Skip to main content

Film Festivals 101: The Essentials to Film Festival Success


With the digital age, filmmakers no longer need festivals to get their work seen, but incorporating festivals into your distribution strategy is wise. Film festival success allows a buzz to be created about your film, get people in the industry’s attention to your work, and allow you to network with other filmmakers and screenwriters in person.

However, don’t get hung up on larger festivals like Sundance as the be all and end all. There are countless film festivals around the globe that will help raise awareness of not only your film, but also your talent.


As in any area of this industry, rejection is part of the process. Just because you didn’t get into a top festival, doesn’t mean your film isn’t good. It could be as simple as scheduling conflicts, or too many films submitted in that genre.

Some questions to consider:

  • Are you submitting it to the right festivals for your film?
  • Are you waiting until the end of the submission process when the programmers are exhausted from watching thousands of films, or are you taking advantage of catching a programmer’s eye by submitting early?
  • If you created a short film, is it the proper length for convenient programming, or is it too long to easily be placed in between features?

Most importantly, if a film gets great reviews at a festival, even a short film, it will add credibility to your voice and possibly find you an agent or a manager.


Size and focus: Some small town festivals shouldn’t be overlooked, especially ones near large cities. While many executives flock to Sundance, Toronto, and Austin, some like the thrill of finding a diamond in the rough in unexpected, more tranquil places. Also consider the quantity of films being shown. No one can watch 100 films. Less is more.

Potential of exposure of your film: Quality exposure is as important as quantity. Make sure press will be at the event to review your film or to interview you. PR is critical.

Special events: Be sure the festival offers more than just films. Often times, the parties, panels, discussions, Q&A’s, and networking events are where your best connections are made.

Networking potential: Research to see if quality executives and filmmakers attend or if people just send their films in and don’t bother going to the event personally. Face-to-face meetings are the best way to make lasting connections.

Organization of the moviegoer’s experience: Films should be organized by genre, venue, and/or country of origin. Maps should be provided for different venues, as well as places to easily find food and restrooms. If the moviegoer is happy and well-cared for, their viewing experience will be that much better.


How to find the right one?

Consider the location: Can you afford to get there? Expenses add up quickly the more festivals you submit to and attend. Weigh out what is the best bang for your buck in terms of how each festival can benefit your career and connections.

Politics: Many film festivals have politics surrounding them. Some have policies about being the chosen “premiere” of your film. You can unknowingly put yourself out of the running by entering and showing at a smaller, unknown festival. Be aware of what the submission guidelines are for all you apply to.

Industry connections and distribution: If you’re looking to connect with agents, managers or distributors, be sure those festivals are well attended by executives.

Prizes and recognition: Does the festival have good prizes? Who are the people sitting on the juries? Factor these in if prizes and networking are important to you.

How many do I enter?: That depends on your budget and ability to attend. Most festivals have a submission fee, but there are some valuable festivals that waive the fees. Some filmmakers are even creative enough to reach out to programmers without paying a fee at all!

What do I do once I get accepted?

Hire a PR firm: They will get the buzz going about your film, set up interviews with press before, during and after the festival, and secure invitations to special events.

Creating marketing materials: As an independent filmmaker, it’s essential you are comfortable marketing your film. You’ll need a marketing strategy and materials to promote your film, such as business cards, movie posters and a press kit.

Build a website for your film: Distributors and executives need a place to go to learn more about you and your film. A Facebook page or Twitter account isn’t enough. Create a dedicated website for your project. It can be either a site solely for the film chosen for the festival or a site containing all of your projects, highlighting the festival film.

What do I do at the festival?

  • Network. Network. Network.
  • Bring screeners for the press to view in the press office.
  • Distribute your marketing materials everywhere you can.
  • Have a party and go to parties.
  • Invite everyone to your film’s screening.
  • Give away extra tickets to your screening.
  • Invite press, reviewers, and distributors to your screening.
  • Offer to do a Q&A at the screening with the crowd.
  • Make sure you have a new project in the works to talk about!

Are the parties worth it?

Sure they’re fun, but will you rarely get a chance to build a lasting connection. You’re better off setting up meetings ahead of time, especially with people you already have a relationship with via Twitter or Facebook.

What type of follow-up do I do after a festival?

  • Contact everyone you spoke to via email, thanking them for their time, etc.
  • Gather press clippings and film reviews for your files and website.
  • Keep your site updated with upcoming screenings.
  • Have post-festival screenings
  • Get to work on your next project!

Get our FREE Download of Film Festival Advice from ScriptMag contributors whose films have appeared in festivals and won awards!

[form id="189745"]

Join the Script newsletter and find excellent resources to improve your screenwriting today!



Related Articles: