waiting by the phone

Explaining film-festival limbo

Feel like you’ve been waiting by the phone forever? Don’t worry, there’s a good reason… Cropped photo: Eric Wienke, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr

 

It takes a long time from when you submit to a festival until you hear back, and even longer until they announce the selection. It can feel like forever. So what takes so long? Why can’t they let you know sooner? Here’s the lowdown on the process and why that time is necessary.

Will anyone even watch my film?

Film festivals receive hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of entries. My discussions with other festival programmers confirm that the volume of entries worldwide is increasing significantly each year. It takes a huge amount of time and people to watch all those films, so you are right to wonder if they actually all get seen. But they do! And yes, we watch them all the way through – especially if, like Show Me Shorts, we are charging you a small entry fee.

How will programmers watch it?

Will they watch your film on the big screen? The short answer is no. Most of the early stages of programming are done via online streaming on laptops these days, particularly for short film festivals. If your film makes it through the initial longlisting process, it may get screened on a projector – hopefully with decent speakers – but there’s no guarantee of that. The best way to get programmers to see your film on a big screen for the first time is to have it selected by a big festival with a market attached, such as Clermont-Ferrand for short films, or Berlinale for features. These are usually attended by a large number of programmers.

How is the shortlisting done?

traffic lights

Each film gets the red, yellow or green light. Cropped photo: Sean McGrath, CC BY 2.0 licence via Flickr

My team at Show Me Shorts is comprised of volunteer programmers with a moderate level of experience who work together to watch all the films. Our process is as follows:

  1. Programmers watch all films and sort into ‘no’ and ‘maybe’.
  2. Festival director watches all films marked ‘maybe’ and further sorts into ‘no’, ‘strong maybe’ or ‘yes’. The films marked ‘yes’ and ‘strong maybe’ are the longlist.
  3. More programmers watch all films in the longlist and leave comments.
  4. Programming team has a series of meetings to re-watch and discuss entries to cull the longlist down to a shortlist.
  5. Programming team meets for an intensive day of watching to debate the films and decide the final programme.

The programming team meets regularly throughout the process to watch films together. This way we make sure everyone is assessing them using the same criteria, and we have the opportunity to ask questions and debate our choices.

Other film festivals have slightly different processes, and many of the larger ones have a separate programmer for each section of the programme. The Show Me Shorts team also brings in advisers for specialty sections, such as our ‘My Generation’ programme for children and families.

Programming complete… what’s the hold-up?

You may think that once they’ve chosen the films, the festival should announce the programme and start selling tickets at once. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are just some of the things that need to happen next in order for the show to go on…

  1. Contacting the filmmakers to check submission details are correct, and obtain more information, a copy of the film and images for promotional purposes.
  2. Dividing the films into themed sections.
  3. Scheduling the screening times in collaboration with cinemas.
  4. Confirming sponsorships.
  5. Writing the programme brochure content and having it designed and proofread.
  6. Working with a post-production house to prepare the screening files.
  7. Making a trailer.
  8. Booking advertising.
  9. Briefing a publicist and preparing detailed information for them.
  10. Getting promotional materials designed.
  11. Sending promotional materials to print.
  12. Planning the distribution of promotional materials.
  13. Coordinating the opening-night launch party and other events.
  14. Liaising with special guests.
  15. Talking to journalists and sending them images and video.
  16. Planning web and social media posts.

If the festival has awards, that adds in another layer of complexity: there are judges to coordinate, a judging process to follow, ordering certificates and trophies, sourcing prizes, planning who will present the awards, and checking to make sure the nominees will be at the award ceremony.

How can I help my film through this process?

Submit early if possible. We start watching as soon as submissions arrive and finish the first look by about a month after entries close. We’re less frazzled near the beginning of the process, so are more inclined to be generous.

TIP: Don’t bug the programmers. Trust that if you submit your film, someone will give it the time of day. It’s not necessary to follow up with emails and phone calls.

Respond quickly. Once your film has been selected, be as swift and comprehensive as possible in responding to requests from the festival for materials and information. We are under huge time pressure and giving us what we need ASAP makes it easier for us to promote your film.

Follow the rules. Festivals will often ask you to keep quiet about your selection until they announce it. This is because they want to make the biggest splash possible, and to have all the information ready so that when people hear about your film they can find more details on the festival website.

TIP: Plug your own product. Don’t be afraid to promote your screenings through your own networks and media contacts. Encourage friends, family, cast and crew to get along and support your film and the festival at screenings and events.

Be kind to the programmers and festival staff. Most of them are volunteers or not well paid; they are doing this job because they love what you do.

This article was first published on ScreeNZ.