Why I Will Never Pay a Film Festival Submission Fee Again (unless I do)

Before I even dip a toe into this subject, a little background: If you had asked me two years ago what the hardest part of making our film ”THE WATERHOLE” was I would have answered something like “working with limited resources” or “time constraints.”  If you were to ask me today I would answer simply and without hesitation: “getting into film festivals.”  The film business is a freight train’s length of consecutive rejection.  You get used to it.  You have to. I really wanted to take the film to as many places we could, show it to audiences and get their reactions all while partying with other filmmakers and film fans.  That didn’t happen. Getting rejected to as many film festivals as we did hurt but it’s a reflection of reality.  There is a lot of competition and you take your chances just like anyone else.

For the most part, I still believe that film festivals are still great events and a vital part of the world of independent film. Film festivals have thousands of submissions to assess, and a lot of good films get passed over.  The point of this post is not a criticism of film festivals, but rather to one aspect of them, the submission process.

The fact of the matter is that submitting to film festivals can be a tremendous waste of money.  For our film we submitted to well over thirty film festivals with submission fees ranging anywhere from $25-$80.  At the end of the day this adds up to a lot of money spent, especially to an independent filmmaker with a dwindling budget.  This money could have been used to host our own screenings, hire marketing or self-distribution consultants or even used to make another film.  (Literally, what we spent was almost the budget of Gary King’s wonderful little film “What’s up Lovely.”)  Adding to the problem is Withoutbox, a wonderful tool to submit to festivals and manage those submissions, but with the side effect of making it too hard to be discriminating with too many options. (Hell yeah I would like to go to Dublin or Hawaii or Bermuda!)

Simply put, the festival submission process is the filmmaking equivalent to the lottery.  Worse actually, because at least all lottery ticket buyers are playing on the same level.  Do you think every film that submits to a festival gets equal consideration?  You don’t?  Good, I would hate to be the one to throw that bucket of cold water on you.  Here’s a fact: we did not submit to the first festival we screened at.  Didn’t pay either.  We got in via a friend of a friend and we were extremely grateful, but it was in no way something we planned for.

I won’t pretend to know all the inner workings of the selection process but many films that get in get in do so through back channels, who-knows-who and sometimes even through bribery – friendly and playful bribery, but bribery none-the-less.  Many films get selected after screening at a major festival or because the star of the film has connections.  There is no way to compete with that.  None.  My very favorite story was reading an interview with the festival director of the 2009 South-by-Southwest Film Festival joking that she was thrilled a film she acted in was selected.  She would have to be one hell of a great actress to make me believe she was really surprised.

If you simply send in the film the chances of someone watching it that actually has power to program it is slight.  I highly recommend that every filmmaker watch the documentary “Official Rejection” for a wonderfully frightening tour through the festival submission process.  I mention it here for another reason.  The filmmakers behind the movie endorsed “The Hill County Film Festival” that was founded by a duo they featured in the doc.   We submitted, figuring that given their history with festivals they would make an attempt to at least be conscientious enough to give fair treatment to those submitting.  We were rejected.  Fine.  I read the rejection letter for the salt in the wounds and see that they confessed that they were not able to watch every film.  I love honesty, but can I have my submission fee back?

So not to be the jackass that just complains, what would I recommend?  Festivals rely on these fees to help cover the costs occurred by running these large events, so we can’t expect them to do away with the fees altogether.  (Although bless those festivals that have no submission fees, what few of them there are.)  First, filmmakers deserve feedback. Maybe each filmmaker gets sent a chain of custody form, explaining who watched the film, a rating and a few comments.  It wouldn’t take much time and would at least provide a sense of where the film stood in the selection process.  Or how about a pre-screening process?  Have filmmakers send a trailer and/or a synopsis to weed out the ones that are not the right fit for the festival right off the top.  This would generate less submission revenue, but is seemingly a much fairer approach.  Any transparency is better for my money than just a rejection letter.

Will I ever spend money on a festival submission again?  I hope not.  In reality I could not look a filmmaker in the eye and tell him not to submit to Sundance, Toronto or any of the half a dozen or so major fests.  You just need to try to do everything your power to get it seen by a person who makes the decisions.  Are there other smaller festivals that are worth the fee?  Yes.  Ask other filmmakers.  Do the research and choose carefully.  There are thousands of festivals and you can’t submit to all of them and shouldn’t submit to most of them.  Buy Chris Gore’s “Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide” and read it cover to cover.  (We did not get this book until six months after we began submitting and what a difference it would have made.)

Making THE WATERHOLE was a learning process.  In many cases we learned only after making mistakes. Spending the type of money we did on festival submissions is one mistake I do not want to repeat.  If you have any interest in seeing our film, you can buy it hear now for $9.99: http://www.thewaterholemovie.com/store



Filed under Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Independent Film

74 responses to “Why I Will Never Pay a Film Festival Submission Fee Again (unless I do)

  1. Agreed. I’m done for good. They mean nothing now. So much easier to take that chunk of change and pour it into your own screening, or multiple screenings, and make it count. Although if you want to get onto IMDB quickly you will have to submit to at least one through Withoutbox(thats a whole other racket). So there is only one I will submit to, the only one that didn’t give me a form rejection letter from the Your an Idiot for Submitting to this Film Festival book. They are relics of the past.

    • Mike, it might surprise you that I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. For the past 9 years I have been part of the Chicago International REEL Shorts Film Festival. I could bend your ear (eyes?) for hours about Withoutabox or eccentric filmmakers. I have written and sent many ‘form letters’ but I have also made many specific and individual contacts with filmmakers. I can’t speak for any other film festival but I assure you that all our entries are reviewed and we make it our responsibility to improve relevance in the future.
      Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Toby Wallwork

      • WNM


        I may not totally do that but my future advice to filmmakers I know is to severely limit the film festivals they submit to. I think the worst thing filmmakers can do is to submit to 12-15 festivals in a year. It ends up being way too expensive and possibly a big waste of time.

        Long gone are the film festival days reported in the Film Festival Books I have read.

        Incidentally, I’m not going to mention names, but we submitted a film to an established festival that has a venue in Chicago. They never even recognized GETTING OUR FILM, much less sending a rejection letter. The funny thing is, we sent them a check for payment in the same envelope with the film. THEY CASHED THE CHECK.

        You can’t tell me that film makers who spend an enourmous amount of time and money on a film, spend a lot more money on support materials and then spend money on registration fees for film festivals are Getting Their Money’s Worth. To have them pay these fees without even a single paragraph of constructive criticism in return, is frankly OUTRAGEOUS.

        We received better feedback, constructive criticism, acknowledgement, a standing ovation and press from finally doing our own screening. Even the smaller festivals we submitted to were more interested in showing non-indy Hollywood backed films than films made in their own backyard by locals. If you are a film maker with a small film and limited promotional funds it will be a tough battle.

        My advice is to submit to six LOCAL film festivals. If you have no success -STOP THERE and make your own screening. Do not send anything outside of your area without at least some local exposure first and skip sending to any large festival directly. That sounds a lot different from the film festival books you’re probably read right? These people are on a different planet.

