Back to IndieWire

Here Are 10 Things Filmmakers Want Festivals to Do

Here Are 10 Things Filmmakers Want Festivals to Do

The torrential feedback to last week’s article 10 Things Every Film Festival Wants Filmmakers to Know warrants a response from filmmakers. As festivals
know, filmmakers are the true heart and sole of a film festival. During
my tenor with festivals,  I have spoken to, or consulted with, hundreds
of filmmakers. In the spirit of helping festivals understand filmmakers
and with homage to Law & Order, these are their (and my) stories. 

Be transparent.
Festivals should provide filmmakers with a timeline,
genre guidelines, clear submission guidelines, festival formats and prizes on their
web site or wherever submissions are posted. If a waiver of the
submission fee is possible under certain circumstances, explain. If a screening fee is available, let them know how
they are eligible. Don’t go MIA and be unavailable for filmmaker
questions leading up to the festival.
2. Give Feedback. Rejecting a film? If possible, provide some
feedback on why the film was rejected. Typically, filmmakers have paid to be
considered for the festival. A helpful tip on why a project was rejected might
help improve their odds next time around. When asked to review films, I tell the
filmmaker up front I will be completely honest for what it’s worth (and
it’s only one gal’s opinion). They are universally appreciative of the
feedback. A programmer once told me he wouldn’t provide feedback because
he didn’t have time while another indicated that if she had the time, she would always do so (even over the phone, just not the week before the
festival). Guess who has a better relationship with filmmakers in the
3. Roll out the Welcome Wagon.  Let filmmakers know you appreciate them and prepare them for the festival by giving them a program in advance. 
Share their press kit with media and help them to arrange interviews. 
Filmmakers sure love it when they show up and are handed a
schedule of parties, screening times, Q&As, and special networking
events (and maybe even a driver to take them there!). At the very least, filmmakers deserve lodging. If you can’t afford to offer it, get it donated (people
love to have filmmakers stay with them and it builds great loyalty to
the filmmaker and the festivals). They are guests in your hamlet, so
treat them as you would wish to be treated — only better. 
Get the Word Out.
Empty theater syndrome — Just the thought of an empty theater sends chills down my spine. You
could hear a pin drop, if a tree falls in a forest, you get the idea.
All of the programmers reading this are cringing right now. It’s the
surprise party where no one shows up. It is unfair, and often avoidable.
Since we all know it happens occasionally, at least do your best to prevent it: 1) Don’t hold your festival for a full week if
no one comes to Tuesday
morning screenings  2) If it’s too late for #1, use social media, your
publicist, street teams and bribes with free tickets (had to do that
when a certain cult filmmaker showed up to his screening after being
told he wouldn’t be there) to fill the seats 3) don’t bail on the
filmmaker while he or she is experiencing this, but rethink what you
missed in your calculations. I tried to convince a large, two week long
festival that it was..well, too long. The director argued that he wanted
to show all these films so he had content but no audience. One clever
director took a large ad in the local paper advertising his film and
sold it out three times.

