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8 Fantastic Wildlife Film Festival tips

Wildlife film festivals are a great way to get your film (and you!) exposure in the industry. But with escalating competition, how can you increase your chances of acceptance? Cream rises to the top and much of your success is reliant on your creative vision and execution – the film itself. However, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that wildlife festival judges give your film a fair chance. Follow these 8 must-follow tips for submitting your film to festivals.

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Is the Film a Fit?

Do your research when it comes to which festivals you’ll apply. Take a look at past films. Read reviews from past festival attendees. Do the programmers primarily accept narrative? Is there an emphasis on short films? Most importantly, do they have a strong focus on wildlife or environmental films? Is the festival geared toward a certain audience? Closely examine any film festival before you spend your time and money submitting to it. Is your project a good fit for the fests overall goals and theme? If it’s not, don’t try to ‘make it work’.

Budget Appropriately

You can raise money for your film through crowdsourcing, private investors or your own pocket. When doing this, factor in a realistic cost for making any film festival appearance a success. Aside from the cost of submission (around $50 on average), consider what it will cost to market the film at the festival. In addition, think of any other costs you might incur from attending the fest yourself. Some high-profile film festivals will cover costs such as accommodation, but you certainly won’t receive this with smaller fests.

Submit Your Film Early

You’re free to submit your film throughout the submission period. However, the truth is the later you wait, the harder it may be to land a spot. Festival programmers may begin viewing and choosing films before the end of the submission period. As time goes on, the programming slots will fill. This makes it more competitive for late applicants. If you’re confident enough in your work to submit it to fests, then you need to submit early. The judges/programmers are fresh and less stressed then. As an added benefit, many festivals offer a discounted submission fee for early applicants.

Screen with Test Audiences

It’s all too easy for a director to get married to a shot, or an editor to get married to a cut. BE FLEXIBLE. Show your work to other filmmakers and friends whose opinion you value and trust. Tell them to be brutal in their feedback! Nothing will kill your film festival submission like a film that drags. Keep it moving, incorporate what your test audience responds to.

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Don’t Neglect Sound Design

Poor sound mix and design is a sure sign of amateur filmmaking. Generally, sub-par visuals are more forgivable than a poor sound mix. In fact some entire film styles are based around lo-fi shooting! Use commercial microphones and ensure that the audio levels are mixed within acceptable ranges. NEVER use commercial music without permission from the creator. Instead, check out royalty free music options to soundtrack your film.

Don’t Watermark Your Film

Unless your last name is Attenborough or Cousteau, you don’t need to watermark your film when you submit it to festivals. Overlaying “For your consideration” or “Festival copy” will only be distracting to the programmers and judges. It may also seem a little pompous on your part, as if people are clamouring to pirate your latest masterpiece. Practice humilit and trust.

Send A Finished Product

Some wildlife film festivals will allow you to send a “work in progress.” Word to the wise: don’t. Even if you miss a deadline, it’s more important to send a polished film. Have you ever shown a client a rough cut? Many have a hard time imagining what the polished finished product will be…what the full potential of the project is. Same logic applies here. Instead, when you’re in production, keep an eye on the submission dates. Work from a schedule early on to make those deadlines, so you won’t be faced with running against the clock or having to wait a full year to submit a finished project.

Follow the Rules

Every wildlife film festival has different rules regarding how they’d like media labelled, how they’d like to be contacted and what info you need to provide. The list goes on. Follow the film festival rules. It may seem elementary, but it’s just too easy to let a simple oversight ruin your chances for entry.

Additionally, don’t send any more information than what is asked for (this includes extravagant press kits!). Resist the urge to bug the festival programmers about your submission. If you weren’t contacted about your entry, there is a reason! Suck it up and submit elsewhere. Don’t get blacklisted as an annoyance, as this will ruin your chances of submitting any future projects.

Now, follow these tips for wildlife film festival submissions and let your project stand on its own creative strengths!

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Blogger Profile - Ryan Johnson

Ryan is a well known wildlife film maker and biologist and filled numerous wildlife filmmaking jobs during his 15 years in the industry. This has primarily been through his work as researcher, host, camera operator and scientist on shark and marine documentaries. At Africa Media, he runs the Wildlife Documentary Filmmaking Internship Program where students can produce their own 5 minute wildlife documentary in Africa and learn and how to break into this competitive industry.