      • Don’r blame Mike. It is your industry’s responsibility to protect it’s reputation, not his. When these practices are allowed to become as widespread as they are you can bet it didn’t happen overnight. I noticed you didn’t refute the fact that most slots are already promised before you submit. If your promise is just that some unpaid volunteer with no clout in your org will watch it and rate it but that that means nothing one way or the other when push comes to shove if all the slots are already promised by the higher ups. II entered my two short films in about 40 festivals total, about 20 each. I got accepted by 7 in 2 countries, one top 10 in USA. Not a bad showing for two films made for classes I was taking. The ones that screened my film all happened to be festival for which I did not have to pay a submission fee as I recall. I did not know anyone at any of these festivals except that the first one I got into a teacher of mine was on the board or something and got them to let me enter a week late after he watched my film and loved it. He had nothing to do with the film otherwise. That was a small festival where it was paired with the previous year’s winner of the $20,000 grand prize for feature doc at SFIFF and since I later got into a nearby top 10 USA festival paired again with a feature film, I rest assured the film deserved what it got and more. Whatever you do, do not buy the book Film Festival Secrets. The author advised to never ask for a fee waiver and then went on to get a job at the Atlanta Film Festival.

        SXSW routinely has board members making films that get into their festival and also favors Texas filmmakers and they make no apologies about it. I would rate it and Sundance as the biggest waste of money. If you have to pay don’t expect them to play.

  2. With all the filmmakers I have spoken to over the last few years. I cannot tell you how common it is for a filmmaker to get into their first film festival because of a connection they have to the festival. It is off the record, but I could probably name 20 off the top of my head. By the way, happens to be the case for my feature film’s debut screening also. : )

  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I won’t be submitting to film festivals ever again. Actually, I never wanted to. The first fest I submitted to I paid no entry fees. Actually the trailer, then film, was seen by the co-chair of the film commission of the state I grew up in, then it was handed from one person to another until it got into the hands of the fest director. It should have been a shoe-in based on the fact that no one in that state had spent that much time and energy and attempted something of that level. But it was tossed aside, probably based soley on what the fest director or a few on the selection committe personally liked. And that’s my point. What matters isn’t just having an inside connection but fitting the personal likes of people who call the shots.

    I’ve had tons of people who have watched AMNESIA and flat out said they couldn’t understand why it was rejected. It doesn’t matter why to me anyone more, what matters is connecting with the audience I am really reaching out to and they won’t be the ones at the fest.

    I would rather put the destiny of my films in my hands then in the hands of a fest that gives a thumbs up or down. You can get local theaters to screen your films. Just start working the system. Make phone calls. Find out who’s friends with the owners, etc. Figure out a way. Then you’re deciding your fate.

    What’s the benefit of a fest? To create a sense of an “event” for your film. So, create your event.

    I’m living proof, and I know there are others out there, that can show that they can go-it-alone, without the fests, and gain the attention they need for their film. I toured my home state and after SXSW rejected me I combined my efforts with others and made rebfest.com and got more attention than most of the films running at the fest. Irony, I think not.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I think what’s been most frustrating for me, so far, is that for most of the festivals we haven’t gotten into (I will confess it has only been seven), when I went back to look at the short films that were selected, I’ve found that they fit certain themes that the festival instituted that our film didn’t fall into. So why can’t they tell us the themes beforehand? I seriously doubt that they wait to watch all 2500 films (or however many) before they know which subcategories they want to highlight. Anyway, after this is discovered, the filmmaker feels like an idiot, because that was money that could’ve been spent elsewhere, as you said, since the film was probably being judged (if it was judged) more on the basis of how it fit into the festival then in how good of a film it is. Which is fine. But a heads up would go a long way. And it may even help the festivals, since they will, presumably, get more of what they wanted from the beginning.

    • I was asked by a small festival I got into the year before to recommend a short supernatural themed film to go along with a Wonder Woman film. I had the perfect short film to recommend for them but it was a male director, a young male star and mostly male actors with a gay theme. I had no connection to the film other than that I was a pre screener at a non profit festival and saw it as a volunteer. The female programmer did not use it and gave no explanation for why it didn’t fit. I later realized it was the feminist thing going on. She wanted a female themed film so as not to “take away” from the “powerful female” focus. So sad.The short film went on to screen around the world and to much acclaim. The short film was made with prize money and mentorship won from his previous short Former employees of the BBC Channel 2 mentored it. It later got the director funding, some from me, for his first feature which got distribution in serval countries. It has gotten to the point that if you are a white male, even a gay one, you have a snowballs chance in hell of ever getting your film selected if you don’t know or bribe someone. If you fit that category and get your film in a major festival with no connections let me know. I really want to watch your film cause I know it has to be good. These festivasl are just devaluing the honor with all there PCness. Does anyone know what percent of Sundance Lab films make it into Sundance FF?

  5. Man, you’ve hit every point! But I must jump on Jason Gilmore’s bandwagon. Film festivals DO know what the theme or concept is for a particular year, yet they withhold this information from filmmakers just to get another check. I worked for a PR company and I know how much effort goes into events. Would Festival X decide the theme for the 2011 festival two weeks before the festival? I think not. They know. Just like other film festivals know. And they knew that documentaries, genre films, etc won’t get into the festival , but they won’t tell us that.

  6. Rob

    Great post. Interesting to see so many people having similar experiences. Every filmmaker I know seems to be struggling with this. The last two fests I submitted to mentioned in the rejection letter that they were not able to watch all the films. Again… honesty is nice, but a refund would have been nicer. I asked for one from both and never even got a reply.

    I also had a HORRIBLE experience dealing with Slamdance regarding a short of mine they accepted. I guess things like withoutabox etc are really increasing the amounts of submissions as mentioned and overwhelming these festivals, but with that increase comes an increase in money so they should be able to hire more people and make it work. Blah. Who knows… depressing and frustrating.

    I definitely plan on trying something else with my next one instead of a normal festival campaign. Again, thanks for the post. Keep up the fine work. Best, Rob – downtimemovies.com

  7. Serguei

    It’s so true! The festivals like your film… sure, it’s looks good in the festival programs and plus you pay for it. Founder of Malibu festival got tired of being rejected by some of those festivals and started his own, and who knows… may be it pays the bills and more.

  8. This is an excellent post and I could not agree more with David and John. When I first produced First World in 2007 (a 25 min. sci-fi short) and began the submission process to festivals, I quickly learned that they received hundreds of submissions and it really was just pure luck if you get accepted or had an inside connection. Once I heard this I stopped submitting. I then started to contact sci-fi conventions around the world. After 20 screenings in the United States and several other countries, First World was getting the recognition and press it needed with a targeted audience. There are so many other options out there now for the filmmaker to get their work seen. When you have platforms like Hulu and Crackle, film festivals are rapidly becoming passe.

    • Mark, you make some good points and experiences vary. In fairness, getting accepted into any film is mostly luck because there is not objective metrics for reviewing films (as soon as YouTube figure that out, I’m out of a job!). I know how many films I watch for our festival each season, and while I try to evaluate each film on it’s own merits, I’m sure that some films benefit from being better that the screener before it and suffer for it if they aren’t. Fests should be one part of a multi-platform strategy, but no single vector should be the basket for all your eggs.
      Congrats and best in the future,

      • Hi Toby. I couldn’t agree with you coment more. I have my first feature coming out on Sunday (Justice Is Mind). Sure, I submitted to festivals but we have a whole release strategy that includes some theatrical, sci-fi and law school screenings already lined up. Of course now there are so many avenues to self distribute.

