20 Tips for Applying to Film Festivals

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals

After taking your script from set through the editing process, you have your final cut—the next step – applying to film festivals. Film festivals allow you an opportunity to showcase your work to larger audiences, network with filmmakers, and give you a chance to further your career. While exciting, there are so many film festivals, and navigating the submission process can be daunting. As an indie filmmaker, I’ve successfully taken over three dozen films through film festivals and learned so much. Here are my top 20 tips for applying to film festivals.

Get feedback from peers

This is often a step filmmakers must take before applying to film festivals. Reach out to fellow filmmakers and peers for constructive feedback on your film. Your peers can help you identify ideas to help make your movie stronger.

Create a press kit

Press kits are an essential part of marketing for your film. Successful press kits should include a synopsis, a film trailer, production stills, behind-the-scenes stills, cast and crew bios, and pitch decks. If you don’t already have an account with Adobe, their Creative Crowd offers programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, Adobe Express, and Firefly, which will help you easily create your film’s pitch deck.

Make a trailer

Film festival announcements are a great place to showcase your film’s short trailer. By having an engaging, quick, and concise trailer, excited filmgoers will be more enticed to attend the screening of your movie. Having a great trailer sets you above the crowd.

Learn how to navigate FilmFreeway

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: FilmFreeway Logo

While some film festivals host submissions on their websites, most host submissions on the world-recognized website FilmFreeway. From prepping your film correctly to learning how to find the best film festivals for your film, FilmFreeway has risen to the top, especially for indie filmmakers. Ryan Camp Films takes you through creating a profile for your film by submitting your film for festivals through FilmFreeway.

Research, research, research.

Film festivals are all different. For example, some offer in-person screenings, while others are entirely online. You’ll save time and money by researching the types of films they’ve screened in the past, awards and career advancement opportunities, and deliverables they’ll expect from you as a filmmaker. 

Look into the festival’s past winners

To understand the style of films and stories that sit well with the festival programmers, research the history of the film festival’s past winners. You might even see some of your favorite filmmakers get their start at small festivals! You’ll save time submitting your film to festivals that aren’t a good fit.

Get ready to travel

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: San Diego Filipino Film Festival

When applying to film festivals, be mindful of the expense of traveling to the festival in case your film is accepted. While expensive, film festivals provide unique opportunities to network and build your film community. Be sure to take into account plane tickets, hotel, and food. Bonus – keep your passport updated!

Follow submission guidelines

Every film festival has a specific set of rules in their submission forms. Make sure you read everything carefully to ensure you can deliver the required formats and marketing assets. The last thing you’d want is to determine if your film is disqualified for not following the rules. 

Submit early

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: Attending The Cannes Film Festival

Many film festivals offer early bird discounts for filmmakers looking for a discount for submitting well before the deadline. Submitting early relieves stress from festival jurors and emphasizes your professionalism to festival organizers. 

Respect festival organizers

Organizing a film festival is no small feat. Film festival organizers receive dozens of emails and messages on top of their work to organize festivals. Remember to be professional, respond promptly, and be respectful in all your correspondence. Here’s a great video of 8 tips for getting into film festivals by film programmers. 

Identify what makes your film stand out 

Find your film’s identity and biggest highlight to make your film stand out. By finding what makes your film different and using that in your marketing, the more likely your film will be to stand out from other films. Things could include elements of your story, specific features or departments from production, or individuals working on your film. 

Quality over Quantity 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the available film festivals and to apply to as many as possible. However, quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Focus your energy on the niche festivals that best fit your film.

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: Attending The  Sundance Film Festival

Don’t count out small festivals

Most filmmakers dream of seeing their film premiere at festivals such as Sundance and SXSW, but “smaller” film festivals are just as important. Film festivals offer different perks, including travel, awards, networking, and could be a launching pad for your career. 

Plan your festival strategy

Once you’ve researched which film festivals you’ll apply to, develop a strategy. Things to keep in mind are tiers of festivals you’d like to attend, submission costs and required assets, and the likelihood of being able to attend each festival. For more about developing a film festival strategy, check out this video from Film It Yourself.

Use social media 

Regardless of how you feel about it, leveraging social media for your film could help you gain attention from film programmers. Being active on social media and sharing updates on your film can create demand from potential audiences. Finally, social media is a great place to network with other filmmakers who could help identify film festivals that align with your film. Adding your wins to your LinkedIn account as soon as they happen is a great way to keep your portfolio updated.

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: Director Award to Ashleigh Coffelt

Don’t be frustrated by rejection

While you may not get into every film festival you apply to, stay persistent. Continue to rework your marketing and submission info and identify film festivals that align with work similar to your film. Don’t be scared to know when to stop focusing on a film for the film festival route and focus on creating your next film. Be sure to read this blog post to see how to keep distribution in mind from the development stages of your next film.

Persistence is key

While you may not get into every film festival you apply to, stay persistent. Continue to rework your marketing and submission info and identify film festivals that align with work similar to your film. Don’t be scared to know when to stop focusing on a film for the film festival route and focus on creating your next film. Be sure to read this blog post to see how to keep distribution in mind from the development stages of your next film.

Be realistic with your expectations

While we face tons of rejection through every step of filmmaking, do your best to stay realistic with your expectations. It’s okay to remain ambitious with your hopes set on the most prominent film festivals. However, film festivals are highly competitive and require many resources to apply and attend. Don’t take rejections personally.

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: Attending a Red Carpet Event

Be ready for self-distribution 

Your film may not receive traction in the film festival route. Be ready to consider means of self-distribution, whether hosting a local screening with other filmmakers, online distribution, working with Youtube channels, or indie streaming services to showcase your film. Indie Film Hustle has a great article that goes more in-depth about self-distributing your film. 

Celebrate your wins

We can get caught up in the excitement of entering film festivals and finishing our films. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins along the way! Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your festival acceptances, successes, and experiences being seen for telling your story. Add your acceptances and wins to your professional film accounts, websites, and social media accounts.

Tips for Applying to Film Festivals: Attending The WAMM Film Festival


Film festivals can be a fantastic opportunity to get your work in the world, celebrate filmmaking with fellow filmmakers and receive career-changing opportunities. While these tips for applying to film festivals are not entirely conclusive, these are some things I wish I had known as an indie filmmaker navigating this world. Ultimately, you’ll maximize your chances of getting into film festivals by researching, working hard, staying persistent, and following these twenty tips for applying to film festivals. Let me know in the comments below if you have recommendations for filmmakers applying to film festivals. Thanks for reading, and happy filmmaking!

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Ashleigh Coffelt

Ashleigh Coffelt is a Filipina writer, director, and cinematographer. Passionate about collaboration and education, you can find her woodburning, creating art and playing emo music with her best friend. Ashleigh loves working with people to create beautiful things and is constantly striving to learn more so she can share her knowledge with the world.

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