5 Pointers for Submitting to Film Festivals, According to Award Winning Instructor

Written by David Kaminski

On many occasions I have seen very good – and sometimes extraordinary work – created by young, first-time filmmakers that has never been submitted to a festival, nor recognized with an award. At the same time, I have been aware of contests and festivals with very few entries. Clearly, these were missed opportunities.

If you have been thinking lately about entering your students’ works – or your own works, if you are a student – in a student film festival, then there is no better time to start than now. Or maybe you haven’t started yet, and need a few pointers. Here are five important things to consider.

1. Learn about Festivals

  • Go to a student film festival, and see what others are doing.
  • Explore student festivals that show the kind of film you want to make.
  • Meet like-minded people you might be able to use for crew or cast.
  • Make additional friends and contacts along the way so you can always turn to them later for help.
  • Gather materials, and study the elements of a good postcard, flyer, poster, or press release.
  • Find out how others have managed funding for production, post-production, film festival fees, distribution, and travel expenses.
  • See how others have gone about receiving sponsorship or help.
  • Learn to be persistent but patient throughout the process.

2. The Creative Process and Flexibility

  • Consider making one or more shorts rather than a feature.
  • Think about working in more than one genre to extend your artistic range, and to reach a new audience.
  • Work with a number of different people on other projects to fill out your resume, gain experience, and meet others.
  • Do not be afraid to try a number of projects until one is a good fit.
  • Consider canceling projects that are going nowhere, especially if you have new and better ideas, or the cost of time and energy of the current project is a drain on you.

3. Making a Film that Judges Will Like, and People Will Want to Watch

  • Work with a well-conceived story or idea, since you will be working months or years to complete it.
  • Make sure to maintain the highest quality production level you can manage, and don’t forget the basics (focus, shot composition, audio, lighting, etc.).
  • Try to ensure the acting, sets, and locations are the best you can get, or that you use them wisely.
  • Create original work with fresh insights and ideas.
  • Use original music, or work that is copyright cleared or has a Creative Commons License.
  • Attempt your own foley and sound effects when possible (you’ll learn a lot about audio), and avoid using those from the internet or your favorite movie.
  • Start your film with a strong scene, or make sure it will come in the first 15 to 45 seconds. No judge will suffer through bad material that opens your work.
  • Avoid long opening title sequences. Keep them minimal, and in the style of the piece.

4. Talk to Your Editor Before You Start

Talk to your editor and the person who will be creating your master copy (DVD or tape) for the festival before your project is in production. Communicating early will help you avoid costly mistakes or problems that cannot be “fixed in post.” Here are some things your editor might scold you about if you share some scenes early in the shoot:

  • Poor audio: buzzing, background noise, or low dialogue that cannot be understood will be virtually unusable, except for evidence by the FBI.
  • Bad focus will always be bad focus.
  • Poor lighting requires a lot of effort to fix, and even then, it may not change much.
  • Bad composition, framing, high gain, or burning the date and time onto the tape creates an impossible situation.

5. Organize,Organize,Organize:
Prepare to Send out Your Film ‘Before’ You Finish

  • Make sure you cover all releases, clearances, and negotiations before you start to work.
  • Shoot high quality photos of actors, crew, and the process of making the film.


David Kaminski teaches TV Production/Media at Clarkstown HS North in New City, NY about 25 miles north of New York City. His students have earned bronze and silver Telly Awards, CINE Golden Eagle Awards, and over 50 national awards for their work. Their films have screened more than 200 times in festivals across the country and internationally.



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