Frank Kelly gives the low-down getting your film into festivals.
First I would say don't worry too much about getting rejected, it's often not a sign of how good or bad your film is (unless it's really bad!) But I found out the film festival programmers often programme their festivals like a mix tape... or an iTunes playlist... They chose films to fit a theme of the fest, or films they can programme together, films of a certain ilk - or if it's a niche fest, films that fit that niche, whether it be a children’s fest, gay fest, uplifting fest etc. Keep an eye out for that kind of thing. Maybe your film fits a niche, if so, target those festivals, if not, stay away from niche fests, waste of everyone's time.*
Do your research. If you want to enter a fest research them, look at their website, see if it's up to scratch, check out what films they had last year. You'll get a good sense of what they're about and be able to tell if it's worth the trouble. Believe me, I've been to some dodgy festivals that I wish I'd researched beforehand!
If you haven't already then sign up to withoutabox.com. It's an online application hub for thousands of festivals. You fill in the films info, once uploaded, you and simply click and enter almost every festival in the world from there.*
Also, sign up to http://www.shortfilmdepot.com, great euro-fest site and all the festivals on there are free to enter. Just sign up and enter all of them! And I think Britfilms has a good list too, just google them. [ http://film.britishcouncil.org/festivals-directory ]
Get your film online, password protected on Vimeo, it's handy to have.
No reason you can't get in touch with festival programmers directly. Shoot them an email, put yourself on their radar, tell them a little bit about you and your film, or ask them what they're looking for this year. If they know your name, when your film comes in they'll remember and be more likely to take a closer look at it.
This part of the game is all about building relationships with festivals. If you do that you can be fairly sure they'll screen you next films (provided they’re good of course!). I have a relationship with a couple of festivals, and it's great. I've also met a lot of filmmakers I've stayed in touch with at these festivals. They are a great places for making contacts and building relationships within the industry.
If you want to aim high, if you want a big premiere at a big fest, go for that festival first and give them first dibs, Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin whatever it may be... the big ones tend to want world premieres. So give it to them. So if you're going to enter Sundance, make sure all the other festivals you enter take place after Sundance, so if you get into any others you don't ruin your chances at a major festival. It’s a risk, but maybe one your think is worth taking. Remember too, your film has a short shelf life on the festival circuit, two years max, maybe less. It’s how they keep the turn over fresh. So don’t hold back too long.
Sundance is expensive $100, but you might think it's worth it for something so prestigious. I don't always enter it. I've entered it twice because I thought I had an outside chance (didn't) - but you have to be careful with your money. Festival in the states are expensive, not all, but most. So budget and pace yourself, and again - Do Your Research! I threw a lot of money away on Emily's Song, never again after that.
You have to push your film, you really do, I can't overstate that enough Push Push Push. Set up a twitter page, a facebook page, get it out there and keep it updated. Have pics from the shoot, anecdotes, make it something special, an event, get as many followers as you can. Make a launch day of the trailer, build some momentum. Start Monday, "Friday night - new trailer" that kind of thing. Make people excited about it and want to see it. I know, it's a very unnatural thing for a lot of us arty types, myself included, to market your own work, but remember this - no one else is going to do it! If you want people to see your film you have to shout about.
When I was doing Emily's Song I was sending out five to ten screeners a week, constantly. It paid off. I mean, no one bit for 6 months! Which was disheartening, because we felt we'd made a good film, but when someone did, it kept rolling. So don't give up, be patient and persistent.
I would also recommend sending your film to Derry O'Brien at Network Ireland Television. He's the largest distributor of short films in Ireland and a really nice guy. He'll tell you if he's willing to take it on, if he does he'll get you some sales, some cash! But usually after a festival run, even if he says he likes it he'll usually say to go get some festivals under your belt!