Film Festival 101: How to Design a Successful Film Festival Strategy | Dandan Liu | Skillshare

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Film Festival 101: How to Design a Successful Film Festival Strategy

teacher avatar Dandan Liu, Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Course Intro


    • 2.

      Film Festival Platforms


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Narrowing It Down


    • 5.



    • 6.

      7 Essential Tips for Success


    • 7.

      Thank you!


    • 8.



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About This Class

Just finished your film and now want to release it to the world?

Film festivals can be a powerful outlet for you to showcase your film and establish yourself in the industry. However, since there are thousands of film festivals out there, it can be difficult to know where to start and how to navigate through this world. 

This course shows you how, presenting a clear overview of the film festival process, starting from the film festival search to the final submission. It also shares some essential industry insights into how you can design a strategy tailored to your film and maximize your chance for success. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Dandan Liu

Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Top Teacher

Hi there! I'm Dandan, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and contemplative creative living in Italy.

As a self-taught filmmaker, I love foraging for unique stories around the world that illuminate the interconnections among us. I started making films while on a 4 year journey living in monasteries around the world. One film led to the next, and after persevering for many years, I found myself working full time on film crews and streaming my films on Roku, Apple TV, museums, trains, and airplanes.

My highest work is helping others craft an authentic, creative, and mindful life- your unique work of art. I believe that knowing who you truly are is the foundation for flourishing in every area of life. So, I founded Unravel, a playful journey of self discovery, which has... See full profile

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1. Course Intro: You've just made a film and are now looking to release it into the world. Film festivals can be a powerful outlet for you to showcase your film and get yourself established in the industry. However, since there are literally thousands of film festivals out there, it can be difficult to know how to approach this worlds and design a strategy that maximizes the potential of your film's screenings. As a professional filmmaker, I create this course to lead you through this process, making it simple to understand while sharing a few insights I've learned over the years, showcasing and working at these film festivals. By the end of this course, you will have a clear and comprehensive overview of how the film festival process works, which will save you time and money as you design a strategy tailored to your film. Let's get started. 2. Film Festival Platforms: First, let's take a look at the three major platforms used for film festival submission: FilmFreeway, Withoutabox, and FilmFestivalLife. FilmFreeway is probably the most popular with filmmakers nowadays because their interface is very clear and simple to use. It's easy to learn about the film festivals on there. There're no hidden fees, you can easily upload your film through Vimeo, and the customer service is great. It's by far my platform of choice. Withoutabox is the oldest film vessel platform. It has really declined in popularity these days because their interface is outdated and they have some hidden fees. You also have to use their own uploading system, which is more complicated than just uploading a Vimeo link to your screener. However, Withoutabox still has some exclusive rights to some prestigious film festivals like Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival, so I use this sometimes to submit to those. FilmFestivalLife is the last platform I will mention. It's a platform primarily with a lot of European and UK based film festivals. Their interface is clear and easy to use. What's different is that they have pricing packages. For example, for fixed yearly feed, you can submit one film to as many film festivals as you want. This can save you a lot of money in the long run. Keep in mind though that some film festivals like Doc Lights Big and Mountain Film do not use these platforms and have their own submissions process. So if you already have a film festival mind, be sure to check that beforehand. 3. Research: Now that we know where these film festivals are found, let's delve into the fun part, looking through this film festivals and deciding which ones to submit to. The main principle is that you want your film to fit with what the film festival is looking for. Film festivals are either topic based or format based. You want to make sure that your film fits with the format and topic of the film festival. There's three ways I like to search for film festivals that are a potential fit. The first is searching with the film festival platform itself, which I will demonstrate later. The second is to think of a film that is similar to yours and look at which film festivals they premiered at. The third is to Google search best film festivals for a keyword, which will usually come up with a list of curated film festivals written by a film making magazine. Let's run through the first method, searching with the film festival platform itself, where I will be looking for a good fit to submit my latest documentary short on a Japanese boxer. Now I am on the film freeway website, when you log in, it should look something like this. So now I'm going to search for film festivals for my documentary short. As you can see here on the left, there are a bunch of filters. So coffer entries means whether their submissions are still open or not. I would like to apply just to those that are still open. Category type here is for me one of the most important filters. So I'm doing a documentary and it's short. Then you can change the range of the entry fees, which I just like to keep open years running. I typically like to have the film festival run for a minimum of five years, just so that I know it's not a scam or I know it has at least a track record. As you can see here, the film festival site also have a few curated lists. Like Academy Award qualifying festivals, Movie Maker 50 film festivals Worth the Entry Fee. I recommend you go through some of these lists as you can find some interesting film festivals that have already been filtered through. Now with these filters in place, you can see that there are still 981 festivals that match my criteria. You can either here type in a keyword that revolves around the topic of your film. You can also have some additional filters here which I find helpful. Like the ones with the early deadlines approaching, which I like because the fees are lower and competition isn't that intense as if it was with a late deadline. I'm going to run through a few of these, you can see here they list when their deadline is, I'm just going to see if something strikes my interest. When you're doing this really take a look at how many years the film festival has been running. I find the most legitimate film festivals are the ones with a solid track record. So here I see there's the DC Independent Film Festival, which I've personally heard great things about. It's in my area, It's been running for 20 years. Let's view the festival. When you go to a film festival page, there's a summary about it here. There are the dates and deadlines on the right, and here it's great because I'm making the early bird deadline. There's a list of all the awards and prizes. So here I see there is one for best documentary short. There's a section for the rules and terms which I would read carefully. Here it says Metro DC film premieres required. So that's an important thing to know is that they won't allow films that have played in the DC area before. All films must be completed within one year of the date of submission. It's another important point. At the bottom you can see that it has five star reviews, which is good, It's always good to see reviews from filmmakers because that helps you get a sense that this is a film festival you can trust. It looks good. As you can see here, this is where they list all of the categories and the respective fees. The fees differ depending on the format and length of your film. My short is between the four to 20 minutes section and I get the early bird deadline. I will save this one by adding to the list. 4. Narrowing It Down: If you find a film festival that seems like it would be a good fit, go to that film festival's website and look at the previous lineup. If you find films that are similar to yours, chances are that it would be a good fit. While you're doing your research, it's a great idea to start an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the film festivals you're looking into. Take time to do your research and come up with a shortlist of film festivals you want to submit to. 5. Submitting: After you come up with a shortlist of film festivals to submit to, you want to work on your projects page, which looks like this. Once you finish your projects page, it's time to submit. Then, the wait time commences. During this time, I do not recommend writing an e-mail to the festival programmer, asking for the status of your film. Rather, when the time comes, the film vessel platform or the film festival itself, will send you an email with the notification of the status. 6. 7 Essential Tips for Success: Before you submit, here is a list of advice. Number one, be optimistically realistic. Besides the sheer number of submissions film festivals receive for just a handful of slides, there are other factors taken into account at the decision process that are totally out of your control. For example, the screener could have had a bad day, the day they reviewed your film. The film festival director decided to change the focus of that film for that year or they received a number of films similar to yours but they can only choose one. That being said, there are still ways to maximize your chance of acceptance. To do this, you'll want to balance your submission portfolio, especially when you're starting out, I don't recommend just storing all eggs in one basket and submitting to the most prestigious film festivals like Sun Dance, instead, balance your submission portfolio by submitting a few to the top tier or A grade ones like Sun Dance or Full-Frame. Most of your submissions to what I like to call it the B grade film festivals, those with good reviews and have been running for a while and a few in the C grade film festivals which tend to be more local and known and have just started out. Often times than not, you'll be surprised to find that the more local, smaller film festivals are actually better experiences for filmmakers because they have more time devoted to crafting and curating the filmmaker experience. Two, submit as early as possible. Not only are early bird submission fees lower, but the longer the wait, the more slots will be filled and competition will be more intense for the remaining slots. Third, fill out every detail of the submissions form. Many times I see filmmakers leave out the small details like what is the aspect ratio of your film, which can then put you in the "Will not be considered list" for the film screening team. Fourth, do not submit a rough cut of your film. You want your film to be as polished as possible and have already gone through rounds of revision after you've shown it to an audience like your friends and family. If you're unsure how to revise your film to make it stronger, checkout my popular course called The Art of Revision on my teacher profile page. Number five, have a film website. Sometimes screeners, after having watched your film, want to know more about your film and it'll look more legitimate if you already have a website there. Number six, premiere status. Keep in mind that some festivals require premiere status of your film, meaning that it has not exhibited anywhere else in the world. Last one, cover letters. You might see that on the submissions page there is an option to write a cover letter. I actually recommend going ahead and writing a brief one, not focusing on you as a filmmaker but rather on your project and why you think it would make a good fit for the film festival. 7. Thank you!: There you have it, an overview as to how the film festival process works. I hope that by now, you feel excited to begin this process and feel like you have clear steps to help you submit your films. If you get a rejection in the end, don't despair. It's a natural part of the process. One story I like to tell is that one day I heard a director at Mountain Film telling someone, ''You know, thinking that your film is bad just because it didn't get into a film festival, is like walking out of the grocery store and thinking about everything you didn't buy in there is terrible.'' That's crazy. No matter what happens, just take pride in the fact that you made a film in the first place, and celebrate. If you have any remaining questions, feel free to ask me on the course discussion page, and please post a trailer of your film on the course projects page. We'd love to see what you are up to. Thank you so much for taking your time with me, and I wish you all the best for your film festival journey. 8. Promo: Hi, everyone. I have two exciting updates. The first is that I have created a course map that links all of my film-making and editing courses in sequence, so you can confidently advanced as a filmmaker. The second update is that I've started a one-minute newsletter which is Curated Inspiration and High-value Insights on Film-making, Creativity, and the Art of Authentic Living. Checkout both of these on my course instructor page.