Film Industry Tips

9 Mistakes filmmakers make on the film festival circuit.

In the many years Lift-Off has been accepting our film festival submissions, we’ve picked up a few things along the way.

This sort of post could always be misconstrued as a bunch of film festival directors blowing smoke up their own bottoms trying to tell everyone how to run their film festival submissions, trust us we know that those exist. But that isn’t our intention, we want to help you with some insight. Some insight we wish we had when we first started submitting our films to festivals. If you feel that we are offline with our message we’d love to hear from you – we feel that it is very important for any artist to understand the market they are entering, and the audiences whom they are presenting to.

“I would travel down to Hell and wrestle a film away from the Devil if it was necessary.”… Werner Herzog

Last years London Lift-Off was attended by many filmmakers who submitted but didn’t make it to the final reel, we met with all of them and will be watching their further filmmaking endeavours closely as a mark of gratitude for their good sporty behaviour. When we spoke to them directly about their experiences with other festivals we weren’t shocked – this is the main reason we’ve decided to release this sort of post.

So, here is a collection of the patterns we noticed last year, and from the many fests and years before it from some of the film festival submissions we received…

1. Film Festival Submissions. It is very clear that you don’t go to film festivals.

This surprises us time and time again for two reasons…

How can anyone make work, enter it into a competition, without fully understanding the standard that they are up against?

If you want to succeed – the grassroots of the indie film industry needs to succeed too – so support it by attending, engaging, submitting and telling your friends about the festivals you goto.

2. Film Festival Submissions. You think the equipment is more important than the acting and skill/craft of your crew.

Spend less on your rig and more on your cast and crew.

People make films.

You don’t have to shoot on the best camera you can afford. Prioritise “people” and give the quality of your film the depth it deserves. We don’t care what you’ve shot on, but if we see poor acting choices, your film won’t screen with us, or anywhere else. Paying people the money they deserve will give you the film you deserve.

If you can’t afford to pay people, keep saving, find more money, don’t cut corners.

3. Film Festival Submissions. Your work says the same thing more than twice.

Audiences are a lot more clever than you think. Especially film festival audiences. If you are trying to drum home a point, say it once, raise the steaks of the obstacle and make it clear. This is a classic example of a lack of trust toward your script and the actors ability to tell the story. I hate to say it but watch Leonardo Dicaprio explain the plot to you in all of his films, he’s a great example of an actor who only needs to say…

“….and that’s the point of it, we rob them, then go home!”

4. Film Festival Submissions. You insert animated production company logos and pointlessly long credit sequences.

We try not to roll our eyes over this – but we can’t help it. You’re an indie filmmaker, your production company isn’t Bad Robot. You don’t need to pretend to be huge, it suggests nothing but an essence of ego. It is your work that needs to do the talking – don’t waste time or money on the frills, the festivals that matter won’t care.

If we see a fancy a DVD Case, an animated logo, we clock that you shot on a RED with a fancy lens kit, but it’s obvious that you didn’t pay your cast and crew – nothing will piss us off more.

As for long credits, last year we had a credit sequence which was so fancy, it was nearly longer than the actual films entire 3rd act, it ran nearly four minutes in length!

Credits are important, they are a way of acknowledging the hard work of everyone involved but when space is limited in a festival programme, the extra minute or so makes a huge difference to us.

5. Film Festival Submissions. You don’t get your work colour graded.

This can be expensive if you aren’t smart, and it can be a disaster if you don’t take care with it.

There are millions of production companies all over the world, in most cities, who have colourists eager to work a little overtime for a reduced fee, providing your work is of a decent quality and it’s lit well – then it’ll grade well.

The key to a film looking good is using a great DP, a good gaffer, an editor who fully understands the process, and a colourist who cares.

6. Film Festival Submissions. You don’t research the festivals you submit to.

Read our website, our FilmFreeway profiles and everything the press have written about us.

Do this with every festival you’re interested in submitting to, understand what we want, and allow this knowledge to inform your submissions. A carefully researched festival submission project will result in a far greater chance of being officially selected – it’s just logical.

7. Film Festival Submissions. You over expect an official selection and aren’t willing to receive honest feedback.

Dealing with rejection is something all artists need to get used to, and the most gracious always end up screening with us one way or another.

If you can accept what we say, even if you disagree, but if you understand part of why we reject your work, then you stand a better chance next time of getting in.

We understand how precious your work is to you, but like all work this is a stepping stone that one must learn from.

8. Film Festival Submissions. You never email the festival, either before or after your film festival submissions processes to let them know how the film is doing elsewhere.

If you get into a festival elsewhere, tell us, let us join in the celebration with you. It doesn’t do anything but help you and allow for us to spy on other programmers.

By doing this you are really helping us to formulate who we think are the best programmers in the business. We always get asked by our winning filmmakers “do you recommend any other festivals for us to submit to?” and with this knowledge we can give better advice because we know exactly what other people are looking for against our own preferences and baseline.

9. Film Festival Submissions. You fail to show the marketing behind your film festival submissions.

If you are an industrious filmmaker, who works well with marketing your film, chances are, if you are successful in an official selection with your film festival submissions, you’ll help plug all of those festivals you’ve got into too!

A filmmaker with a 9/10 scored film who brings audience, will be picked over a filmmaker who scores 9/10 but doesn’t even email us, or follow us on Twitter.

We have loads of great films sent into us each and every week, it makes so much sense to prioritise the filmmakers we think will be good for the industry, good for Lift-Off and good for themselves – it’s just common sense.

That’s the nine. We hope you find these useful. If you feel that you are doing what we want, let us know and submit your work.

We are here to help you succeed! If you have the right film for us, send it in today!