YOU DID IT! After countless submissions, hours, and dollars spent, you’ve gotten a YES from a film festival to screen your work.
That “yes” is miraculous and special and beautiful and you need to celebrate it. Yay! Aaand then you need to immediately start getting festival ready. Whether this is the world premiere of your very first short film, or just another screening in your storied independent film career, there are a few insider tips that can take your experience to the next level—and get you invited back with your next project.
Here’s your step-by-step guide to bringing your best self to the film festival circuit.
1. When you get that YES email, respond quickly!
And respond just as quickly to ALL the emails that the festival programmers or hospitality staff sends you, especially if they need something from you. Those registration deadlines, content delivery deadlines, and urgent requests for your promotional stills aren’t just fun suggestions from your new programmer friends. Delays impact the operations of the festival and can impact the festival’s ability to promote you and your film.
2. Become an expert on your film—technically speaking.
If you are handling your own distribution, especially with a short film, and you are not up to speed with that print traffic life—get familiar. That means not just knowing the difference between sending along a DCP or a ProRes, but also how to communicate effectively with the technical staff before and during the festival. Does the festival allow you to request a tech check? Do you know the optimal sound levels for your short? Who is your technical contact on site? Get ready and stay ready. Take notes on screenings that go well and screenings where the film doesn’t look or sound its best, and incorporate it into your next one.
3. Q&A or no Q&A—that is the question.
Especially with shorts, a lot of festivals don’t have time in their lineups for Q&As. However, they may invite you up to do an introduction. You should know exactly what that intro statement will be. Folks are about to watch your film, so you don’t need to include a synopsis in that introduction, but think about the ideal way to frame your work and to introduce yourself to the audience. If there is a Q&A, think about how you want to use that time to communicate most effectively with your potential new fans and friends. Your moderator may be a pro or they may be a volunteer, so it’s in your best interest to know what you want your answers to be—whether or not that perfect question gets asked.
4. Be prepared to sell yourself, and some tickets to your screening.
Depending on the size of the festival the marketing team promoting your film could be one staff person, it could be 10, or it could be a team of volunteers. Even festivals with large teams are promoting many, many films in a lineup and the easiest way for them to help lift yours out of the pack is if you can pitch in on social media promotions. Post on your platforms and be sure to tag the festival so that it’s easy for them to find it and re-post. Make sure you know the festival’s hashtags and definitely make sure you follow them. Bonus points if you share things from the festival’s socials that are not just about your own film!
5. At every festival, you are meeting people you will meet again.
Relationships are everything, and that programming intern of today is the festival director of tomorrow. The other filmmakers in your shorts block are your peers, and more than likely, you will screen together again at another festival on the circuit. Be cool, be kind, be open to collaboration and friendship. This isn’t just about “networking,” it’s about the community you are building in this industry that will be a part of your life for years to come. And you’re a part of it now. Welcome!