How-To: Submitting to Film Festivals

A top down look at the festival submission process

This post is also available in: Italiano

At the heart of 2019’s Awards Season, we can’t help but dream big about what the rest of the year will hold for all of us. We love seeing our beloved Zooppers send their passion projects to screenings and huge film festivals all across the world and snag awards while they’re at it. But we also know getting your film out there can be daunting. 

That’s why we’ve created this How-To guide to submitting your film to festivals all across the globe. Whether it’s your first short film or the masterpiece of your career (thus far), we’re here to support you and your big marquee dreams. So let’s get down to business.

So you’ve made a masterpiece. The film that you and your team have devoted all of yourselves to, is finally complete. Your story has finally come to fruition but… Now what? It’s time to get it in front of peoples’ eyeballs. 

Assess and Define Your Film

Before you even start building that list of dream festivals to submit to, lets focus on the star of the show: your film.

How-To: Preparing your work for film festivals

Assess your film from every angle and identify its defining characteristics. What genre does your film fall under? Documentary or Drama, etc? Is it a short film or feature length? Does your film address any topical issues/conversations? Where is it filmed and who was involved in the creation of it? 

Breaking down your film to its basics will help you break down all of your potential audiences and determine who your core intended audience is. Be specific about this.

We know you want everyone to see your film but identifying who is going to make up the core of your film’s audience and how you can reach them is vital to the longevity of your film. A loyal following will naturally grow the community surrounding your work.

All of this initial brain work will make your life much easier when you…

Create Your Marketing Materials

Your creative work doesn’t stop after post production. You’ll need to develop a variety of marketing materials for your film. 

Having a good understanding of the defining characteristics of your film will help you to ‘sell’ your film before the viewer even sees it. One of the biggest hurdles you’re going to face is getting a film festival programmer to watch your film at all. So, needless to say, put some thought into this and make it good.

Types of marketing materials you’ll need include: 

  • Trailer 
    • Whether you are showing a longer film OR short film, always keep it short and sweet.
  • Poster (in multiple sizes and formats) 
    • This is your film’s ‘book cover’. And trust us—films, people, and books alike get judged by their cover. Keep different digital formats and sizes on hand for easy handover in case of festival acceptance and promotion of your film.
American Beauty Film Poster
Pulp Fiction Film Poster
  • A Compelling Synopsis/Logline
    • This is just as important as your trailer. A film festival programmer will likely read this before watching your trailer. Your log line should encapsulate your film as a whole. You want to hook your reader within the first sentence of your synopsis and leave them with curiosity that can only be satisfied by watching your film.
  • Director’s Statement
    • Use this space to tell your audience a bit about yourself. Include any information that might appeal to your target audiences. Are you a female filmmaker? POC? Did you defeat all odds to chase your dream of creating a documentary about a cardboard artist? (You should watch it, it’s a good one)
  • Bonus: A One Sheet
    • This is a physical document or flyer that includes all the above information as well as credits to your amazing and dedicated head crew and relevant talent. This will generally be used in selling and distributing your film but could be useful material for a film festival programmer to review. One side will be your poster and the other side should include the synopsis (with log line), credits (DP, Producers, studios, etc.), the specs of your film, rating (PG-13, etc.), and contact information.
  • Key Stills from Your Film
    • Publications and festivals will use these to supplement any press/editorial content they release about your film. Make sure you use interesting stills that will capture your audience’s attention. This is a good chance for you to show off that beautiful cinematography or pique the viewer’s curiosity with a scene that raises questions they just need the answers to.
  • A Digital Presence
    • You could hire a publicist or a PR firm for your film but if you’re on a budget, a website and social media presence for your film will go miles for marketing your work and creating a strong following. This isn’t entirely necessary for shorter films but we would recommend it for something feature length. You’ve worked long and hard on your film and if you want it to live for years to come so it needs a home base on the internet. 

That’s a lot. We know. But they are necessary parts of making your film successful so make sure to be just as thoughtful and intentional in the creation of these materials as you were in your film.

Do Your Research and Develop your Film Festival Strategy

Do your homework and do it thoughtfully. 

Take the characteristics of your film that you identified before to find festivals that are looking for work like yours. Check past winners and screenings to see if your film would be a good fit and for insight into the programmer’s tastes. Build a list of festivals your friends, acquaintances, crew, and colleagues have had their films accepted into. Add your dream film festivals to that list as well as smaller, local festivals. Find festivals that attract audiences that will be interested in your film. Check out festivals like Outfest, Black Star, or Film de Femmes.

