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Submitting work for consideration to a indie fests can be nervewracking. What do film festivals look for in a successful movie submission?

Festival gold: Indie fests divulge what films they are looking for

Whether you’re a first time filmmaker or a seasoned professional, submitting a short or feature for consideration to a indie fests can be nervewracking. Besides ensuring your film obeys the general rules & terms of wherever you’re submitting your latest opus to, it can be hard to know what else you can do to guarantee your film is chosen for official selection. What do film festivals look for in a successful movie submission?

Film Daily spoke to four high-profile film festival programmers to find out what each of them want from a movie: Jennifer Murchison from the Oxford Film Festival; Katy Cole from the UK-based FutureFemmeFest; Warren Workman from the Utah Film Festival; and Steffanie Finn from the Winter Film Awards. In doing so, we discovered four essential qualities every filmmaker should know if they want their film to soar above every other submission.

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1. Information is key

It might sound basic af, but ensuring your submission is sent through along with a helpful assortment of details regarding the movie and the team who made it can ensure your movie is properly received. According to Workman, the Utah Film Festival wants as much information as possible sent along with the movie.

“The more information we have about your film the better. Add a trailer (even if it is a short), production stills, behind the scenes stills, links to reviews, links to social media, a synopsis (it’s funny how many people don’t add one), a poster, a director’s statement, and a photo of the director. If you are submitting a work in progress, label your film as a ‘work in progress’ so we know this is not the final project being submitted.”

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Making sure your movie is well presented in this way will help it to be taken seriously at a formative stage. However, don’t be dependent on such information bolstering your movie’s chances in being judged. For example, the Winter Film Awards has a judging process designed to be free of any bias pertaining to such details. “We give the judges no information about the film other than if it is a student work. Each of our submissions is watched by at least four judges, and we assign the judge rather than letting them self-select by title.”

According to Finn, this results in selections being made in the fairest way possible. “Our judges are from around the world, some film students, some film professionals, some people who just really love watching movies. Pretty much, if four people with different backgrounds and interests all think a film is great, it’s a great film and we want to show it.”

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2. Fit the audience and mission of a festival

Every film festival has a specific audience they’re trying to deliver content to and with it, a specific mission they’re looking to achieve with their program. Researching what both of those may be and ensuring your film fits within the overall vision of the festival may seem obvious, but it’s a crucial element many filmmakers overlook when submitting their movie.

“When programming films for the Utah Film Festival, the very first thing we take into consideration is our core audience. If the story will resonate with John or Jane Q Public, it has a really good chance of being selected,” Workman divulged.

It can also show a filmmaker is dedicated to the vision of a particular festival and isn’t just pandering for some sweet-ass plaudits. At FutureFemmeFest, having a strong voice that fits their aims and beliefs is something sure to get you noticed. “In light of #MeToo, the industry as a whole is questioning its choices. What we are looking for in film entrants are people who work within our mission and vision. Bold voices who are not afraid to foreground characters that you wouldn’t see in mainstream movies”.

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3. Demonstrate skillful, quality work

No matter how strong your idea is, it won’t be enough to simply bare your soul on screen or showcase your singular, comedic prowess. In order to impress, you need to highlight your skills as a filmmaker at all levels of the production, something which the judges of FutureFemmeFest know all about.

“We’re looking for skilled use of the medium. Movies can be raw, but we want to see real filmmaking skills demonstrated. We’re also interested in the finished package so we look at sound mixing, title card, trailers, costume & production design, and supporting documents. We want to help our filmmakers sell their movies within the industry so it’s important for us that they have a full package available that we can pass over to our partners.”

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The truth is – as the Utah Film Festival has discovered – even the best movies can be held back by poor production quality. A show of competency within whatever budget you have to work with is absolutely critical in your film being received well.

No matter how fantastic the storyline is for our core audience, it has to meet some minimum requirements in regards to production quality. The sound must be balanced, the acting convincing, the scene lit, and not containing copyrighted material. Make your film as professional as you can with the resources you have.

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4. Engage and entertain

While technical efforts are an important component to bear in mind, they’ll mean very little if you can’t make them pop with an engaging story, characters, and dialogue. The bottom line of all successful film festival submissions? As Murchison concedes (for the Oxford Film Festival) it’s to make the judges feel something.

“I want to be entertained. I am not a professional filmmaker. I’ve never worked on a set. But I have been a film fan and audience member my entire life. Sometimes my favorite films weren’t technically or aesthetically good, but every one of my top ten favorite films made me feel something. They caught something in my soul. They entertained me.”

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But it isn’t just entertainment value that impresses judges. As a forward-thinking festival looking to disrupt the status quo, FutureFemmeFest values content delivering incredible stories in groundbreaking ways.

We want to champion any filmmaker who foregrounds stories relating to the progression of women in society. Or any filmmaker who is seeking to bring about change in areas of inclusivity. So we’re looking for fantastic stories and want people to be transported into a new world with each film they watch. But we need to believe in the story the characters are telling and we want the characters to – in some small way – change the perception of everyone who is watching the film.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Indie Memphis Film Festival

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