Suggestion #1: SEND YOUR SUBMISSIONS IN EARLY!
• Don't wait until the final deadline date! Your submission can be buried in a pile or boxes of hundreds or thousands at the bigger festivals and competitions. The previews could be hurried. Maybe the film jury or programmer or creative executive saw a film sent in earlier and has decided that's his or her favorite narrative, documentary or animation.
***DO NOT USE PAPER LABELS STUCK TO THE DVD! Paper labels often cause the film to stick, stop, skip and/or pixilate. Have the label info printed directly onto the DVD, or hand-write with a marker pen the info.
Suggestion #2: TWO WORDS: GOOD PACKAGING.
• Your DVD be roughly handled, by three or four people or more. It will be stored and stacked on shelves or in boxes for perhaps months. Make sure it looks good, will hold up, and will play perfectly each time it’s previewed through all of that!
• DO NOT use shredded paper (or kapok) -filled envelopes for mailing your submission! Use bubble wrap envelopes or wrap your DVD in bubble wrap. Kapok-filled envelopes are a mess when opened at the film festival, spreading fluffy powdered paper all over the computer keyboard, office floor and the person opening the envelope. It also damages DVDs.
• Use the simplest packaging form possible, one that's easy and quick to open. Imagine someone at the festival opening hundreds of submissions; make yours easy to open, with a minimum of packaging to discard. Don't tape it together, as if the contents were made of gold, forcing the festival staff to get out Xacto blades or scissors to fight your packaging.
• Postage: use enough postage to cover the cost of mailing. Most festivals and competitions will not pay the postage due, and your entry will probably be returned to you, un-opened.
• If you’re sending your submission from another country other than where the film festival office is located, always indicate on the customs declaration label that the contents of the package are a commercial sample, or of no commercial value. No festival wants to pay customs duties to receive your submission.
• If you want a confirmation that your submission was received, please send (with your submission package) an SASP, which is an attached post card with US postage (if entering a US competition) or get a delivery confirmation sticker from any US post office. Write on the postcard: your name and address in the mail-to area, and on the back or in the message area, write: (name of festival) has received the film (title of your entry) on this date_________.
• Do not send an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) with your submission if the festival or competition announces that they will not return any entries or submissions. You'll be wasting the postage.
• DVD PACKAGING: The best, most professional way to package your DVD is in a regular DVD box like you get when you buy a movie on DVD. A “jewel box” type of packaging is also acceptable, but not preferred, and little paper envelopes are unprofessional at best, and may be broken or get lost in the shuffle. When using a DVD box, have a paper label inside the plastic covering. A label that goes all around; front, back and one side. Be sure the film’s title is on the spine side edge, too, not just the front. Festivals stack the hundreds or thousands of DVDs they receive on shelves or in boxes, and they need to be able to see the title on the edge. Don’t expect the contest to label your film for you.
• Entry forms and release forms: Please fill them out CLEARLY in black ink. Sign them. Print them, if possible, rather than using fancy cursive writing in purple or pink ink. Make sure your e-mail address is clear. If you have a mix of zeros (0) and the letter O, make sure they can be read for what they are. Same with the letter I & 1, or L & lower-case l. They all look the same sometimes, so be clear, if you ever want to hear from the festival again.
• Remember to enclose the entry form, release form and entry fee with your script in the same envelope, unless you submitted via WAB. Attach the entry fee check or money order to the entry form, rather than merely dropping it in the bottom of the envelope or box with your submission. These can be missed and lost or tossed out with the trash easily.
• Read the contest’s or film festival’s guidelines, and follow them!
• Make sure your entire submission package is user-friendly!
Suggestion #3: LABELING THE DVD:
• Scrawling the film’s title on the DVD face with a marker pen is acceptable, but looks immediately unprofessional. No label at all? It happens all the time. You should label your DVD!
• Label the box, label the outside edge, and label the face of the DVD. Why expect the film festival to label your DVD for you?
DO NOT USE PAPER LABELS STUCK TO THE DVD! Paper labels often cause the film to stick, stop, skip and/or pixilate. Have the label info printed directly onto the DVD, or hand-write with a marker pen the info.
Suggestion #4: LABELING DETAILS:
• Print the film’s title, running time, whether it’s NTSC or PAL, director's name, contact info: e-mail address and website URL on the DVD or VHS tape label. (If you change your address, phone number or e-mail address, please let the festival know this right away, so they can contact you if you win!
