Posted by Terry on December 2, 2011

With our submission deadline of December 15 less than 2 weeks away, the number of short films I’ve looked at since our last fest has just passed the 500 mark and we’ve received over 100 submissions so far from 26 different countries!  As can be seen from these numbers and from reading my Film Selection Process blog, our festival has always relied more on picking films from other festivals than from submissions, but that is changing.  Our last fest was the first year we had films in the program that came from outside the Peace Region.  My favorite of these was The Referee, a submission that came from Sweden.  Not being much of a sports fan, it was such an unexpected delight to watch this doc about top soccer referee Martin Hansson.  One of the reasons I like it so much is that it’s structured as a story unlike many docs which are structured more like essays.

I asked Director/Producer Mattias Löw by email how he’d heard about our fest.  He replied that the Canadian Sport Film Festival, which he’d attended with his film, had told him that our fest might be a good fit for his “pedagogic aim and approach.”

Tip 1 – Get fest recommendations from programmers who love your film enough to have selected it for their program

Tip 2 – Be aware of which fests have awards that qualify short films for Oscar nomination

You might as well aim high and spend your submission fees on the fests that can give you the maximum benefit, and what could be more rewarding for a filmmaker’s career than winning an Academy Award?  Short films that win any of the awards on the Short Films Awards Festivals List become eligible for nomination.  Keep in mind that your film will have lots of competition at these festivals.  For instance, Sundance recently announced their shorts program for their upcoming festival Jan 19 through 29: from 7,675 submissions, they selected 64 shorts, i.e. less than 1%.

A film that has won such an award (the Grand Prize for Best Fiction at the USA Film Festival) is The Interview which we’re thrilled to have in our upcoming festival.

Tip 3 – Know which fests have programs that are checked out by other programmers – it could save you money on submission fees

There are few festivals with more prestige than Sundance so you can imagine how excited I was when I read in a Canadian Press article that appeared in our local paper on January 23, 2009 that filmmaker Jason Eisener from Nova Scotia had won an Honourable Mention in Short Filmmaking for Treevenge, his hilariously coarse and bloody tale of Christmas trees on the rampage.  I thought it sounded perfect for our Friday midnight Psycho Shorts package and contacted Producer Rob Cotterill to get a screener DVD.  In such circumstances where a festival requests a film for consideration, it is customary for that fest to waive their submission fee, therefore, getting such recognition at a fest like Sundance can save a LOT of money on submission fees.  Treevenge was definitely one of the highlights of our 2009 fest, especially since Jason was here to do a Q&A after the film and stayed an extra day to watch some films and hang out with other filmmakers and audience members at our Saturday night party!

Peace Region filmmaker Rio Fitch recently had a similar experience with The Driving Accident which we had in our last fest.  He recently got an email from Festival Director Ben Laden of the Little Big Shots International Film Festival For Kids in Australia in which Ben mentioned seeing The Driving Accident at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and now wants to include it in his 2012 festival.  It’s the first time that one of Rio’s films has been selected for a festival that he didn’t submit to, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Tip 4 – Know which fests have markets that programmers, distributors, and broadcasters attend

The largest shorts festival and market is the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France and the largest in North America is the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto.  One of the advantages of getting a distributor for your short film earlier rather than later is that they can help develop a festival strategy and can often submit films to fests at a reduced or waived fee.  However, the range in what you’ll get from various distributors and what it will cost is HUGE.  Definitely check out the fine print and, better yet, meet them at the Finding Your Audience – Meet the Distributors panel that’s part of WSFF’s Symposium every year.

Tip 5 – If you have a Canadian film, subscribe to Telefilm’s newsletter

You can save money on submission fees by subscribing to Telefilm Canada’s newsletter because Telefilm coordinates the submission of screeners to major international film festivals that have agreed to waive their entry fee for films that Telefilm presents.  One example of this is the Tribeca Film Festival.

Tip 6 – Get recommendations from other filmmakers

Kellie Ann Benz is a filmmaker who wrote a 3-part blog on the National Screen Institute’s website:

  1. Beginning a short film festival strategy
  2. Short film fest strategy: targeting the lesser known festivals
  3. Online exposure as part of your film festival strategy

Kellie Ann gives the Wikipedia link for European film festivals but also check out the link for festivals in North and Central America.

Tip 7 – Don’t assume all film festivals are WAB ( partner festivals

Our festival has a free listing on WAB, but a free listing doesn’t include any of the benefits of being a partner festival such as online submission, access to EPKs (electronic press kits), etc.  It would be wonderful to enjoy the convenience of being a partner festival but it’s also quite costly.  WAB makes its money by charging commissions on the submission fees charged by its partner festivals.  For a festival such as ours that doesn’t charge a submission fee, the cost to become a partner festival is $2,000 US.

As you can see from our Submit page, we use Short Film Central for online submissions.  Unfortunately, SFC can’t provide programmers with online screeners like WAB can, but filmmakers have emailed me to ask if I’ll accept a link to a password-protected online screener and I’ve said yes although I much prefer a DVD screener.

Tip 8 – If you’ve got your heart set on getting into TIFF, don’t blow your chances by screening at other fests first

TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) has a surprisingly small program of short films.  Their Call For Entries isn’t open yet so I can’t check, but I believe they only accept Canadian short films and they want them to be world premieres.  Keep this in  mind if TIFF plays an important role in your festival strategy.

Tip 9 – Read a book

Two books that are very helpful are Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide and Film Festival Secrets by Christopher Holland available on Amazon or on the author’s website.

Tip 10 – Get feedback

When I was at the 2010 Palm Springs International ShortFest, I met a filmmaker at one of the nightly parties.  His film had not made it into the program but was available to watch in the market.  I told him I would watch it.  He later asked me what I thought of it, a question I always dread because I never know how truthful I should be.  He assured me that he wanted my honest opinion, so I gave it.  After the fest, he emailed me to say how much he appreciated the 15 minutes I’d taken to talk to him and said there had only been 2 of us who’d given him honest opinions.  He’d come to Palm Springs from LA for the fest for the sole purpose of getting feedback because he had the opportunity to pitch a feature project and had planned to pitch a feature version of his short film.  After getting feedback, he abandoned the short film which he thought had more “commercial” potential and decided to pitch a project that was much closer to his heart.

The DC Shorts Film Festival provides filmmakers with the scores and comments from a minimum of 3 prescreeners who have seen their films.  Festival Director Jon Gann has heard back from some filmmakers that the feedback alone is worth the submission fee.

Ultimately, it’s the fit between your film and the subjective taste and opinions of a particular festival’s programmer(s) that will determine acceptance or rejection into any particular festival.  I will passionately make the case that the films in our program are among the best in the world, but I would never presume to suggest that a film that I’ve turned down for acceptance into the fest is somehow not “good” enough.  It just didn’t quite fit what we were looking for.


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