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Independent filmmaking is a difficult prospect because there is no guaranteed infrastructure to help you with the process. Without a studio to give financial backing, clout to attract talented cast and crew members, and a way to show the film, an independent producer has a lot in front of them to take care of. One of the best ways to get your work out to the film community is by submitting it to a film festival. These are events dedicated to showing different films in a venue focused on the medium as an art form. Though many people hear about high profile festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto, there are literally hundreds dotting the planet. Being successful in the festival circuit depends on your ability to work your way through it strategically.
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Film festival entry fees tend to be substantial, especially if you are submitting to more than one. Once you factor in the cost of printing copies and travel expenses you end up with a large sum of money. Look for as many festivals as possible that do not require entry fees and submit to them first. If a festival helps with travel costs then it is likely a place to look for as well.
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Many festivals are regional and only accept films from their area. This is a good way to become known in your local film community. Try to find some that focus in on local filmmakers and see if your work fits into any of their categories.
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Some festivals still require you to ship film stock instead of just VHS or DVD. This is an unreasonably expensive request for most independent digital filmmakers and should not be done. Ignore these festivals as they are asking for resources that you should not be forced to use.
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Genre festivals offer you the best chance of acceptance because the submission pool is narrowed greatly. If you have an experimental video project then you have a much better chance of getting into an experimental film festival. This also works when it comes to topics that your film covers, such as environmental or political films.
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You are going to want to send out to as many festivals as possible so you really have to itemize where you want to spend the money. Not only should submission fees only go to well known festivals, but also ones that you feel that you have a good chance of being accepted to. Do not waste your money submitting your first short film to major festivals exclusively because there is a minuscule chance of actually having them shown there. If at all possible you should always volunteer to do some sort of presentation or “Q &A” with the film as this makes the viewing more of an event. Spread out the applications; make a schedule for due dates, and try to make the submission process a diverse endeavor.