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5 Tips to Consider When Submitting Your Films To Festivals

Erin Hallagan | 12.10.2014 As the 11th annual International Film Festival Summit came to a close yesterday, I was pleased to walk away from my third year attending with a stack of new contacts and motivation to dive into a new year of programming for AFF. The conference covered all manners of sins detailing the inner-workings of the festival world – from the changing tides …

Erin Hallagan | 12.10.2014

As the 11th annual International Film Festival Summit came to a close yesterday, I was pleased to walk away from my third year attending with a stack of new contacts and motivation to dive into a new year of programming for AFF.

The conference covered all manners of sins detailing the inner-workings of the festival world – from the changing tides of distribution to the nuts and bolts of festival operations.  I participated on a panel exploring the best practices when programming a festival, and spent a lot of time considering the filmmaker vs. film programmer perspectives in preparation for the discussion. Since our own film competition just opened this week, I thought I’d share some (hopefully helpful) feedback for navigating the festival circuit during the daunting submission process.

1.     Do your re$earch!
We’re in the film business here, and if I’m not mistaken, filmmaking 101 is all about “knowing your audience”. Before you go on a submission spree, do your due diligence and research the festivals you choose to enter. Know the value of each of the festivals that you’re exploring, and what that means to your specific film. Consider their niche and programming history, where they are located, what awards and benefits they extend to their filmmakers, and if there are any additional festival perks.  Do distributors attend? Are there parties and networking events? Is there a conference or symposium counterpart? How do they treat their alumni and assist with the afterlife of a film post-festival?

It’s a dense market. In 2013, it was noted there were over 3000 festivals worldwide (and those were only the reported events…), so it’s true: this is not an easy task. But what this research will help ease is your decision-making process and, if you’re playing your cards right, your budget.

A couple great ways to get to know a festival:
Ask your friends in the filmmaking community if they’ve attended a certain festival (or know anyone who has). See if you can get a sense of other filmmakers’ experiences and how they were treated during their stay. This is crucial. While blogs and certain press out in the world can lend themselves to the tone and atmosphere of a festival experience, what you want to know is: am I, as a filmmaker, going to have a good relationship with the festival? Will they provide me with a tool-kit before I arrive? Will they think about my screening with the same anxieties and terrors, enthusiasm and excitement as I will?

Another good resource is to subscribe to a festival’s newsletter or blog, and follow them on social media. You’ll learn volumes about their identity and brand, their organization and attentiveness, and – once it comes around to decision time – programming updates!

Once you have a list of festivals that seems like a good fit for you and your film, start strategizing! The best way to do this is to take a good, hard (and probably painful) look at your budget and work backwards. Entry fees are all over the map, and the majority of festivals have submission tiers where the fees go up as the final deadline grows closer. Compare this with the value of the festival. Think about the awards and benefits the festival offers. Whittle down your list.

Finally, think about your world premiere. You only get one, and for some festivals, this is a very important consideration. Be deliberate about when you submit, to whom, and for what reasons. Come up with back-up moves. Devise Plan C’s and D’s. Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if and when you don’t get into a festival on your list. Not every festival is the right fit for your film, but with so many in the circuit, and with the right planning and execution, you should be able to find a home where your film is right for the festival.

2.     Know the rules of the road.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your wish list, the fun really begins! Read the submission guidelines and rules for each festival; they’re all going to be different. Read them again. Have a question? Consult the FAQ page of the festival’s website. Likely, it will be answered here, but if not, don’t feel bad about reaching out to the programmers to clarify something. Figure out the festival’s stance on premiere status, distribution status, completion dates, submission formats, exhibition formats, clearing music rights, waiving submission fees…. And when all is digested, make sure you still qualify to enter. Unfortunately, if you enter your film and are ineligible for any reason, you will most likely forfeit your submission fee. The details can be overwhelming, but they house all sorts of information you need to know, not only for entering your film, but often what to expect should you be accepted.

3.     The Full Monty: All about the package.
Rules are read. Submission guidelines reviewed. It’s time to do this.

Here’s the thing: As exciting as this is, don’t forget that programmers are sifting through hundreds – sometimes thousands – of films. And while their job sounds pretty damn cool (watching movies for a living – c’mon!), don’t forget that there is quite a bit of legwork that exists between when the movie arrives, and when the movie goes into the DVD player.