How-To: Strategizing your film festivals plan

Prioritizing the festivals you have the best chance at being accepted into rather than shooting blindly into the night will save you loads of time, money, and effort.

Consider the premiere status of your film. Are you premiering it globally? Locally? Perhaps neither at all? Premiere statuses can make a huge impact on your selection for a festival. Utilizing premieres is a great way to market your film and get publicity for your work.

However, if you have already premiered a film in a city, another festival in the same area might be hesitant about selecting yours for their festival because the potential audience has diminished. While festivals want to screen the best of the best, they also have to consider the potential audience turnout as well.

After you have finished your list, create a budget and prioritize the right festivals. Film Festival submissions are more often than not—not free. Submission fees generally land around $50 but can easily go up from there. Costs will add up before you know it so make sure you’re hitting the important festivals first.

Keep in mind the timeline of film festivals and deadlines. You can either save money by submitting by early bird deadlines or burn a hole in your wallet by sending in your film last minute.

Bonus: Ask for waivers. Some festivals will waive submission fees or give discount codes to filmmakers for a variety of reasons. Reach out and ask. Especially if costs will impact your submission strategy.

Submit to those Film Festivals!

You can usually submit your film via the festival’s website or by ways of the good old classic postal mail (but who does that anymore, amirite?). Nowadays, most film festivals will accept works via festival submission websites like Film Freeway. It’s free for you to use and will streamline your submission process exponentially. It’s also a great place to discover new film festivals you may not have heard of before! 

How-To: Submitting to Film Festivals

If given the option, always include a cover letter. Just as you wouldn’t submit a job application without a cover letter, one could go a long way if a programmer is on the fence about your film. Learning a little more about why your film is a good fit for the festival and getting to know you as the filmmaker just might be the deciding factor, when push comes to shove.

That being said… Work. Your. Network. Having a connection through friends, cast and crew members, old colleagues or partners, or even having something in common with the programmer or judge can impact your submission. Network online. Being a part of communities of filmmakers who support each other goes a long way as well. It goes without saying that hedonism, unfortunately, is highly effective. Although it won’t change the quality of your film, it may play a factor into how much attention the judge or programmer will pay to your work. 

Once Your Work Has Been Selected for Film Festivals….

Brag about it, go ahead (you deserve it). But don’t leave your head in the clouds because your work is still not done yet. Make sure to send a nice thank you note and get yourself into gear to promote the sh*t out of your film. This is where the marketing materials you created before will come in handy because they’re already at your disposal.

How-To: Screening your work at Film Festivals

While the festival will help you promote your screening, keep in mind that they’re also promoting all the OTHER screenings as well. Reach out and ask them how you can support their promotional efforts. Look into press opportunities and utilize your network to get the word out about your screening.

Lastly, try to attend the screening if possible! Take up the opportunity to do Q&A’s at the festival if it should arise. It will do wonders for increasing attendance of your film screening. And make sure to go see other screenings as well! Attend panels, network and meet fellow filmmakers and programmers. The relationships you build will drive your career.

Now, keep up the hard work and definitely keep submitting to different festivals! Films generally have a limited life span in the festival circuit so you should take advantage of a fresh film while you can. Besides, who doesn’t want to rack up those laurels? Think about how cool your trailer and credits will look!

Don’t Let Film Festival Rejections Bring You Down

Film festival programmers see countless masterpieces and works of art and just because they didn’t select your doesn’t mean your work wasn’t good or has gone to waste. Programmers have to turn down films they love often. The Zooppa Staff experiences this often when we fall in love with submissions to Open Projects and they don’t get selected by the client for a prize placement. That’s why we like doing honorable mentions, such as we did in our last Open Project with Bissell.

Etiquette is of utmost importance in acceptances but especially so when you face rejections. Yes, you may be upset or confused as to why your film was rejected, especially when you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s, but that’s just the nature of applying to film festivals. 

Send a polite thank you note. Manners go a long way. You don’t want to be remembered as the filmmaker who had a temper tantrum when you submit your next work of art to the same festival down the road. Don’t burn bridges.

Keep trying and keep believing in your film. Because we believe in YOU and we can’t wait to see what awards you guys rack up this year!

Have work you want to share with us? We want to see it! We love showing you some love. Share your passion projects with the Zooppa community team via email to for a chance to be featured all over Zooppa!


Zooppa Community Team

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