Getting into a Film festival - 5 Easy Tips
So you have made a short film. Congratulations are really in order!!! Because you did it… you overcame tough odds to get your idea on film or video. However, now comes the really hard part. Because, if you are the creator: by this I mean, you wrote it, envisioned it, hired the crew or filmed it yourself, directed it, got it edited and are now in the beginning stages of getting your film accepted into a film festival… well if this is you, then buckle in. It gets tough from here on out.
In today’s filmmaking world, you can go into Best Buy and get yourself a camera and start making your film. Now this is a good thing, as it allows many, many young or aspiring filmmakers to make their film for very little money. You get a basic understanding of how the thing works and you go and make your film. The bad news is that it is NOWHERE as easy as it looks to make a great film. Doesn’t matter if your cousin who’s an idiot is making one. There really is a lot of learning about shots and lighting and sound and many, many other aspects of filmmaking you need to learn. And if you bypass all of this learning because you think you are the next Scorcese or Hitchcock, well then your film will most likely end up on the trash heap. And believe me, there are literally thousands of shorts films that litter the highway somewhere.
But let’s skip to getting your film into a festival…or if you have already submitted your film into festivals and aren’t getting any acceptances, then here are some reasons to consider.
If you ask yourself WHY MY FILM IS NOT SELECTED? Well, there are many answers. A few of the most common are listed here:
First of all, there are many films. Sometimes literally hundreds of films get submitted to a film festival. Festivals can only select only about 10-20% from all submissions, even if you’re really talented, and your film is really great…not just because your friends told you so.
Logically then, the next question would be: HOW DO I MAKE IN THAT 10-20%? Here is what I came to understand thru much trial and error. Each festival has a “Jury” that decides on which films make it into their festival. This then requires said jury to watch every single film that gets submitted. And as I said, this means literally hundreds of films. They want unique, fresh ideas. If your character runs thru the woods for 70% of your film, then even Matt Damon or Scarlett Johansson will not help get your film accepted.
Another important suggestion is this: Keep all names in back credits. I know you want to please all your hard working actors, crew, and supporters like your friends, family etc. But if your film starts with credits and the jury does not see the movie, only bunch of unknown names, it’s not good. Viewers need an action. Viewers need to see your art NOW…the jury has just watched 200 films and they have 100 more to watch this week. Watching 2-3 minutes of credits make people a little bit angry. Solution?
Have two versions of your film. One screener for all your crew and supporters who can attend a private screening, or create an online version with a password for all those people who helped you create your film. And then you create a second version for all the festivals you want to submit to.
Thirdly…Start your film with…THE FILM. Just get to it… tell the story. Start the opening scene. Have the opening scene begin in the middle of a scene. I know this may not make any sense, but start in the middle of a scene… this then draws your audience into your film immediately. Because the audience knows that something has happened before and that creates a certain amount of allure to it. “What did I just miss?” …this is what you want the audience to think. That way they are drawn in to see the rest of the story. Or you can start with a great shot, that showcases your DP to open your film. Or if you have great actors, then start with that scene.
Simply give audience what they want! They want a great story, start with it. They do not want to watch credits, that’s for sure. Give them a taste of your work.
Here’s a great example for you to consider: Imagine a sales lady who works in a store with food samples. She wants to give you a sample of the product. She does not tell you about who designed the box, or who came up with idea for that product or who is the producer of that tasty blah, blah, blah! No! She cuts to the chase and gives you a sample, for you to decide, before you purchase a whole box or bottle or whatever it is. Same here.
Listen, I am also an actor and have many TV and Film credits. And I have been on probably close to 2500 auditions in my career. I was taught a long time ago this very important little tip: “When you go in to audition, the casting director knows in the first 20 seconds if they want you or not… based on what you bring in to the audition. So make those first seconds count. Or else they will just reject you right there and then. They will most likely be polite, but that’s it. You are done.” I know this is cruel fact, and many of you won’t believe it, but it’s true. If your film doesn’t grab the jury in the first minute or so, then they will stop watching it and move on to the next one. Because the jury doesn’t get paid to watch these films. They do it because they love film or they want to support the festival.
In my opinion, you have what? 2-15 minutes of a short film. Do you really want to waste a minute or two showing credits? Start the actual film and get on with it.
You say “OK, but my credits run during my first scene”. That’s OK. We have films where credits run through the introduction scene, like panorama of neighborhood or room with pictures or clothes on the floor. That’s OK. We’re taking about credit’s that run on black background where there is no action what so ever.
One last thing: SPONSORS. Well, we know you want show them as well. But, these are YOUR sponsors, not ours. A Film Festival does not want to be part of it. It is not their job to give free publicity to your sponsors… no matter how important they are to you. Again, the simple solution is by creating a second version of the film, and putting your sponsors at the end in the credits.
In conclusion, getting into a film festival is very exciting. It shows that someone, or several people have enjoyed your film and have decided to share it and show it in their festival. It is my hope that every filmmaker gets to experience this. At least once in their careers. Hopefully, these tips that I have outlined above will help you to get there. But hey. You are a creator. You are an artist. You are independent filmmaker and you’ll do whatever you want with your film. You don’t have to listen to anybody. This is YOUR ART. So these are only suggestions, and you can adopt them or ignore them. Your call.
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