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How to save time and money on film festival submissions

In this 'How to' guide, I'm going to help you to help yourself submit to the right festivals and prevent any disasters along the way. I'm going to talk specifically about using Filmfreeway as a submission platform, but there are other platforms of course, and there are even festivals that only take submissions directly.

Okay, now here we go:

Step 1 - Show your film to your family

It's not important whether they're film-savvy or even creative people, the only important thing is that they'll be honest with you.

Don't send it to them, watch it with them. Gauge their reaction and ask for feedback.

Step 2 - Budget

After Step 1, you should have a good idea how good your film is, and how much potential it has.

Here are some ROUGH budgets for you to consider and when they're applicable.

High Budget: $1000

If they cry with joy, watch it multiple times and they can't wait to show their friends.

Medium Budget: $500

If they loved it and watch it a second time.

Low budget: $200

If they liked it, and it held their complete attention for the whole running time.

The 'fuck it' budget: $100

If they liked parts of it, but it didn't get the intended reaction

Note: Consider a re-edit, maybe even a re-shoot, and then try again before you progress to step 3.

No budget: $0

If they had to ask you what happened and/or said they didn't like it. Save your time and energy, don't take this film any further, and go make something better.

Step 3 - Save it

This will take at least half a day, but done right, it will save you a lot of time and tears later on in your film's festival life.

Save all of your projects documents in one folder on a reliable hard drive, then create a cloud-based drive, such as Google Drive, containing the following files in the following formats:

  • Online HD screener. H264 (no bigger than 2GB)

  • Cinema quality screener. PRORES

  • 4-6 stills. PNG or JPEG

  • 1 or 2 behind the scenes photos. PNG or JPEG

  • 1 official poster. PNG or JPEG

  • 30 second trailer. H264

  • 1-2 pages containing a log-line, synopsis, crew list, directors statement, producer and or director contact and social media info. PDF

Step 4 - Make a Filmfreeway Project

Upload your online screener to Vimeo, then while that's converting, sign-in to Filmfreeway and use all of your google doc files to quickly create your project. Don't leave anything blank, including all the fields on your Account Settings.

Top tip: make sure important emails from Filmfreeway aren't going to your Junk mailbox.

Step 5 - Refine your search

Unfortunately, you can't just do this once. I'd advise sitting down to do this once every 2 months, but every 4 months is okay. So don't blow your whole budget in one sitting, make it last.

Using the panel on the left, refine your search results by selecting the following:

  • Open only.

  • Film Festival with Live Screenings. (include Online Festivals for low and 'fuck it' budgets)

  • Select ONE appropriate category type.

  • Entry fees High festival budget: $10 - $50 Medium festival budget: $10 - $35 Low festival budget: $0 - $20 'Fuck it': $0 - $10

  • Years running: 2 years +

  • Project run time: round your film down to the nearest minute. (i.e. 7:59 = 7 minutes

  • Entry Deadline. Before: (1 month from now)


Refine/sort your results by: Early Deadlines Approaching

This should have brought your search results down from 6400 to about 400-700, depending on your budget.

Step 5 - Double Check

Filmfreeway's auto refining isn't always accurate, and some festivals are sneaky.

Quickly check the festival is actually suitable for your film and your budget by clicking 'Submit Now' on the search results page.

What you expected? Good.

If not, don't worry, forget it and move on to the next.

Step 6 - Background Check

So far so good. We're nearly ready to start submitting.

Now, Click 'View Festival', and have a quick skim read of the write-up. No red flags? Now, on the left-hand side, you can have a look at their website and social media. Go on their website and see if you can find what films the screened last year and ask yourself, would yours look out of place here? If their previous programs aren't online, this is a red flag.

If the red flags are going up, but there's still something calling you to this festival, then contact them. There will be an email address, or a phone number on their listing. Express your concerns and ask for further info.

Tip: Add a link to your online screener to your email. They'll probably watch it (trust me), and you might get a fee waiver code out of it.

Step 7 - Cover letter

When you submit your film, you'll be prompted to write a cover letter. These exist for a reason, and not many submitters actually fill one out. It might just help you get in.

If you've followed these steps, you've put a lot of hard work into this process, so let them know! Tell them how you found their festival and why you decided to submit to them. Make it personal, and keep it short.

Step 8 - Success!

You've submitted to a great variety of festivals that you're now familiar with, where your film not only has a genuine chance of being selected, but of winning an award!

Don't forget to check your emails for replies from those red flags, and don't be disheartened when you get 'Status Update' emails that are negative. You'll likely receive 10 unsuccessful emails for every 1 successful, but that's just how it is. You can't win 'em all.

When your film gets selected, and it will, they'll ask you for a bunch of materials and you probably wont have much time to send them. But luckily you have everything saved to a cloud ready to go! You're welcome.

If you manage to go to a festival (and you should), or at least chat with the organisers (which you should), the one thing you're 100% going to be asked is: "What are you making next?" So get head start on your next project and have something ready for next year! Good luck.

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