  9. Addendum to my first reply:
    I originally posted this onto another blog about festivals but it went no where. So here it is again:

    Submission fees are waste to the majority of filmmakers. I believe that festivals and filmmakers can both BETTER mutually benefit from each other. I think film festivals should take a whole different approach to submission fees.
    Yes this is the guaranteed income to run the event. But for a filmmaker, it is a random drain on his or her
    resources. Lets say a filmmaker submits a feature film 25 times at and average of $40. That
    equals $1000 with no guarantee of anything coming of it. And chances are the bulk of those
    fests are probably the usual suspects of top tier fests that a true indie has no chance in getting
    accepted to but feels the need to just because its those fests that really can have a genuine impact
    of accelerating the filmmakers career. That does not bode well for a sustainable environment for filmmakers or for smaller fests. I think the submission process should essentially be turned
    upside down.

    Submissions should be free.

    So how then does the festival sustain its existence.
    I think there still is value in being in a festival for a filmmaker. Through the curation, exposure,
    press, and running the event, this is very valuable to a filmmaker, most who would never want to do
    this themselves. So if a fest receives $1000 in submission revenue for watching 25 films it would
    need to replace that revenue by charging filmmakers who they ‘invite to work with’
    money to screen the film. Now each festival I think would have different ‘pay into’ levels
    based on the popularity, prestige, and leadership of the festival. So when a filmmaker chooses to send his/her film to a festival that ‘pay into’ amount is listed and the filmmaker can give a commitment to the festival that says, yes I can meet your ‘pay into’ amount, and to protect the festival from watching films and then the filmmaker backing out there can be a back out penalty similar to the old submission fees. Here
    lies another advantage to this system in that a festival will want to lock in films earlier so
    instead of waiting till the last moment they can ‘invite to work with’ much sooner. This is beneficial
    to the filmmaker so he/she can move on with their life if the fest is not interested or
    if the fest is interested, knowing sooner about the screening can better plan and help the festival
    promote the screening through social networking.

    So here is the process:

    1. a filmmaker submits his film to festival X. festival X up front has stated it has a $1000. screening charge and a $25 back-out penalty.
    Concurrently filmmaker submits to
    two other fests with a back-out penalty of $25 each.
    2. festival X reviews the film and wants to screen it notifying the filmmaker fairly promptly.
    3. Filmmaker accepts invite, sends payment, and the screening is on. If filmmaker cant afford the other screening fees he backs out of the other fests who receive the penalty fees(same as the old submission fees). Otherwise he waits for notification from the other two fests.

    Major points:
    -If filmmaker does not get into a fest: No charge.
    -If filmmaker gets into fest: Known expense.
    -If filmmaker gets into all 3: Happy Problem.
    -No change in submission income for the fest.

    I can tell you that as a filmmaker and if I was ready to invest $1000 in film festivals that given the choice of a guaranteed screening or GAMBLING that I may or may NOT get into a festival with that $1000, I would take the guarantee.
    The other good thing about this is that it gets rid
    of the misconceptions and expectations from the filmmakers standpoint surrounding both the business side and the artistic integrity side of film festivals. A filmmaker would know what he is getting into. And from a festival standpoint this should get their review and acceptance policies off the hook. They don’t owe anybody anything until they ‘invite to work with’ a filmmaker.

    Food for thought. But unless it changes I’m out for good and it appears there are many others like me.

    • Mike, this plan would create a pay-to-play model for less scrupulous film festivals. Your film would be accepted into lots of festivals, you’d spend the $1000 and think you were getting effective value.
      What you wouldn’t know is if your film is actually screening, or if it’s playing to empty seats.
      Most film festivals are not the cash-cows that filmmakers suspect. The current model, though admittedly flawed, is primarily funded (or fueled) by the passion of the people who run them.


  10. Great post, Nathan. I’m in total agreement. For the most part festivals are a waste of money. I spent over $1000 on entry fees alone. Got into seven festivals, got awards from three of them, accommodation from two of them, was invited (no entry fees)to two of them, had a blast at three of them — but none of them helped to advance my career, which was my naive purpose in submitting. I suppose if I’d gotten into Sundance or something and won a big award, it might have. Of course, that was my goal.

    But the truth is all the really big festivals get thousands of entries each year, mostly short films. And it’s also a fact that many of the big festivals invite the films they want to screen. I don’t know how it’s possible for festivals staffers to watch every entry from beginning to end. In fact I had the opportunity to talk with one such festivals staffer who intimated that they do not watch every one all the way through. He said they would watch a short film looking for things to hate about it. As soon as they saw something they hated they ejected the disk and moved on to the next one. And it was all about their own personal tastes. If they hated the font on the title — boom, gone.

    But I must say, for all the grief, for all the expense of entering, and travel expenses, the good times I’ve had and the friends I’ve made kind of make the experience worth it. But I have gotten weary of entering more festivals. Those rejection letters can be crushing after awhile.

    • Robert, it’s interesting that you describe the experience as a waste of money. It looks like a lot of money was spent on you for accommodation and having a ‘blast’. You met and made friends in the film making community and it would be difficult to peg an actual cash value on that.
      For what its worth, some of us find sending the rejection letters pretty crushing too.
      Good luck


      • grx

        I think Robert probably got the “best” that is likely to happen without inside connections. It’s too bad that most everyone else gets the “worst” that is likely to happen. As-in, they receive nothing at all, not even feedback (and sometimes not even recognition of applying).

        To say this is a “Disgusting” practice by film festivals is not a strong enough word.

        At least Dances With Films provides some feedback, not real useful feedback but some none-the-less.

        I also have decent things to say about the Las Vegas International Film Festival, at least they recognize some films that don’t make it all the way into the official showing by giving the film maker the opportunity to attend the festival events free of charge. I couldn’t afford the travel myself (since I had wasted money filling the pockets of other scam festivals), but I would have loved to have gone and the Las Vegas International Film Festival has my respect. They are one of the few I would submit another film to, even cold.

        I wouldn’t spend another dollar on film festivals that do not offer “real value” for the submission fee. I’d rather dump the fees down a toilet.

      • I hope in the last 4 years you have been spending some of your energies at least trying to get the FF industry to come up with some standards before everyone realizes the emperor wears no clothes instead of just defending the current ones, or lack thereof? I love the fact that the internet is making festivals less meaningful every day, just like it has for network TV, or even movie theater chains as far a viewing habits. Karma’s a b=^&% ; )

  11. A big thank you to everyone for sharing their thoughts on this subject. It is a tough one for us filmmakers. I hope to be able to continue this dialog on this blog and elsewhere.

  12. Clyde

    Film festival entry fees are the equivalent of stage play submission fees, but instead of reading fees, with films, they are more of a viewing fee. At any rate, they are a dishonest racket. Why are we filmmakers who are supplying the entertainment supposed to pay for their bright idea? No, either go with no-fee festivals, run them yourself somewhere, spend the money on a good meal for yourself

    • Clyde, I’m all for having a nice meal, but I’ll be wondering how I can share my film with hundreds of strangers while I’m perusing the menu. That ‘viewing fee’ pays for the venue, power, insurance, promotion… the viewing gets done for free.
      It might be a racket, it really might, but I’ll wager that most of my peers aren’t dishonest.
      best, Toby

  13. Try the DC Shorts Film Festival.

    1. They work with you on the fees if you are poor with a good sob story.
    2. If you are rejected, they give you feedback on WHY you were rejected.
    3. They give you a place to stay if you are selected and want to come to the festival.

  14. I think the saddest part of film fests is the fact that Hollywood films are taking over all of the major film fests. I am an independent film maker but don’t have millions of dollars to put into my production. Therefore regardless of my film-there it sits. What if Clerks came out today-would it make it into Sundance? It is a great film but I bet it would not even get consideration.
    I don’t enter film fests anymore. I rent local theaters and show the films to local people. I just premiered my indie film “small change” at Celebration Cinema and sold every single seat two nights in a row.

