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RONA'S REEL TAKE: Tips for a Successful Film Festival Experience, Part 2

Rona Edwards elaborates on her film festival advice, helping you sift through the thousands of film festivals out there to know where your film belongs.

Rona Edwards is a film and television producer, having produced eleven films, some of which have won awards at film festivals, with many more in development. She was Vice President of Creative Affairs for Emmy-winner John Larroquette (Night Court), Academy Award-winner Michael Phillips (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) and Emmy-winner Fern Field (Monk), before she was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of producing. A contributing writer to Produced By, she wrote the critically acclaimed books, I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development from the Inside Out and The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals (Your All Access Pass to Launching your Film on the Festival Circuit) with former studio exec, Monika Skerbelis. Together, they are the founders of ES Entertainment and ESE Film Workshops Online, providing online film courses without leaving your home. Twitter: @ronaedwards@ESEFilm

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Rona Edwards elaborates on her film festival advice, helping you sift through the thousands of film festivals out there to know where your film belongs. | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

In Part One of Film Festivals: The Cannes Do, Tell U Right Approach (tips for a successful festival experience), we discussed the goals a filmmaker needs to address when attending a film festival. We also began talking about the submission process. So how do you sift through the thousands of film festivals out there?

In addition to the top-tier film festivals, which might be more competitive and therefore much more difficult to penetrate, I recommend to filmmakers who produce shorts, in particular, to start with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Academy-qualifying festivals (yes the same Academy who gives out the “Oscar”). Approximately eighty film festivals are acknowledged with their Academy qualification seal. What does this mean? If a film wins a “Best Short Film” or “ Best Short Documentary” jury award at one of the Academy-qualifying film festivals listed on their website (, they will automatically be eligible to be in the running for a “Best Short” or “Best Short Documentary” Academy Award.

I highly recommend that you sort through the Academy-qualifying festivals first and create your initial list of submissions based on that list as a starting point. Also be sure to check the list every year as the Academy updates it with new festivals as well as, sometimes, eliminates others. However, there are a lot of other festivals out there that can serve your goals as well that aren’t on the Academy’s list. It’s just a good place to start narrowing down that overwhelming list of choices.

Script EXTRA: Read Part 1 of Rona's Film Festival Advice

It is also important to target festivals with an industry presence. When I say “industry,” I mean show business presence. See who attends these festivals; who is working in the entertainment business. Agents, managers, producers, studio executives, distribution companies, etc., comb festivals all the time looking for new talent to sign or hire as well as films to acquisition. Some of the smaller festivals have been known to open doors and initiate careers for filmmakers. There have been countless success stories of talent discovered at smaller film festivals.

For instance, an agent from one of the largest agencies in Hollywood happened to be a juror at the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. It was there that she discovered a writer who was one of the finalists. She liked the screenplay so much that she gave it to Academy-Award winning writer/director, Paul Haggis, who, then, gave it to superstar, Clint Eastwood. Eastwood hired her to write Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). Now, that writer, Iris Yamashita, is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter. And it all began at the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival, nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, a few hours outside of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it is no longer running after a successful 15 years and the jurors for both the film and screenwriting competitions were all industry insiders. Therefore the experience of attending a festival like that takes on more weight and more possibilities of future successes for those that attend. There are many festivals like that around the world. Seek them out.

Another area to consider for some filmmakers is to decide whether your film has a specific targeted or “niche” audience. If it does, you might consider submitting to festivals that would be open to screening such films with a specialized market; like LGBTQ, Jewish, Greek, horror films, Sci-Fi, women’s films, films focusing on disabilities, etc. If you have an Asian or African-American character in your film, then you would qualify to submit to one of the many Asian or African-American film festivals out there.

Script EXTRA: Building Your Film Marketing Budget Nest Egg

Another consideration might be a destination festival. You’ve never been to Tokyo before but you’d like to go – so you submit your film to the Tokyo Shorts Festival in the hopes of getting accepted so you can attend and use it as a way to “vacation” and “sightsee,” all the while screening your film and networking with filmmakers in an exotic, beautiful or interesting destination.

So, once you are ready to submit to a festival, make sure your DVD (if that is what the submission guidelines call for) has the title, phone number, e-mail address to contact you, running time and the Withoutabox tracking number (if you’re using Withoutabox) or FilmFreeway number, or any other submission platform identification numbers. And if it’s digitally submitted, make sure the name of the file reflects the name of the film and the application used to upload your film includes the necessary contact info. Withoutabox is the granddaddy of the submission platforms but there are a number of others to consider such as FilmFreeway and ShortFilmDepot (usually European Festivals use the latter). Most film festivals use these submissions sites as one stop shopping though some have their own submission process (however, those are fewer these days). In addition, these submission platforms are free for filmmakers but do cost the film festivals a percentage of that all-important entry fee you’ve paid.

A quick tip – if DVDs are required by the festival - Do not attach any stickers, Avery labels or paper labels to the DVD. I mentioned this in Part One of this article series. Stickers and labels jam DVD players and really piss off the screeners and programmers who are rating or filtering the films that get accepted into the festival. If a label jams up their players, they will probably throw the DVD at the wall or, at the very least, be afraid to watch it for fear it will wreck their machines. It is not deemed unprofessional to write on the DVD using a permanent marker and include all the information needed to identify the film or, if you’d prefer, have it professionally engraved.

Filmmakers need to pay attention to the guidelines. Each festival has their own set of rules and regulations. Some may require two DVDs. Be prepared to submit two so your film will go through the screening process quicker. Some may require a digital transfer; others may want to view them via private passwords on Vimeo. Make sure your contact information is clear and easy for the festival to find no matter how you submit your film.

Another tip: Don’t submit a 25-minute short film to a festival whose rules state 15 minutes or less. Not every festival is the same so be sure and check each website to discern what the proper submission format is for that particular festival. Make a note of it on your target submission form. We have samples of such forms in our book.

The use of loglines are industry standard for pitching films, query letters, and certainly for film festival entry forms. Make sure yours is clear and concise, and represents your film in a way that whets the appetite to attract an audience. Do not use a tag line or marketing line. Those are very different. A logline is one or two sentences that tell what your film is about…period! When filmgoers read the festival program and choose which films to watch, they are making their decisions based on the logline or short synopsis. Keep that in mind.

Script EXTRA: 7 Crucial Logline Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Make sure you fill out all the information on the submission platform (Withoutabox, FilmFreeway, et al). You can upload your complete press kit, which helps programmers out so they can take the information verbatim from your 25, 100 and 250 word synopses as well as the jpeg images from your film for their programs. Be sure to include the name of your film school (if applicable), production company, cast, location where it was shot (a lot of festivals tend to be partial to films shot in their area), etc. The more information, the better!

Monika Skerbelis and I teach an online class called Maneuvering Film Festivals from We walk you through all of this and more while giving you extensive feedback to help guide you on the festival experience. And you can do this all from the comfort of your home and laptop. So if you need more help than these articles can provide and feel you need someone to oversee what your festival strategy is or how to create your Electronic Press Kit (EPK), you can get us as your mentors for the 4 weeks of the class. If you are a self-starter, then this 4-part article might suffice and help kickstart your festival journey.

Next week, Part Three in this series will address what needs to be done when you get accepted into a film festival.

2017 Copyright Rona Edwards – No reprinting without permission from author.

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