WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FINISH A FILM
Calling all emerging filmmakers: What To Do When You Finish A Film is a resource meant for you whether your work was made in a class, on a kitchen table, or in a dark little studio! From Joanne Fisher's talk during GIRAF19
So, you've finished your film - now what? Follow this guide from artist and filmmaker Joanne Fisher for the next steps for getting your film seen now that's it's done!
WHAT'S IN THIS GUIDE:
- Where to find festivals and how to submit to them
- Press kits, promo, and preparing your film for the festival circuit
- What to expect when you're accepted to a festival
- ....and what to do after your festival screenings
The objective of this resource is to take the edge off of the overwhelm and give the emerging filmmaker a few tips to get started. It gets easier as you go - so let's get started.
SUBMITTING TO FESTIVALS
The next step for most filmmakers after completing their project is to get onto the festival circuit. This means submitting to film festivals at home and around the world through the power of the internet.
Before you start submitting, make sure you've gathered and prepared all the essential info for your film; having this info on hand will make the process of submitting to multiple festivals faster and more efficient.
General information that most festival applications will ask for includes...
- Project type (animation, short, experimental, student, music video...)
- Genre (experimental, horror, sci-fi, comedy...)
- Runtime (expressed as hours:minutes:seconds - for example: 3mins 30secs is 00:03:30)
- Completion date
- Shooting format (ex. film vs digital)
- Aspect ratio (ex. 16:9)
- Dialogue list (if applicable - more on this below)
- Project Credits (director, animator, writer, producter/production support, sound designer... even though it might just be your name on mot of these credits!)
- Preview version of your film (usually through a Vimeo link or similar/.mp4 in H.264)
- Submission formats (DCP or high quality digital files)
In addition, many festivals will ask for a press kit or media kit. Festivals use these items for festival promotion and to showcase your work, and they like to have them right away at the time of submission so they can begin promoting the festival as soon as selections are made.
Your press kit should include high-quality images and previews of your film to give the festival assessors a good sense of what your film is and who you are.
Things to include in your press kit:
- 3 high-resolution stills of your film* (frames or screenshots)
- 1 high-resolution Director Photo*
- Director Bio - 100-150 words
- Film Synopsis - one short synopsis (under 25 words) and one longer synopsis (50-100 words) if applicable
- A poster for your film and/or social media assets (sites like Canva are great options to quickly and easily make a poster or social media image)
- A trailer for your film (a 30second - 2 minute cut of your film, depending on its length, can be a great tool for marketing online and on social media - see the resources section below for some trailer examples!)
* The standard for hi-resolution photos is 1920x1080 and 300DPI. Never fear; it's completely possible to take a hi-res director photo using your phone.
A good practice is to keep all the elements of your press kit in one place, such as a folder on Google Drive or Dropbox, so that you can easily share it by sending a single link. Dropbox is more universal as not everyone has a Google account. Uploads can be done with WeTransfer as well.
Each festival has their own preference as to what final screening format they require. Once your film is selected, the festival will reach out to let you know what format they need.
With a few exceptions, the majority of festivals now screen digital versions of films, either using DCPs (Digital Camera Packages) or from high-quality digital video files.
DCPs are a digital format that meets the technical specifications of a specific projector or cinema server. If a festival requires a DCP file, they should be able to specify the format and requirements for the file (if you are generating your own using Final Cut or Da Vinci Resolve, for example), or direct you to a professional post-production service to generate the file. The cost of professional DCP production is calculated based on the film’s duration in minutes. Some festivals have a discounted rates in place with DCP conversion services.
(One resource in Calgary for DCP conversion is Binder Productions, who can also provide cinema sound upscaling and arrange for shipping and delivery of your DCP to festivals)
However, more festivals will now screen high-quality digital files rather than DCPs. High-quality digital files, such as ProRes 422 HQ or ProRes 422 Codec, don’t cost anything to generate and are simple to share. Just ensure that they're meeting the specifications for screening provided by the festival. And if in doubt about the specs, ask!
If your film has dialogue or narration, it's a good idea to prepare a dialogue list: a timecoded script of your film that includes all the verbatim dialogue with character names, sound effects, music descriptions/lyrics, and chyrons.
Dialogue lists are used by some festivals for captioning or subtitling if your film is going to be screened in a location where the language in your film isn't commonly spoken.
Here at Quickdraw, we strongly recommend proactively captioning or subtitling your film before submitting it to festivals! Captioning opens up your work to a wider audience, and makes it more accessible.