  15. There are a bunch of festivals that not only won’t charge you an entry fee, but will also PAY you to show your work. Artists, like everyone else, have the right to demand that they get paid for the work they do, and you should not have to pay someone to exhibit your work, whether it be film, writing, paintings or whatever. There is a list of Canadian festivals that are part of the Independent Media Arts Alliance here: http://www.imaa.ca. There is also a rate schedule that lists the suggested rates for festivals to pay artists.

  16. Everyone made some good points. Especially the one about festivals that are shaping a certain pattern in their selection choices. I am an associate producer for a film (Atlantic Crossing: A Robot’s Daring Mission) that has been in the festival circuit for a few months now.

    In spite of the good points, and based on my own personal experience with festivals, the completely negative spin on film festivals, I find, is a tad TOO negative.

    Not everyone who gets into film festivals made it through the back door. Every festival that we’ve gotten into was through submitting on Withoutabox.

    I’m not going to lie, the process was rough. There were rejections, there were “due to a high volume of applicants, we were unable to watch your film,” but there were successes. The festivals I did attend where we were finalists were very well made (so clearly the application fees that contributed to the event were not a waste) with invaluable seminars.

    I will admit though, our film at the beginning stages of submissions looks very different from the way it looks currently. What am I hinting at here? I’m saying that we made big editing changes and added, modified and worked on making the story/content better. And with doing so, the tide changed. We started becoming festival finalists (and winners!)

    With that said, here are a few thoughts:
    -Is your film the best that it could be? Are you making any refinements when you submit? If we didn’t make changes to our film and shape it more, we likely wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Why? Because it simply wasn’t good enough yet.

    -Call! Inquire!
    Don’t just submit without researching. Look at prior festival winners to get a clue on what the festival wants from their submitters. You can also call and say something about your film, ask if it sounds like a good fit. You’re paying them to potentially show your work, so you have the right to call and ask questions. If they don’t respond to your liking, move on.

    -Play on the niche and know your audience
    If your film meets a niche (LGBT, African American, Female, Ocean Research), apply to festivals that are for that audience. What’s also great about these festivals is that you may encounter seminars that talk about marketing a film that is very niche and learning how to boost yourself in such a specific market. Our film is a science documentary, and the production team comprises of mostly women. So what key terms did we search for? Documentary, science, and women. From there, we narrowed it down again. Though are film is a documentary, we realized that the film won’t appeal at all to some doc festivals (a lot of doc festivals want stories about human drama), so we narrow it down again. This isn’t to say you should completely submit to niche festivals. You should definitely consider it though.

    -Take reviews with a grain of salt.
    Do your own research, make your own calls, figure things out as much as you can without completely believing what people say. This applies to what people experience at festivals, and what people say about them. We got into the La Femme Festival and were really excited. But after looking at reviews, we saw one from a discouraging angry reviewer. We still gave it a try, to see for ourselves. Ironically, the La Femme experience was one of the best experiences of my life. Going there made me want to relocate to California (which I plan to do next fall). So…in essence, taking what others say without caution could gip you on an invaluable experience.

    I hope this helps and provides some encouragement. Please email me if you have any questions.

  17. Chris

    There’s a great new site called Squirrel, which takes a little of the mystery out of the festivals you submit to. It’s film festival rate and review site and aims to do for the film festival world, what Yelp did for the restaurant industry…

    Check it out: http://www.squirrel.to

    • Hey Nathan, thank you for sharing your view!

      Chris, regarding Squirrel: kudos to the guys behind it, they did a nice job.
      I am one of the founders of FilmFestivalLife and we are rolling out a kick ass platform integrating multi-level festival ratings, festival short profiles for quick orientation and filmmaker profiles including the festival track record of your films… plus a lot more features to come.

      We want to help you making festivals your business.
      Sneak in at http://www.filmfestivalratings.com.

      For any questions feel free to contact me.

  18. Love this article. Can totally relate to it. Too funny that a festival actually wrote feedback that they were not able to watch every film and then the cajones to not include your refunded money. We started working on our own documentary about the film submission process calling it “Scamdance”.

    Actually we were so irritated and increasingly skeptical about the whole submission process that we started our own film festival. The Tumbleweed Film Festival. Our motto is “The Film Festival by Filmmakers for Filmmakers” (as well as, watch globally drink locally – screening venues are held at local wineries) – Every single movie gets watched, thoughtfully evaluated and a reviewed!

    Please check us out http://www.tumbleweedfilmfest.com we need good truly independent films. The 2nd annaul TwFF is in Aug 4th, 5th and 6th

    Thanks for the great post. Mo

    • I would not rush to be so naive as to believe her that that was routine for festivals to admit to her they did not watch her film or even one did that. Regardless of the Sundance lawsuit outcome I think that admission would require you to refund the submission fee to all that you admitted that to, I frankly don’t believe her. She won’t name that film festival but she promotes another one heavily by name, I think it is pretty obvious what is going on here. Self promotion by a film festival, way too much of which is going on in these comments. They can’t even let us discuss them without interjecting their opinions and trying to steer the discussions.

  19. Former Fest Director

    I can tell you all that if you think that festivals make money you are wrong. You have to factor in that the majority of sponsors are “in kind sponsors” so you never see a dime from them. Think of every cost associated from rentals to insurance to staffing to printing costs. It is a huge expense.

    I foolishly started a festival thinking all of those entry fees would make me money but I ended up LOSING money and folded the fest.

    Now I submit as a filmmaker with a respect for festivals that actually still hold on. There’s still a huge charge from watching a film with an audience of strangers and the other fillmakers you meet make it worth it for me. I got my present job as an editor in a post house because I made a connection with another filmmaker at a fest. So in my opinion they are worth it just for the potential connections you’ll make. I even attend festivals and network with others even if I don’t have a film in that festival. More filmmakers should do just that.

    • grx

      Just because you didn’t make any money running a film festival does not mean that running a film festival in general is a losing proposition. That fact only means that you didn’t make money and your festival failed.

      I know of someone else that runs a smaller film festival that makes TONS of money. I know this guy, and the only reason he has the festival is to #1 make money and #2 feel like he is a big star. He has a real attitude but his festival has grown every year. While I don’t particularly like the guy, I have to admit he succeeded. His festival is a real money making enterprise. To say that a film festival can not be a money making enterprise is to be naive.

  20. Fest Screener

    Very interesting article and comments. If I may, I’d like to throw in two cents from the other side. I don’t speak for everybody, but I’ve served on the screening committee for a large regional film fest for nearly 15 years, watching features, doc and shorts. Here’s what I’ve seen:

    1) Every submitted film gets watched and rated by several people. Every film. The idea that a festival would reject your film without watching it is insane and you should demand a refund if that happens.

    2) That said, rejection letters are usually written (or signed by) a lead programmer. Perhaps what they are trying to communicate is that the Lead Programmer signing the letter didn’t watch your film. That’s pretty common. When 100s or 1000s of films are submitted, the lead programmer is only going to see what the screening committees consider worthy for consideration. There are only so many hours in a lifetime. What that letter is probably trying to say (clumsily) is “Don’t call up and ask why your film was rejected because I personally didn’t watch it.” It hurts, I know. But that’s life.

    3) The screening committee’s job is to program the festival. It is not to give advice to filmmakers. Review notes are usually geared toward reminding us what the film was about and what made it good or bad. Thus, when we later argue about what to program, we can recall the film without rewatching it. Rejected films don’t get much thought once they are rejected, especially the really bad ones. Would you really want to see the notes of such films? What if on a scale of 1- 10, your film got a 2 with the note “Pompous amateur-ish crap.” Would that help? I don’t think so. It would likely just start a fight and what’s the point? The next film you send in might be great and we’d want to see it.

