Film Festivals 101
I always feel like I’m gonna throw up before we’re about to screen the movie. I’m a bit of a nervous Nellie at times in general so this isn’t all that surprising. But one of the things about movie making that is the most fun, albeit nerve wracking for me, is the film festival process. So I thought I’d write about what to expect when entering the film festival journey, from my perspective anyway, for the first-time filmmaker. When I was in film school, we didn’t really talk that much about festivals, if at all. And the truth is that it’s a crucial phase in the life of any independent film for a lot of obvious reasons: getting your movie seen, networking, etc.
But one of the other parts of the film festival journey that is so rewarding is meeting other likeminded artists who are telling their stories and some probably more nervous than you are. The supportive nature of the film festival world is one of the most encouraging parts of the process. Going to film festivals always makes me wanna make another movie.
When it comes to figuring out how to step into the film festival world with your project, I’ve always felt it’s important to be as strategic as possible. It requires research, time, and a lot of emails and submission fees. But in the end, it’s worth it. I think strategizing your film festival run is really imperative. What type of story are you telling? Is it a genre film? Is there a specific angle that your story uses to tell the story? How long do you plan on playing the festival circuit? These questions and so many more are ones I ask myself before jumping in. Right now, more than ever, there are so many film festivals out there. Festivals all over the world with different mission statements. For me, researching festivals became a necessity. There was no way I could submit to all of them, or even afford to if I wanted to.
So with Devil’s Path, I knew we had a gay thriller. Great. Gay. And thriller. Those two categories helped me eliminate a great number of festivals that were probably not the right fit for this movie, including straight-up horror film festivals. Ones that didn’t include a thriller or LGBTQ+ category. And that’s okay. I knew what this film was and what it wasn’t. It wasn’t a horror film.
But then the fun part is when you start figuring out the festivals that could be the right fit. I had to get really organized about all this, so what I did first was make a basic list of festivals that we knew or were pretty sure we would submit to. Then came time to actually submit. But what I didn’t know at the time is that the work is far from over at this point.
Film festivals, like most interested audiences, want to know anything and everything about your movie that they can. Part of this is putting together an EPK. An Electronic Press Kit gives the festival (and any press for that matter) everything they need to know about your movie and more. It’s like a presentation of your movie and the team behind it. An EPK also shows that you have your shit together. I made the mistake of not creating an EPK right away. Looking back, this should have been higher on my priority list. But after we completed post, I was too busy getting drunk to really care about making an EPK. I just wanted to pass the hell out.
The reality is that an EPK is really a necessity. It also helps because inevitably film festivals have all these questions they want to ask you about your movie and the team behind it. Press too. And that’s a good thing. That’s their job! And it’s all there to help you get your movie out there, and get people interested in it. It’s just - well - it’s a pain in the ass to do if you don’t have someone doing it for you. Guess what? I didn’t have someone doing it for me. It sucks. But you have to do it. I’m posting a link below to ours for Devil’s Path. I don’t wanna go into too much detail about fucking EPK’s because I’m supposed to be talking about film festivals. The point is that it’s pretty damn important when submitting to film festivals. The End.
So you have your trailer, your EPK, your list of potential festivals and on and on. I know, it gets dramatic. But in the end you’re glad because when you start submitting, you have everything you’ll need. What I did at this point was create a spreadsheet of every festival that we submitted to with information on a point of contact, their website, deadlines, festival dates, and other pertinent information I thought we would need to access at some point.
Listen, so just a few thoughts on spreadsheets. It sounds like - oh great, real work where I have to think and shit like that. But it’s not. It’s basic excel stuff. You just plug in the info and keep it organized. That’s it. Also, it doesn’t have to be an elaborate spreadsheet. Mine sure isn’t. It has the information I need, sorted by festival dates and that’s all. If you have trouble with using excel, just YouTube it.
All of this helps when you start getting into festivals, or not getting into them. You can track everything easily and know when each festival is. After we started getting into festivals, I created another spreadsheet to track those specific festivals. I personally needed to do this for my own peace of mind. I was getting overwhelmed with everything that the film festivals needed and when. This was something I came to discover was common among filmmakers on the festival circuit. The bottom line is that it’s challenging keeping track of everything. When can you announce? What is the deadline to get your exhibition copy to them? When is your screening? Travel arrangements? You’re constantly bombarded. You have to be as ready as you can be for that part of it.
But now we get to the part where you’re going to the festivals. I have a problem with social situations but that’s just me. In general, people like going to film festivals. I usually start off terrified. Mostly because of the actual screening and what the response will be but still. Inevitably though, every single time, I absolutely fall in love with the festival organizers and their staff and the film festival overall. Every one of these festivals is comprised of people who have been working on it for years and putting in their time completely voluntarily. It’s incredible. And everyone is always so welcoming and so glad that you’re there.
And finally, as I said earlier, film festivals give you the opportunity to also meet other filmmakers which is really cool. You get to be introduced to some really talented people with really expressive work and that’s amazing and inspiring to me on so many levels. I love meeting other filmmakers and seeing their work. I especially love watching other peoples work at festivals that is so different in style to what I do. I find that really fascinating.
If you’ve come this far with your project, you owe it to yourself as a creative individual to take advantage of the film festival journey. Put yourself out there. Embrace the craziness of it all. Meet other filmmakers. Who knows? You may end up meeting someone you collaborate with for years after. It sounds cheesy but it really is all about what you make of it. So make it kick ass. Oh - and prepare yourself to ABSOLUTELY not get any sleep.