• Also send or include e-mail addresses for co-directors and producers, screenwriters, editors, DPs, film score composers, etc., on your film, to be notified of the film’s status in the contest.)
• Include the same information (above) on the box the DVD comes in.
• If you have a www.withoutabox.com (WAB) tracking number, include that number on the DVD label and the box. Don’t just write the WAB tracking number on the outside of the mailing envelope, and expect the film festival to notice it when opening the envelope.
• Mailing envelope or box: Don’t write the WAB tracking number just below the zip code of the festival’s address! Most US post offices use computers to process the millions of pieces of mail, and computers “read” the zip code first, so a WAB tracking number in the place where the zip code goes can confuse the computer, and may delay your submission getting to the festival.
Suggestion #5: ENTRY FEES:
• If sending a check or money order for your entry fee, attach it to a cover letter or the entry form. Don’t just drop it down inside the mailing envelope. It may not be seen when the contents are removed.
• When sending a check from someone else, or from a business or production company, write your name on it so we know what film it's for.
• If you submitted your film and paid the entry fee via WAB, please print out and include the WAB entry confirmation page with your submission.
• You probably shouldn’t ask the film festival or contest to waive or discount the entry fees. You spent all your funding on the film’s production, and have none left for entry fees? Every film festival and contest has heard that many times. You should always set aside entry fee money, as a vital part of financing the film, so you can submit your film to contests and get it seen! The film festival needs your entry fees in order to operate the contest, for advertising, and to run the festival screenings.
• Suggestions: Do without a few take-out pizzas, forget having a couple of manicures, rent a DVD rather than spending the money on theater tickets and popcorn, take a bus instead of a cab (or walk), have a yard-sale and save the profits for entry fees, and/or sell something on E-bay and use the money for entry fees. In other words, don’t ask the film festival to financially support your film more than they already do. We know you spent all your money to produce the film, and now you’re broke. But how else is your project going to have a chance to be seen by the public, if you don’t promote it by entering it in film festival competitions?
Suggestion #6: MEDIA KITS AND PRODUCTION STILLS:
• Don’t send media releases, production stills, director’s statements, crew and cast lists, photos, and other paper or CD documentation with your submission unless the contest absolutely requires it to be included with your submission. If they decide to screen your film, the programmer will ask for it then. Most film juries just want to preview your film without any prior information—just as an audience would.
• Don't send in long resumés and lists of credits or info about your other festival wins with your entry forms and submission, unless the contest requires it. It won't help you win. It won't (or shouldn't) influence the judges, because each festival has different criteria. And consider the festival’s boxes of hundreds of unneeded media packages and production stills that have to be sifted through to find the ones that go with the films selected!
Suggestion #7: CHECK EACH DVD before sending it out.
• Take the time to watch the whole film to be sure it doesn’t skip, stop, freeze, jump, can be fast-forwarded, etc., and that the sound is good. Don’t expect the contest to let you know your DVD or VHS tape is no good, and to ask you for a replacement copy, and then to preview it again. Generally, you only get one chance to shine. Be sure that each DVD or VHS tape plays perfectly!
• Make sure your DVD or VHS tape starts at the beginning of the film. Film juries don’t want to waste time by watching leading color strips and countdowns and sound checks! And the festival programmer and screenings coordinator do not want to do the extra work of trying to avoid all that if they select your film for screening.
Suggestion # 8: SHOW UP!
• If your film is selected for screening, make every effort to attend the entire film festival, to show support for the other filmmakers whose films will be screened, and to show your appreciation to the festival director, staff and crew, and the jury that selected your film. Don’t just arrive to be there at your own screening, and then leave.
• At the film festival, introduce yourself to the festival director, the programmer and the screenings coordinator. Give them your film’s business card or postcard to let them know how to contact you by cell-phone during the festival.
• ASK before hanging your film’s posters at the film festival venues. Usually, the festival staff will hang posters where appropriate.
• Be prepared for a short Q & A session either before or after your screening, if the programmer offers that. And thank the festival and the audience for the opportunity to show them your work.
• If possible, bring your film’s crew, stars and talent with you. Audiences just love to see and meet actors and others involved with a film they enjoyed watching. And showing up just might get the actors and other crew positions on films by other directors!
Suggestion # 9: MARKETING YOUR FILM AT A FILM FESTIVAL:
• Do have posters and postcards or flyers about your film to leave at the festival’s free literature tables, and elsewhere around town. Be sure the screening time, date and venue location is correct on your PR pieces.