    4) We often wish we could send a note when films are good but not quite good enough (for instance, “If you cut the first ten minutes of this and ended it without the flashback, this would be so much better”). But we don’t as it’s not our place and we don’t know if filmmakers would appreciate the input. On occasion, I’ve run into a rejected filmmaker at another festival and when they mention their film, I provide those thoughts, but that’s on my own time and in a very different context.

    Would it make a difference if filmmakers included a note on the DVD case soliciting advice for the cut? I don’t know. We’d probably still ignore the terrible films, but it might open the door to communicating with the filmmakers whose work got 5 or 6. Still, we wouldn’t want to mislead people into thinking that if they followed our suggestions, they’d make the festival next year. That’s probably why we avoid it all together.

    5) Speaking of terrible films, I’d say that 50%-60% of the films we receive are garbage or completely wrong for our festival. By garbage, I mean incompetent in painfully obvious ways – terrible script, bad acting, technical nightmares. These are films that are so awful that anyone can tell within minutes of hitting PLAY they are not getting into the festival. I am amazed that people even put titles on such crap.

    By completely wrong, I’m referring to those projects (sometimes submitted by a PR company) which are really infomercials or corporate promos. Did these people even look at the kinds of films we program or did they just send it out to everything with an upcoming deadline on withoutabox? And what about doc festivals that receive narrative features or music videos? Ca’mon. Doing some festival research is required if you want to avoid rejection and wasting money.

    6) Regarding back doors into festivals, the friend to friend connection is rare for us. If it happens, it’s usually only in a non-competitive screening slot and is more about supporting local filmmakers. And the film has to be at least good. More common is the call to a fellow programmer, asking “Did you see any good international shorts recently?” That’s why it’s always important to play festivals and chat with the programmers. They might recommend your work elsewhere.

    A bigger issue is that the top tier festivals grab an ever higher percentage of the good films in a given year and demand exclusive screenings and world premiers. If we want such films, we have to track those festivals, call the filmmakers and invite them to submit to us. They don’t all get in (in fact, most don’t) but the result is that fewer great films show up unannounced in the mail. Even when they do show up via WOB and we love them, filmmakers and their business team pull screenings from us when they get into a bigger festival. That happens multiple times every year.

    So anyway, those are some thoughts. I have seen the other side too – submitting films to festivals who don’t even respond (the weirdest was a festival that didn’t respond but programmed our film anyway!). Just as there are too many films and filmmakers in the world, there are probably too many festivals and the result is some festivals are run poorly. I still believe in the process (we spend four+ months a year screening films for our festival) and I hope that those of you making great films submit them to many festivals – not just the biggies, but the regionals and locals too. We’re always looking to be stunned.

    • I have seen film festivals from both sides. I have submitted to festivals and gotten in quite a few percentagewise and I have worked as a volunteer pre screener.

      I agree with you that most films are very, very bad. Unfortunately the best ones are not often chosen due to insider connections friendships, PCness, quotas, gender bias. etc.

      I saw that from the inside. To imply that the volunteer pre screener’s opinions matter in any way is just not honest. I gave one short film 5 stars out of five. The only five star rating I gave. I mentioned it to the programmers too. They snubbed it. It went on to great success screening around the world and winning awards even in China despite being gay themed. It was made with $35K in winnings and the mentorship of former producers from the BBS Channel 2. What film festival snubbed it. The now completely lesbian run San Francisco LGBT film festival, AKA Frameline.

      They like to reserve the spots for their lesbian themed and directed films to win favor with their American lady friends/directors, They want to have lots of international films too so they pick most of them for the gay male themed and directed films. I don’t think that gender discrimination is moral and it should be clearly advertised in their WAB listing. They also tend to give the paid positions to women and expect the men to work for free and they make up 80-% of the volunteers. Almost al team captains are women and you have to “be invited“ to apply to become a team captain.

      “The idea that a festival would reject your film without watching it is insane and you should demand a refund if that happens.” I agree and you and I both are in disbelief about this. Difference is you won’t admit it happens and I don’t believe a festival would admit it happens.

      “Every submitted film gets watched and rated by several people. Every film.” you don’t say that ratings by volunteer pre screeners make any difference all or even most of the time if you have already invited too many films to apply, free. If the ratings are ignored by the programmers what diff does it make that they were rated?

      Who appointed you the decider of what the job of a film festival programmer is? Pompous does apply here, to you. Asking for feedback after the festival is over is no big intrusion. They can decline or ignore but you have no business insulting filmmakers for asking. I got feed back from the only one I asked. They really only had positive feedback despite rejecting me. They were Jewish film festival and not being religious or Jewish or caring who is what I didn’t think about the fact that all of the people in my film or mentioned in my film were Jewish except one until after it was finished. The festival’s notes read to me by someone who didn’t write them were all positive/ “Very well made film, however with the possible exception of Mr. Gold (kinda Jewish sounding name and he played the violin since early childhood) their is no Jewish content. I guess I am suppose to believe that they didn’t know that Jascha Heifetz, his teacher as USC who is also featured, was Jewish, hah, or Piatigorsky, another teacher of his at USC I mention they didn’t know was Jewish. Did they expect me to have klezmer music in a film about a classical violinist? The problem was I was not Jewish, and or they knew a Jewish man was producing a feature also about Heifetz from the standpoint of a student was coming out the following year and they already had it scheduled and did not want to steal its thunder. When I complained about them rejecting it for clearly the wring reason they pretended to reconsider the following year and rejected it two months before their final deadline for submission. Guess it wasn’t as good as they thought. NOT. No they were afraid of stealing the thunder of the Jewish produced film about the same subject only his came out a year later. As a matter of fact they feature the film with a free matinee screening. I went since it was free. Not any better than my film, just longer and less truthful about Heifetz relationship with his students whom he often terrorized. So I learned why a festival should never give honest feedback, if they want to play favorites. BTW, I never complained to any other festival for rejecting my films. I feel lucky an honored to have gotten into the seven I did, one a top ten in USA. Not bad for my first two student films. Frankly I am no longer impressed when someone has gotten a film into a major festival, even Sundance. Just look at the politics. look at their IMDB ratings too.

      I can honestly say that 6 years later there is not one thing i would change in this my first short film. How can I have really done such a good job in my first? It’s called 90% perspiration … post production. I estimate I spent over 1000 hours editing and creating B roll digitally in Photoshop and After Effects for this under 9 minute film. I rarely see independent doc films with this much polish, even ones funded by ITVS. i cringed when I watched the ITVS film about San Cook. They didn’t even use some of their $250,000 to take 1 minute to use the dust and scratched feature in Photoshop to clean up the glaring spots on the archival photos.

      My second short film was about the ancient same sex Greek myth of Zeus and Ganymede. That was a pederastic myth but stupid programmers can’t distinguish between relating history of a pederasty in Greek culture vs pedophilia in modern times any more than the farthest right wingnut can, so it only played three festivals but I was honored that one of them was the Athens, Greece LGBT FF. I must have gotten everything right with my research if they liked it in Greece.

      I have seen some of the most awful short films screen in dozens of festivals. They don’t earn any money or screen theatrically and the directors don’t have any future sucess but the programmers love them for unknown reasons and they met gender requirements in some way.

