Topsheet provides COVID-19 touchless payroll for productions
Erin Pearson
October 31, 2022

Breaking into the film industry isn’t as easy as buying a camera, snatching your BFFs, and shooting from the hip. Strategy, hard work, fears, and tears are the first form of currency required to getting accepted or getting into film festivals. Not to mention, hardening yourself against a sea of potential rejection letters. I believe this sweaty emotional battle is called “paying your dues”. Not any specific type of films will get you into film festivals, if you don’t believe me, watch “Tick Tick Boom” on Netflix. The struggle to “make it” is a battle. Giving up, a constant temptation. Without dedication to your craft and the industry, you will not find yourself in the festival circuit or favorite festivals such as the sundance film festival, films to festivals, world premiere scene, or any other popular film to film festivals. But we believe in you and we want you to succeed. Film is our favorite creative medium and we want more of it! That’s why we make film production management and film payroll for film and television so easy. But enough about us. Let’s talk about how to get you into film festivals so you can start moving forward in your career.

How do you get selected for film festivals?

Some of the biggest world film festivals or the "festival circuit" may include the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, and Cannes Film Festival.  The festival circuit isn't going to want to show your film if you have already shown it in a local film festival. They want to be the host for your world premiere. So, before you test out your film on your local audience to see how your hard work might fare in the more prominent film festivals, consider holding off on the submission process to the more well-known film festivals.

Consider which film festival is right for you. This is one of the areas in which you need to do a lot of leg work. You need to consider your genre: documentary, music score, short films, music videos, web series pilots, full web series, television series episodes, commercials, dark comedy, family film and featurelength film. You name it, there is a film festival geared towards it. Most festivals have a category for documentaries, but if that’s not what the festivals are looking for, you probably won’t have the audience you are hoping for. Research previous films that have been shown at these festivals to see where your film fits best. The following is a list to get to a festival website to start your submission process.  

Documentary Film Festivals. Do you have a documentary to show off? You might want to consider submitting to True/False Film Festival commonly held in Columbia, Missouri, or Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado. For documentary film festivals on the international stage, Thessaloniki International Film Festival held in Greece or Visions Du Reel in Nyon, Switzerland might be more your style. 

Indie Film Festivals. Do you have an indie film to show off at an indie film festival? Try Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Missoula, Montana, or Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, or Tribeca Film Festival in New York, or Toronto International Film Festival.

Latin American Film Festivals. Do you have a Latin American film to showcase? Try Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, or Portland Latin American Film Festival, or North Carolina Latin American Film Festival.

Women's Film. Are you a female film director looking for the perfect film festival to share your film? Try St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival in Canada, or Women’s International Film and Arts Festival, or Moondance International Film Festival.

Animation Film Festivals. Do you have an animated film to share? Try Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France, or Animafest Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia, or Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Horror Film Festivals. Do you have a horror film in your arsenal? Try A Night of Horror International Film Festival in Sydney, Australia, or Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, CA, or Brooklyn Horror Film Festival in Brooklyn, New York.

Asian Film Festivals. Are you an Asian Filmmaker? Try DMZ Docs in Goyang City and Paju City, Korea or Busan International Film Festival in Busan, South Korea, or Tokyo International Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan, or Singapore International Film Festival in Singapore.

Short Film Festivals Do you have a short film that you want the world to see? Try Raindance Film Festival in London, UK, or, Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, or American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, or Toronto Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, or Tribeca Film Festival in New York, or Edinburgh Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Feature Films Festivals. Do you have a feature film? Try Oaxaca Film Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico, or Portland Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, or Tacoma Film Festival in Tacoma, Washington, or Raindance Film Festival in London, UK, or Camden International Film Festival in Camden, Maine.

Jewish Film Festivals. Are you a Jewish filmmaker? Try Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, or Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival in Detroit, Michigan, or Oklahoma Jewish Film Festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Hamilton Jewish Film Festival in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Human Rights Film Festivals. Do you have a human rights film to show the world? Try ACT Human Rights Film Festival at Fort Collins’ Colorado State University, or This Human World in Vienna, or One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Prague, Czech Republic. 

With over 3,000 film festivals across the globe, make sure you do your research to decide which festival is the best fit for your film festival submission so you can budget submission fees accordingly.

Make sure your film is ready. If you’re close, but not quite there, do not submit your film to the festival. Wait until next year. People have submitted their films to festivals, even the super prestigious ones before they were ready and they did find success (Napoleon Dynamite, for example) but that is the exception, not the rule. Polish your film, y’all, make sure it’s really shiny and perfect. The chances of getting your film festival submission accepted into sundance or other passed the festival programming  selection process is extremely selective. As an independent filmmaker, you'll want to make sure your film submissions are worth the risk. Thousands of films get submitted to these festivals and only a few hundred (at best) are chosen. You need to stand out from the crowd.

