Getting into festivals is crucial to making it as a director – but it can be a difficult, expensive and time-consuming business. Olivia Humphreys gets the inside scoop...
Develop a festival strategy
“First, you need to figure out how much money you have to spend on festivals,” advises ‘Film Festival Doctor’ Rebekah Smith. Some festivals charge entry fees, then there’s the cost of DVDs, postage and packing, which adds up quickly. If you get into a festival, you may be asked to transfer your film to whatever screening format the festival requires – and of course, ideally, you’ll also want to attend thefestival. (The British Council has some funding for this, which is worth applying for if you get into one of the qualifying festivals.)
Helen Jack of UnderWire Film Festival recommends doing extensive research. “Find the festivals that are best suited to your film. Don’t use a scattergun approach – this could prove fruitless and expensive. A good resource is the British Council’s Festival Directory. Read through the festivals out there and see if there’s a festival genre that’s ideally suited to your film. For instance, if you’ve made a documentary about gay adoption, there are vast numbers of festivals focusing on LGBT-themed films that would be interested in seeing your work.”
“Once you’ve done this, you’ll be in a position to create a focused and streamlined festival strategy for your film,” agrees Rebekah. “This will help you to avoid falling into the Withoutabox trap, where you can end up impulse-buying hundreds of festival submissions.”
Get programmers on your side
Filmmaker Chloe White recommends you follow festivals’ instructions to the letter. “If they ask for four DVDs, make sure you send four DVDs. Give them the best possible quality version of your film. Present your DVDs and application in the best possible way, with a case, a clear title and your name and contact details, so there’s no confusion.” There are tales of programmers dropping films they’d have liked to screen because the filmmaker was too difficult to track down...
It’s also a good idea to get a basic press kit together: a synopsis, short cast and crew biographies and a selection of stills. But don’t send the festival more information than what they ask for, or you risk irritating them. “The programmer won’t read it. Just send the disc and complete the form in full. Simplicity is key, and saves you time,” says Helen.
Don’t despair if you don’t get in
“Never harass the programmer over their decision, if they choose not to accept your film – it’s very ungracious,” advises Helen. “By all means, request feedback – while remembering it’s a timely process – but aggressive questioning over their choices does not stand you in good stead.” The festival circuit is small and tightknit, and chances are you’ll want to re-apply with new work at some point in the future. So don’t be discouraged – the next film you submit might be a better fit for the festival.
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Image by Diamond Mind, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.