3 Common Film Festival Myths Debunked

By Michael Lee · January 2, 2020

What are some of the most common film festival myths that screenwriters and filmmakers believe in, but aren’t true?

Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.

We turn to The Script Lab’s own TSL 360 video with writer and producer Alexandra Boylan as she discusses the myths that filmmakers need to avoid when gauging their expectations with film festival submissions.

Boylan has made four feature films, all of which have been distributed by professional distribution entities in the USA and internationally.

Her company Mustard Seed Entertainment’s film Catching Faith had a two year run on Netflix and was on the shelves of Wal-Mart. Her film Wish For Christmas sold to Pure Flix Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Boylan’s script Switched was awarded the winner of the Kairos Pro MovieGuide award for best screenplay. She is also the author of Create Your Own Career in Hollywood: Advice from a Struggling Actress Who Became a Successful Producer.

We pull the best information from the below clip and offer our own elaboration on her intriguing points.

Myth #1: Film Festivals are Great Places for Unknown Indie Films to Get Distribution

“[Film festivals] are useful in the sense that distribution companies and sales agents attend them, but they tend to only attend the top tier film festivals — and that’s Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and anything smaller than that, they’re just not there.”

We would include the Austin Film Festival and, of course, the Cannes Film Festival on that top tier list as well.

Film festivals are plentiful all over the world. But that doesn’t mean indie filmmakers should break their backs entering every little one they can find. Yes, it’s wonderful to get audiences to see your film, but if your hopes and desires are to get a distribution company or sales agent to take notice, you need to do your best to get into those top tier options.

But even then, those top tier film festivals aren’t always a lock.

“I heard last year that South By Southwest only accepted films that already had distribution attached to them. Which is kind of heartbreaking for all of the independent filmmakers who submitted and paid that money to South By Southwest.”

Myth #2: Film Festivals Give Your Film Big Publicity

“You can get publicity for your film through film festivals, which is good. But a lot of times publicity is going to come because you have a star name. So it can be a little trickier even to get publicity for your film, even if you get into a film festival unless you have a star name.”

Publicity is great, but no one is going to take real notice unless a star name is attached. There are certainly examples to the contrary, but filmmakers can’t put all of their hopes on generating notable buzz for their film if they don’t have a name actor that the media — and buyers — will recognize.

It is wonderful to receive a local news story about your film being featured within a local festival, but unless it’s a top tier festival, buyers aren’t going to come calling.

Myth #3: Film Festivals Give Your Film Door-Opening Credentials and Laurels

“This is what I learned when I made my first feature film — laurels only matter if the audience knows what the laurels are. So a distribution company isn’t necessarily going to put a laurel on your key art for your DVD cover unless it’s something that the audience will be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to collect that because I’ve heard of Sundance.’ I had gotten into a small film festival and our distribution company did not put that laurel onto the cover of the poster.”

This also applies to screenwriters winning local or small screenwriting competitions. Laurels and credentials are only as good as those giving them.

Local film festival or screenwriting contest wins are great, but that doesn’t mean you can, should, and will be using them to sell or market your film or screenplay.

If you have a Sundance laurel on your film, or if you’ve won one of Sundance’s screenwriting competitions or made it into one of their workshops, you can certainly use that to your advantage. But if it’s the Wisconsin Film Festival or something more local and small like that, it’s not going to do you much good.

Be proud of any achievement, mind you.

It costs a lot of money to enter film festivals. Boylan pointed out at the end of this clip that she no longer submits her films to film festivals. Very few films gain distribution through them and when you’re in the top tier film festivals that do, you’re competing against the best of the best.

It’s better to avoid the non-top tier festivals and only enter those top tier options if you truly believe the quality is up to par. And then just seek out distribution through marketing your films directly to distributors and sales agents.

Watch the clip below and join TSL 360 to watch Alexandra Boylan’s whole video!

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