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I have been working on this book, in my mind for years. It's been a time consuming process, managing multiple film festivals over the last few years. But, I finally sat down, focused and created this book. I am confident, that these twelve chapters will change the way that most people approach the film festival submission process. It's a small investment that I believe will pay big dividends for those of you that take the time to read it. Good luck. I am looking forward to meeting you at a future Film Festival Event. - Mikel Fair
Have you ever received more than one gift for your birthday, holiday, or special occasion? How did you select which gift to open first? Was it the largest? The shiniest? The heaviest? Did you shake each gift first? Did you smell it? Did the packaging of the gift create an expectation in your mind, as to what it would be? If someone gave you a small, wrinkled, wet paper bag without any writing on it, would you expect anything good inside? If you were presented with a smooth, colorful, shiny large box with a pretty bow and a thoughtful card, would you be excited? The way that you package a gift makes a difference. It doesn’t change the content inside, but the perception, that the better package has the better content is real. Maybe that yucky, wrinkled, wet paper bag had a valuable diamond inside. Maybe the shiny box, had a dirty worthless rock. Unless someone is playing a joke on you, these two scenarios are unlikely to happen on your special occasion. After 10+ years of Film Festival experience and having watched, rated and reviewed 5000+ submissions, I can tell you this. Way too many filmmakers are submitting their creative work to Film Festivals, with very poor packaging.
My name is Mikel Fair and I have worked in the film industry since the mid 90’s. My wife Brooke and I started accepting submissions to the Houston Comedy Film Festival in 2008. It was our first event. Inspired by my experience, as a filmmaker that submitted to several film festivals. Today, we operate 10 different Film Festival Events. We’ve learned a lot in 10+ years doing this, and a lot has changed over that time.
I created a short comedy film and submitted it to 10 Film Festivals in 2006. When the rejections started rolling in, I panicked. I was spending anywhere from $35 to $75 for each submission and was only accepted to one event. I started getting the dreaded “rejection form letters.” My heart sank and I doubted myself. My dream of sending a film to a festival, winning awards, and standing up on a stage in front of 5000 people started to fade. I felt that if I could win awards at film festivals, I could see myself joining the DGA to direct a big studio film, because of my festival accomplishments. Then reality kicked in and my mind was filled with self doubt and despair. I didn’t realize it at the time, but several things about my submission, held it back. I was making expensive mistakes, that I was totally clueless about. I poured my heart into creating this 26 minute comedy “masterpiece” and was getting almost nothing in return. Why was it getting rejected? The film was funny, the sound was good, we used expensive equipment, I had an experienced crew and good actors. My friends laughed at the content of the film when I showed it to them. I was confused and hurt by the rejection letters.
Then, I started blaming everyone. I said things like, “these film festivals are political”, “they probably turned it off after the first minute.” “I don’t have enough stars in my movie, so they didn’t consider it.” I blamed everyone but myself, until one of my friends pulled me aside and suggested that I work harder on the packaging. My packaging? Really? He was referring to my film’s poster and DVD cover. In 2006, submissions weren’t digital, you had to mail in a DVD. Another friend said that the long runtime and never-ending slow crawling credits, could be a problem. A different person asked me if I had created a trailer. I was offended and responded. “It’s a short film, who cares about a trailer? If film festivals want a good laugh, they’ll just play it right?” Wrong. As a matter of fact, my film was pretty easy to reject, because my marketing package was non-existent. I just threw a white labeled DVD into a jewel case. I used a permanent marker to write my film’s name and the tracking number on the label. I was hoping that some young, excited festival judge, was going to pull my DVD out of that giant box of 1000 submissions, and then run to the festival director and say, “Hey, this is the most awesome, funny thing I’ve ever seen, accept this now!” This turned out to be wishful thinking. Especially when many of the festivals I submitted to, were only selecting 25-30 films for their event. I was losing money fast, and I wasn’t thinking about the process clearly. I was missing some part of the equation and my assumptions about the Film Festival Circuit were somehow flawed. I experienced a reality check. Do I invest more time and money to make this “rejected” film better? Or do I start a new film and throw the old one in the trash? Should I cut my losses?
Painfully, I started to realize that, months after shooting this film, I was the only person that really cared about it. Most cast and crew members had put this project out of their minds, because it wasn’t having success. Also, I wasn’t sending out any updates about the film. I texted a couple of friends when we got accepted to our first film festival and figured that “word of mouth” would somehow carry the news around the world. I wasn’t a marketing expert and I had no idea how to “get the film out there.” Whatever that means. I started to focus and form a plan.
I decided to swallow my pride, stop blaming everyone and go back to the drawing board. Two months later, after updating the presentation of my submission and re-editing it, I submitted my newly packaged film to 10 more film festivals. To my amazement, the film was accepted into 9 out of 10 of the events I submitted to. I was floored and couldn’t believe the success I was having.
