Tips and Tricks: approaching the festival circuit.


How does a filmmaker tackle the film festival circuit? In June this year I was excited to attend Palm Springs Shortfest to take part in the filmmaker activities and attend a forum that would hopefully help me learn more about how the film festival circuit actually works!

Many people talk about the need for a festival strategy at the completion of a short film, others say that film festivals are a crap-shoot and highly political. Nonetheless, film festivals are a part of short filmmaking. No matter what people say, no one can deny how important the festival circuit is for short films. Festivals give exposure to shorts, opportunities for distributors to see your work and they generate buzz.

So I’m here sharing with you some really great tips I learned in the filmmaker’s forum at Palm Springs about how to best approach the film festival circuit with your short film, I hope you enjoy.

  1. Length

Before you even get to production, get ruthless with your script. The truth is, it is easier for festival programmers to program your short if it is under 15. Between 7 and 12 minutes is the best length. I heard this from festival programmers from Tribeca and Sundance – “Cut out the fat” many said.

  1. Strategy with objectiveness.

Having a certain idea of what festivals you want to enter is important as is having the budget to go with it too. As you begin mapping out your entries think about how likely it is for your film to be accepted into the festivals you’re trying for.

Sundance last year received 8000 submissions for short film, Cannes and Berlin get just as many. The top tier festivals are very, very difficult to get into so it’s important to be objective about your entry and think objectively about whether it is at the same level of the top shorts circulating around the world. This can save you a lot of money in entry fees. Of course if the festival is free to enter, you might as well throw your hat into the ring, but if it requires a premier status, be careful about holding off from other festivals.

  1. It’s OK to reach out to programmers, just don’t stalk them!

A great insight I learned is that festival programmers don’t mind you reaching out to them before you enter. A simple ‘Hi, my name is – my film is – I look forward to entering’ is a good way to give them a heads up. If you don’t hear from them, don’t bug them – just leave it and enter.

  1. Use the cover letter.

I never use to use the cover letter on Withoutabox and Filmfreeway. I thought they wouldn’t be read, but I’ve found out since Palm Springs that some programmers do indeed read your cover letter, in particularly when it comes to deliberation, a short cover letter might help get your film over the line! Things to include in the cover letter are…

  • Dot points of past film festivals.
  • Any awards.
  • If you’re an alumni of the festival you’re entering.
  • A short interesting fact.
  • (Remember keep it really short)
  1. Always submit the best version of your film.

Many festivals accept rough cuts, but the overall consensus of programmers at the Palm Springs forum was that it’s better to wait and use your time wisely to get the film right before you send it in. Festivals tend not to look at films twice. So make sure whatever you send – it’s the best version possible.

  1. Vimeo links are the most preferred type of screener!

I heard at the forum that password protected vimeo links are favored by most programmers because of the quality. I know recently that Withoutabox has upgraded their interface to compete with Filmfreeway, but still, many festivals prefer the Filmfreeway vimeo link screeners over withoutabox (sorry Withoutabox… but Filmfreeways’ vimeo link jazz is making the programmers swoon right now.) Coming in a close second for preferred submission platform is Short Film Depot!

  1. Festivals like Alumni

Keep targeting the same festivals you get into, If a programmer gets behind you it can very much help your future films find a life!

I hope these tips are helpful when you plan your next short film’s marketing strategy!