Okay, first off, let me be honest … we personally have not financially recovered the funds we have invested in submitting to film festivals. When we first started submitting our projects to film festivals, we weren’t very selective … priority #1 “is it free?” click submit; priority #2 “is it an established festival that will give us instant fame and glory?” click submit. Probably not the best criteria on which to base our festival choices!
When the Edmonton Short Film Festival was created, we had one goal in mind: to help Alberta short filmmakers get their projects shown on the big screen. Since that time, we have refined the festival, added some awesome incentives for filmmakers (like a free learning component for every submitted project) and learned a LOT about what it takes to program a festival. Here is a summary of our own experience, combined with what we have learned as we have connected with other film festival programmers).
Don’t get me wrong! The story is still the most important thing. The following five points are in addition to a great story.
#1 – Technical Quality Counts! If the audio is too low, inconsistent or muddied, or the video is washed out, we can’t screen your project no matter how wonderful the story is. The audience needs to be able to see and hear your story.
#2 – Keep it Short. Our entire program is only 90 minutes long. We want to promote as many filmmakers as we can. Although our specs read “maximum 15 minutes” if we have a choice to screen one awesome 15-minute short film or three awesome short films that are 5 minutes or less … well, you get the idea.
#3 – Credits and Titles. Yup, we know. Your family, friends and all the crew who volunteered for your film need to be thanked. And as a small, indie filmmaker, you often “do it all”. But if your credits take up a full minute on your 4- or 5-minute short, that’s 20% to 25% of your project. We’ve seen some very creative ways of including this information to cut down on the time … such as superimposing the title and cast members right over the beginning of the film; running the credits down a side bar at the closing sequence or just running them through quickly.
#4 – Know Your Audience. Pretty basic is to read the rules to make sure you are submitting projects that are appropriate for that festival. Also, note that different festivals have different focuses. There are several festivals that choose films mostly from their own alumni (NSI); some choose mostly regional films (SXSW); some prefer documentaries (Sundance); some focus on international films (Tribeca) and some are really looking for “star” power (TIFF). Before investing your money, do a little research on the history of the festival.
#5 – Decide on Your Goals. Do you want to win awards? Do you want to win cash prizes? Do you want your film widely available to audiences? (There are a few festivals that are fully digital … they take your film and post it for anyone to watch and download.) Do you want your film screened in front of a good-sized audience? Some festivals are so over-programmed and scattered, that your film may be screened in front of only a couple of people. Do you want to use one festival “win” as a stepping stone for others (e.g., a prequalifying festival)? Again, do your research on the film festival. Smaller festivals and newer festivals will offer you a greater chance of being selected.
All things considered, though … if you don’t submit, you can’t be selected. So if you have the money and really want to try for that one amazing opportunity, DO IT! Always follow your heart
We are looking forward to seeing your film submitted to the Edmonton Short Film Festival … and we are really excited about having you join us in the audience and at the special Filmmakers’ Master Class with Bryan Michael Stoller.