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Film festival rejections – good and bad practice

Hi all
I’ve just had two very different experiences of film festival rejections to submissions - one good, one bad - that I thought worth sharing. The first is the bad one, and may sound like a bit of a rant, so I apologise in advance.

Back in January I received a very positive email from a UK film festival director (I’ll leave them nameless for the moment), that stated they ‘loved the submission’, and that whilst the submission deadline wasn’t until June, they ‘hoped to make our submission official and exclusive to the festival, meaning that it will embargoed from being shown at another UK film festival.’

I was pretty pleased, as though the film festival was not the highest profiling of the UK festivals, it was still a good one, and given the film in question was made on absolutely nothing and this was one of the first I’d sent it to, I was pleased with that response. So, I waited in good faith, and held off entering it into other film festivals, to avoid jeopardizing our place in this one.

June came and went, and I heard nothing. I emailed them to confirm we were in the festival – and, only then was I told that we had in fact been rejected.

Needless to say we were disappointed - not least due to the initial email which raised our hopes unnecessarily. The email gave the strongest impression that it would be in the festival. As such, that email also impacted negatively on our festival strategy, as we held off submitting it to other UK festivals –for which we will have to wait another year to submit to.

Not only that, the rejection email went onto say that they do not normally let people know they’ve been rejected, but ‘out of courtesy, I have responded in kind.’

Hold on. Did I not pay a £25 fee to enter this festival? And now, not only has their unnecessarily misleading original email impacted of our festival strategy and therefore potential success of the film more generally - but they say they’re doing us a favor and going out of their way to let us know we’ve been rejected? What did I actually pay for with that submission fee? Am I and the numerous other fee-payers who paid not, in part, paying their wages? The very least they could do is let us know when it hasn’t been successfully shortlisted, surely.

It’s great to know that a festival director loved my film, but that’s feedback that should be given once the final decisions are made, to avoid this false hope. And the least you do is inform those that have paid their fee to enter and are unsuccessful that they haven’t made it, even if it is with a standard ‘we’re sorry but on this occasion…’ email.

Okay. Rant over. On the other hand, something I thought was good practice. I recently had a film rejected by DC Shorts film festival, and they provide a review service of all submissions, successful or not. I was able to see the 3 judges separate comments as to why they had made the decision. Okay, initially some of the criticism was difficult to take, in terms of feeling the judges didn’t get parts of the film or understand where it was coming from. But, ultimately, the feedback was really useful, and gave some real insight into the decision-making process of that festival – as well as some nice comments about other elements of the film.

Having a film rejected from festivals is always a little, if not a lot, disappointing to the film-maker, but there’s good and bad ways of informing the film-makers of that decision. Raising false expectations 6 months in advance is definitely not a good way, and nor is not informing them, particularly if they’ve paid a fee.

I’d love to hear others experiences of both good and bad rejection approaches.

  • Hey Michael,
    Thanks for posting in, really interesting subject for us at the moment after launching flock.am at the start of this month. Would be really useful to hear everyone's horror stories (and positive experiences)

    You mentioned DC shorts share the reviewers comments, is this something you'd like to have from all festivals?

    What else is on the list for people's 'must haves' when it comes to rejections?

