How Film Festivals Work
Filmmakers can find audiences, garner publicity and sometimes even earn some cash from the festival circuit. But how do films get into festivals and what does the entire process look like?
It all starts with the Call for Entries. Filmmakers respond with submissions. Festivals scout out both up-and-coming films headed for theaters and relative unknowns seeking a home.
The Call for Entries
Festivals often open the submission process with a call for films. They will usually specify a deadline, as well as a list of requirements. They may also include a theme or genre for the films they are looking to program.
Filmmakers have a unique opportunity to promote their work in the context of a festival, and to connect with audiences, press and potential buyers. This can be a launching pad for filmmakers that can lead to distribution and further success.
For this reason, it is important for filmmakers to understand how film festivals function before they submit their work. The books of film festival lore are littered with stories of filmmakers who pestered festival staff with inane questions or displayed a sense of entitlement when their films were accepted.
The Screening Process
Filmmakers have to work even harder at a film festival than audiences do. They have to peddle their project to everyone they meet, which isn’t always easy. But savvy filmmakers know that showing at a festival can lead to distribution deals, new agents, and a real lead on some financial remuneration for their work.
Oftentimes, the film programmers at a festival are looking for films that they think their audience will connect with and enjoy. This can be especially true for the bigger festivals like Sundance and Cannes, where there is a lot of competition for a limited number of slots.
When a filmmaker’s film is selected, the director or someone from the cast will be there to introduce the movie. There may also be a Q&A session after the screening.
The Marketing Process
Filmmakers can promote their films on the festival website, attend press conferences and participate in workshops on screenwriting, film production and finding an agent. Savvy filmmakers also create posters and seek coverage in local media to lure audiences to their screenings.
The final decisions on which films to select for a festival are made well in advance of the event. It takes a team of staffers to view all the submissions and decide which are worthy of screening at the festival.
As the opening night curtain descends, filmmakers are often thrilled and relieved. After all, it’s the culmination of years of effort and the moment when their expectations finally meet reality.
Film festivals provide audiences with a place to see great movies and connect with their filmmakers. In turn, audiences help to support the filmmakers and create a true win-win scenario for all parties involved.
Many film festival attendees also attend panel discussions and Q&A sessions during the festival. These are led by moderators or celebrities that help to engage the audience and spark a discussion around the films that were shown at the festival.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to the film festival circuit. From the entry fees to the marketing efforts, it can feel like a gamble for a filmmaker, but with some planning and preparation, they can make the most of the experience and possibly make money from the event.