Why Your Film Didn’t Get into Any Festivals


Despite a low indy budget, it’s possible to make films that get picked up by festivals (the ones that aren’t run by your friends) and that get word-of-mouth (other than your own social media).

So, why didn’t your film get into any festivals or get any buzz? Why did the programming panel reject your film after watching 10 minutes of your feature or two minutes of your short? You know the answer: poor execution. Execution and craft transform your concept so that the story gets out of your head and into the heads of the audience.

Here are the top four poor execution problems. Any of these issues will stop your film from advancing at important festivals.

1. Sound Quality

That small echo in the scene in the tiled kitchen you thought no one would notice, well, they noticed. They also noticed the dialog distorted by the actress’s silk scarf, those lines where the actor mumbled, the dog in the background and the disconcerting aural sense of being right up in the scene during one shot and 40 feet away in the next angle.

How to Fix It

In PREP. Put time into the schedule for the sound recordist, editor and director to review the footage before each setup is broken down. Allow a percentage of your planned shoot time for re-shoots. Put looping into the schedule and the budget. Schedule enough time for the sound editor to be thorough.

ON SET. No matter how low your budget is, borrow, rent or barter enough audio gear. Mic all the actors, boom the shot (and keep the boom at the same distance each take) and get room tone. You must, must, must wait for clear sound before rolling tape.

Big budget films do dailies. On your indy schedule you can’t afford the time for dailies, but you should do hourlies (digital makes it a no-brainer).

In POST. The audio editor must find appropriate environmental sounds. ADR anything that couldn’t be fixed on set.

2. Lousy Acting

Don’t use your friends. Don’t use your fellow producers, directors and makeup artists. Don’t use your cousins or the woman with the fabulous cleavage who wants to try acting. Please, don’t let the producer guy who invested a few thousand into your film put his girlfriend into the cast, even though “she is a hand model and knows how to be on camera.” Don’t cast a 25 year old as the mother of a teenager.

How to Fix It

Use trained actors. Take a class on how to cast and how to evaluate talent. Use the pro and semi-pro callboards and hotlines. Use drama students. Get an indy casting director to work with your film. Get an acting coach to help you fix problems on set.

3. Lighting Choices

Once I heard the DP say, “I’m so glad the director didn’t insist that everyone can see everything.” The DP wanted to make artsy fartsy lighting choices that were moody and evocative and would have been good for his own photo hanging, but that left the audience baffled because they couldn’t see what was happening.

How to Fix It

  • Use your time in prep to discuss each lighting setup and the storytelling (not arty) requirements of each scene.
  • Do a quick take with stand-ins. Be open to changing the setup.
  • Use your hourlies to review the lighting. Bring different size and brightness screens on set to watch hourlies.

4. Inadequate Coverage

The seamless flow within a scene and from scene to scene can only be achieved with adequate material. The editor can’t make it work if she doesn’t have material to work with. Without adequate coverage, your film looks like a high school student’s first attempt. Transitions are jarring when there are gaps where every take was bad and there was nothing else to cut away to.

How to Fix It

In PREP. Have your editor study the storyboards. Allow time in your schedule for more shots than you’ll ever need. Plan to do masters, 2-shots, OTS, CUs and reverse angles. Plan B roll!

ON SET. Partner with the editor to make sure you are getting all the coverage he needs. If the editor wants another angle, shoot it. No, you didn’t storyboard it, but do it anyway.

Thanks for listening. I’m hoping these tips will help you get your next film into some cool festivals.

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One Response to "Why Your Film Didn’t Get into Any Festivals"
  1. Dan Lewis says:

    Nice article.

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