Independent Films by the Numbers

The marketing of Independent Films

Tips on how to plan a film festival run

The film festival circuit can be overwhelming to the novice filmmaker.  Without good guidance, it is difficult to plan a festival run for your film.  This post will give some solid advice on how to start the planning and make your way through the festival circuit.   

  1. Regardless of the film, you will be rejected by some film festivals. Rejection is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your film, since the art of festival programming involves a balance between finding the most compelling individual pieces and fitting them into a program of other films. Also, personal tastes of the programmers can make or break your application; which is out of your control and very hard to predict. My advice is to not let the rejections get to you. It is part of the process.
  2. It is important to set goals for your run. It is hard to plan anything if you do not know what you want.  For instance, if you want a distribution deal, you should focus your festival run on festivals where the buyers are.  The clearer you can be about your goals the better your chances are at succeeding in obtaining these goals.
  3. The sequencing of your festivals run is important for two reasons — playing at some festivals will lessen your chance at playing other festivals, while some festivals act as recruiting grounds for other festivals.  If we take a look at the films that played at Sundance in 2008 that also played at other festivals (, the clear pattern is that few feature films shown at Sundance come from other festivals, while this festival is used by other festivals to find films for festivals.  Shorts are more able to play elsewhere and then Sundance.   Get to know the sequencing of festivals.  Most filmmakers desire to premiere at one of the top-tier festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, Berlin, etc…), which is solid strategy; however it can be difficult since these leading festivals are very competitive.  For those unable to land a slot at a premiere festival, it is possible to have a very successful run by premiering at another festivals and using that festivals to ladder to other festivals.
  4. It is useful to see how other similar films to yours are working or have worked the festival circuit.  This is useful as a means to understand and then replicate successful strategies of other films, and as a means to understand how to position your film.  Positioning should involve some thought on how to differentiate your film from competitive films, since festivals tend to want to attract films that stand apart from previous films they have shown.  
  5. It is important to research what kind of films a festival shows… topics, genre, and formats.  As any reader of this blog knows, runtimes are important for determining success getting into festivals.  If you have non-standard runtime, it is useful to see a given festival you want to apply to programs films of that length.
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