To produce a movie and get it into festival, and there have it discovered by a distributor or studio that then picks it up, is incredible hard. It’s only a tiny few percentages of the movies that are accepted to festivals that then actually are picked up – and most movies aren’t even accepted to the festivals that they were hoping for. To have a solid strategy for entering the festival markets is, due to these facts, about so much more than just sending the picture to the selecting committees and keeping the fingers crossed.


What movies are suited for festivals?

First, to be clear: Not all movies are suited for festivals! It’s in most cases a certain type of movies that gets accepted; so called art house or specialty films (sometimes referred to as “quality films”). To some extent even comedy, thrillers, documentaries and others genres – if they have “edge” and are done by well known filmmakers. Festivals have a tendency to prioritize movies that are “PR-friendly”, meaning that they are based on strong subject matters that build press – Subjects that critiques can write about and around which panel discussions can be easily arranged. Most mainstream and exploitation films – such as action, sci-fi and so on – are not accepted (at least not to the major festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Sundance, San Sebastian and others) – and most distributors don’t want them there – since they’re scared of having them labeled as “art house”-flicks, that don’t appeal to broader audience, then just critiques and cineastes. There are, however, some smaller festivals that might suit genre films, mainly horror.


How do you get accepted?

Contrary to popular belief, festivals are not an arena free from the forces of commercialism. Festivals operate in a market and compete with other festivals. They all want the ”hot” movies and most famous stars to their festival – and they’re working hard to achieve this. This means that they have very good relationships with the sales companies that are usually represented on the festivals (such as Bankside, Fortissimo Films, Coproduction Office and many more). In practice this means that if you get your movie to be represented by one of these distributors you will increase your odds of being accepted by the festivals. Not only because they know the people on the selecting committees or because your movie is in some way already labeled as “quality” before it’s even review (since it’s submitted by a quality label) – but first and foremost because you will most likely have been given good advice during the process of development and production of the movie – and the movie is then more fit for the competition. You could of course do a lot of “lobbying” on your own, by sending out your movie to a selected few that you think might know the people on the committees and have them recommend you – but why would you?


What is the purpose of festival presence?

The purpose of festival presence is mainly exposure, to get publicity and build a buzz around the picture. Festivals might also be a great arena for networking for new business relations on upcoming productions – and should your movie be nominated or win any awards, this will strengthen the “brand” of the movie and form some sort of goodwill, that can be used in the marketing. However, it’s very important to remember that none of this, automatically, translates into profits. The only difference is that the movie has been labeled with a sort of “quality brand” and got some media exposure. This will of course, in most cases, make sales much easier – but the movie will still need a good distribution and marketing strategy and will need to be exploited in every window and territory the same way as any other picture.

How long is the festival tour?

Today movies tour festivals for a much shorter period of time then they used to. Much depending on the fact that there are many more festivals and that the gap between release windows are shorter. Earlier a movie could go on tour for about a year. Today it’s most likely dead on the festivals after six months. This is why it has become even more important today to plan for which festival the movie will be first released on (make it’s “debut”), since this also dictates which following festivals it can be submitted to. This is one of the reason that many companies defines their movies as being “in post production” for several months, when they are in fact finished – since they are just waiting for the right festival.


Festivals as a platform for securing distribution and financing

Festivals are in many cases a excellent place for networking, especially if you have a completed film there – and are trying to pitch new projects. – but you don’t need to have a completed picture to benefit from the festivals and markets, it can be rewarding even if you don’t. However, markets and festivals are very busy periods for most companies, so if you’d like to increase the odds for a face to face with a company or person, you should approach them about 4-6 weeks before the festivals to try to set up a meeting, but scheduling meetings is not the only way to go. You can also spend time on festivals by networking in local pavilions, participate in workshops and attend parties. What suits you best probably depends on your personality. Some people are more extroverts and are most happy to zipping martinis and chat about their next project on a party – others (like myself) – prefer to work with scheduled meetings and workshops.

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