    Thanks,
    Stephanie

    3 years ago
  • Hi Micheal, Yep been there done that too unfortunatly mate. I too work on my own, often with no budget and all totaly off my own back, Why? It's my dream, my choice and a total labour of love!
    However, it does seem to be common practise that this 'labour of love' means, "Ah ya love it, so therefore you can do more and more for free and because you love doing it, will will exploite that! There is no way that festival director, good or bad his intentions were? There is no way he would of let a builder think that a job he had asked the builder to look at, was 'in the bag' for the builder...WHY? Because, the festival directors attitude is different when it comes to the builder, the builder does not do stuff for free, it isn't a labour of love and the festival director is likely to get a smack in the chops if he 'blaggs off' the builder!!! There lyes the fundamental difference. That is my rant!!! We are trying to earn a living just like everyone else, but in this industry it is all done under good faith and an IMDB credit!!
    Festivals: I would like to know why it is that, when I send my film to a festival, after I have thought of the idea, made the damn thing, financed it, loved it, created it...why is it that I then send it to a festival and before they have even looked at it, they want, pics of director, film still, biography's, the list goes on, why can they not ask for all that once the film is included, they have no idea how much, again..'FREE' time is used uploading all this stuff to festivals under the pure blind faith hope/ desire? praying, idea that you film might be sucseesful this year and you at 'LAST' get NOTICED!!!!! again, this is open to abuse, "Yeah you love making films, so send us a s..t load of stuff through the post at an exspence to you, and hen we will have a little look at it and decide wether we want it in our festival or not, there re-cycling bins must be overflowing with filmography's biographys, pics of films and directors!!! rediculas! That's me over and out, as my poor wife says, ranting lunatic!!!!

    3 years ago
  • Hi Stephanie and Trevor
    Stephanie - Those festivals you don't pay for, I understand they are doing it as a labour of love themselves, probably at a loss, so may have time pressures themselves, fair enough - but I would have thought a minimum for those festivals you DO pay to enter (and that's the majority) would be some feedback - even if just a few lines, saying what worked and what didn't for their panel.
    Trevor - totally agree - I've just done three 'free' festival entries this morning and it's taken me the best part of 2.5 hours - uploading this, finding out that, unearthing the original script in case they need to subtitle it etc etc. Why can't they ask that AFTER they've decided whether they want the film or not?
    As an aside, regarding the 'labour of love' point, I've got a fair bit of experience in the music industry and some in the theatre and the arts, and unfortunately it seems a re-occuring issue in the creative industries, despite how much time, money and passion you may invest into what you've produced, there will always be people willing to abuse the notion that 'you are doing it for the love not the money'. Unfortunately, backslaps and congrats don't pay the bills.

    3 years ago
  • The first guy was bang out of order. They should either have NOT raised your hopes, or (if that initial email was honest) let you down as soon as they knew they'd be dashing them.

    You could have a lot of fun making a short movie about getting your money back plus perhaps damages, if you're willing to invest a bit in court fees.

    Question - did they encourage many people to embargo their movie, then let them down? Pattern of behaviour or just you?

    Name and shame. See if other people had the same experience.

    The second, I think ALL festivals should give feedback on all entries. They watched it, they know why they rejected it, it's easy to give comments.

    As to Trevor, if I was running a festival I'd want the entire pack with the submission, because a "dribs and drabs" approach is just asking for trouble - maker sends doc, which is then mislaid (it's one of thousands of docs), and maker castigates Festival. As a Festival, MUCH safer to simply require a full doc pack.

    3 years ago
  • We recently held our first film festival - www.cardifffilmfest.org.uk - and as filmmakers ourselves with mixed experiences of festivals we wanted to treat filmmakers with respect. Everyone got a confirmation and those who weren't successful got an email commiserating them and offering them a free ticket to our networking event. The films were selected by the festival committee who viewed them privately and gave a mark out of ten, which were then totted up and gave us our selection. We did our best not to mess filmmakers around - I recall one gentleman complaining that his film had been rejected but that was the only time we went into personal correspondence about a particular film.

    As much as it would be nice to offer feedback, we had nearly 200 submissions and with eight people on our selection committee, it would be a massive extra workload to essentially write a review for each film, combining eight difference points of view (we don't get paid for this!). There is also the fact that some films split the selection panel - some giving high marks, some low.

    However, when writing to the successful entrants, we did go into more detail as to why we liked it - obviously it's a more pleasant task to compliment someone's film than criticise it.

    Regarding documents, many of our submissions came via Festhome which allows filmmakers to upload docs/images etc to the site for festivals to take as they need. As for everyone else, we just asked for them once they had been selected. No sense cluttering our own inboxes up with stuff that will largely go unused. Our biggest issue actually turned out to be getting the exhibition copies from the filmmakers in time!

