The film festival submissions process still baffles me. I have no idea if I’ve gone about this the right way, if there are things that I should be doing but aren’t, and what I can do from here to improve my chances. One of the things I did is to send out emails to the festivals after they’re over asking for comments and some have been nice enough to respond. I’ve gotten a few emails from festival directors who have taken the time to reply in depth giving me some interesting perspectives on my work, and it has helped me see exactly what these festivals are after, how I can improve for the next film, hopefully. Actually, one of the most in-depth and longest critiques I got helped me understand how much of an idiot that festival director was (or at least how different out perspectives are), so at least I learned not to submit to that festival again. I’ve also started taking the opportunity to get the programmers drunk and ask them in person when I go to festivals, to find out specifically why my film got in. From my communication so far, here are some good points to take away:
-There will be festival directors and programmers out there that are idiots.
I appreciate the in-depth response that I got from this one guy, not least of which is because he took the time to respond: most didn’t. And I don’t feel defensive about it, don’t want to use this post to lash out, but I will say this: he just didn’t get it. Since none of you have seen my film anyway it’s hardly helpful to delve too deeply into specifics. Everything in my film that other people have complimented me for was for whatever reason seen as a mark of amateurism, right down to calling it an ‘experimental’ film. Some festival programmers will have no experience with (or interest in) experimental films, no art background, and no desire to play anything but the slickest Hollywood-style productions. And to be fair, my film isn’t for everyone and probably wouldn’t have played well to that particular audience. I’m still working out a way to know in advance which festivals my work will play well at, so I’m not wasting as much money in submission fees.
-Don’t submit unfinished work: only submit the best possible film.
If the film you’re sending in isn’t ready to go up in front of an audience that minute, it’s a waste of a submission fee. Programmers will not watch a film in its entirety if it sucks, and I’m sure they have to watch a lot of shit. And whether it’s true or not, they say they can tell from the first few minutes (seconds?) whether a film is worth their time. You’re not guaranteed to have your film watched all the way through. For the other side, rough cuts aren’t accepted well. A direct quote: ‘If they can’t submit a finished film before our submissions deadline, how can I trust them to finish it on time for the festival?’ Really, I think that’s a legitimate argument. ‘Submitting late is better for you than submitting an unfinished film. Or don’t submit at all, wait until next year.’
-It’s really out of your hands. Also, shorter is better.
There was a programmer who really loved my film, had it as a contender all the way up to the final notification deadline, but still didn’t program it. He wrote me that people programming festivals see a lot of shit (which I can firmly believe) and that originality is greatly valued. Talk about mixed messages, considering that he rejected me, so I’m not sure how valued it can be. But he said it would have gotten in if it were shorter. ‘Programmers love short films that are in the 5 to 7 minutes range in total run time. Why? Because they can usually fit it in easily anywhere into the schedule.’ Unfortunately, Overwhelming Majority is 10:46.
-Programmers will read your cover letter
Evidently that’s one thing that set me apart, or helped explain my work, or gave insight into my film for one programming director. And because it’s so rare, finding the one person who totally gets this film is great…especially when he’s the one who picks the films for the festival. My cover letter’s description of central themes and inspirations helped him build a program around my film. Also, that guy from above, who thought the term ‘experimental’ was just a mask for it being severely amateur, read my cover letter too, and mentioned it as another reason he rejected me.
Even other filmmakers I’ve talked to don’t have any special insight into submissions, they’re just as confused by the whole thing as I am, and they’re on their third or fourth film now. And I sure don’t know why I got into the festivals I did, except that the programming directors that saw them liked them enough to include them. So in conclusion, I really don’t know anything after all, but I’m slightly wiser going into the process and hopefully others will be as well.
edit: this is post #200! Congrats to me.