• Call, a week or so before the festival, local newspapers, radio and TV stations’ entertainment editors to offer to be available for an interview with you about your film. Always mention the particular film festival in the interviews, the dates and locations, and encourage the public to attend.
• You might want to consider arriving a day or so ahead of the festival dates to place your PR info around town and do interviews.
• Have plenty of business cards, with the film’s title on them, available to pass out to everyone you meet. Get as many business cards from others as you can. You may need those contacts some day very soon.
BEFORE FESTIVAL NOTIFICATIONS & ANNOUNCEMENTS:
• Please don’t ever call or e-mail the festival’s office to ask if they have received your submission, or if they’ve previewed it yet, or if they liked it. The festival will contact you when they have something to tell you.
AND NOW FOR THE CREATIVE STUFF:
Suggestion #10: TITLES & LOGLINES:
• Have a fabulous, unique movie? That’s wonderful, but you need to know how to create a great title, and how to condense your great story into a great 3-sentence logline.
• But be sure to go to IMDb.com first to see if your title has been used before. IMDb.com has a listing of every film produced from the 1800s to today’s films and those that are in pre-production and production.
• There is, and always has been, only one real secret to success as a filmmaker in the entertainment industry. Tell a great story. A unique story, well-told. Period. Whether your film is a narrative feature or short, a documentary or animation. And you need to figure out how to tell that fabulous story, and “sell” it, with a fabulous title and a logline of only 25 words or less!
• Your first impression to the film industry movers and shakers is all about the fine art of pitching your film or script, via your eye-catching title and logline. Give your film a great, imaginative and unique title! A memorable title that immediately makes the film jury and audiences need to see this film.
• Don’t simply summarize your movie with set-up, conflict, and resolution. Don’t just write a one-sentence TV Guide-style logline emphasizing the main storyline. Don't limit yourself to the plotline. Don’t write that the story is “exciting”, “amazing”, a “blockbuster”. Never describe the little details of your film in the logline, nor leave out important information. Try not to use your characters’ names in a logline.
• Do emphasize the unique elements of your film that enable audiences and film juries to connect with the situation and to identify with the film’s protagonist.
• You’ve got to cram a lot into a short, two- or three-sentence logline: genre, conflict, character, action, location, time, any crisis to be resolved, hint at the potential transformation of the main character, marketability, and do it all in 25 words or less, and all in present tense. And it needs to sizzle! The title and logline are the keys that open the door to getting your film a good preview. The same amount of thought that a director takes in creating a film should also be taken in deciding on a title and writing the logline.
• Often, your title and logline are the ONLY thing a producer will ever read, before deciding whether to see your film or read your screenplay. Make sure it’s the best impression and introduction you can possibly make.
• Consider adding a brief “high-concept” line to your logline, to help audiences and others to immediately recognize what your story encompasses. But always use successful films in your high-concept text: “Mad Max” “Dances With Wolves” at the “Cinema Paradiso”, or “Forrest Gump” goes “Psycho” on “The Piano”, for 2 nutty examples! Or: “Thelma & Louise” meet “The Witches of Eastwick”.
• “Sell the sizzle; not just the steak!” A great title for your film is the first (and maybe only) introduction to a contest jury, an agent, a producer, or studio. “You’ve got 3 minutes; pitch me what you’ve got,” is what you’ll hear from the entertainment industry movers & shakers who might buy and distribute your project. But you probably wouldn’t even get that meeting or a reply to your query letter, if you didn’t have an interesting title and logline that caught their eye. Make them want to read on.
• The audience reading the festival program, and the film jury, should know immediately what the whole movie is about and get excited about the story-line and idea, and can visualize the film. Use that memorable title and logline to “sell” your film to them, and make them sit up and take notice!
• Here’s 3 titles that desperately needed changing: “The Tent”, “The ABCs of High School Suicide” and “Beekeeping”. “The Tent” became “Dance With Me, Alaska”, “The ABCs of High School Suicide” became “Angel on Fire”, and “Beekeeping” was changed to “The Silence of the Bees”.
Suggestion #11: ROLLING CREDITS:
• When adding the film’s credits to your film, consider the film festival audience and the film jury. Don’t make the credits so long that anyone viewing your film gets bored! Don’t have all your credits rolling at the beginning, over a blank screen with no music. Don’t add 3 more minutes at the end for credits. Keep it going as fast as possible, and make it visually exciting and original.
• Create your credits in an interesting way. Make them appropriate to the genre and theme of the film. Consider running the above-the-line credits (stars, DP, editor, producer, screenwriter, director) over the first scenes. For end credits, or below-the-line crew and cast, try adding music from the film to keep the viewers’ attention and interest. The credits are a part of your film; why blow it off?