There’s a lot of paperwork. There’s a lot of processing, and filing, and accounting, and checking, and re-checking. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of follow up due to incomplete or incorrect submissions.

So as awesome as your press kit is, or as incredible as your DVD of extras may be, anything other than exactly what is requested of the submission is going into the recycle bin. The time and space for superfluous materials do not exist.

Strip it down. Make sure you’re including all the information required, and don’t succumb to the temptation to go above and beyond if you’re mailing your submission in*. That said, here’s what can make up a sexy package:

-        A good, clear, concise cover letter. Again, this isn’t the forum to reveal the reason film is your life or behind-the-scenes inside-jokes that took place on set. Here is what you should mention, however:

  • Are you an alum of the festival? If so, what was the film and when did it play?
  • Are you a local filmmaker?
  • Did you shoot the film in the same state as the festival takes place?
  • What other festivals have you played? Did you win any awards?

-        DVDs and Vimeo links. Every festival has their preferred method of watching your film. Most will indicate this in their submission guidelines, but keep in mind, this might exclude the preference of their screening committee. No matter who’s watching, you always want them to be as comfortable and as engaged as possible. It can’t hurt to send options.

-        Labeling. Did you receive a tracking number? Write it on your DVD! Write it on your package! Don’t forget to include your title and runtime, either. Is the film a work-in-progress? Include that on the disc and in any materials you’re submitting, as well, so whoever views your film is aware of this.

*I will say that I know the AFF programmers to have a proclivity for witty cat memes, so if you choose to include these in your submission materials, I doubt you’ll be penalized…

4.     Let your film tell the story.
You’re digging the festival. You think this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Great! We hope so, too. But let your film tell your story. Don’t spend unnecessary time telling programmers where you got the idea for your film, or what’s left to be completed in post. While there are good arguments for submitting a film early, do not submit it prematurely. Some film festivals allow works-in-progress (with conditions), some do not, but it is never preferred. If the story is there, if the tone is present, if the message comes across… but you still have some sound-mixing or color-correction to do – and the programmers are okay with it – that’s really the only time you should consider submitting a work-in-progress. Be cognizant of dangerously toying with the power and allure of the film-watching experience: suspending one’s disbelief.

Again, don’t rush it if you don’t have to… Think about all the polishing and fine-tuning your film deserves, and if it’s within your ability, do it. A ten minute short film shouldn’t have five minutes of credits. A thirty minute short film better be damn good, with every moment existing to advance the overall story. A feature length sci-fi set in space should have its special effects included, rather than your protagonist fumbling around in front of a green screen or talking to a non-existent alien.

All that said, a good logline is always refreshing to read. Don’t write one up half-heartedly. Often times, if you are accepted into the festival, these loglines are used for marketing and promotional materials. It should be engaging, to-the-point, and not give too much away.  Grammar is good, too (especially if you’re submitting to a fest known as “The Writers Festival”…). Come up with a few versions and test them out on some trusted friends. Besides, you should always have the enticing one-liner at the ready for anytime you are in a position to pitch your film.

5.     To communicate, or communi-wait? Playing the waiting game.
Let’s face it: there’s a whole ball of emotion wrapped up in submitting your film to a festival. A) it costs money!; B) Are you going to get in?; C) Did they even receive your film?; D) Did it get in yet?!!; E) Okay, seriously: when are they going to make up their minds??

Programmers do their job for two reasons: they are pro-film and pro-filmmaker. They believe in finding new voices, and giving independent cinema a home in a market that most often times is cold and uninviting. They take pride in sharing this work with audiences who believe in the same thing. And they are doing all of this under near-impossible deadlines with the full-blown knowledge that there are a lot of things at stake: a filmmaker’s dream and hard work; not being able to play everything they’d like to program; thinking about the balance of a program and how each piece of work fits into the greater puzzle…

So before you “casually” check in with them, circle back to those FAQ’s and submission rules one more time. Chances are others have had the same questions and that the answers are addressed somewhere on the website.

