6 Steps To Submit To Film Festivals

Aug 06, 2022

Read Time: 3 minutes | YT Video

In today's issue, I'm going to show you how to execute a 12-month festival circuit for your film.

It's important you know how to do this to give your film the best chance of landing at a major festival. You will also be able to plan your production timeline in a way that maximises the time available to you. You will no longer be flying blind when it comes to this important part of the production process.

Unfortunately, most filmmakers don't know the optimal way to submit to festivals.


Not all festivals are equal...

Here are the reasons most filmmakers struggle with this:

  • Not submitting during post-production.

  • Submitting too late.

  • Not contacting selectors.

  • Leaving it to chance.

If this sounds like you, don't worry, I'm going to show you how to become a pro when it comes to submitting to film festivals.

Here's how, step by step:


Step 1: Put your film on a timeline for a major festival

Festival planning happens before pre-production.

We prepare all production schedules so that delivery occurs in time for a major festival. This is important for two reasons:

  1. It gives our team a fixed deadline and sets a high bar.

  2. It allows us to maximise the various stages of production.

Example: Our current schedule has us delivering the film in June (after Cannes). The next major festivals aren't until September (Venice and TIFF). We would shift the schedule to deliver in September and buy time in earlier stages of production.


Step 2: Only apply for the top 7 in the first 6 months

Here's the truth: there are only a handful of laurels that matter, and one handful that REALLY matter.

We all know that filmmaker who boasts about having 20 laurels from random film festivals. The reality is that those festivals don't move the needle for your career.

And given we're trying to advance our filmmaking careers, we're going to aim for the ones that move the needle.

Those are: Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice & TIFF.

We want to give ourselves 6 months of applying to ONLY those festivals from when the film is complete. More on this in the next step.


Step 3: Start submitting from picture lock

If the deadline for Sundance is in October and you've picture locked the film, do you submit?


If you miss that deadline you're not going to get a chance to submit again. You will be submitting to festivals for 9 months before that deadline comes around again. If you haven't hit a festival by then the chance of you landing Sundance is, tiny. So you have nothing to lose.

Festival selectors see many films with no sound/music/colour/VFX. I recommend adding in temp music and a slight grade if you can.

In 2017, my second film West of Sunshine was selected to Venice at picture lock stage. We then had 3 months to finish the film before the premiere.

We submit to the top 7 for 3 months with a picture lock and 3 months with a completed film, taking the total to 6 months.


Step 4: Move onto Tier 2 festivals for 6-12 months

There are a bunch of Tier 2 festivals that will gain credibility from the film industry. We want to target those next.

A world premiere at one of these festivals is a big deal if you know a thing or two about the industry. We won't impress our parents with a festival in Estonia. We will impress producers, sales agents and distributors.

This is by no-means an exhaustive list, but I'm talking about festivals like:

Molodist Kyiv, Karlovy Vary, Zurich, Locarno, San Sebastian, Reykjavík, Tallinn Black Nights, Rotterdam, Tampere, Sitges, BFI London, Telluride, AFI Fest, Adelaide FF, Busan.


Step 5: Contact a selector

It has never been easier to find the contact details of a festival selector.

Spend a little time researching the festival and its selectors. If you can't find their email, use a tool like Cinando, RocketReach or Seamless.ai. If you're still stuck, try LinkedIn!

All we want to do with these contact details is send an email to bring the project to their attention. The film has to do the heavy lifting.

Here is an email template you can use that has served me well. CAPITALS are the parts you add in.


I'm NAME from COMPANY in CITY. I don't believe we've ever met but I've heard great things about you and the festival. 

I am reaching out to you as we submitted a feature film to FILM FESTIVAL by COUNTRY filmmaker FILMMAKER NAME, who ADD SOME DETAILS ABOUT THE FILMMAKER.


The film was shot on location in LOCATION and features CAST

My intention with this email is simply to put the film on your radar as you consider projects for this year's festival. The film was only recently completed so both World and DOMESTIC premiere status are available.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like any further information about the project. 

Kind regards



Step 6: Move onto distribution

At the end of 12 months, we move onto releasing the film.

It can be tempting to keep applying to festivals if the film hasn't performed. But the film has a time stamp and the marketplace takes notice. Sales agent want to sell new product, not product that is 2 years old.

So when you get to the end of your circuit, move onto distribution and don't look back. You might even get your timeline up to plot your next film and festival debut.

Well, that’s it for today.

I hope you enjoyed it.

For more on this topic, head to my Youtube Video.

See you again next week.

Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you:

1. Develop your filmmaking skills [FREE] here (700+ subscribers).

2. Work 1:1 with me to start raising finance or land distribution (Limited Availability).

The Friday Filmmaker

Delivering one high-impact filmmaking tip every Friday afternoon. 

Join 5k+ subscribers getting one actionable tip on advancing their filmmaking career. 

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.