Suggestion #12: THE FIRST 5 MINUTES:
• Do you realize that most film juries only watch 5 to 10 minutes of your film at the first previews? That’s right. Say the jury has 100 feature films to preview this weekend. At a minimum of one hour each, that’s 100 hours. So they watch a few minutes of each film, then maybe they’ll fast-forward it a bit, to decide which films they want to see all the way through. Can you get them to watch the rest of your film, after they’ve only seen the first few minutes of it?
• Make sure those first few minutes are focussed on the storyline and lead character, are super interesting, tell the who, what, when, where and why of the story, is well-edited, and is well-filmed, is invisibly edited, is perfectly and professionally acted and beautifully directed, and have a great film score to attract attention and to “describe” the theme and story.
• Clicheéd opening scenes are death to a film. How many times have you seen poorly-thought-out films that open with this scene: a dark bedroom, an alarm clock rings, a hand reaches out to turn it off, the clock falls on the floor, and the actor sits up in bed, turns on a light, and rubs his or her eyes? Or how about this boring opening scene: anonymous feet walk along a hall, down the stairs, out the door, along the sidewalk and get into a car, which then drives away, leaving the audience in the dark about what’s going on? Or the opening scene where the camera pans along a long hallway or table full of photographs, hoping to introduce the viewer to the family or the protagonist. Shocking opening scenes of blood-and-guts action by an unknown person or persons don’t work, either.
• Just like a screenplay, your film must show (not tell) the “who, what, when, where and why” of the story in those first few precious scenes. The “how” and any plot details or twists come later in the film.
• The worst thing that can happen, if and when your film is selected for screening at a film festival, is that some of the audience members get up and walk out of your film after a few minutes. Festival directors and programmers are embarrassed, and you’ll have to slink out when it’s over. Don’t let that happen! Do your creative utmost to hook the viewers from the beginning, and keep them happy and interested for the rest of the film, and satisfied at the memorable climax. (It’s a lot like sex…)
Suggestion #13: CONTENT & STRUCTURE:
• As for the content of your film, selecting a good script with a great story is your first job. Documentaries and animation films need scripts, too!
• Story Structure:
• ACT I: who is the protagonist and what is his/her story? Set up a dilemma for protagonist. Introduce the characters. End of Act I: most conflict, protagonist is ready to change to new direction.
• ACT II: This is where the real story begins, and is the longest part of your film. “A story is built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality.” (From Robert McKee’s “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting”)
• ACT II: Filmmakers sometimes have a lot of trouble with Act II. It can seem monotonous, episodic, or aimless. This may be because they’ve conceived of it as a series of obstacles to the hero’s final goal, rather than as a dynamic series of events leading up to and trailing away from the central moment of death and rebirth. (read Chris Vogler’s, “The Writer’s Journey”)
• OK. End of Act II. Crisis at high point, realization has set in for protagonist, confrontation with antagonist coming up, moment of truth about to occur, movie moment happens.
• ACT III, no more than fifteen minutes long, resolving all conflicts, yadda, yadda, yadda. What’s the hardest part of the film to shoot well? The ending. The climax usually happens about one to three scenes from the end of the script, followed by a short resolution that ties up all loose ends. The big finish, the problem is resolved, the question is answered, the tension lets up, and we know everything will be all right!
• DIRECTING THE FILM: Make sure you've clearly defined your characters and that the actors have given them unique qualities special to them, so they are recognizable as individual people and have depth.
• DIALOG: Same with the dialog. Don't have every actor’s character speak the same. Or as they normally speak. Direct the actors to make each character unique, yet believable. Don’t let actors merely hit their marks and read their lines.
• ENVIRONMENT & AMBIENCE: Let the environment and ambience of the settings be shown. Show weather and seasons and times of day or night. Make sure your characters visibly REACT to each other, to actions and events, and to dialog spoken to them.
• CONFLICT: Have conflict, lots of emotional and physical conflict, whether personal, local, national, or world-side...or even universal. Then clearly resolve that conflict at the end.
• CLICHÉS: Avoid too many clichés in characterizations, dialog, actions and reactions. Do something new, unique and interesting.
• DIALOG & ACTION: Every word of dialog and every scene of action and exposition in your film must move the story forward toward its inevitable or surprising conclusion. Every scene must move the story forward. The film should “read” like a good novel, and the viewer should not want to put it down until the satisfying end.