Manage Expectations.
Turn a Sow’s Ear into a Silk Purse aka Make the best of a situation. For instance, when “empty theater syndrome” happened, a new
doc filmmaker and the small audience bonded about the issue addressed in
the film; namely autism. We warned the director that the reception
would be intimate and we programmed it in a very small theater. By
managing expectations, the filmmaker was delighted with the quality of
the reception and he wound up with a committed donor and advocate. 
Be Kind. 
Be kind when you reject filmmakers, be kind when you invite filmmakers, be kind when you pick them up,
house them, see them at a party, pick their screening time and well,
you get it. And please don’t knock them over to get to the Sundance
filmmaker or star of the moment at your event. Film
producer and festival programmer Ted Hope advises festivals to take a filmmaker to dinner. Filmmaker Michael Farrell implores that they “treat filmmakers like guests who
accomplished something rather than lucky to be there.” Remember, it
costs you nothing to be kind (even if it cost you something to bring
them there). Give filmmakers every opportunity to network within the industry
and they will buzz about your festival. They’ll be sure to spread the word about the festivals that took care of them and showed them a good time — and those who didn’t. A well-respected programmer who
worked for the festival I ran once taught me that what matters most is
how you treat the filmmakers. She is a now very important executive with
a  preeminent festival and deservedly so. 
Get the Technical Stuff Right.
Format, print traffic, projection – Measure twice-cut once.This is one
that still gives me nightmares. After implementing a backup system with a
back up to the back up system, the projectionist was unable to project
Alex Gibney’s stunning film (that went on to win an Academy Award), “Taxi
to the Dark Side” at a festival I produced. We wound up projecting it on
a DVD player (ugh) so be sure your films work on whatever format it is
and that you have backups, key codes sorted and films pretested.  We
once kept Nick Nolte and the film’s director waiting for an hour in a limo
(driving all over Newport to take them “sight seeing” because the print
hadn’t arrived. A helicopter delivery where we grabbed the print off
the tarmac illustrated the need to implement better measures for print
traffic control. Filmmakers deserve to have their films shown on time,
in the correct aspect ratio and with proper sound (need I remind you,
they always want it turned up).
Acknowledge Sundance.
Sundance — The elephant in the theater. Everybody talks about Sundance
but nobody does anything about it. All (yes, all) filmmakers want to be
accepted there and festivals (many) want to be Sundance but the reality
is, only Sundance is Sundance — and the rest of us are not. Let’s just get on with it and not
focus on the “S” word.
Support the Film Community.
And the point is- “It’s important for filmmakers and producers and
programmers to remember this: we’re all on the same team. We are a
community of artists, coming together to celebrate movies for the sake
of movies. We are all going out of our way to try and give life to
independent cinema. And that’s a beautiful goal. In other words,
filmmakers are willing to bet the farm on their vision and programmers
are willing to sift through 6,000 films a year with the hopes of finding
a few gems.”  Says who? Filmmaker Chris Lowell,
an up and comer who is experiencing the circuit for the first-time. Good advice!
Have Fun. This Festival May Be Your Last.
  Unfortunately, many film festivals and many filmmakers only get one bite at the apple (in other words,
failure rates are high). When I say failure, there is only one film screened and/or only one festival produced. Why? Another article (cut to
cliffhanger) and a multitude of reasons. That said, we are all very
privileged to be in this industry because it was by design, not chance.
Most filmmakers I interviewed to research this article expressed incredible gratitude for their chance to be screened at
festivals and appreciated the hard work that goes into producing a
festival (filmmakers are producers on a tight budget too). Or as filmmaker Katina Dunn puts it, “Festivals do a great job under grueling

Laurie Kirby, Esq., president and CCO of the International Film &
Music Festival Conference, executes an
annual conference for film, music
festival and tech leaders and oversees a magazine publication LINEUP for
festival executives. A former attorney and former film festival
executive, Kirby is a consultant and frequent speaker at film festivals
and event conferences in areas that include event planning, nonprofit
management, distribution, celebrity relations, film production,
sponsorship, sports law, real estate and conservation law, grant
writing, licensing, social media and traditional marketing.

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged ,



We are currently accepting submissions, as part of our policy we also send helpful feedback to each film we review.
We will be more than happy to have you!

Birgitte Stærmose

Good with some discussion of the festival business. I usually say that inviting a filmmaker to your festival is no different from inviting a guest to your house. You greet them, you talk with them, you introduce them to some other people you have invited over and you make sure that they get something to eat and that they are comfortable. Otherwise maybe do not invite the guest over. How about adding to the list: when you give an award to a film in the festival you notify the filmmaker. It has happened to me several times that I was not notified, and not just at smaller understaffed festivals.


We need to thank Charles Judson and NOTANARTIST who, for lack of self-consciousness and in the spirit of self-celebration, have disrobed here and displayed arts administrator vanity and arrogance at its finest.

And to think we're paying, or at least were paying, their salaries.

Yaron Yarkoni

Not only do I find myself spilling my guts and funda into my films I then have to pay for submission and hope and pray that a festival will accept me. The beurocracy is never ending the wait is nerve wrecking and in the end u have to write the festival and remind them to send resulta. What are we paying for in the first place? Where is the strive for original voices and innovation? Seems to me the whole system is dimented.

