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For the past year, I’ve been organizing a film festival. Every thing every one warned me about is true: it did take over my life, it is a ton of work, and I am seeing films in my sleep at this point.
But there are a lot of perks that nobody mentioned, and right at the top of the list is the fact that, watching all those submissions, I learned how to better submit – and even make – my films.
Basically, submissions fall into the following categories:
- Gotta have ‘em (about 5%)
- Keep ‘em away from me (about 5%)
- Wish I could put it in, but it wouldn’t make sense because of X, Y, and Z (90%!)
So, to help you get your films into that top 5% of guaranteed-to-make-the-cut, here are a few pointers I picked up:
1. KEEP IT SHORT!!! I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before – I’ve heard it before, many times. But until I put together my final schedule, I didn’t really GET IT.
If a submission’s 3 minutes long, it’s easy to fit in. If it’s 10 minutes, still pretty easy… once it gets to be over 15 minutes, it starts to become impossible. And this rule goes for features too! If it’s 60 to 90 minutes – I can work with it. But 2 hours? Unless it’s INCREDIBLE, I can’t justify it.
Most screening blocks are two hours long. If you submit a two-hour film, you’re asking me to schedule ONLY your film for an entire screening block. If there’s an equally worthy film that’s 90 minutes and lets me fit in a few shorts, too, well… that’s that.
2. Be Original. You’re thinking: “I am original!” Well, the way you execute your story might be original, but make sure the story’s really original, too. How many other films about angst-ridden teenagers are there going to be? I definitely made cuts based on the fact that multiple films were telling basically the same story. Films telling stories I hadn’t seen anywhere else stood a way better chance.
3. Consider Your Audience. Most people don’t bother to check out a fest’s mission statement, but they should. It’s just not worth the time and money it takes to submit to something where, even if you are great, you just don’t fit their vision. In the final hour, there’s always way more films the programmers wish they could schedule than they have time for, and they’re going to be looking for any reason to help them make a tough decision.
4. Cover letter. I’ll be honest – I’ve never written a cover letter when submitting to fests. And I’m not alone, because neither did about 80% of our submitters. I guess people figure that their films speak for themselves? But now that I’ve been on the other side of it, let me drive this home: COVER LETTERS MATTER. Not if they’re just a repeat of your film summary, but if they tell us why you want to be part of OUR festival. If you’re the only one out of ten possible films to reassure us that you believe in our mission and, if selected, will attend and promote the festival – it’s going to nudge you toward a yes.
There you have it – my top 4 pointers. If you follow these, I promise, your chances of being accepted at any fest will go up at least 50%.
And if you’re curious to see what made the cut for our fest – check us out at http://www.princetonindependentfilmfestival.com!
Written By: Sara McDermott