The message here is not to not be communicative. There’s simply a delicate line of what to communicate, and what to (I won’t use the bad word play again) hold off on sending. Here’s a good list on what to be verbal about:

-        Any questions or concerns that are not addressed on the festival’s website.

-        If the festival does require some sort of premiere status (city/state/country/world) and you were invited to play another festival that would infringe upon this – reach out.

-        If you created a website (after submitting), let them know. Programmers are always researching the films they have their eye on, and having an up-to-date source available for them is incredibly helpful and appreciated. Plus, it gives you more of a voice and presence without running the risk of being too overly-communicative.

-        If your contact information changes. You want the programmers to have the most up-to-date ways to get in touch with you.  Here at AFF, we require physical mailing addresses, phone numbers and emails for various forms of communication. Often, we’re reaching out at times that also require quick responses, so make sure the programming team has all the accurate information.

-        If you pull your film from consideration. Time is precious, and if for whatever reason you need to withdraw your film, let the programmers know.

All in all, know that festivals are truly rooting for you. We hope you find loads of success along the submission journey and that you’ll consider sharing your film with Austin Film Festival. We can’t wait to see what you have to show us!

Erin Hallagan, Creative Director

If you’re ready to take the plunge, the 2015 Film Competition is now open! Find out more, here.

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AFF Opens Screenplay & Film Competitions Submissions – Announcing New “Short Screenplay” Category

For inquiries, contact Kristen O’Brien kristengobrien@gmail.com 512-660-8850   FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22nd Annual Austin Film Festival Opens Submissions for the Screenplay and Film Competitions 2015 Screenplay Competition Announces New “Short Screenplay” Category AUSTIN, Texas—Dec. 9, 2014— Austin Film Festival (AFF) is pleased to announce that it is now accepting submissions for the 2015 Screenplay & Teleplay Competition and Film Competition.  These AFF competitions often act …

For inquiries, contact Kristen O’Brien
kristengobrien@gmail.com
512-660-8850

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

22nd Annual Austin Film Festival Opens Submissions for the Screenplay and Film Competitions
2015 Screenplay Competition Announces New “Short Screenplay” Category

AUSTIN, Texas—Dec. 9, 2014— Austin Film Festival (AFF) is pleased to announce that it is now accepting submissions for the 2015 Screenplay & Teleplay Competition and Film Competition.  These AFF competitions often act as springboards for aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers eager to break into the movie business.

AFF’s Screenplay & Teleplay Competition is one of the most acclaimed contests within the industry for launching the careers of up-and-coming writers.  A new category has been added for short screenplays and is open to narrative scripts in any genre at 40 pages in length or less.

Screenplay Competition Director, Matt Dy stated “We want to provide an avenue for writers to submit their short scripts to get noticed and get their work produced.  In many ways, writing a short script can be just as difficult as writing a feature; the fewer the pages, the higher the expectation to impress. We’re excited to see what this new category will bring for 2015.”

Past competition entrants have signed with major agencies and production companies and have had their scripts optioned, acquired, and produced.  Earlier this year, Troy Miller, the 2013 winner of the Horror Screenplay Award, had his script optioned by Frank Darabont’s Darkwoods Productions.  And at the 2014 Festival, AFF presented the world premiere of Dawn Patrol, a film produced from a 2008 Finalist script written by Rachel Long and Brian Pittman that was acquired by Enderby Entertainment. The film is directed by Daniel Petrie, Jr., and stars Scott Eastwood, Rita Wilson, and Jeff Fahey.

AFF’s Film Competition provides an invaluable platform for filmmakers to showcase their craft among industry professionals, aspiring screenwriters, filmmakers, and film-lovers.  Known as “The Writers Festival”, Austin Film Festival prides itself on finding undiscovered storytellers that can use the art form of filmmaking to affect and inspire their audience. Accepted filmmakers not only have the opportunity to present their film in exciting venues in Austin to enthusiastic audiences, but also get to take part in AFF’s famous Screenwriters Conference where they can refine their craft, make connections with important industry insiders, and walk away inspired to start their next project.

