Festival Research: – How to attract an audience

Creating a film, whether it be a short or a feature-length, is certainly no easy task for any media practitioner. The hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes even years that go in to a film from the original concept, through to pre-production, production and finally the finished cut don’t amount to anything if you have no intention of letting the world know about your work and you as a media producer. This is often harder than the actual creation of the film and can often result in failure if you do not do your research and advertise your film accordingly in order to attract an audience. One of the best ways to do this, and certainly the most popular, are film festivals. In order to get your film to one of these events there are many processes that go into it and have to be considered.

Before going in to how to attract an audience for your film, it is important to highlight the initial preparation a filmmaker must take in order to gear up for showcasing their film at a festival.

Film festivals have their own set of rules, ranging from deadlines given for submission as well as occasionally demanding that the film in questions has not been broadcast or screened anywhere else prior to the festival. This is very important when thinking about building an audience for your film prior to the official screening as in many ways it is very difficult to, due to not being able to post your film online to get everyone’s attention or create buzz around in order to gain notice. As a result, the majority of filmmakers all begin the screening process at the same level; each needing to generate hype and attention towards their film on the day and get people excited for it. Although during the editing process you can do as many test screenings as you want, this would only be able to be done from the actual editing project of the film and would not be able to be broadcast on sites such as Vimeo, Youtube or any other video hosting sites. A film can obtain notice from people based on the director or other notable members of the crew that were involved in the making of it, based on their previous successes and notoriety. If a filmmaker has a good track record or the ability to stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves, it is much easier to have the interest of the audience. As such, it is very difficult for amateur filmmakers to break into this limelight unless they are very verbal and have a talent for being a confident speaker, in order to sell their film and be a person people will remember not just for that particular festival, but for future events.

In order to generate attention at the festival, it is also important to take budget into consideration. When raising money for a film, filmmakers must also consider what it will cost to appropriately market the film at the festival. The more attention you wish to bring to the film, the more that has to be spent on advertising and marketing. This does not include the submission fee.

To ensure a greater chance of the film being accepted into the festival, it is recommended that the film is submitted early. Thousands of people apply to submit their films when only a few hundred are picked. Due to the limited amount of places, spots fill up quickly and the longer it is left, the fewer places will be on offer and will be even more difficult for the film to get a chance to be screened.

Before even entering a film into a festival, it is important to do your research as to whether the film you wish to submit is appropriate for that particular event. If a film is submitted into the wrong type of film festival it will almost certainly be rejected from the very beginning. A filmmaker has to be sure that the genre and type of film that is submitted will generate the greatest amount of interest and praised based on what kind of festival it is.

“The most prestigious festivals (Cannes and Sundance) are usually the hardest to break into because there is so much competition for a limited number of slots. In 2004, the Sundance festival received nearly 6,000 submissions; it accepted 255 of those films.” 

As a result, it is prudent for new filmmakers to start by submitting films into smaller festivals, before working their way up to the larger-scales events once they have attained past successes and received notable amounts of interest in both their films and themselves as a media producer.

Film festivals are typically divided into categories. Categories may include:

  • Drama
  • Documentary
  • Animation
  • Short film
  • Experimental
  • Music video

Once a filmmaker has checked what kind of films a particular festival is screening, it opens up the opportunity to see if the film is daring and will stand out from the onslaught of other films. If for example, the preferred genre is documentary, it is important for the filmmaker to question whether their piece is memorable and professional enough to stand above everything else.

“At the festival, the movie is screened both for the jury as well as the audience. The jury is usually made up of film critics, professors and/or filmmakers who will judge each film for its artistic merit, production value, creativity and overall impression. Most film festivals also give the audience an opportunity to judge. Its choice is reflected in a special audience award.”

Hundreds of films are screened at these festivals and as such the audience’s and jury’s attention span has to be taken into consideration. If a film is bold, daring, and balances spectacle, power and memory, whilst providing a good story with complex and well written characters, the film is likely to be remembered amongst the hundreds of films shown. This will get people talking as the film will stay in their mind forever and once they find out who made it, it is likely to gain the filmmaker a lot of attention, both during the entire festival and for all of their future works.

To coincide with this, it is important for a filmmaker to talk to as many people as possible at the festivals. Many events host simultaneous workshops on screenwriting, film production, finding an agent and other subjects related to the art and business of filmmaking. This goes back to the old saying of ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ Networking is of paramount importance when it comes to looking for a career in filmmaking. One particular meeting with someone or one certain phone call can immediately alter the course of a filmmaker’s entire career. If the person makes a good impression, they can build up a list of contacts with people in the industry and thus give themselves a better chance of success, or even land a job of some kind.

To conclude, the most important factor when considering how to attract an audience to your work is to talk to as many people as possible. Networking is and will always be the key to making it big in any career and allows you to receive insight of people’s experiences  who have been in the industry for a much longer time and is a veritable cornucopia of knowledge to either act upon or take into consideration throughout the rest of a person’s career.

2 of my personal favourite films were originally premiered at a film festival:

Reservoir Dogs (1992) Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Originally released at the Sundance Film Festival

Pulp Fiction (1994) Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Premiered in May 1994 at the Cannes Film Festival.


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