      “A bigger issue is that the top tier festivals grab an ever higher percentage of the good films in a given year and demand exclusive screenings and world premiers. If we want such films, we have to track those festivals, call the filmmakers and invite them to submit to us. They don’t all get in (in fact, most don’t) but the result is that fewer great films show up unannounced in the mail. Even when they do show up via WOB and we love them, filmmakers and their business team pull screenings from us when they get into a bigger festival. That happens multiple times every year.”

      I am at a total loss as to how you think this supports your view that the comments here are wrong. This supports them. You guys are so busy chasing the well publicized films that screened at major festivals you can’t find the diamond in the rough, or polished ones either. Basicall programmers at most festivals get a free vacation to another country to go there to find already discovered films and invite those filmmakers to submit for free and take spots from uninvited submitees. Then there are festivals like the LGBT Festival in Colorado Springs that won’t screen any film that did not screen at Frameline. Absurd. Why spend money going to Frameline then. free vacation again.

      ““Pompous amateur-ish crap.” Would that help?” Yes it would be very helpful to weed out the festivals you should not submit to if they were that honest about how unconstructive their criticisms are. I suspect that is why you are commenting completely anonymously. Even you are embarrassed by your jaded attitude.

      I found the networking benefits of the festivals my film screened at that I attended to be vastly overrated. Since festivals love for filmmakers to be present for a Q & A I am nor surprised you would tout the benefits heavily.

  21. James Bohr

    Good post. I can definitely relate to it. Sadly, festivals have become (or maybe they always were) just a part of the huge industry. No one cares about your reflective, deep, serious film. Most of the films I see on festival homepages are run-of-the-mill, same old beat-up themes of “boys becoming men”, redemption, timely social issues that have same old unbelievably boring three-act structure, story line, cliches that make audiences tear-jerk, disgusting redemptive values that have nothing to do with real life but increasingly remind me of Hollywood formulas.

    I see unbelievably low quality, even at supposedly high quality festivals both in the US and Europe. How could they even program those incomprehensible home videos in their competition? I know you’ve probably heard the expression relating to the rejection letter that “nothing is personal”? Well I am personally offended and pissed and give no excuses. People spends their savings, years of life to make one short film, only to see unbelievable crap get into festivals. At least we shouldn’t be getting those template rejection letter patronizing us that “we are so deeply saddened, your film was almost selected, you missed by a hairline.” I just want to kick them in their balls.

    Festivals are a business. Plain and simple. Unless you really have connections either through friends or a festival programmer don’t waste your money.

    • THANK YOU someone who is smart enough to see it for what it is A BUSINESS it is the festivals job to take your money..and do nothing…else..

    • I agree except for one thing. most FF programmers don’t have balls. Literally and figuratively. Most are women and most of the ones who are not follow the crowd. Then there are personal preferences. I know a gay film critic who is so enthralled with very young male actors that he likes everything they do for all the wrong reasons. Fine except he overlooks the other good stuff that they or guys who look like them in age are not in. If I didn’t know him personally I would never know this influences his reviews or films to review so much. Funny thing is he devalues “opinions” about films by saying everybody has one so he does not like to rate or criticize films. Funny he avoids opinions all the while he carries such strong biases about gender and age in them. I highly recommend that black, female and or transgender filmmakers enter festivals as this is your 15 minutes of fame. You are twofers and threefers in their minds. WAB allows festivals to search for all sorts of terms except male directed films.

  22. 21st Century Filmmaker

    Having been making features, shorts and docs for over 20 years (dramas, comedies, and horror films are my specialty), I know the “inside and out” of the film festival submission process and what attending a top film festival can do for one’s career.

    It’s not always about getting a distribution deal. Film festivals are about networking, schmoozing, making connections, and getting your name out there as a filmmaker (that means your film is most likely going to be a “calling card” then anything else). But if your film is not accepted, then you cannot participate in any of the things we filmmakers “must do” to get our films out there and to make a name for ourselves. Therefore a film festival “rejection letter” prevents us from meeting people who would most likely appreciate and “help” our films reach a larger audience.

    Here’s the lowdown: The first thing you must realize is that film festivals are no longer screening true “independent films” any longer (like they once did in the 1980s and early 90s). They mostly screen studio-made films that were produced under that studios “independent label.” This is akin to taking 5,000 submissions from 1st time directors with no publicist or “connections” and tossing their screeners into a large garbage bin. I kid you not.

    There is no way in hell your independent film, made for under a million dollars with a no-name cast, no matter how entertaining, innovative, or cutting edge it is, will get accepted into any top 25 film festival (i.e. Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca, L.A., AFI, SXSW, Cannes, Telluride, etc…).

    All of the following must take place to even have a remote chance of getting into a top 25 film festival as of 2011:

    1) You MUST have at least one “name actor” in your film.

    2) You MUST have a prominent publicist who acts as the conduit between you and the festival who puts in a good word with the festival’s programmer.

    3) You MUST have some sort of “in” with the festival’s programmer or one of his/her main screeners.

    4) And this is not bullshit…You secretly pay a programmer to include your film in the fest.

    If you do not do one or all of these…you have no shot in ever getting into a top 25 film film festival.

    Lastly….and this is from someone with over 20 years experience of making films and submitting to nearly a thousand film festivals in that time (blowing more than $35,000 in entry fees in the process), most of the top film festivals are now programmed by either women or gay men, so in the current political climate we now live in, unless you have the connections I mentioned above, or unless your film is either a documentary about a foreign country’s atrocities, or unless your film is a pro-feminist or gay themed road movie, your chances of getting your drama, comedy, or sci-fi/horror feature into a top 25 film festival is non-existent (Asian women programmer’s especially “don’t get it”). This is not meant to be mean-spirited or homophobic. It is “reality” in today’s film festival world. Only in the rare case of a festival having a “straight male programmer” do filmmakers like myself have a chance to get into a top 25 film festival.

    So maybe it’s time for me to find another line of work, LOL!

    • James Bohr

      I’m wondering in the end if you managed to get into film festival in the end? I’m looking ahead and thinking whether my shit is really worth anything to anyone?

    • James Bohr

      And of course thanks for sharing your experiences. I know it’s painful to write about them and hence more they are appreciated

    • chris

      You are so dead on here!

    • Henry Krinkle

      LOL, wow… I can’t believe you spoke the unspoken, which is that yes, many programmers are, by and large, women, gay men, or even worse, struggling authors who have some kind of connection to a person high up in the business and they use a film festival to lord it over other artists hoping to get their big break (I have personal experience with this particular one many moons ago, and the person programming was that exact description and the festival one of the top five. Not top ten, not top twenty… top five. This person had ZERO BUSINESS programming a film festival that could make or break people’s careers.) They really are terrible arbiters of taste in the American festivals when it comes to what makes a great movie. The festivals have actually pushed themselves out of relevance by poor programming practices and they’ve become an inward facing circle jerk of the shamelessly liberal variety (and I consider myself borderline socialist, btw).

    • Straight men are being hired to direct the biggest gay films so what is the problem? Even Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival is run by women so don’t think it is easy for gay men. Why do you not mention lesbians? They are women and are not much happier with films about gay men than films about straight men and they are programmers at very major festivals too. Please do tell us the festivals with the gay male programmers as I never found them. How do you know they are gay? Gay festivals tend to pander to films with nudity and semi-closeted or gay wannabe straight stars like James Franco attached. We are having cliche films like Curmudgeons by straight actor/directors like Danny DeVito taking our slots since he can sell tickets. Yuk! It is awful and embarrassing. I had much more success with major festivals with my first film about a straight man than my next and better film about gay male subject matter, the ancient same sex Greek myth of Zeus and Ganymede. When I offered to help program one screening at a festival I screened at the year before by programming a couple hours of gay themed films they responded with this is not a gay film festival. It was an area that is a retirement haven for SF hippies and major, longtime grower of marijuana that said that.

