Advice from film festival founder
This week we have some killer tips for anyone looking to submit their film to a film festival. We caught up with iFilm co-founder and President Jen Alvares to discuss her top 5 tips on maximising your chances of success when submitting films to festivals!
Question 1: Are there key things to avoid when working on a film festival submission? For example are some themes taboo, or are certain lengths, genres or formats less useful than others?
Generally speaking, all themes and genres are acceptable. However, most festivals take into consideration whether a film is a "culture fit" for them or not, and the definition of it varies from one festival to another. So, in some cases, a rejection doesn't necessarily mean that the film is bad or nobody liked it — sometimes it's just not aligned with a programmer's objective. Film Festivals may not speak about this externally, but internally they may have criteria that they lean towards. For example, if a film festival values drama over science fiction, social issues, or if they have a preference for local filmmakers — if your film aligns with their internal preferences, it may increase your chances of being selected. I've seen it too many times, and this is one of the reasons why I founded the iFilm Festival. For us, there is no cultural objective. All we care about is that a film has a strong story, it's engaging to watch, and is of solid quality.
As for lengths, I'd say try to keep your short films under 20 minutes and your feature films around 90 to 110 minutes. One of the main issues that I constantly see while judging at different film festivals is that filmmakers are trying to make their stories lengthier than they should be. To be frank, most of the films would be much more digestible if they were more succinct. Yes, we all like long beautiful shots and appreciate certain pauses here and there. However, it's often overdone, and, as a result, it does not look exactly as intended. This can drag out the story in a tiresome way and negatively influence programmers' and judges' attention spans, so try to be careful with how far you want to push this.
Question 2: Are there any specific things that are worth bearing in mind for success for film festival submission?
I like to say that a festival season doesn't start at the moment of your first festival submission — it begins in the development stage of your movie. Your final product is the most crucial aspect of your success at a festival circuit. Therefore, you have to start bearing this thought in mind from the very beginning. Once the picture is done and ready to be submitted to festivals, there is not much that you can do to change things. Make sure that your script is solid, your storytelling style is engaging, and you maximize your production budget to achieve the highest quality possible.
Once the final product is taken care of, make sure to come up with a strong logline to spark your audience's interest. In most cases, this is the very first thing people will discover about your project, so it must set the tone right: tell just enough to get their attention but not too much to reveal the ending.
Suppose you want to show you are being serious about your movie. In that case, it's always a good idea to put together a nice movie poster, a trailer, a few high-resolution stills from the film, a well-written synopsis, a director's statement, and a personalized cover letter to a festival. These are not mandatory but highly recommended to make your case more credible and compelling. Compiling all these assets will help set the right perception before they even start reviewing your film.
Question 3 - What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker who's thinking about submitting their first film to a festival?
Participating in a festival circuit can get pretty pricey quickly, so it's essential to plan your budget and do your research before submitting. An average submission fee can range between $20 to $70. However, don't rush to assume that the more expensive the submission fee is, the better the festival — some festivals prioritize making money, while others are more concerned about providing value to the filmmaker.
Most festivals also have an early-bird deadline, so don't hesitate to take advantage of that. Check each festival's rules because some will require that your film must be completed after a certain date in order to be eligible for their current season. Lastly, keep in mind submission fees will continue to increase the closer you get to the final deadline of the season. It may be more advantageous to wait and submit your film early for the next season — this may allow you to have more savings so you can submit to more festivals, which increases your chances of winning.
At iFilm Festival, we don't charge for submissions at all because our main priority is about supporting filmmakers. For example, we award the winner a $1,000 cash prize to help them in their journey and also provide practical film industry-related prizes for winners in different categories. There are only a few film festivals that don't charge for submissions and are capable of providing increased value, so I encourage you to do your research and to not miss out on these opportunities.
Question 4 - What expectations should an aspiring filmmaker have about possible distribution if they're successful?
If we are talking about feature films, it's not out of the question. If the movie is good and is to be screened at one of the mainstream film festivals (e.g., Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, etc.), don't leave It up to a chance—invite some decision-makers to the screening. Again, research is your best friend here. Find out who will be attending the festival, get their email information online or approach them at one of the festival's events, and pitch your invitation. Getting distribution without any name talent involved has always been challenging. However, streamers are making it more possible these days, especially if the content, production, and storytelling are of the highest level.
When it comes to live-action short films, distribution opportunities are extremely challenging. The best-case scenario, which is still a tough shot, is that somebody notices your short film as a proof of concept, and they can approach you to turn it into a feature film. However, even a solid short film often doesn't have a larger story in it. Plus, in most cases, it's way easier to develop something from scratch vs. repurpose an existing project. Strategically, I would advise that you use your live-action short films as a stepping stone to build relationships, showcase your abilities, increase your credibility, and secure funding for larger projects.
Lastly, I see a lot of opportunities for animated short films.There has been increased interest in this category from streamers in the past few years, and the reason for that is centered around the OSCARS. My theory is that it’s viewed as a more accessible category, so streamers may be interested in expanding their acquisitions in this area because it can potentially increase the number of nominations and awards they can receive from the Academy.
Question 5 - Are there any other things that you'd like to share with aspiring filmmakers about the film festival process?
One of the best pieces of strategic advice that I can provide is not to underestimate the power of momentum. For example, as a festival strategy, consider submitting your film to some smaller festivals on the front-end of the season and wait to receive a few laurels before submitting your work to larger and more prominent festivals. The laurels you receive from the smaller festivals will help create momentum, increase your credibility and start to spark more interest and curiosity from larger festivals. It will be important that you continuously edit your artwork to reflect these new awards and laurels each time you receive them. It creates a snowball effect and is surprisingly quite effective.
In closing, we covered a lot of the fundamentals today. I think the most important thing is not to let any of this information discourage you. Instead, use it as a resource to increase your chances at film festivals. Don't get upset if your film is not selected — rejections are a part of the process, and it's up to you to turn them into a source of heightened motivation. Think strategically about your festival season, the relationships you want to build, how you want to be viewed, the people you want to meet, and create an end goal for the year — you will become a better filmmaker as a result.
ABOUT IFILM FESTIVAL
IFILM FESTIVAL is a Los Angeles-based film festival that showcases independently funded films from all around the world. Throughout its existence, it was supported by global film industry brands such as Final Draft, Zacuto, Movie Magic by Entertainment Partners, McKee Seminars, Hunters House Entertainment, Zero1 Agency, and others. The festival allows filmmakers to submit their films for free and have a chance to win cash prizes, film software, equipment, seats at seminars, and more. Among iFilm's alumni are nominees from the OSCARS, Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and Sundance, just to name a few.
LINK TO SUBMIT - https://filmfreeway.com/iFilmFest
Is a Co-Founder & President at iFilm Festival. She is a Los Angeles-based film and television producer and has been working in the advertising and film industry for over 15 years, developing and producing multimillion-dollar content for global brands and clients, including commercials, films, and TV series. Jen is also a Partner and Executive Producer at Hunters House, an entertainment company that is headquartered in Los Angeles; an Award Jury Member at multiple Academy Award-Qualifying film festivals, a Member of the Visual Effects Society (VES) and an Advisor & Board Member at a number of companies. Jen advises, writes, and speaks on all matters within the scope of video production, post-production, entertainment, media, marketing, advertising, and business strategy. Follow @JenAlvares across social.