What Film Festival Directors Are Looking For When Programming Films: Demystifying the Submission Process

Hosted by Harrison Glaser

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Harrison Glaser

Webinar hosted by: Harrison Glaser

Austin Film Festival

For nearly a decade Harrison Glaser has been immersed in the professional film industry working for Austin Film Festival and Stage 32. As Austin Film Festival’s Film Competition Director, he programmed the festival’s films for five years and discovered his passion for identifying deserving projects and championing exciting and unrecognized talent. During Harrison’s tenure as AFF’s Film Competition Director, over 100 films he programmed went on to secure distribution, six short films were later nominated for Oscars, and one that he qualified ultimately won the Academy Award. His work with Austin Film Festival and Stage 32 allows him to champion undiscovered storytellers and help them amplify their work. He also serves as a professional moderator for many different film related industry panels both online and offline. Through his many years leading AFF’s film selection and working closely with other film fests, he has become intimately familiar with the inner workings of larger festivals, as well as the common missteps many filmmakers make when working with them. He’s excited to share what he knows exclusively with the Stage 32 community. Full Bio »

Webinar Summary

As an independent filmmaker, screening your project at a film festival may be the best opportunity to put your film (and yourself) on display. It remains a powerful platform for filmmakers of all levels to have their work seen. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a successful filmmaker working today who didn’t get their start at a festival. It’s where films get sold, where talent gets discovered, where reputations are crafted, where communities are built, and where the best networking can happen. And with the current movement away from the theatrical model and towards streaming, festivals can also often be the only possible way to physically show your film on the big screen to an audience during its life cycle. Yet despite festivals serving as a lifeblood of the film industry and a launching pad for so many, it’s still a relatively enigmatic and opaque landscape and a difficult one for even the savviest of filmmakers to navigate.

Perhaps because festivals can feel so enigmatic, it’s common for filmmakers not to consider the workings of a festival or the rules and goals they operate under before submitting. After all, you already spent a huge chunk of time learning the rules and goals of filmmaking. You put in time, money and resources to make something good and that you’re proud of. Shouldn’t that be enough for a festival? Can’t they just say ‘yes’? Unfortunately, like with any aspect of this industry, there’s more to it. Programmers do a lot more than “find the best films” and they have to balance a lot more than simply choosing things because they’re “good”. To set yourself up for success, it’s time to better understand how festivals tick and what you can do while submitting, or even while making your film, to be better positioned for success and to hopefully get that long awaited acceptance letter.

For nearly a decade Harrison Glaser has been immersed in the professional film industry working for Austin Film Festival and Stage 32. As Austin Film Festival’s Film Competition Director, he programmed the festival’s films for five years and discovered his passion for identifying deserving projects and championing exciting and unrecognized talent. During Harrison’s tenure as AFF’s Film Competition Director, over 100 films he programmed went on to secure distribution, six short films were later nominated for Oscars, and one that he qualified ultimately won the Academy Award. His work with Austin Film Festival and Stage 32 allows him to champion undiscovered storytellers and help them amplify their work. He also serves as a professional moderator for many different film related industry panels both online and offline. Through his many years leading AFF’s film selection and working closely with other film fests, he has become intimately familiar with the inner workings of larger festivals, as well as the common missteps many filmmakers make when working with them. He’s excited to share what he knows exclusively with the Stage 32 community.

Harrison will pull back the curtains on how film festivals are organized and how they select films, and will give you tips and strategies to better position your film for success once it’s time to submit. He’ll begin by going over at the most basic level who festival programmers are and what drives them. He’ll then offer a bird’s eye view of how a festival’s selection process normally works, including who watches your film, how many times it’s usually watched, and whether it’s watched in its entirety. He’ll also give you a sense of how films are declined, shortlisted, or accepted. Next he will spend time discussing what programmers look for when evaluating films. He’ll go over what appropriate runtimes for both shorts and features are how programmers may react to specific themes and topics. He’ll also talk about festivals’ identities and audiences, premiere status requirements, and other content issues they consider. He’ll bring up copyright issues that sometimes come up as well as how to navigate submitting your film as a work-in-progress. Then Harrison will teach you tips for submitting your film, including how to navigate deadlines, how to work with FilmFreeway and other services, and what you need to have ready beyond just the film when submitting. He’ll also touch on press kits and cover letters. Harrison will delve into how to best communicate with festival programmers. He’ll talk about best practices, appropriate circumstances to reach out and situations when you should refrain from contacting them. He’ll also discuss what to do when you need to change your submission's Vimeo password and how to navigate updating your submitted cut. Finally, Harrison will explore the complicated, notorious world of fee waivers. Expect to leave with a comprehensive lay of the land of how festivals operate and a toolkit to better position your own projects for success on the festival circuit.

 

 

Praise for Harrison's Stage 32 Webinar

 

"Very informative and honest. Good coverage and great to hear form someone who knows."

-Paula M.

 

"Absolutely Great! It was really helpful to hear Harrison's insights & wisdom after having gone through the 2019 International Festival Season. I will definitely take all this with me into my next journey into the festival circuit!"

-Becca G.

 

"Excellent and insightful."

-Elease P.

 

"Super helpful in a LOT of ways! I will be sharing these insights with the production team of the short film I recently directed. We'll take many of these suggestions into account when we start hitting the submission circuit."

-Peter M.

