The latest post in my contribution to IFP’s “Ask the Expert” blog is up, wrapping up my advice on What (Not) To Do For Film Festivals – covering promo materials and rejection/acceptance letters. Take a look here.
Update: The original post seems to have gone missing from IFP’s site, so I’ve posted the article below.
In my last blog post, I took a page out of my own blog and discussed a few things filmmakers should and shouldn’t do when dealing with film festivals. This post continues that general topic, focusing on the submission screener, presskits and promotional materials, and the best (and worst) ways to respond to rejection or acceptance.
During the submission process, most festivals simply want to see your DVD. Many accept EPKs (electronic presskits) during this period as well, but, honestly, no one’s going to look at them unless and until the film is selected for inclusion. Usually, whoever processes the submission takes the screener and puts it one place, and everything else goes somewhere else. Keep this in mind before you start going crazy with your press materials, spending money and time that could be best served making sure your actual film is the best it can be. What this means: unless the festival explicitly asks for any of the following, you do not need to provide glossy presskit folders, posters, printed stills, or printed loglines, synopses, biographies, etc. To be clear – I’m not saying not to have a presskit. You should organize the electronic versions of all of these things and have them ready to email to the festival upon request. Film stills, in particular, are essential – a huge mistake many filmmakers make is not having a stills photographer around during production to take professional quality, high-resolution stills that can later be used to promote the film. Once again, have these available, but don’t worry about sending them in until the festival needs them.
While presskits serve a promotional purpose, it’s best to think of them as helping the festival promote your film to their audience, not helping you promote your film to the programmer. S/he will be judging whether to select the film or not based on the film itself, not on your promotional material. Which brings us to the issue of promotional materials: some filmmakers send the most unnecessary, and sometimes frankly bizarre things, in their submission packages. Programmers have received t-shirts, mugs, food, shot glasses, naked pictures, fast food gift certificates, stuffed animals, underwear, condoms, signed photos of celebrities completely unrelated to the submitted film, etc etc. Filmmakers often feel like this kind of stuff will help their film stand out, make them memorable, or maybe function as a bribe to get their film selected. Personally, I feel this is yet another example of wasted resources that could go toward improving your film. You can feel free to send promo materials, but know this – it will not get your film programmed. If you just want to show your creative marketing, great, but wait until you can use it on the right people – potential audience members – at the right time – after you’ve been selected.
What the festival does need is your screener. My recommendation is to submit artwork-free, label-free DVDs. Beyond the practical (paper labels can cause playback issues), the main reason I say this is that your screener artwork/design can make an unintentional first impression. Better to let things stay neutral and submit a simple DVD-R with the film’s title, your name, running time, and contact information, and whatever else the festival requires. (I go into more detail about this here.)
After you’ve completed your submission, it’s a waiting game. As I noted last time, while some limited communication with the festival is fine for appropriate professional purposes, be sensible. For example, if, since submitting to Festival A, you’ve been selected for Festival B, you should email Festival A to let them know the change to your premiere status – this is courteous and it may be a factor in Festival A’s decision. What’s not sensible? Contacting the festival to ask when they’re going to make their decisions. This info is usually easily available on the fest’s website, and ignoring it makes you a pest.
You’ve waited it out, the decision time has come, and you find out your film has been selected. Congratulations! Recognize that the festival is now dealing with dozens or even hundreds of filmmakers and they’ve anticipated that you have questions. Seasoned fests will have a system in place to provide you with answers – they’ll send out information that you need to read and forms that you need to complete, with deadlines that you need to follow. If, after reading through these, you still have unanswered questions, ask the appropriate person. Notice, I said the appropriate person. The info the fest provides often designates different people who are in charge of discrete areas – print traffickers to deal with your exhibition tape, publicity coordinators to deal with your press questions, hospitality coordinators to deal with your travel, etc. Don’t send the same question to all of these folks. Fest staff members are excited to have you participate in their event and they want to help you – trust that the right person will be able to get to your question and answer it, but have patience and recognize that they are probably receiving inquiries from other filmmakers too.
What happens if your submission unfortunately is not selected? The simplest course of action is to do nothing – accept that, for whatever reason, your film just wasn’t a match for this specific festival’s line-up. Resist the impulse to reply to your rejection notice with a catty comment – your film may not have made it this time, but that doesn’t mean the same programmer might not like your next film. Don’t burn bridges. Know that festivals receive more submissions than they can possibly show. Some are just plain bad, others are bad fits, still others are personally just not to a programmer’s liking, while others are fine or good, but there just aren’t enough slots to accommodate them. Some festivals are able to provide feedback as to why a submission wasn’t selected. Send them a note requesting feedback. Keep in mind that they may not be able to give it to you right this minute, because they have a festival to organize keeping them very busy, but they should be able to respond more fully after their event wraps with at least some general notes. The bottom line: stay professional and don’t take the rejection personally. Every filmmaker has been there.