“[AFF was] one of the most positive experiences in my early career,” 2014 filmmaker Joshua Amar said.  “I’ve been to Cannes and TIFF, and not one of them compared to the networking experiences at AFF.”

As an Academy® Qualifier, the Jury Award winners for the Narrative Short, Documentary Short, and Animated Short categories are eligible to be nominated for an Academy Award.  In addition to these short categories, additional categories in competition include Narrative Feature, Documentary Feature, Comedy Vanguard Feature, Dark Matters Feature, and Narrative Student Short.

Jury Award winners are decided each year by esteemed and celebrated judges. Last year’s jury included renowned writers and directors, as well as executives from The Weinstein Company, P.O.V., The Sundance Institute, and Oscilloscope Laboratories, Gravitas Ventures, and Nickelodeon.

For more information on submitting a film or screenplay, visit www.austinfilmfestival.com.

 

ABOUT AFF:

AFF is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft, and business of filmmakers and screenwriters. AFF is funded and supported in part by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, City of Austin Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office/Cultural Arts Division believing an investment in the Arts is an investment in Austin’s future.  More information is available online www.austinfilmfestival.com or by calling 1-800-310-FEST.

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A Creative Balance: Checking in with AFF alum Jordan Jones

Jordan Jones | 12.04.2014 We asked AFF Alum Jordan Jones how he balances filmmaking with every day life. His new project is called FLUIDIC. Find more information about it on their kickstarter page. How do you manage your life in a way that allows you to create art and maintain your other responsibilities outside of work? Focus. You can get lost in the things …

Jordan Jones | 12.04.2014

We asked AFF Alum Jordan Jones how he balances filmmaking with every day life. His new project is called FLUIDIC. Find more information about it on their kickstarter page.

How do you manage your life in a way that allows you to create art and maintain your other responsibilities outside of work? Focus. You can get lost in the things that inspire you to be an artist, instead of actually working on your art. I can sit down to work and spend most of my time looking at other people’s work. The work that I was supposed to get done now requires more time, time that gets taken away from something else at home. No balance. You must stay focused on what you want to create. Try to limit checking your email. Don’t let social media take up your creative time. Stop googling. I constantly ask myself, “Do you want to watch movies or make movies?” If I can focus on my creative work, which allows me to fulfill my responsibilities at home, then I am able to focus on my creative work. Its a creative balance.

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AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF 2014 SCREENPLAY & TELEPLAY COMPETITION, FILM COMPETITION, AND AUDIENCE AWARDS

AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF 2014 SCREENPLAY & TELEPLAY COMPETITION, FILM COMPETITION, AND AUDI​ENCE AWARDS

For inquiries, contact Kristen O’Brien
kristengobrien@gmail.com
512-660-8850

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF
2014 SCREENPLAY & TELEPLAY COMPETITION, FILM COMPETITION, AND AUDIENCE AWARDS

AUSTIN, Texas— Nov. 4, 2014— Austin Film Festival (AFF) is pleased to announce its 2014 Screenplay & Teleplay Competition winners, Jury and Audience Award Winners in Film.  Awards recipients received an array of cash prizes, travel expenses, industry recognition and access.  For the Screenplay & Teleplay Competition winners, a record number of 6,764 scripts were received this year and the Finalists were reviewed by an industry jury, including:

Vera Blasi (writer Woman On Top; co-writer Tortilla Soup), Wendy Calhoun (writer/producer Justified, Revenge, Nashville), Sabrina Dhawan (writer Monsoon Wedding), Stephen Falk (creator/executive producer/showrunner You’re the Worst; co-executive producer Orange is the New Black, Weeds), Mark Goffman (executive producer Sleepy Hollow, White Collar; co-executive producer Elementary), James V. Hart (writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Hook), Jenny Lumet (writer Rachel Getting Married), Oren Uziel (writer 22 Jump Street, The Kitchen Sink), and Herschel Weingrod (producer Falling Down; writer Trading Places) in addition to this year’s sponsored award judges AMC, The Black List, Darkwoods Productions, and Enderby Entertainment.

