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Film festivals make up a major part of the film marketplace and are increasing every year. The independent film market is one that has emerged as a legitimate competitor to the traditional Hollywood studio system. This is likely the place that most new or first time filmmakers are going to first show their films, hoping to possibly secure funding for the next project or at least build up buzz about themselves and their resume. For those applying to film festivals for the first time it can feel confusing as to where to start. Here is an easy guide for those who need help applying to film festivals for the first time.
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An Essential Tool
Withoutabox.com is one of the most essential tools for those dealing with the film festival circuit. What you do is start an account that will be specific to you as a filmmaker. You will then enter in your films one at a time, enter in press information, and then connect with different festivals. Withoutabox.com will help assist in keeping things organized, be aware of film festival submission dates, and even get you discounts on your film festival submission fees. This should be the first place to start as this is going to be your general hub.
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Competitive film festivals, which are ones that do not accept most applicants and may have an award component, should be the main focus of all first time submissions. The reason for this is that these are really the focus of the professional independent film market and may allow you to acquire an IMDB.com page. These are not always going to be easy to get into and you are going to be up against very professional competition, but this is the department where you need to focus in on your efforts.
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Take a look at what the film festivals are specifically and see if you can find some that are either entirely for your specific type of film or ones that have special categories for your type of project. For example, if you have a short documentary that deals with the environment you are going to find a lot of high level competitive festivals that deal with nature or environmental films. Likewise, there are also a lot of festivals specifically for short documentaries. This is going to narrow the entries and allow you to compete where your film is actually strong.
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Most film festivals have a high number of specific requirements, submission specifics, and restrictions. Many do not allow certain types of films, and it is very common to find region specific films. If you send a film in to a festival where it does not meet the requirements you are simply going to lose a copy of your film and likely an expensive submission fee. This is also going to be true for the things that you must submit with the film festival. Know whether they require press packets, what format it needs to be sent in, what kind of packaging it needs, and if you must get approved by a synopsis or treatment ahead of time.
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A large number of competitive festivals have either no submission fee or are free for students. These should be of top priority since it will cut your overall cost quite a bit. This is not the standard by any means, but many of the larger festivals may drop the submission fee entirely. If they do not get rid of the fee all together they may do it for specific types of entries and you may be able to condition your package to fit within that blanket.
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Don't Over Package
Try not to send too much with your film. This is not going to play well with those that have to judge films as they have a lot to go through and tend to just place the DVDs into white sleeves for organizational purposes. Too much packaging that was not asked for creates chaos and is not appreciated. This is actually going to be true for both your DVD authored menus and your early titles.