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Are Film Festivals a Waste of Your Time?

One of the questions I often receive from budding filmmakers is in regards to the showing and sharing of videos. Mainly, is entering your work into film festivals a waste of time?

The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah is without a doubt the king of the film festivals. I don’t want to belittle the prominence of other famous and equally compelling venues like: Toronto, Venice – Italy, Chicago or the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. But, Sundance stands alone as the venue one needs access to. And it’s a place that honors and encourages the true indie film spirit.

Yet maybe that is not so true anymore? It is rare to see a film in Park City that does not have some level of studio support – note that I said rare and not impossible.

So how does a budding filmmaker break into “the mainstream”? That was once a tough question, but no longer.

No – Film Festivals are Not a Waste of Your Time

Film festivals allow people to see your work. Showing your work will allow you to better understand your audience, and the experience will make you a better filmmaker and help you learn one thing above all.

Filmmaking is a community effort.

It requires people of differing skills to work together under one person’s leadership to create, develop and deliver to the screen. Even finishing that solitary wildlife documentary still requires the efforts of people versed in other parts of our craft to complete.

Stay Local but Think Global

Why enter your local festival you ask? Why not? One of the things about going to film festivals is that the people that are viewing your work are there out of loyalty to the medium. You have a captive audience that likes watching movies, one that can appreciate the sacrifices required of every filmmaker.

enter a film festival

I’m a food guy, so I enjoy going to the foodie film festivals, but I have also attended festivals centered on commercial production, extreme sports, underwater video and even internet cat videos – the last attended under duress as a writer and reviewer!

Feedback is Good for your Soul (and your edit!)

Another positive reason to submit to film festivals is watching your project delivered to an audience in a manner that you have not seen. I am surprised how many editors go back and recut scenes after the first time watching their edit on a big screen. Those shaky hand held shots that pass on your computer screen often create a nauseating effect when shown on the festivals 30ft (10m) screen. That awesome audio in your headphones ends up being abhorrently over-modulated when played back over the festival sound system.

Even with all of the outlets available for delivery over the web these days, nothing will ever replace the emotion of having a roomful (or park-ful) of friends and neighbors clapping and cheering at your work. It is without a doubt one of the greatest feelings one can have as an artist and the thing we all live for.

are film festivals a waste of time

So join in, submit your film to your local festivals, share your work and use it to kick yourself into gear and add your voice to the community.

5 Film Festival Tips & Tricks

Here are a few tips and tricks to get your work into the festival game.

1. Tell a story – one you know and believe in.

2. Your story needs to be a symphony of not just words and pictures, but of sound and music too.

3. Maintain quality from start to finish. I have seen too many projects where the last 10 minutes of a film did not look of the rest of the project because of time constraints.

4. Consistent audio is a hallmark of a professional project. Nothing kills the relationship between your film and your audience faster than poorly recorded, badly produced vocals or overwhelmingly loud music tracks. The best advice I have ever received was, “If it’s not good radio, it’s really bad television”.

5. Use camera support when you can. That “shaky-cam” footage my look good on your phone, but when the camera POV is jumping around on a 30ft screen it often produces a nauseating effect on your audience. I am not saying not to use it, but sparing the viewer the eye strain related headache leaves a better overall impression.

Lastly, if you don’t get into your preferred film festival the first time, keep trying! It took me six entries before I got into my first festival.

Recommended Film Festivals

Sundance Film Festival 
Toronto International Film Festival 
Chicago International Film Festival
Tribeca Film Fest
The Foodie Film Fest 
More Film Festivals 
And find many more, including more local ones than you can imagine, at withoutabox.com

#withmycamera

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2 Responses to “Are Film Festivals a Waste of Your Time?”

  1. Bret Hampton on March 15th, 2017 8:09 pm

    I’ve shot/edited films that showed at Durango, Arizona ASU and other festivals plus IFC Channel. The experience was very helpful, especially attending the festivals and meeting fans and other filmmakers.

    However I don’t think one should expect festival screening to equal distribution or success. Use this experience to learn and make better films!

  2. Keith on June 21st, 2017 11:02 am

    I have not been in a film festival. Talking with people who have said it is a political process. I’ve seen films at festivals and wondered how did a particular film make into the festival line. And I’m not the only one. From that POV yes.

About the Author


Contributor Gary Adcock specializes in creating and streamlining workflows for Episodic and Feature Production and Post-Production. Gary's extensive knowledge in Camera Technology, Image Acquisition and OnSet Data workflows is regarded by many as one of the most knowledgeable resources in the industry. With emphasis on understanding camera and production technologies and how they relate to post production and delivery. Gary assisted in writing the Data Handling Procedures and Best Practices documentation for IATSE Local 600 (Cinematographers Guild) as part of an ongoing education initiative project. Gary also regularly contributes to Macworld Magazine, as well as now being a regular contributor here on Zacuto.com, he is a moderator and blogger at CreativeCow.net and for the upcoming ThundrMedia.com site launching later this year. Gary’s client list includes: Adobe, Aja Video, Apple, Arri, Autodesk, Sony, Panasonic, and JVC. Media outlets like CNN, MSNBC, Discovery Networks, MTV, WGBH (Antiques Roadshow), FOX, National Geographic Inc. and the Nat Geo Networks worldwide. Commercial clients include such prestigious brands as McDonalds, Taco Bell, HBO, MLB, NASA, Citibank, NBA Entertainment and NFL Films. Recent Production Work has included Transformers Dark Side of the Moon 2011 (3rd unit), Just Like a Women (2012) (data and dailies colorist), NBC's Playboy Club (camera tech), ABC's Detroit 1-8-7 (remote recording technologies). Gary can be followed on Twitter @garyadcock or on his new Wordpress blog about Technology and the Chicago food scene at garyadcock.com.

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