Many film editing programs (such as Final Cut or Premiere) have auto-captioning functions that make it easy to add captions to your films. Just make sure that you review and edit them afterwards, as sometimes the AI used to create the captions makes mistakes. Alternatively, a post-production company such as Binder Productions can embed captions (or, you can consider incorporating captions into the design of your future films!)
WHERE TO FIND FESTIVALS
Now that you have your film's info and press kit together, it's time to start submitting to festivals!
...But, where do you find them?
- Film Freeway Film Freeway is a "one-stop-shop" platform for filmmakers to submit their films to multiple festivals across the globe. It was started in Canada in 2014, and is now one of the most reputable festival listings online. After you create your FF account, you can upload all the information for your film(s) once, and then use the platform to submit to multiple festivals (a huge time saver!) You can also use the platform to search festivals that you think would be a good fit for your work, and set reminders and alerts when they open for submissions (TIP: search both for "open" and "closed" festivals that suit your work, since various festivals have deadlines all year round)
- ZippyFrames is an online journal of independent animation, that also curates a list of animation specific festivals, including some that you won't find on Film Freeway. They have a complete list of festivals, and a version sorted by upcoming deadlines, so you can easily see what's coming up
- AnimationFestivals.com is an online aggregator of festival listings worldwide. Like ZippyFrames, it may catch some festivals that are not listed on Film Freeway, so it's worth a look. You can crosss-reference this site to get a fuller view of the animation landscape.
- Animation Newsletters we recommend that you follow or sign up for newsletters of festivals that are of interest to you, or for animation or film societies that share deadlines (for example, the Quickdraw newsletter regularly posts upcoming festival deadlines!)
Submit to lots of festivals. Don't limit yourself to just the "top ten" animation festivals; look into those festivals that best suit the genre, tone and style of your work, and choose the ones that best fit your work, and your career aspirations. Having said that, where your film premieres DOES matter; after doing your research, consider submitting to the top 5-20 festivals that you would love your project to premiere at, wait for their responses, and then move down the list to submit to others.
And don't discount the lesser-known fests. Even if your dream festivals don't have space for your project, there is still great exposure to be had by having your film play at a smaller festival, and exposure is everything for a film - the more exposure, the better!
There are a few things to keep in mind as you look at festivals to submit to:
- Some festivals have "premiere" requirements - that is, they are only looking to screen films that they can label as a world, national, provincial etc. premiere. This is more common with live-action films than with animation, but it's good to consider whether the film you're submitting can be marketed as a premiere for the festivals you're applying to. Always check the festival submission requirements, and don't let a premiere requirement stop you from submitting to other festivals! If you receive an offer from a prestigious festival that requires a premiere, you can always withdraw or decline to screen at other festivals before that one.
- The "life span" of the festival circuit is about 2 years - that means that, in general, festivals are interested in screening works that were completed within the last 2-3 years at most. Again, there are exceptions to this rule, depending on the individual mandates of the festival.
- Keep your budget in mind! Many film festivals have some kind of application fee (usually between $20 and $100 for live-action festivals). Many animation festivals are free to apply to or have minimal submission fees. Research when festivals first open for submissions and take advantage of early-bird rates. However, there is often a free or discounted application option for those who need it; don't be afraid to reach out to organizers to see if there is an alternate way to submit your work.
Record-keeping is your friend when applying to festivals! Remember: festival submissions are part of the business of being a filmmaker, and keeping track of what festivals you apply to when will help you to manage the business of your film. Keep a spreadsheet for the first 2 years of your film's festival life, including festivals applied to, results of applications, upcoming deadlines, festival dates, and fees paid. It's easy to lose track of where you've submitted and this admin will help to keep you from missing an important deadline, or re-submitting to a festival at the wrong time.
SIGNS OF A SCAMMY FESTIVAL
With so many festivals and so many sites aggregating them, it can be tough to determine which fests are legitimate, and which ones are not worth the application fee. Here are a few signs that a festival might be a scam:
- Is the festival "pay to play"? If their application offers a guaranteed spot in the festival for your application fee (or for an extra fee), you can bet that this festival is not reputable.
- Likewise, if you are asked to pay an extra fee to qualify or be considered for awards at the festival, then any laurels you earn at this fest are not going to be considered meaningful
- Check the festival website. Are there any legitimate photos of events or screenings? Can you see images of audiences in the theatre for screenings?
AFTER YOU SUBMIT
Once you've submitted to a bunch of festivals, and waited paitently, results will come in either giving your project the big thumbs up, or the disappointing thumbs down.
