Sundance, the first in the calendar of the big high profile film festivals and the most significant for independent filmmakers, is over for another year.
If you submitted a film, you probably didn't get in. This year there were 113 features selected from over 4,000 submissions, half of which were US films. The submissions for shorts were even higher.
If you did get in, congratulations; there's around a 1 in 3 chance that you will have secured a sale and sales were up a lot this year thanks to the streaming behemoths Netflix and Amazon, who are shaking up film distribution in a big way.
For the 98% of films that didn't get in or sold, where to next? There's no doubt a film festival premiere is still a great kick off for an indie film. An ongoing programme of screenings around the world validates your appeal, adds lots of lovely rosettes to your poster and builds your word of mouth.
So how to make sure you don't waste time and money on a stream of rejections?
1. Find the right festivals for your film
You didn't get in to Sundance for a reason and maybe that's the same reason you won't get into Berlin or Cannes. Take a look at the films that did get in and be honest in evaluating how yours matches up. Yes it's true that a director's first film with little known cast can get picked up by a big festival, but again there's a reason. I'll refer you to God's Own Country at this year's Sundance, which had rave reviews and won the Director's Prize (World Cinema). There is obviously a lot that people like about that film. The Sundance programmers recognised that, many months ago.
The good news is there's a festival for every film, so set your sights appropriately. Be honest about the talent in your film, play to the genre and find the right festivals for your film to be at.
2. Satisfy all the entry rules and information requests
There's nothing a festival programmer hates more than wasting time on a film that isn't eligible or having to do background checks to fill in gaps. Rules are there for a reason - to steer submissions to the kind of film the festival wants and to make the process of actually programming the screenings straightforward.
Make sure yours is not one of those films that falls at the first hurdle because its incomplete or inappropriate.
3. Clear all the rights
You just aren't going to be accepted without all the i's dotted and t's crossed. A huge proportion of films fail at this hurdle because no programmer in their right mind is going to accept a film where what they see is not a fully cleared article. Music is almost certainly one of the final pieces of the jigsaw in film completion and its tempting when up against deadlines to submit with not quite final, cleared music or with temp tracks. Please don't. Programmers want to know that what they see is what they will get.
And don't go for festival-only clearances for your film music, because you are then over a barrel with the rights owners for any subsequent exploitation of the film.
4. Have assets in place that will sell the film
A trailer or teaser, one or two top notch high resolution stills, key art work and media copy that can be easily repurposed makes things so much easier for a festival to position your film within their marketing materials. Anything that makes the festival's job easier should be your priority and could tip the balance towards your film in a tight selection decision.
When it comes to these marketing assets, less is most definitely more - a well cut 90 second teaser with great sound, one killer still/key art image and simple but revealing copy can say everything about the film that a festival audience needs to know.
5. Work social media constantly
As mentioned in a previous post, used professionally and effectively, social media will develop your brand and engage a network that will spread the word about the film. Using social media to amplify exposure can also be a great way to get onto the radar of programmers in advance of them even seeing the film, particularly if you've had your premiere and are filling in gaps on the festival journey.
And like the press kit assets, having no social media that a festival can tap into to help market the film is a big black mark against your film.
6. Be networked
It's who you know that makes the difference. Many films are invited into festivals without formally submitting. So attend other festivals and seminars, engage with other filmmakers and industry decision makers and get the word out about your film. Festival programmers attend other film festivals to get a feel for what is out there and they are often the best people to ask about where your film might sit in the festival market. It could be theirs, but if not they will have good advice.
7. Submit early
This should really be at the top of this list because its so important. But submitting early will do you no favours if you have not checked off all of the above.
Programmers will always be open to that last minute stunner that comes out of the blue, but in reality the later you submit, the fewer slots there are to fill and the better your film has to be to dislodge a film that is already pencilled in. And generally those late entries are also the ones that are not quite finished enough as impatience to get the film out into the world takes over from logic and planning. You really are wasting your time and money by rushing to submit late.
Far better to plan a realistic completion date, collect all those important marketing assets and make the programmers life easy by getting on their shortlist early. Once on the shortlist, with all of the above supporting the film, your film will be hard to dislodge.
In the end it will be a combination of all of the above that gets you across the line into your ideal festival and launching your film to La La Land. Autumn festivals are opening submissions now and summer festivals are getting close to closing. At mouseclix, we specialise on working with filmmakers to craft the appropriate strategy and execute those plans within a budget, so why not get in touch and see what we can do for your film.