10 Tips for Submitting to Film Festivals

Film festivals provide a great opportunity for independent filmmakers to showcase their work. However, getting your film accepted by popular festivals is not easy, as you have lots of competition. If you keep the following ten festival tips in mind, however, you can greatly increase your chances of having your project accepted.

1. Pay Attention to the Rules

Every film festival has certain rules that you must follow. It’s essential that you conform to application instructions to the letter. This includes the deadline, the application fee, how to label your media and even how to address the package you send. Failure to follow the rules is a good way to get your film disqualified before anyone even views it.

2. Make Sure Your Work is Complete and Polished

Make Sure Your Work is Complete and Polished

Submitting an unfinished project, even if the rules permit it, is not the best way to showcase your work. Keep your eyes on festival deadlines and make sure you are able to submit the finished project on time. If you submit an incomplete film, it will be difficult for judges to understand and appreciate the goals and intentions of your work.

3. Don’t Watermark Your Film

You may be tempted to watermark your film with a subtitle such as “for preview or festival use only.” This will only hurt your chances of having your film accepted, however. This distracts viewers who are watching your film and also makes you seem insecure and perhaps a little arrogant. Rest assured that festivals receive large numbers of entries and aren’t interested in risking legal problems by pirating your work.


4. Screen Your Film Before Submitting It

One of the best ways to gauge how audiences will react to your film is to show it to some people you trust. They don’t have to be industry professionals, just people who appreciate good films. Ask for honest feedback. Test audiences can alert you to problems that you might not have noticed.


5. Make Your DVDs Festival Friendly

If you’re going to be submitting your film as a Blu-ray/DVD, which is the most common format right now, verify that it plays properly and is clearly labeled. Make sure you test it several times before submitting it. Check compression and aspect ratios to ensure that your film looks its best when festival judges watch it. Lastly, make the Blu-ray/DVD menu easy to read.

6. Submit As Early As Possible

The earlier you submit your film, the better the chances of having it accepted. Remember that most festivals receive many submissions. If you submit yours at the last minute, the festival programmers may have already chosen all of the selections. If you submit it early, the judges will also be viewing it with fresher eyes.

7. Submit to the Right Festivals

You should be selective when it comes to choosing which festivals to enter. If your film fits into a certain niche, such as documentary, science fiction or shorts, you can look for festivals that specialize in your niche. You can also research the past choices of a festival to help you decide if your film is a good fit.

8. Make Sure the Sound Quality is Good

10 Tips for Submitting to Film Festivals - Matt Chesin

Make sure you focus on professional quality film production. The sound quality of your film is especially important. If festival programmers can’t understand dialogue or the sound is muffled, they are likely to get frustrated and discount your film right off the bat. Use quality microphones and set audio levels at ranges where everything can be properly heard.

9. Keep Your Entry Simple

You should only send your film itself and a cover letter. Sending a large amount of accompanying material, such as press kits, extensive bios or other work that you’ve done is only going to be a distraction and cost you extra postage. The festival application will specify what information is required and it’s best to stick to these guidelines.

10. Create a Viable Budget

10 Tips for Submitting to Film Festivals - Matt Chesin

Submitting your film to festivals is an expensive process. Make sure you create a realistic budget. In addition to the submission fees, there are costs associated with traveling to festivals and film festival marketing. One way to reduce costs is to submit early and take advantage of early submission discounts.


These festival tips can improve your chances of getting your film accepted. Having your film accepted, of course, is only the first step. You must still do film festival marketing to maximize exposure. Some valuable resources for finding out more about film production and festivals are FilmFreeway.com and Withoutabox.com.