OK, many creators have asked and I’m finally ready to share. As founder/director of New Media Film Festival® and having helped many other festivals throughout my career, I wanted to make sure I was unbiased in sharing information on film festivals. The best way to do that is to give you a basic step-by-step way of how to discern and figure this out for yourself.
Take to the internet. On Google, I searched “film festivals,” filtered by “most popular,” and amid the ads and images were the search results. I clicked on the top platform that popped up. (On many such platforms, you usually have to create a free account to search.) When I searched “Los Angeles,” 979 festivals popped up. But, digging deeper, I found a few showed up because they had the phrase “Los Angeles” in their description as a reference. I discovered that over one-third of the top 100 most popular results in my search were managed from another country.
This may or may not be important to you. It most likely is important to the people who you want to hire you, fund you, etc., as these awards are like a résumé. Real players will know which festivals are legit to them. At the very least — and this is coming from someone who deals and respects intellectual property (IP) — your birthdate is your identifying property. Do not add your birthdate. You should not allow anyone to have access to that info.
In the United States, you can check with the state’s film commission for a verified list of festivals. For example, you can compare the commission’s list of festivals (e.g., California) with your own film festival search findings. For instance, when comparing my initial search results, I found that only six festivals were on the California Film Commission’s list. By going directly to the state’s film commission website, you can find verified festivals in your area or the state you want to submit to. This is a really good way to find out if your festival is actually a business in the state/country you think you are submitting to.
But let’s go one level deeper: What do you care about?
Some people care about how many people view their content. Some people pick festivals because they like the festival name, they like the laurels or to win. Consider what’s important to you. What are your motivations for submitting your content?
For instance, one of the festivals I found in my own search of LA-based events had over 500 reviews. But reviews need to have context when taking this into consideration. This particular festival runs every month and gives out roughly 60 awards. Over a year, that’s a lot of awards and a lot of creators who are happy with this festival. Compare that to a festival that gives out 10 awards once a year and you can see how just looking at review numbers is not enough to discern.
Let’s take it a level deeper: Are they asking you for money outside of the festival process?
In my search, I discovered a festival that gives you a certificate and charges almost $400 for an actual award with shipping. I found some that offer video interviews and spotlights on their website all for an additional cost. Some are not festivals but markets and ask you to buy a membership on their site.
Now you have a new way to look at the film festival circuit strategy. There are other variables you will discover as you start this process. It is your content and career. The film festival circuit does require a game plan. What strategy will you use?