Adventures in Judging Film Entries in a Film Festival

Ways to Better Your Chances of Winning

By Elizabeth English, Founder and Executive Director

Moondance International Film Festival

  • Submit your entry as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the last day of the entry deadline.
  • Send your film in the format required by the festival. In US competitions, if they accept only a preview DVD in NTSC format, don’t send a PAL format. For digital online submissions, include the password or code to view it, if needed.
  • DO NOT ATTACH A PAPER LABEL DIRECTLY TO THE FACE OF THE DVD! Paper labels very often cause the DVD to stop, stick, and/or pixilate. Have the title and other info printed onto the DVD, or handwrite it with a marker pen. Remember, some festivals (not Moondance!) will just toss your DVD, unwatched, if it stops, sticks, and/or pixilates, and not even bother to let you know there was a problem.
  • Have a perfect DVD copy of your film ready to send if the festival wants to screen it in one of those formats. Don’t make the festival wait while you try to get back your lone screener from another festival! When you are asked to send your film for screening at the festival, remember to enclose an SASE (or money for US postage) or your FedEx number, if you want the screener returned to you, after the festival is over.
  • For mailing: Package your screener safely, and send it, and with your WAB tracking number on the DVD or the box (or entry form, release form, & entry fee, if not via WAB) in one envelope or box, if using WABís submission service. Do not use those padded envelopes filled with grey shredded kapok, as it can damage the DVD. It also makes a big mess when opened. Use correct postage.
  • Do not send the submission as registered mail. This often requires the person at the festival who gets the notice of registered mail to go to the post office & stand in line to sign for it. Usually, the mail carrier will not leave the package if no-one is available to sign for it, and it may be sent back to you. US post offices have a good automatic tracking system: Delivery Confirmation notice. It’s a lot less expensive than registered mail & you can track the package online, to see when it was delivered, and even get a print-out that it was delivered properly, for your records.
  • If you want a hard-copy confirmation that your submission was received, please send (with your submission package) an attached post card with US postage (if entering a US competition). Write on the postcard: your name and address in the mail-to area, and on the back or in the message area, write: (name of festival) has received the film (title of your entry) on this date_________. Email confirmation will be sent automatically, in any case.
  • Do not send an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) with your submission for return of your preview video or DVD, if the festival or competition announces that they will not return preview submissions. You’ll be wasting the postage.
  • If you are sending your film to the US from another country, note on the customs declaration that the film has no (or $1) commercial value, or is a commercial sample, so the film festival is not charged a customs fee, in which case, the festival will probably refuse to accept your entry at all, and it will be discarded by the post office or returned to you.
  • Please remember to write the WAB tracking number on the DVD and the box, not just on the mailing envelope, if using WABís or other submission service.
  • Entry fees: Attach the check or money-order with a paper-clip (don’t staple it in) to the front of the official entry form, if you have not paid via WAB, PayPal, or other service. If it’s for a US festival or competition, make sure the funds are in US dollars. Don’t just toss the entry fee check into the bottom of the envelope. It may be missed. When sending a money-order, write your name on it, so we know who it’s from. When sending a check from someone else or a company, write your name and the title of the submission on it, for the same reason.
  • If you change your address, phone number or email address, please let the festival know this right away, so they can contact you if your film is selected for screening. Send email addresses for all others who may want to be notified of the filmís status in the contest.
  • If the festival has a newsletter or blog, subscribe to it, to get the latest news, announcements, info, updates, and so on! And check the website often.
  • If required for previews, send several publicity stills via e-mail, or a CD Rom with titled stills of your film in the submission package. If not required for previews, don’t send publicity materials. If your film is selected for screening, the festival will want to use a still for their print program and media promo. Use the best quality photos you have.
  • By the way, a photo of you behind the camera, directing, is not a publicity still for the festivalís media PR & festival print program.
  • Labeling your film: Please label the jewel-box or sleeve the DVD or film comes in, as well as printing the info on the DVD. The festival needs the following information on all film labels: Title of film, name of filmmaker, format, running time of film & genre (narrative feature or short, documentary, animation, etc.). Also add the title to the spine of the box, so itís readable when stacked up on a shelf.
  • Plan your film production budget to include film festival entry fees as the main method of marketing your film and your work.
  • Don’t ask the film festival to waive or reduce the entry fee for you. If the festival has a scholarship program available, it will be announced, and you can apply for it. Most film festivals are made possible by the entry fees collected.
  • Do not call, write or email the film festival to see if they’ve watched your film and if they liked it. Do not ask for comments or critiques unless the festival has announced they will give them. If you want a written or oral critique on your film and the festival charges a fee for that, add that amount to your entry fee.
  • If your film should be a finalist or winner, and/or is selected for screening at the film festival, plan to attend the screenings and networking opportunities, and participate in the festival by watching others’ films, and being available tor the Q&A after your film, too, as a courtesy to attendees, audiences, the film festival that is promoting your film, and to the other filmmakers.
  • If your film is not in English (for a US festival), do not have it dubbed into English. Use English subtitles, instead. Most festivals will not screen a dubbed film.
  • HAVE A GREAT, EYE-CATCHING TITLE FOR YOUR FILM! The title should be memorable and unique, whether it’s a narrative fiction feature, a short, a documentary or animation.
  • Have a great opening scene and first 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t start your film with 5 minutes of silent credits, nor these two all-too-common openings: Shot of a bedroom, guy or woman in bed asleep, alarm clock rings, hand reaches out to shut off alarm, clock falls to floor, anonymous feet pad to the bathroom. OR: camera pans across a mantle or wall filled with family photos, showing viewer who the story is about. Been done a million times. Be creative! Do something unique!
  • Make sure your film has a story. Even if it’s a documentary, it must have a story to follow and keep the viewer’s interest. Select a really good screenplay or story that will be of interest to festival directors AND the potential festival audience who will pay for tickets to see it.
  • Have a fantastic, memorable, even original film score.
  • If you are the director, be sure to utilize good cinematography, editing, framing, lighting, sound, costumes, hair, makeup, locations, music, sets and props. Make sure the film’s lighting and sound is the same value throughout each scene. Production values count as much as the story, editing and acting. Block out blue light, so your film’s colors are natural.
  • DIRECT your actors. The actors shouldn’t be perceived as reading their lines and hitting their marks. They should not even be acting, but should BE the character, thinking and feeling and reacting, as the character.
  • For documentary films, try to avoid all those ìtalking headsî. Use voice-over visuals and interesting images to tell your story, as much as possible.
  • Edit so that the film segues seamlessly and always flows forward. Start late, end early! Edit out all but the gem of the story. Make your film as short as possible. Consider ruthlessly cutting that 60-minute documentary to 30 minutes!
  • Film credits shouldn’t be longer than the film! Please keep them short and sweet, and moving quickly. Consider adding the secondary credits to the end of the film, rather than at the opening. Make them interesting, visually, and with music.
  • Make sure your entire submission package is festival- friendly!