When I was a kid, my father used to say, “Mikel, try to learn from other people’s mistakes.” My response was always “duh, whatever Dad.” Why would my father bore me with such an obvious common sense, fortune cookie style, motivational statement? Now that I’m older, I understand that in business, mistakes can cost you time and money. Learning from the mistakes of others can also help you avoid a lot of grief, heartache and despair.
This book, will save many submitters time and money. I outline, in detail, some common sense strategies to presenting film festivals with a strong submission. I also explain in more detail, how I was able to transform my first short film, that wasn’t getting into festivals, into a film that got into a lot of them. I cannot promise, that I have the magic formula, for getting your film into EVERY single festival that you submit to. But I took the time to write this book in order to help filmmakers strengthen their submission package. You get one shot to make a first impression. Show the film festival judges that you care about what you are sending them. Outshine the other submissions that you’re being compared to. Use this book as your secret weapon. I wish that someone had written a guide like this for me, a long time ago.
The following topic in the Film Festival Submitters Handbook, are a few things about submissions that filmmakers and screenwriters often overlook, disregard or intentionally leave blank when submitting to festivals. Seasoned film festival submitters have already figured out how to use every single space available on their submission forms, to give them an advantage. Would you like to strengthen your submission for the Film Festival Circuit as well? Here is a brief description of the different chapters in this book.
Chapter 1: Does packaging really matter?
This chapter covers the way your submission is viewed and compared to all of the other submissions that are sent to film festivals each season.
Chapter 2: Are Your Contact Details Accurate? A Daily Common Mistake
You wouldn’t believe how many submissions we receive on a daily basis from filmmakers that we can’t get a hold of.
Chapter 3: Does The Name Of Your Film Stand Out? Or Will It Be Lost In The Shuffle?
You might think you’ve found the perfect name for your film. I will explain how, the wrong name, can really hurt your submission.
Chapter 4: Tips For Creating The Right Tagline And Synopsis
Many filmmakers don’t know the difference and are not sure what to write. A strong synopsis and tagline do not have to be complicated, they just need to stand out. I’ll give you some tips on how to do this.
Chapter 5: Did You Know That A Director’s Bio And Resume Are Two Different Things?
Explain who you are and where you’re coming from. I’ll show you how to avoid common mistakes writing a bio and help make yours shine.
Chapter 6: How To Write A Compelling Director’s Statement That Tells A Story.
Over half of filmmakers skip a fantastic opportunity here. I’ll show you how to let film festivals and viewers understand your motivations behind making your film.
Chapter 7: The First Impression Of Your Film Is It’s Official Poster
This is supposed to be the easiest and most common sense step of all. You wouldn’t believe how often filmmakers really screw this up.
Chapter 8: Without A Trailer, Your Film Might Become An Afterthought
Trailers are essential, but many filmmakers are too busy to make them. I’ll show you how creating a trailer, even for a short film, will give you an edge on the Film Festival Circuit.
Chapter 9: Why Do Film Festivals Love Submissions With A Social Media Presence?
Social media isn’t going anywhere. Without it, your film might not go anywhere either.
Chapter 10: Your Film’s Website, Is Its History And Point Of Contact
One central location where all of the info, accomplishments and updates about your film are in one place. SEO and Backlinks are important too. Read more.
Chapter 11: Final Cut Or Festival Cut? Don’t Submit The Wrong One
Two different cuts of your film that have two completely different purposes. Understand which one to submit to a film festival and why.
Chapter 12: Stretch Your Submissions Budget. Use Promo Codes. Get Discounts.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but filmmakers are too busy to pick up free submission dollars that are right in front of you.
Every year, thousands of people from around the world attend film festivals. From seasoned filmmakers to curious observers. People are taking time out of their lives to watch independent films, at their earliest release stage. Film Festivals come in all sizes, have various missions and focus on every flavor and genre of film and screenplays that you can imagine. There are thousands of film festival events that are listed on websites like FilmFreeway and Festhome. The entire process can be a bit overwhelming for the thousands of filmmakers that are submitting their films to the Film Festival Circuit every year.
For filmmakers, the process of submitting to film festivals can seem inconsistent, confusing, and expensive. For film festival organizers, creating a process to evaluate film submissions and then creating an event to screen them to an attentive audience, is also inconsistent, confusing and expensive. If you’ve read this far, I assume that you want your film or screenplay to get accepted to as many film festivals as possible, right? As a current film festival organizer and former film festival submitter, I have decided to publish an ebook to help give filmmakers a better understanding of how they can strengthen their submission for the Film Festival Circuit.
This collection of tips, stories, examples and advice, is less about the creative content of your film or screenplay and is more about how your submission is packaged. At the end of the day, bad movies don’t screen as frequently as good ones. But, when you have a good film or screenplay that is highly rated by the judges, you are competing with other good films and screenplays that have good ratings as well.
Film Festival Circuit events have reviewed over 5,000+ submissions since 2008. Our judges see issues repeated daily that weaken the presentation of films, videos and screenplays during the evaluation process. The Film Festival Submitter’s Handbook was written to help filmmakers and screenwriters build a successful strategy and avoid common costly mistakes when submitting to Film Festivals.