Learning how to take a rejection is one of the biggest hurdles to being a filmmaker. During your filmmaking career, you can expect to get more rejections and acceptances, but a festival rejection is always a bit of a disappointment.
It helps to remember that juries and selection committees are small, specific, and have a mandate to speak to the vision of a specific festival each time that they review submissions. A rejection from one festival may not be a reflection on the quality of your work, but simply the tastes and interests of a specific jury. Your film may not be a fit for festival "A," but is probably perfect for festival "B," "C," or "K." Keep at it and keep on applying - it was a marathon to make your film, and that persistence is still needed once you start the festival journey.
Woohoo! When your film is accepted into a festival, you can expect to receive an email from the organizers asking you to confirm or decline your participation in the festival, and with all the information about next steps and the things they'll need. Including any additional promotional materials, formatting or technical information required for your film.
If you can, attend the festivals where your film is screening. In addition to being just a wonderful and gratifying experience, attending the festival is excellent exposure for you and your work, and give you the opportunity to network, connect and make friends with other animators, filmmakers, producers, festival reps, and everyone else who attends film festivals! Depending on the festival, there may be a travel stipend or accommodations provided for artists who want to attend their screenings, however you should expect the pay your own airfare. Budget permitting, attending a festival for a few days is one of the best career-building moves you can make (and probably a whole lot of fun).
(In Canada, many funders provide grant support to artists who've been invited to attend a screening of their work: the Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts offer travel grants for artists. Your local animation associations (such as Quickdraw and AMAAS) can help by providing grant writing advice and letters of support to bolster your grant application)
Be sure to keep a list of your screenings and awards for use on your CV and in your portfolio!
AFTER THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
That film that you've spent ages and ages on has finally made a festival, but, remember, the life of a film on festival circuit is typically only about 2 years. After that, there are 2 options for the continued life of your film project: online release, or distribution.
Online release is now very accessible for almost all filmmakers, with the rise of platforms such as Vimeo and Youtube, as well as short film websites that might be interested in an online premiere of your film (see resources below). Consider what is important to you with the online release of your film - are you interested in being platformed in a way that generates revenue for you, or simply to reach as many interested eyes as possible? (Keep in mind that if you plan to release your film for free online after its festival run, you may have difficulty arranging a sale of the work or paid distribution in the future).
The more traditional route for sharing your work with the world is distribution. When you make an agreement with a film distribution company, your film is purchased or rented by the distributing company, which will then take the steps of marketing and displaying the film. Film distribution companies supply movies, television programs, videos and new media to outlets such as cinemas and broadcasters. Signing an agreement with a major distributor (such as the NFB or MIYU) can be a daunting task, especially for an emerging filmmaker with a short CV. However, there are a few more grassroots film distributors that specialize in animation. For example:
- Winnipeg Film Group is an artist-run centre that specializes in the distribution of short film works by independent filmmakers, especially animation, experimental and documentary films less than 15 minutes in length.
- CFMDC is another non-commercial, artist-run centre distributor with a focus on animation that can submit on your behalf to festivals, as well as distribution to educational catalogues and other paid opportunities, as well as on their online platform CFMDCtv
The number one way that your work will be found by distributors both large and small is through festival exposure, and particularly through a personal connection made at a festival or similar event - this is why it's great to attend festivals where your work is screening wherever possible. However, "cold-calling" or sending your work through a direct email or online form to a distributor has been known to work, especially if your film has a particular aesthetic, appeal or audience that a distributor can capitalize on. Research the catalogues of various distributors, and consider sending your work to those where your film would fit in.
