Applying or planning to apply to film festivals? Read on to find out 6 key ways to make your film festival submission stand out.
By: Sophia Lin
Every year, thousands apply to film festivals. From film students to aspiring filmmakers to industry veterans it’s a rapidly growing number. The festival circuit remains the premier way to get your film out there. It is a chance to secure distribution, and reach awards consideration, serving as the ideal fast track to a successful and illustrious career in the film industry.
However, it can seem like a daunting task to make your film festival submission stand out. While there’s no perfect recipe for a winning submission, there are several critical ways to make your film — be it anything from a micro-short to a feature — win the hearts of festival programmers. Well-informed considerations regarding festival strategy, technical proficiency, submission descriptions, and more can make all the difference when it comes down to the fine line between rejection and selection.
Below, we’ve detailed 6 ways to make your film festival submission stand out, tailored specifically to film students looking to catch their first big break.
1. Be Yourself and Be Unique to Make Your Film Festival Submission Stand Out
Perhaps deceptively simple, the first goal you can undertake is to remain authentic and pursue the stories that you truly believe are worth telling. Hone in on what makes you different and idiosyncratic; focus on what you have to say. If you eschew making the film that you think festivals want and instead make the film you want, it leads to one crucial quality: a unique vision.
An untold number of applicants either consciously or subconsciously create within a common mold, with the intention of replicating what a good film appears to be. When you think outside of the box and create in a way that only you can create, it leaves a lasting impression on festival programmers. They are looking for new voices, untold stories, and risk-takers who advance the craft of filmmaking.
2. Demonstrate Proficiency in Sound
All too often, applicants tend to focus solely on a few aspects: the story, the cinematography, the acting, and the editing. And while these certainly serve as the backbone of a film, there is one equally important factor that is left mostly forgotten and quickly thrown together: the sound.
Technical proficiency when it comes to sound mixing and sound editing can separate the good and the great. Excellent sound design, if paired with an otherwise well-executed film, is more than likely to shoot your submission to the top in the eyes of festival directors. These days, believe it or not, sound is the pivotal secret ingredient at times overlooked by even the best of rising filmmakers.
3. Research Festivals Carefully
It may seem obvious, but conducting research on film festivals is not as easy as it sounds. For one, the sheer amount of festivals has compounded in the last decade, with as many as 10,000 festivals on FilmFreeway. So how do you sort through the mix?
The first step is to look into the festival’s past programming. Use this to examine if they’re looking for your particular type of film. Festivals can have different themes, such as experimental, documentary, or conventional narrative. Next, understand the level of the festival: is it A-list and international, regional, or a smaller local one? Ensure that this makes sense with your submission. Especially for new filmmakers, informed festival choices will greatly maximize your chances of selection. From there, you can then start to work up the ladder!
4. Reach Out to Festival Programmers
The old adage is to network, network, network. We’re here to break that idea down a bit. Rather than attempting to mass connect with as many industry insiders as you can, it can be much more productive to conduct directed efforts to reach only the programmers for the film festivals you’re interested in.
The individual goals of festivals are meant to be distinctly separate from one another. Therefore, festival directors and programmers tend to differ hugely in terms of what they look for. For instance, you would rarely catch overlaps between the films at Sundance vs. at the Cannes Film Festival. For that reason, reach out to specific people and apply their advice on a festival-to-festival basis. This is also an excellent way to get your name out there, even before your film is considered.
5. Consider Model Festival Strategies
Creating your own developed festival circuit strategy — the precise timing, order, and selection of festivals — can take years of experience, not to mention precarious amounts of trial and error. If you’re just starting out, am alternative is to research the festival strategies of successful films you admire.
When in the year did they begin submissions? How spread out were their submissions? What was their endgame in the circuit? Then, once you’ve pinpointed the strong and weak points, model your own film’s festival strategy after it. Remember that a submission shouldn’t be the end of your efforts. You should also seek to build your network in a way that meshes with your festival strategy.
6. Polish Title, Synopsis, and Descriptions
A common trait of standout film festival submissions is that no detail is left unpolished. This could not be more true for one of the smallest yet most crucial details out there: the text that is paired with your film. Every festival will ask for a title and a synopsis, with many leaving room for additional descriptions.
At the very least, perfect your title. Countless films are submitted with generic, overused titles, which unnecessarily and disastrously harm even the most exceptional works. The title is how you make your first impression and make your film festival submission stand out, so use it to your full advantage. Following that same logic, any other text descriptions should be just as thoughtfully written. You’ve poured all the hard work into your film, now, just put your best foot forward.
These six steps are a great start in making your film festival submission stand out against the competition. Most importantly, stick to the stories you want to tell through filmmaking and share them with the world.