Hisko Hulsing

In addition to the points made about Technical Stuff , I would like to mention one very important thing. Most festivals are probably delighted that they don't have to pay for traffic of 35mm prints anymore, but what has replaced it is not reliable at all.
DCP is the only reliable digital format I know of.
With any other digital format, like Quicktime Pro Res or MP4, one can never tell how the colors will look like. I can tell, because my film Junkyard has been shown on over 100 filmfestivals, so I have seen it all pass by. Washed out colors are the biggest problem (it has to do with the color profiles, but it's hard to tell what profiles are being used). DCP is always correct.
Maybe I should not complain, because my film was very succesful and won lots of awards, but I have had many sleepless nights about the projection of my film.
As you mentioned in your article, sound is the other potential disaster. Directors should always have the opportunity to either test or else have the volume changed during the screening. Especially in short programmes, where every film has a different mix.


DVD screeners – Why do so many festivals still not consider online screeners and will only watch a disc? Unnecessarily costly and time-consuming.


I feel getting "notes" from a programmer on why your film isn't accepted is quite problematic to me. There are MANY programmers out there who don't know much about cinema or anything about the current state of things, so for them to "give notes" to a filmmaker on why they didn't accept their film is very troubling to me. Especially because some young filmmakers (old ones too) may go and re-cut their films based on the notes of some dim wit who knows nothing more or less than anyone else. Just my two cents.


It's been said there are too many films. Well, there are to many festivals. Festivals should be something special, not something for everyone. It's like if you can't get into a festival, just run one yourself.

Also, how about the fact that press/sales agents can get you into a festival regardless of how crappy your film is? You want to get screened? Just grease the right palms, baby.


Pretty softball stuff. This reads like a festival consultant imagining what filmmakers want festivals to do, not what filmmakers really want festivals to do.


I don't want anything from the festival except "Okay, you're in.", or "We hate it…stop making films."


'This year 6,500 were submitted' to one film festival. How does that work? How much money is that? How much time is that? How many reviewers is that? How fair is that? And, ummm, how possible is that?


Thank you Student Filmmaker for adding the two things that drive me crazy about festivals. You beat me to it.

Not getting told you're rejected is bad enough (and more common than it should be), but I've had several situations where, like you Student Filmmaker, a festival screened my feature and I NEVER heard a word from the festival. Found out either after the festival was over or by someone seeing the film listed on the festival's web site. Who knows where they got the exhibition copy from.

And yes, I've had my feature programmed opposite the opening night party. Was told it was the only spot available. Any surprise the audience numbered in the single digits? I'd rather just not have been programmed thank you.

I honestly don't care why my film is rejected. The film is finished and I'm not going to spend more money to re-cut it based on what some programmer tells me. If one programmer doesn't connect with it, fine. Another one will. I've spent enough time around programmers to know that not all of them know what they're talking about.

And please don't send me an email saying that you really wanted to screen it but just had so many great films to choose from and it didn't make the final cut. I know you think it sounds encouraging, but it's actually more disappointing than a plain vanilla rejection.


Here's another suggestion. Reject absolutely the idea that

"It's important for filmmakers and producers and programmers to remember this: we're all on the same team. We are a community of artists"

Whether the filmmakers are artists or not is for the public to decide, but festival programmers are not artists. Producers are not artists. Attorneys are not artists. The sooner the entrepreneurial classes learn humility, and that they would have no livelihood and no claim to this world without the efforts of others who take risk and/or possess abilities they don't, the better for everyone.

Student Filmmaker

I have 2 adds to the above list.
1) You are obligated to inform the filmmakers of their rejection or acceptance. The very, very least you can do is understand that the filmmakers have paid a fee (real $$) to enter your event. Not contacting filmmakers boggles my mind. I've had occasions where I found my film was screening when another filmmaker congratulated me after seeing a web post from the festival. I've also found out my film wasn't playing the same way. Twitter blasts are not an ok way to inform people.

2) Please, pretty please don't schedule panels or meet & greets or worst yet PARTIES when you have films screening. Especially the short films. Will never forget traveling 5 hours to a festival, finding out my film was screening in the last block of the night and when the block before mine ended the festival director announced the, "Big festival party / mixer was happening in 5 minutes at XYZ location, hurry and don't miss it." Then introduced our short film block of 5 films…which played to 7 people. Please, please just use some commons sense. Pretend when scheduling things that YOUR film is the one playing at any given time.


Filmmaker No Name

How about-Actually exposing new filmmakers and not accepting basically the Sundance and SXSW lineup to your festivals, knocking everyone else out of contention automatically?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *