So you finally finished your low budget indie film. You spent over a year writing it, casting it, shooting it, editing it, and now it is completely finished. And now that it’s done you have absolutely no idea where to send it. Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. This happens to nearly every filmmaker when they are just starting out.
So where do you find film festivals to submit to?
I’ve found that the best place is Withoutabox. They have a large database of over 3000 film festivals on five continents that you can search world wide including festival heavyweights like Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes. They have everything from great regional festivals like East Lansing, Phoenix, Nashville, and St. Louis, to obscure first year festivals looking to make a name for themselves in the festival world.
The site is free to sign up. You fill out one universal form and that is what is submitted every time you submit to a festival. So there is no hassle of filling out multiple forms for multiple festivals. Festival submissions range anywhere from free to $100. I’d say I average about $40 a submission. Of course, this also depends on when you submit. Festivals have several deadlines; early-bird, regular, late, and extended late. I recommend trying to hit the early-bird deadlines. They are much less expensive and even though festivals won’t tell you this, they start planning their schedules from the moment they start getting submissions. So by submitting later you are actually paying more and limiting yourself when it comes to the number of time slots available.
A good acceptance rate for feature films is about 30%. Which means that 7 out of every 10 festivals you submit to will tell you your film stinks. Okay, they won’t really tell you that your film stinks. They will tell you that they liked it but they just didn’t have room for it because of all the “quality submissions” they got this year.
Here are some stats for my most recent film, Wingmen Incorporated. I have submitted to 42 festivals. I have heard back from exactly half of them. The other 21 will be notifying me a few at a time over the next nine months.
- Early-Bird Deadline: 2/4 = 50% (acceptance rate)
- Regular Deadline: 4/9 = 44%
- Late Deadline: 2/7 = 28%
- Extended Late Deadline: 0/1 = 0%
- TOTALS: 8/21 = 38%
As you can see, my acceptance rates dropped the longer I waited to submit. So do yourself a favor and submit as early as possible. I would never submit later than the Regular Deadline. 38% is still pretty good. Low budget feature length comedies are the red headed stepchild of the film festival circuit. The acceptance rates for short films are much higher because many more of them can be programmed at festivals. A good acceptance rate for short films is about 35-40%. If you are making a short, try to keep it under 10 minutes. Film festivals love that.
What to look for when searching Withoutabox for film festivals?
This really all depends on what your goals are and what type of film you have. If you know that your film isn’t Sundance worthy you might want to try smaller local or regional film festivals. While they won’t do for you what Sundance can, they can still net you a halfway decent distribution deal. After my 2009 win at the East Lansing Film Festival I was contacted by several distributors. The film even ended up on Netflix and was seen by nearly 20,000 people that I normally wouldn’t have had access to. So don’t turn your nose up at the smaller festivals. This exposure to new fans has lead to my last two projects being entirely fan funded.
I would recommend submitting to as many local and regional festivals as you can comfortably afford and then testing the waters with a couple larger festivals. Local and regional festivals should be somewhat close by and easy to get to. Since they are smaller festivals you will have a much better shot at not only getting in, but winning an award or two as well. Even award laurels from the smallest festivals look great on a DVD cover.
Be sure to read up on the festivals before hitting “submit”. Usually on a withoutabox film festival profile it will have a link to the festival’s website. So be sure to click on it and read up on the festival’s history. They may have a history of not screening films that are similar to yours. If that is the case, don’t waste your money. Or you may find that they like your particular genre and that you should submit.
Now that you know where to look you should have no trouble finding the festivals that are right for you and your film.