sure you have a compelling trailer no more than 90 seconds long.
4. Make it genre
The worst thing a festival wants to read on your submission form is the word: ‘Drama’. All stories are dramas. It is far too general. What a festival wants to know is which strand it falls into. Is it comedy? or action/adventure and so on.
Highlight the genre of your film. Make it clear in your film’s description. Your poster should make it plain to the viewer which genre it is. And don’t overlook the film’s title. The title should be 1-3 words, taut and tense. It’s your first chance to sell your movie. And in this case to the all-important festival programmer.
5. Your social media matters
Forget your film for a minute, let’s look at the process from the festival side. They need to sell tickets. If your social media is small, or non-existent, then it makes the festival’s work much harder. Let’s get honest for a minute. You do want a sold-out festival screening don’t you?
In this regard – the goal of a film festival and that of filmmaker intersect. Both want a roomful of people to see and adore your work, and to buy tickets.
6. Tell a story
I’ve co-programmed Raindance for the first dozen years. I have been asked what makes a festival worthy film. It is story, story and story.
The most common reason films fail at the festival gate has nothing to do with picture quality or technical proficiency. It has everything to do with story.
One notable short film at Raindance was Dumpster Diving – made with the proverbial ‘shakey camera’ but amusing and entertaining. As the title suggests it was a comedy.
If your film makes people laugh, submit it to comedy festivals. If it’s action-packed, submit it to action festivals. What do you have? A Supernatural? Is it Fantasy? Or Biographical? Is it a Documentary?
You get the picture. There’s a festival out there for every film with a good story, Make sure it is well presented with cleared music rights and and a great trailer and poster.