Once you've basked in the glow of your festival success, it's time to get back to work on your next project. If you were able to attend any of the festivals where your work screened, you'll have made some great professional connections that can help you reach the next stage in your career, or advance your next creative project.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- GIRAF https://www.giraffest.ca/
- Animovies at the Festival of Animated Objects https://animatedobjects.ca/
- Edmonton Short Film Festival https://esff.ca /
- Local Heroes Film Festival https://esff.ca/local-heroes/
- Gotta Minute Film Festival https://fava.ca/gotta-minute-film-festival
- ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival https://imaginenative.org/
- Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival https://fairytalesfilmfest.com/
- FascinAsian Film Festival https://fascinasian.ca/
- Calgary Black Film Festival https://calgaryblackfilm.com/
- Particle and Wave Festival https://emmedia.ca/particle-wave/
- Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) https://www.calgaryundergroundfilm.org/
- Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) https://www.ciffcalgary.ca/
- Okotoks Film Festival https://okotoksfilmfestival.ca/festival.php
- Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS) https://filmfreeway.com/TAISAnimationShowcase2023
- Ottawa Animation Festival https://www.animationfestival.ca/
- Animation Festival of Halifax. https://www.anifx.ca/
- Toronto Animated Image Society https://tais.ca/getanimated.html
- Le Sommets du Cinéma https://sommetsanimation.com/en/
- Crane Creations Theatre Company Presents: Puppet Festival Mississauga https://www.cranecreations.ca/event/puppet-festival-mississauga/
- Invermere Film Festival https://www.invermerefilm.com/
- Dawson City International Short Film Festival https://www.dawsonfilmfest.com/
- Fantasia https://fantasiafestival.com/en
- Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) https://www.tiff.net/
- Melbourne International Animation Festival https://miaf.net/
- GLAS Animation Festival https://www.glasanimation.com/
- Animafest Zagreb http://www.animafest.hr/en
- Pictoplasma https://conference.pictoplasma.com/animation//
- Monstra Animation Festival https://monstrafestival.com/en/
- New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival https://airport-anifes.jp/en/
- Hiroshima Animation Season https://animation.hiroshimafest.org/en/
- Tricky Woman Animation Festival https://www.trickywomen.at/en
- Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film https://www.itfs.de/en/
- Fantoche https://www.fantoche.ch/
- AniMate - Australia Animation Film Festival https://animate-australia.com/
- PÖFF Shorts https://shorts.poff.ee/uudis/p-oe-ff-shorts-kuulutas-vaelja-voitjad-suur-sojamaeel/
- Annecy https://www.annecyfestival.com/
- Animafest Zagreb http://www.animafest.hr/en
- Anim’est https://www.animest.ro
- Anima-Brussels https://animafestival.be/en
- Animafest Cyprus https://www.animafest.com.cy/
- Animateka https://www.animateka.si/2023/
- Animator-Poland https://animator-festival.com
- Cinanima https://www.cinanima.pt/en/home-en/
- Cutout https://cutoutfest.com/
- Encounters https://www.encounters.film/
- Fantoche https://fantoche.ch/en
- GLAS https://glasanimation.com/
- Hiroshima https://animation.hiroshimafest.org/en/
- Monstra https://monstrafestival.com/en/
- New Chitose https://airport-anifes.jp/en/
- OIAF https://www.animationfestival.ca/
- Pictoplasma https://conference.pictoplasma.com/
- Stuttgart https://www.itfs.de/en/
- GIRAF https://www.giraffest.ca/
- Particle and Wave Festival
- Onion City Experimental Film Festival. https://www.onioncityfilmfest.org/
- Ann Arbor https://www.aafilmfest.org/
- Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation https://www.eyeworksfestival.com/
- Tatsuno International Film https://tiff.tatsuno-fest.com/
- Sweaty Eyeballs https://www.sweatyeyeballs.com/
- Puppet Festival Mississauga, https://www.cranecreations.ca/event/puppet-festival-mississauga/
- Stopmotion Montreal, https://www.stopmotionmontreal.com/
- CAOS Festival of Animated Objects https://animatedobjects.ca/
- Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival https://fairytalesfilmfest.com/
- Out on Screen: Vancouver Queer Film Festival https://queerfilmfestival.ca/
- Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival https://www.insideout.ca/
- Pride in Art Society https://queerartsfestival.com/
- BOLDFest: Bold Old(er) Lesbians and Dykes Festival http://www.boldfest.com/
- Montreal LGBT Film Festival (image+nation) http://image-nation.org/en
- Inside Out Ottawa LGBT Film Festival https://www.insideout.ca/initiatives/ottawa
- Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival https://www.reelout.com/
- Brenda Lieberman at the Women’s Film Festival - Festival Submission Strategies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zG62EcnQdU
(This is geared specifically for live-action films but animation filmmakers can glean some good information from it as well)
As part of QAS’ ongoing efforts to support the independent animation community, What To Do When You Finish A Film is meant for any emerging filmmaker who wants to share their work with new audiences and make new connections in the world of animation. Good luck and let us know how it goes!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanne Fisher is a Calgary-based independent animator and emerging filmmaker. She discovered her love of making animation at the Quickdraw Animation Society and, with the help of the CJM Memorial Scholarship and Residency, created her animated short film, Stache and the Inner Walk, which screened at many festivals worldwide. She has served on the programming committee for QAS’ annual animation festival, GIRAF, since 2018.
Working with different media under camera, her approach to animation is hands-on, messy, and experimental.