  23. 21st Century Filmmaker

    I got so wrapped up into telling it “how it is” that I forgot to mention how I myself fared in the film festival world. I’d say I’ve gotten into 25% of the film festivals I entered and most of them are non-top 25 fests (small, hidden, out-of-the-way fests with small entry fees with little audience turn-out). And you should also know, I’m pretty well-established and am known for my quirky, little films, so I guess being a semi-name in the film world doesn’t add up to a hill of beans in the long run.

    My only bit of positive advice is to perhaps try submitting your masterpieces overseas, as it’s been my experience that European film fests seemed to be a tad more open-minded than the ones here in the states.

  24. This is a wonderful and depressing blog post. I agree with all of it, especially the bit about Chris Gore’s book being a big help.
    I’d also like to add that with my film we’ve had some success with begging for fee waivers. If you really don’t have any more submission fees in your budget some programmers will take pity on you. While all the nepotism and horrible things everyone has said about getting into festivals are true it’s also true that most people get into working for film festivals because they love film. If approached nicely and at a time when they still have some fee waivers left they might give you one.

  25. Thanks that i’m not alone thinking the same as you.I’m new into submissions films but luckly i discover very quick that the pay festivals isn’t any good.My submissions are only free. BUT my biggest disappointment is with those like RellPort,Withoutabox, Shortfilm and many others that I don’t know.
    I suggest that no one uses those sites, they are not reliable!!!

  26. GRX

    I’m a new film maker and new to festivals. I’ve just got demolished by Sundance, SXSW, SlamDance and Dances with Films. Things aren’t looking great on the horizon for some other festival deadlines coming up. So, having likely spent a fraction on festivals compared to others here (less than $700) and having probably submitted to a fraction as well (only around 12 -Jury still out on most), I’m going to take another hard look at this film and my strategy within the next month.

    I may not submit the film to another festival what-so-ever. I don’t think it’s fair to ask for a submission fee and then give a generic letter or perhaps not even reply at all. I can take some constructive criticism. It would probably help the film. I made this film over a period of 8 years, it cost thousands and thousands to make, now on top of it I have festival submission fees and generic letters coming back.

    I’m starting to think I should just use the money I’d use submitting to festivals and do my own Event, my own targeted advertising and my own release. I’d follow that up by more targeted advertising with a very inexpensive online Demand release and finally a follow-up Special Edition DVD/Blueray available on Amazon and others.

    At least if I’m going to blow through more money, I have Some Cash Return.
    A generic email from a festival is a poor substitute for cash in hand.
    I would argue that all that PR that film festivals supposedly generate can be bought if you’re willing to buy some advertising to generate the story.

    This is coming from a first time film-maker, I’m also considering making my own film festival, provided I can find the proper nice venue. Withoutabox has been a boom for the festivals, the films and fees are pouring in. I know, because Sundance received over 11,000 films and most others are reporting record submissions.. But, I would also say that eventually Withoutabox is going to hurt the festivals bad. Now that just about anyone can advertise a festival, the festivals will become as common as the films they’ve been complaining about. I can see festivals having to pay for good films once the festival market becomes more saturated. Think it will not happen? We also never thought Sundance would receive 650 films in 1996 and 11,000 in 2012.

    BTW: Why is it that out of all the books I read, including Mr. Gore’s on film festivals that these top tier festivals are even still recommended for entry? You would think that those who have gone before would recommend you Do Not Enter these listed festivals unless you have enormous cash, publicity or connections. You even find these The Film Festivals to enter garbage online. It would have saved me some grief to be heavily forewarned.

    • grx

      To update, I did drop out of film festivals and did my own PR and premiere. I received 500% better return on the money spent.

  27. I already had an international distribution contract and still got rejected by my own area (Atlantic Film Festival) as well as all the others I submitted to. Maybe we need to organize ourselves for screening our own productions and give some of the proceeds to charity to make people feel good about themselves 😉 Co-ops are probably on their way back given the state of the economy 😉

  28. Pingback: Festival Submission | Indie Film Blog

  29. How I do it, is to only submit through withoutabox every film festival I entered through them. Gave me the option for I think 2 buck to get my submission fee back if not selected. Its the only way I will submit to festivals

    • grx

      If withoutabox does this, it is the first time I am hearing about it.
      They didn’t have that option when we submitted. The only option was
      protection against having the submission “lost,” and I think that may have been a couple dollars but is totally different.

      • now that I look at this a little closer it seems your right what a drag man I hate this! It should be a crime to take someone’s money even if they don’t get into the festival just seems wrong all the way around.

      • grx

        Well, you can’t expect to get a refund just because your film didn’t get in. However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to at least: 1. Get a recognition that your film was received. 2. Receive some constructive criticism (Especially if they had an option to ask for some). 3. Receive a rejection letter with something meaningful as listed above.

        The problem is, film makers are receiving NOTHING. While I understand it would require just a little more work on the festival’s side, what about all the work and money the film makers have put out?

        This hardly seems fair. As a result, I’m not submitting to another festival basically unless invited. Thankfully, our film has gotten some recognition and won some awards, we did our own premiere and we do have at least a few people in our corner,

        However, basically NONE of this came about through festival submission. I repeat, NOTHING was achieved through festivals. Chances are good we will be back at some festivals this year, but this is going to be almost totally through back doors. The other people on this blog are right. Don’t waste money on submission fees. Make some connections, submit to a few local festivals (for the hell of it) and then spend your money promoting your film yourself. We received an avalanche of promotion by doing a premiere, we received more exposure FOR OUR ONE FILM, than any local festival even received for their total event. That speaks volumes……..

  30. grx

    I wish I had someone who had been through this gauntlet (like me) to advise me before starting. I made a lot of mistakes because I listened to the “Supposed” experts in film festival books, websites and blogs. They were WRONG. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t listen to the “experts.” Don’t make that Film Festival Pyramid out, it’s upside down anyway. They advise you to choose HUGE festivals first and then move down the chain. WRONG. The HUGE festivals cherry pick films from smaller festivals! If you submit to a HUGE festival, you are wasting precious funds. I was told Sundance and all the others want a premiere, really? If that is the case, why are they going around to other festivals picking up films? Ever heard of Hostile Waters? It was at Sundance, guess what, it wasn’t US premiere.

  31. Our festival runs a no fee entry policy (http://colchesterfilmfestival.com), we feel the filmmakers are providing the content for the festival so for us it seems like a fair approach. We’re all filmmakers so we’ve experienced both sides of the process which hopefully helps.

    Our main goal is putting on the highest quality screening programme possible. As it costs nothing to submit (you can also submit via online screener so no p&p costs) hopefully filmmakers have nothing to lose by submitting to us and in turn we get a higher percentage of films to select from. There are more benefits to filmmakers than just not having to pay, but I think thats down to what the filmmaker hopes to gain from submitting.

    It’s an interesting debate though and we’ll be taking on some of the points people have bought up in the previous comments.

  32. I just wanted to comment and say that there are quite a lot of festivals that do not charge an entry fee. I have Colchester Film Festival, above, on my blog by the way. 🙂 There are many amazing film festivals, extremely diverse, that do not charge a fee. I have started a blog to support these festivals, but also the filmmakers who make films and may not know the response, or may not feel ready to put a significant amount of money into the project. Submission free festivals are certainly not less significant, and, like finding a gallery if you are a fine artist, it is important to find a venue that supports the type of work that you do. In wanting to make sure that filmmakers understand all of their options, I maintain a database of no entry fee festivals. Like the Colchester Festival mentioned above, hopefully filmmakers will feel like they have nothing to lose, particularly with the increase in online submissions.

    My blog is: http://www.noentryfeefestivals.com

    Best of luck to everyone,


    • grx

      Wonderful information. I also think I may start looking into festivals like this or others which are not affiliated with WAB.

      • Thanks, I hope the blog helps. I have a few festival postings on the blog that use WAB for free entries. However, in some of those cases the festival will use WAB and have a fee- but local filmmakers or students are free if the work is sent by post. Even if you are not entering festivals, I recommend looking at the websites, It’s a great resource for seeing, or at least finding out about inspiring new films.

  33. sergio

    I had my short at Telluride & Sundance film festivals… and now I’m sleeping in my car. True.

  34. Anonymous

    If your film gets accepted into festivals, does that guarantee success? I’ve heard no but would like your take. I only ask as I know someone right now who’s film has garnered interest all the way to Dublin.

    • Festivals are just the most commonly accepted place to launch your film, but by no means the only place and they in no way will they guarantee any success. The thing is there is no easy path and you have to start somewhere and fests have the one thing you really need: Film fans! (And distributors, sales agents, other filmmakers, potential investors) Also they can be a lot of fun. I can’t imagine not having them as a part of a release strategy, but you have to know what they are and are not and use them to your advantage knowing they will not be a silver success bullet.

  35. Thought you might get a kick out of my new feature project, currently a kickstarter staff pick! Bit.ly/scamdance

  36. Floyd

    This was a phenomenal piece. Lot of great info. This is something I’m struggling with now. Do I pay to enter festivals when the acceptance percentage is extremely low, or do I put that money into production? I’ve decided to submit to two or three paying festivals then the rest I’ll stick with the no fee festivals. The goal is to build an audience. As someone stated there are really no true indie films being shown at the major fests anymore, just the subdivisions of the major studios, then they “dub” it as an indie which is bs. I would rather screen my film, which I’m doing. Sell tickets, keep the money and invest it in another production. I’ve also decided to do a web series. I just don’t feel like chasing the carrot and waiting on someone else to open a door. I read that one short film fest entries went from roughly 2500 up to nearly 8000. Really? No one has time to review that many films so what happens to all of those filmmakers? I’m not drinking that kool aid anymore. There are way too many avenues to get your product seen without breaking the bank.

  37. I’ve been saying this for years too. Film festivals are largely a waste of time, perhaps ESPECIALLY if you’ve made a genre film that looks good enough to play at your local cineplex.

    If you look at who has made it over the wall and actually gotten any kind of deal where they have a shot at actually making a living directing movies over the last few years, virtually all of them either came from commercials or got fed up with the festival process and decided to make a high-end looking genre short, usually sci-fi or horror. I think the Hollywood Reporter even did a piece on how shorts were becoming a popular way ‘in’ again, and I think this is due to everything you’ve stated in this article. People just had to find another way as festivals, even big ones, are probably the last place for someone to judge your ability to be handed millions of dollars and then be trusted to come back with something watchable. Most people who run festivals are failed writers, people who are politically active but don’t know much about filmmaking, and many time also just related to powerful people who put their weight behind the fest and then let their relatives run the show. I’ve known people who fit all three of the categories I’ve mentioned above running a festival.

    For myself, I made an indie feature and went through what many of you went through here in the comments and became extremely disillusioned. I even got some press when I sent a letter to the local news website (Hoboken, NJ) simply asking for a comparison between the trailer for my film and the trailer for the film that got in (and won) which was made by the festival director! It was a scam, clear as day, and yet people still wanted to give me shit and call me a ‘whiner’. I guess I kind of was, looking back, and my sin was more one of being naive enough to let that passive aggressiveness fool me and to think that film festivals in general were not shady. Ever since then (this was 2009), MANY, MANY articles and even a few docs have come out exposing the fact that the majority of festivals are a waste of time for filmmakers.

    At the time, I resolved to go back to the drawing board and make a sci-fi project that I only wanted to scare the audience with and have some cool effects. I took it as a mission to make something that if I put it up on youtube would garner a lot of views just for being scary.

    So for a few hundred bucks, I did just that, it got thousands of views (about 200k to date) and then I wrote a screenplay around the characters in the webisodes and took it to a pitchmart in Los Angeles. Being that I had something visual to go along with the script, I got a lot of requests for links to the webisodes. That lead to the project getting optioned to develop and pitch as a television series by a medium sized production company.

    Meanwhile, I ALSO cut the webisodes into a short film… and was rejected by every film festival I submitted to. To me, that was very telling. It was easier to get into a spot where I could potentially have A SCRIPTED TELEVISION SHOW made than it was to get this thing into a film festival.

    In the years that followed, short films like ‘The Raven’, ‘Mama’, ‘Pixels’, ‘Panic Attack’, ‘The Gift’, ‘Alive in Jo’burg’, and many others have gotten people agents, deals, and the ability to at least swim in the Hollywood end of the pool. Not sure how many people have this as their goal, but I always assume the goal is to make a living making movies or to at least get your work seen, and the best way to do that is to have serious connections for getting it out there. I don’t believe festivals can provide this for you as well as you can provide it for yourself if you’re willing to first make something that you’re sure moves an audience and LOOKS professional.

    It used to be that almost every year you had movies that came out of nowhere at Sundance… movies like Primer, Pi, Clerks, Following, etc., but it’s been a LONG time since that has happened. In fact, the last film that became huge and played festivals was ‘Paranormal Activity’. Now, when I finally watched it about a year after the original was in theaters, I expected it to be horrible but actually found it effectively creepy and the actors put in some believable performances. That’s more than I can say for 99.9% of the navel gazing dreck that comes out of festivals, especially anything from the mumblecore movement.

    So I dove into the history of Paranormal Activity and found that it was TWO AGENTS FROM WILLIAM MORRIS who championed the film. Not any festival programmer. In fact, it had been rejected by most festivals until it got into the hands of those two agents who got it up the chain to Steven Spielberg and also got it into the Slamdance film festival.

    There’s a lesson in all of this, one that this blog entry presciently figured out four years ago – film festivals are (mostly) a waste of time. If you have the right film and real talent, it’s easier to get someone important in the industry to watch it than it is to get into a film festival without knowing anybody.

  38. Dan Gottesman

    Apparently you’ve been heard! Check this one out, they cover almost everything we hate: http://www.makeriff.com/#!submissions/ct7o

  39. JM

    Thank you, fantastic article!

  40. Nol

    Sundance ripped me off good. Sent me a last-minute email saying I still had a chance to make the cut, in essence, if only I pay the fee. Paid the fee, nothing happened. Tried to follow up and just got the runaround with various people and prewritten responses.

    I was gonna go over there and f@#$ their whole film festival up.

    Pretty sure they do this to a lot of people every year…

  41. Hi, just to clarify someone who said you have to be selected to make it on imdb..this is not true. You can add your film to imdb regardless, even without imdb account..I do this al the time.

  42. Reblogged this on Kitchen Scenes and commented:
    Very helpful and surprisingly objective. It is difficult not to have strong emotions around rejection. The most important thing for an artist to do is keep making art. The second most important thing is for her to keeping the art out there.

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