 

 

What You'll Learn

  • Who Are Programmers and What Drives Them?
  • A Bird’s Eye View of a Festival’s Selection Process
    • What happens to a film after it’s submitted?
    • Who watches your film?
    • How many times will your film be watched?
    • Do programmers watch films in their entirety?
    • How films are declined, shortlisted, or accepted
  • What Do Programmers Look For?
    • Appropriate lengths for shorts and features
    • Topics and themes
    • Identity of the festival and its audience
    • Premiere status requirements
    • Other content issues
    • Copyright issues
    • Submitting works-in-progress
  • Tips for Submitting Your Film
    • Navigating deadlines (i.e. does it help to submit early?)
    • Using FilmFreeway or other services
    • What you need to have in order besides the film
    • Should you include press kits?
    • Cover letters and what to include on them
  • Communicating with Programmers
    • Best practices
    • Appropriate circumstances to reach out
    • Situations when you shouldn’t reach out
    • Changing your Vimeo password
    • Updating your submitted cut
    • Navigating Fee Waivers
  • Q&A with Harrison

About Your Instructor

For nearly a decade Harrison Glaser has been immersed in the professional film industry working for Austin Film Festival and Stage 32. As Austin Film Festival’s Film Competition Director, he programmed the festival’s films for five years and discovered his passion for identifying deserving projects and championing exciting and unrecognized talent. During Harrison’s tenure as AFF’s Film Competition Director, over 100 films he programmed went on to secure distribution, six short films were later nominated for Oscars, and one that he qualified ultimately won the Academy Award. His work with Austin Film Festival and Stage 32 allows him to champion undiscovered storytellers and help them amplify their work. He also serves as a professional moderator for many different film related industry panels both online and offline. Through his many years leading AFF’s film selection and working closely with other film fests, he has become intimately familiar with the inner workings of larger festivals, as well as the common missteps many filmmakers make when working with them. He’s excited to share what he knows exclusively with the Stage 32 community.

FAQs

Q: What is the format of a webinar?
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A: No, you can participate from the comfort of your own home using your personal computer! If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar.

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A: You will need to meet the following system requirements in order to run the webinar software: Windows 7 or later Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.
If you have Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion): The webinar software does not support these operating systems. If you are running one of those operating systems, please upgrade now in order to be able to view a live webinar. Upgrade your Windows computer / Upgrade your Mac computer

Q: What if I cannot attend the live webinar?
A: If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar. If you cannot attend a live webinar and purchase an On-Demand webinar, you will have access to the entire recorded broadcast, including the Q&A.

Q: Will I have access to the webinar afterward to rewatch?
A: Yes! After the purchase of a live or On-Demand webinar, you will have on-demand access to the audio recording, which you can view as many times as you'd like for a whole year!

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Other education that may be of interest to you:

How to Develop Your Film Festival Strategy and Choose the Right Festivals for Your Film

As an independent filmmaker, screening your project at a film festival may be the best opportunity to put your film (and yourself) on display. It remains a powerful platform for filmmakers of all levels to have their work seen. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a successful filmmaker working today who didn’t get their start at a festival. It’s where films get sold, where talent gets discovered, where reputations are crafted, where communities are built, and where the best networking can happen. And with the current movement away from the theatrical model and towards streaming, festivals can also often be the only possible way to physically show your film on the big screen to an audience during its life cycle. Film festivals are indeed often the next desired destination for a filmmaker, but it’s not always easy to get in, even with a great film. It can be disheartening after finishing a film and investing so much money and resources into it to realize there is still more money to be spent in going the festival route. The act of submitting to festivals can set you back hundreds, if not thousands of dollars simply through festivals’ submission fees. It’s probably going to add up no matter what, but it can set way pricier without a plan in place. It’s common for filmmakers ready with a film to more or less blindly submit to festivals: “Sundance? Check. Tribeca? Check. Cinequest? I heard that one was good, let’s do it.” Yet just because you’ve heard of a festival, just because it’s a legitimately great festival, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your project, and it doesn’t your film is the right fit for them. Successfully navigating the festival landscape requires a lot more effort and a lot more time than just pressing that submit button. Yet doing the research, understanding your goals, and carefully building your strategy will not only yield more positive results, but will also save you money on unneeded submission fees in the long run. For nearly a decade Harrison Glaser has been immersed in the professional film industry working for Austin Film Festival and Stage 32. As Austin Film Festival’s Film Competition Director, he programmed the festival’s films for five years and discovered his passion for identifying deserving projects and championing exciting and unrecognized talent. During Harrison’s tenure as AFF’s Film Competition Director, over 100 films he programmed went on to secure distribution, six short films were later nominated for Oscars, and one that he qualified ultimately won the Academy Award. His work with Austin Film Festival and Stage 32 allows him to champion undiscovered storytellers and help them amplify their work. He also serves as a professional moderator for many different film related industry panels both online and offline. Through his many years leading AFF’s film selection and working closely with other film fests, he has become intimately familiar with the inner workings of larger festivals, as well as the common missteps many filmmakers make when working with them. He’s excited to share what he knows exclusively with the Stage 32 community. Harrison will walk you through how best to develop your film festival strategy and choose the right festivals for your film, well before you start submitting. He will begin with the basics of why you should or shouldn’t be submitting to festivals in the first place, and how to best think of festivals as a tool. He’ll then lay out what the festival landscape looks like, including what makes up the “Festival Circuit”, what Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 festivals are, and the lowdown on both niche festivals and destination festivals. 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