Set your film apart.  Each of the more than 3,000 film festivals around the world receives thousands of festival submissions for their annual festivals. Thousands. That’s a lot of films to watch. And a lot of films to remember. What sets your film apart from the others? It’s not always enough to just be talented, you must also be unique. And it’s not just a unique story in front of the camera that they’re looking for, sometimes it’s the innovation behind the scenes.

Make connections and start conversations. The “higher-ups” don’t even watch the films until they have been through at least one “weeding”. It’s simply a time scenario. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that there isn’t time. Most of the time, assistant programmers will go through the films first and then pass them along to higher-level programmers to make the final cut. You want to do what you can to get it past the first level. Reach out to whomever you can find a contact email and share some of the interesting behind-the-scenes details that will set your film apart. They’ll likely keep an eye out for your film. You can find a lot of these contacts on LinkedIn.

Attend the festivals you want to get your film into. This is a “boots on the ground”, strategy mission, and, quite possibly, the most important step. Enjoy yourself while you are there, but take notes. What’s it like? What types of films seem to do the best? What categories could you stand out in? How does this festival function? Why do some films do poorly and others succeed? What kinds of things are people saying about the films they have seen? This may also be a good time to rub elbows with some of the programmers. Ask them what they want to see or what they wish people would do differently. Learn from the people who have been there a while. Remember, this is essentially a film competition, you need to be prepared to nail it.

Write a great synopsis. You know how you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but everyone does it anyway? Your film’s synopsis acts similarly to that. If it reads like your film will be boring, it will set the expectation that your film will be boring and the programmer in charge of sifting your film will be more critical of its entertainment value. Don’t lie, but don’t sell yourself short either. Take some time to study what makes a great synopsis, write a handful of options and run them across your friends and family to get helpful feedback.

Send fantastic photographs. Do you remember cruising the isles of Blockbuster and choosing a film based solely on the cover? The synopsis is what sold you. The image on the cover is what got you to pick it up in the first place. Your film photos are very important. Make sure they are high-quality photographs that sell the essence of your film.

How much does it cost to get into a film festival?

The cost to enter film festivals varies quite a bit, but the overall average entry fee is about $40. Sometimes it’s free and sometimes the entry fee can be $500. As a general rule of thumb, the more prestigious the film festival, the higher the entry fee. But even then, it tends to be tiered based on which category you are submitting for.

Additional costs that you will want to budget for if you intend on hitting the film festival circuit, are travel expenses, promotional items like posters, business cards, hats, t-shirts, lip balm (something someone will take home), extra DVDs, and additional funding if the festival requires your film in HD or something other than a DVD.

How do you get into an online film festival?

I’m just gonna say, 2020 made the world of film interesting. Shutdowns, COVID tests, masks, theaters closing, billions of dollars lost, delays, and…innovation? Well, sure. We can call it innovation. Streaming services exploded and the online world just got more online. People got to work creating online film festivals and I was even invited to one to participate as a judge of sorts. It was fun and there might be a future for online film festivals, but a lot was lost in the interaction aspect of the film festival. If you want to enter an online film festival because you have a limited budget and can’t afford the travel expenses, I think that’s just fine. But I also think you have the potential to lose more than you gain. Film festivals offer a great learning experience and relationship-building potential. If you can afford it, go to a festival. If you can’t, share your work at an online festival and network in other ways. Check out Film Freeway to browse for available festivals.  They will have the rules and regulations so your able to send your festival submissions correctly. Networking is the lifeblood of the film industry. You don’t get far if you don’t know somebody like a sundance programmer or festival director to promote your film . It’s unfortunate, but that’s the truth.

That said, submitting for an online film festival is basically the same as submitting for an in-person film festival. Find the online film festival(s) that best suits your film, write a fantastic synopsis, take the best photos, pay the entry fee, submit your film, get accepted, and run screaming down the street telling everyone you know that your film made the cut. Seriously though, celebrate. It’s exciting!

What is an underground film festival?

An underground film festival is a festival that screens underground, Avante-Garde, and experimental films. Some of these festivals are Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Media City, Atlanta Underground Film Festival, and San Antonio Film Festival.

Topsheet makes film production easy

Topsheet isn’t affiliated with film festivals, so we can’t get you “in”, but we can make managing your project easier with in app call sheets and time cards and a payroll cost that you can actually budget and simplified extras management. Filmmaking should be fun. Let us handle the stress.

About Topsheet

Topsheet is an entertainment tech company specializing in production payroll. We service clients from commercials for Fortune 500 to feature films. We are born in technology, built with filmmakers in mind.

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