Tips for new filmmakers: Finding your film festival strategy
Hello! My name is T, and I’m the Partnerships & Training Lead for the TELUS Local Content team. I have over 20 years of experience in Vancouver’s Film and Arts community, including curating MODES Series at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Director of Programming at Reel 2 Reel International Film Festival and previously as the Program and Education Coordinator for DOXA Documentary Film Festival. I am also formally trained as an assistant director with the Director’s Guild of Canada.
One of the questions that will inevitably come up throughout the course of making your content is, “How do I get my work seen by an audience?” For many fresh filmmakers, this means showcasing at film festivals. There are some considerations you’ll need to make before beginning down this path of creating a festival strategy. It can be a bit puzzling to figure it all out. Here is a guide to help get you started.
First: Do you have the time and resources to take on and build a campaign that has a festival strategy? It can be expensive to apply to hundreds of festivals, and extremely time consuming to do all the research you’ll need to best position your project for success.
Start thinking about a festival strategy during development.
This will look vastly different for each project, filmmaker, budget and your ability to shamelessly self-promote and network. Ideally you will have thought about who your audience is, and why showing at festivals would be valuable. I won’t get too granular about this, because you’ll have to define and research your strategy based on the content and substance of your film specifically. Think about and begin to list out who your key audience is and who is best to amplify your project to this demographic. This will form the groundwork for what festivals you’ll likely end up targeting.
Did you or can you budget for festival expenses and the time it takes to do the admin involved in managing all your research, submissions, relationship building, promotional assets and so on?
Most festivals have an early bird price that can help your bottom line in a big way. Even if you submit before the earliest deadline, you might be paying anywhere from $15 to $75 for a single festival submission. The submission fees for short films are often less expensive than those for feature films, but regardless of category, the costs can quickly add up. Not only will you need to research the festivals you want to target, you’ll be asked to provide promotional assets to support your submissions. It’s also beneficial to network and build relationships that can support your campaign and project aspirations.
Map out festivals that might be a fit for your project.
Make an account on filmfreeway.com, it’s free to join! You can search a plethora of local and international festivals on FilmFreeway by using the site's targeted search criteria to match your strategy and goals, and you’ll learn everything you need to know before committing to spending the money–you can do quite a lot of research before you even start making a film. In fact, planning this far in advance can often inform and improve your production outcomes. By clearly outlining the audience you hope to engage, you’ll gain keen insights on what it will take to get your project noticed and who you need to target to build key relationships and find champions of your work. Most of all, knowing the deadlines you have to meet for different festivals can offer you workback solutions to set your production deadlines, keeping you accountable and on track for your own success.
Some tips for FilmFreeway.
Build a targeted list of festivals that match your film’s ambitions
Look for festivals that are reputable, that you recognize, or that have been in business for longer than 10 years (the longer the better in most cases)
Ask around, talk to your STORYHIVE community on Slack and while you’re out networking IRL–discuss the merits of festivals you are considering with your peers and professionals
Plan to meet early submission deadlines to save money
Stay organized and track your progress
Follow up for feedback on your project from festivals that offer it
Before you start submitting, make sure you have an EPK– that’s an ‘Electronic Press Kit,’ which includes:
A selection of high resolution images from the film (3-8 is usually enough)
The film’s key information needs to be clearly noted (e.g. Director Name, Length, City/Country/Year of Production, a public contact email, a project and/or personal website/socials, don’t rely on folks going to your filmfreeway page, the press kit allows for easier access to your film info, packaged the way you intend it–make sure it has everything important you need to communicate, neatly arranged on a .pdf)
A concise and well-written synopsis and a succinct one liner (aim to sell your film in one line–drum up interest with no more than a few words on a poster)
You will also need bios for your key creatives (Director, Producer, Cast/Subjects and so on–be sure to mention any big credits or relevant experience from your collaborators that might grab the attention of a programmer or media outlet)
Get to know festival programmers and industry players by attending film events. Your reach is only as big as your network, so get good at networking. When a festival does show interest in your work, maintain a good relationship with them by communicating with professionalism. Remain relevant by keeping them in the loop about your work and your campaigns, connect with them on socials and LinkedIn. Talk to them about your plans and strategies. Get their feedback. You never know who they know or what they can suggest– they know the industry quite well and can often give you insights as to what might be a good decision for your project. Programmers and curators care deeply about films and connecting them to their rightful audiences. That is their entire job, they are passionate about it, and if they show an interest in your project, they want to see it succeed. Give them the information they need to support you, your project and ultimately your career.