The most important thing to do when submitting to a film festival is filling out the cover letter. Here are a couple of things to research when putting your submission together. I've also included a few things to consider to help you better pick where you spend money submitting to film festivals.
Know the Festival
Who programs the films? Is it a committee or one person. Often times one person is doing both the watching and the programming. This is to your advantage because it's easier to figure out what they are looking for and there is a history of programs you can look at.
Find out which school they went to. This can be easy or hard, but could potentially give you either a school or state connection. People in general love helping out other people who share communal elements like this.
Where does your film fall within the scale of films they generally accept? As much as filmmakers like to believe a $25,000 film can compete with a $5 million film, not all film festivals feel that this is true. Considering that some festivals submissions fees are as much as, and sometimes more than, $100 for features a lower budget film cannot absorb this cost as much. Budget is also equated with the ability to do publicity for the screening of your film. These are consideration you should think about when picking film festivals to submit to.
Where does your films talent fall within the bounds of what they normally accept and how is your social media presence? Some festivals will actually check the actors in your movie to see if any of them will have pull with press. A festival like Tribeca that prefers A-list talent is more than happy to take your submission fee and not program your film which is full of fresh faces, while a smaller festival would rather give you a shot over a big guy who is going to cause them a lot of logistical problems. One way of offsetting this is having a solid social media presence. The latest rumor is that 10k Facebook fans goes a long way.
Know the Programs
This is easier than you think because most festivals only update their website right before the festival and everyone keeps archives available to the public. Check to see if they have specific genre programs. When I program NewFilmmakers I am always looking for films which fill out my "Crime and Punishment," "Urban," and "NewLatino" programs.
This gives you a chance to let the programmer know you are aware of their formula and fit into their plans for the festival.
Look at the general runtimes of each of the short film blocks. I generally do ~45 minutes and ~75 minutes. This allows me to do an hour long program or a 90 minute program and the Q&A is accounted for. Why should you care about the length of the program? A 15 minute short has a better chance of fitting into this format than a 25 minutes short.
This also goes for documentaries, which I fit into a 60 minute block. Having a 45 minute cut of your documentary will make it not only a better for Film Festival exhibition but also a good fit for television network programmers.
Know How You Fit In
Film Festivals are a fantastic opportunity to screen your film and meet other members of the creative community. A screening is a moment about you and an hour or two about your career. This is a chance to meet other people like you who also want to make their next film.
Mention in your cover letter something about yourself which fits into their community. Like minded people attract like minded people and it should be fairly easy to spot if there is something that might connect you in with the community. This could be as easy as mentioning a friend who has screened with them before.
YoungFilmmakers is a fairly easy festival to fit in. We program all student (or recently graduated student) films. We're new so the focus hasn't been placed on genre programming yet. We've also intentionally kept our fees low to make them approachable for students to submit.
If you've got a film you just finished for class and would like to submit to our festival you can go to WithoutABox.com or FilmFreeway.com and apply.
While you're at it check out this list of "6 MISTAKES FIRST TIME FILMMAKERS MAKE WHEN SUBMITTING TO FILM FESTIVALS."
Brandon Ruckdashel is the Festival Director for YoungFilmmakers. He has been the Program Director for NewFilmmakers for the last three years and Marketing Director for six. Brandon is a filmmaker who is most well known for his acting work in the HBO series Co-Ed Confidential and numerous B-Movies. Brandon has worked with Roger Corman alumni Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski along with a number of other very talented directors. Brandon's Directorial debut GRINDER will be out in theaters in 2016.
YoungFilmmakers screens quarterly in New York at Anthology Film Archives. Opened in 1970 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage, Anthology in its original conception was a showcase for the Essential Cinema Repertory collection. An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form. The project was never completed, but even in its unfinished state it represented an uncompromising critical overview of cinema’s history, and remains a crucial part of Anthology’s exhibition program.