The following winners were selected by category:

  • Drama Screenplay Award presented by the Writers Guild of America, East: Dead River Girl by Morris Long
  • Comedy Screenplay Award: Three Months by Jared Frieder
  • Enderby Entertainment Award: Suicide Boy by Laura Hainke
  • Fade to Black Award: I Fucked James Bond by Josh Hallman
  • Darkwoods Productions Horror Award: The 700 Year Itch by Molly Stein & Moon Unit Zappa
  • Darkwoods Productions Sci-Fi Award: The Incomparable Donald Strange by James Fant & Zach Cannon
  • AMC One-Hour Teleplay Pilot: Ascension by Wes Brown
  • Sitcom Teleplay Pilot: Great Points Park by Danny Sullivan
  • One-Hour Teleplay Spec: The Americans: Barium Meals by Adam Turner
  • Sitcom Teleplay Spec: Bob’s Burgers: Mr. Whiskers by Damir Konjicija & Dario Konjicija

In its 21-year history, the AFF Screenplay and Teleplay Competition has served to launch many writing careers.  Most recently, Troy Miller, the 2013 winner of the Horror Screenplay Award had his script optioned by Frank Darabont’s Darkwoods Productions.  At this year’s Festival, AFF presented the world premiere of Dawn Patrol, a film produced from a 2008 Finalist script written by Rachel Long and Brian Pittman that was acquired by Enderby Entertainment, and directed by Daniel, Petrie, Jr.

The 2014 Jury award-winning films featured a series of original, charming, and memorable stories created by up-and-coming filmmakers. This year, AFF’s inaugural Comedy Vanguard Jury Award, joined the ranks of the Festival’s other award categories. Serving on AFF’s competition juries this year was a list of talented filmmakers and notable industry insiders including Dan Guando (Executive Vice President of Acquisitions at The Weinstein Company), Simon Kilmurry (Executive Producer of P.O.V.), and Tom Skerritt (actor and founder of The Film School), along with many others. Animated, Documentary, and Narrative Short Jury Winners are eligible for Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences nomination.

The following Jury Award winners were selected by category:

  • Narrative Feature: The Kings Surrender written by Philipp Leinemann
  • Documentary Feature Jury Award: Once Upon a Crime: The Borrelli-Davis Conspiracy directed by Sheldon Wilson
  • Dark Matters Feature: One Eyed Girl co-written by Nick Matthews and Craig Behenna,
  • Comedy Vanguard Feature: Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero co-written by Maz Jobrani and Amir Ohebsion
  • Narrative Short: Skunk written by Annie Silverstein
  • Documentary Short: The Next Part directed by Erin Sanger
  • Animated Short: Between Times co-written by Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter
  • Narrative Student Short: Luke written by Conor Hamill
  • Young Filmmakers Program Competition Grand Prize: Special Is Just a Word written by Abby Thompson
  • Honorable Mention: Skin Deep, written by Monica Zanetti

After Festival Screenings, audiences voted for the Audience Award scoring the film or films screened. These ballots have been counted and tabulated to determine the 2014 Austin Film Festival’s Audience Award winners.

The following Audience Award winners were selected by category:

  • Narrative Feature: Terrible Love co-written by Luke Helmer and Christopher Thomas,
  • Documentary Feature: The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, co-directed by Annika Iltis and Timothy Kane
  • Dark Matters Feature: The Suicide Theory written by Michael J Kospiah
  • Comedy Vanguard Feature: Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero co-written by Maz Jobrani and Amir Ohebsion
  • Narrative Short: Mimi & Me written by Marly Reed
  • Documentary Short: Albert directed by Daniel Jaffe
  • Animated Short: TIE The Dam Keeper written by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi | The Last Resort written by Gillian Park
  • Student Short: Luke written by Conor Hamill
  • Heart of Film: Popovich and the Voice of the Fabled American West co-written by Mike Thompson, Jerry Thompson, and Gregory
  • Stories From Abroad: Taking it Back written by Andreas Schmied
  • Texas Independents: Flutter written by Eric Hueber
  • Marquee Feature: Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me directed by James Keach

About Austin Film Festival
Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft and business of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and participation and encouraging dynamic and long-lasting community partnerships. AFF is funded and supported in part by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, City of Austin Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office/Cultural Arts Division believing an investment in the Arts is an investment in Austin’s future.

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