Get Your Student Films Accepted into Festivals Now
10 Things You Can Do to Increase Your Chances of Selection
By Bart Weiss
I am taking a break from watching films for the Dallas VideoFest’s Docufest+ and thought I should let you in on some tips on things you can do to better your chances of getting into festivals.
Tip #1. Entering.
Before you get in, you have to enter. Almost every festival takes entries through filmfreeway.com. You can and should set up an account like now. Next, you upload your film (check to make sure it is the correct version) and give basic info. Have a compelling description and some good pictures from the film. Take this writing seriously. This will be your first impression with a juror.
Tip #2. Select festivals to enter.
Your first instinct is to just apply to festivals with no fee. But you should have a festival strategy. Where do you want your film to premiere? Where have films liked yours done well? Do some homework. Before entering any fest, go to the festival website and look at the work they like to screen. Be honest with yourself. Is this a good match? Are there festivals where you know some people there? Are there festivals where someone from your production lives? If so, in the notes, tell the programmer that if your film gets in, you will have someone there.
Tip #3. Waivers.
Every filmmaker wants a waiver, but hey, festivals need to survive as well (you do want professional people handing your material, right?). If you just say, hey, I spent all my money on the film, can you give me a waiver? I might not give it to you. But if you do one of two things, I might. One look at our festival and see if a film is somewhat like yours that we showed, and say, I think you will like our film because (and fill in something honest, not hype, here). The other, and perhaps you should do both, is to say, if you give a waiver, I will post on social media that I am excited to send my film to the festival.
Tip #4. Your film.
Let us get back to the film itself. Start strong. In the first few minutes, visually and aurally, make your case, don’t just tell me.
Tip #5. Music.
In those first few moments and throughout, select your music wisely. You cannot recover from lousy music disease. If I don’t like your taste in music, there is not much chance I will appreciate your film. Often student filmmakers wait until the end of the semester to figure out what they will do for music.
Tip #6. Opening sequence.
Often, after a montage in the beginning sequence, the music fades out, and the natural sound comes in; it is here that your film lives or dies. It is not hard to make a great opening sequence, but is your subject as compelling as the intro suggests? So, find a great nugget at that moment.
Tip #7. The ideal duration of a short film.
Make it short. No, make it shorter than that. There are two reasons for this. The first is pure math. There are only so many minutes in a short compilation. If your film is 25 minutes, it is harder to fit in. If it is 10 minutes, I can fit it into more places. If it is 7 minutes, your chances are even better. The other reason is that shorts are usually in a compilation; (sometimes you can have one before a feature, but they have to be very short). It takes more energy to watch a collection of shorts than a feature, and if yours is near the end, the audience will have less patience.
Tip #8. Credit Sequence.
Make your credit sequence shorter. I know you need to thank lots of people. Finishing a great film takes great luck, and many people need to be thanked, but roll them quickly. My suggestion is to have a version with everyone at a slower pace, and show that one time, when all those folks are there, then never show that version again.
Tip #9. Marketing.
Have good photos, a poster, and a good trailer. Share these items with the festival staff and PR team.
Tip #10. Be nice.
Or conversely, don’t be a jerk. The people on the other side of the phone or email are often overworked, and many are volunteers. When a festival accepts your film, it is like we are welcoming you into our family.
If your film gets into the festival, go to the festival. Do whatever it takes to get there. Meet people, go to screenings, promote your screening, and have fun. That experience just might change the trajectory of your career and life.
Bart Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker, educator and director/founder of the Dallas VideoFest and produces “Frame of Mind” on KERA TV. He was President of AIVF and was a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, and United Features Syndicate. Bart received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University. www.videofest.org