• Avoid like the plague having your actors speak long lines of exposition! Actors and directors and the audience hate to hear a character verbally explaining what he or she is thinking, planning, worrying about, or is going to do, or did in the past. Action! Visuals! Show it, don't tell it!
• TRANSITIONS: Remember transitions. Each scene should flow into the next, logically, or be hinted at in a previous scene. Don't make the viewer wonder where we are in this scene. Lead them into it. If your two characters will be going out for pizza in the next scene, or are going to rob a bank, hint at that in the previous scene(s). Set it up for the pay-off. You can have many set-ups and pay-offs, all moving the story forward and building toward the ending pay-off, which resolves the conflict.
Suggestion #14 : PRODUCTION VALUES:
The elements that make your film believable to the audience:
• EDITING: Editing, although it’s probably the most important aspect of making a good film, should be invisible to the audience. In simplest terms, editing, or cutting, is about juxtaposition of elements in filmed coverage. The key part of a film editor’s job is to make his or her own contribution as imperceptible as possible. The film should be seamless. Editors select, tighten, pace, embellish, arrange and translate the director’s vision into a movie; taking a mess of chaotic bits and pieces that seem to defy continuity, and many hours of raw footage, and turn it into a cohesive story, letting the director’s filmed material guide the editor. Film editing should not call attention to itself, nor strive to impress.
• FRAMING SCENES: Vital to the visual enjoyment of your film. Look at your backgrounds, not just the actors in a scene. Artistically framing scenes and actors in a way that makes the viewer feel a part of the scene or story and to be visually stimulated, is important, of course, but unique framing can also define a film director’s, DP’s, or a cinematographer’s unique visual style.
• LIGHTING: Make sure the lighting is correct for both exterior and interior scenes. Your film should not be blue-ish because you didn’t use a filter. The lighting should not change abruptly from room to room in interior shots. The actors should be lighted well. There should not be shadows on the walls of interiors, even though they do exist in reality. Shadows on walls are a major distraction, unless you’re doing a horror film. Lighting quality can make or break a film.
• SOUND: Sound should be even, and be appropriate to the scene. Actors speaking dialog should be clearly heard and understood. Action scenes should not blast the viewer’s ears. Don’t jump from soft to loud without a transition in sound. Remember room ambience in sound. Interior and exterior shots need background sounds to be believable.
• SET DESIGN & PROPS: Sets and props are so important to the smooth enjoyment of your film. Make sure you have chosen visually interesting sets, and have props be real and believable.
• LOCATIONS: Always choose locations, for every scene and shot, for their visual and cinematic appeal.
• WARDROBE, HAIR & MAKEUP: Bad choices here can ruin an otherwise fine film. Get professionals who know how to do wardrobe, hair and makeup for film! Be sure your crew knows exactly what you want to see, and can accomplish the job for whatever population, location, period or era your story is in. These elements are completely different than they are for everyday use, and show up badly on film if not done well.
• FILM SCORE: Use the power of music in film! Music is one of the most important elements in a film, and it can be creatively and artfully used to arouse, to manipulate, to frighten, or to soothe & calm, to aid in transitions, to punctuate a special moment, to comment, to move plot along, to focus, to add sense of continuity, to add information, to heighten tempo, add dramatic tension, to change mood, to add character and to define it, to be a theme for the film, as well as to add dimension and give the film a new or different meaning.
• RUNNING TIMES: A short narrative or documentary should be up to 30 minutes. A feature is up to 60 minutes, or 120 minutes, max. For the film festival circuit, a short 33- or feature 68-minute film’s run time makes the programmer’s life difficult, trying to slot your film into the tight screening schedule. Many a good film has been dumped at the last minute from a festival screening schedule because it was a few minutes too long.
• All of the above suggestions hold true for short-short, short, feature narrative, documentary and animation films!
• “Wait! I’m just shooting a low-budget short indie film!” you say? Well, all of the elements of packaging and content listed above remain the same for your short film as for a high-budget feature film from a major studio, IF you want to have your film screened at a top film festival, and win.
And finally, Suggestion #15: The more professional and viewer-friendly your entire submission package is, the better your chances are of winning a competition, getting your film screened at the festival, and of selling that film or getting distribution. Remember, when entering a competition, if your film wins or is a finalist, or is even a semi-finalist, distributors, producers and agents will ask you for it, and the festival will want to be proud to have selected your film!
COPYRIGHT 2006 ELIZABETH ENGLISH