    3 years ago
  • Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions, it's really appreciated and nice to know I am not alone in thinking this was bang out of order.
    Re the sharing of the essential info, fair points. Surely though, there's an easier way of sharing all of this- and maybe this lies with the film-maker as much as it does with the festival. Rather than uploading everything to WAB, AS WELL AS ShortFilmDepot, AS WELL AS....instead, the film-maker uploads everything- your stills, your filmogs, your biogs, etc etc, to something central like Dropbox- and that is then shared with whoever you submit to?

    Alistair- again, absolutely acknowledge your points- for a new, small film festival capacity is a real issue. But all DC Shorts did was a very brief summary of the reasons why they didn't like it and why they did- it actually could have been the notes they jotted down whilst watching it. Eg. 'Film is about x. Little bit slow first half. Didn't like this. Sound bad there. Good scene here. Overall, not right for us.' It really wasn't much more than that, but that in itself was really useful.

    Happy and keen to hear more...

    3 years ago
  • Hello there,

    I'm going to intercept briefly, because there are some misconceptions here about the idea that festivals 'owe' something more than they do. I'll base this on having screened films in about 300 festivals this past year, and having worked for 5 festivals.

    1) Holding back submissions and relying on one (with a director who 'liked' the film or not) is not the way to go. You need contingency. A string of festivals in case the film doesn't get into your first choice. I've seen films turned down for Berlin, that end up in Cannes, or Toronto etc. etc. If you wait until Berlin, before hitting up Cannes, chance is you'll have missed out entirely. Same goes here, with the smaller festivals. You mentioned the festival director said he liked it. That kind of acknowledgment (simply saying they received it) is not something you'll get often.

    2) Festivals don't watch your entire movie. Even if you have paid to submit. I saw £25 mentioned, I worked for some that charged £150. And they sure don't watch the whole film. I know some which would bin films, because they were the wrong length (medium length for example) before watching. Festivals will watch a reasonable amount, maybe even have previewers, then watch the best and consult, with their screening committee. The big ones do that. The smaller ones don't, and will go through them as fast as possible, or have the interns viewing them at home, or their wife. The big festivals have too many submissions to watch films in full, or have the biggest teams, so they can watch most of it. It's a mix. But filmmakers need to submit to the right and appropriate festivals, consider their lineups and profile, before submitting.

    3) Festivals don't owe (or feel they owe) you anything. Many consider it a blessing to show your film (and take your submission fee, and your box office). For many small films, sure, there is no distribution potential. Submission fees can also be solid income. And with withoutabox, it's an open door for zero transparency. I've seen one festival take an over 50k per year cheque/transfer from withoutabox (into whatever bank account), and nobody ever needs to prove they watched anything. On the other hand, other festivals I've worked with have a rigorous screening programme, committees and feedback and rating, and even if this isn't something shared with filmmakers, it does take place with the most respectable festivals.

    4) Last point here, but filmmakers need to be more careful with how they submit films. There are over 5000 festivals in the world, of which 95% are not right for your film. Asking festivals politely for a fee waiver works. And then one should consider how most festivals programme, whether it is from submissions, or scouting. The biggest UK festival, screens about 50+% Cannes/Berlin/Toronto films, and maybe 20% UK distribution films then 10% UK films. About 60% are represented films (with international sales). That leaves little space for submission titles. There are also premiere politics. Screen in the UK, and you disqualify your European premiere, or World Premiere. Larger festivals, I think, tend to be more open to new original content, than B-class festivals who duplicate others' programmes.

    3 years ago
  • Thank you Xavier Henry-Rashid, you're completely right. Personally I've noted the majority of films programmed each year at the London Film festival are simply cherry picked repeat screenings of the successful films show at Berlin and Cannes and other major international festivals, with the addition of a few soon to be released studio movies (to ensure the attendance of some A-list glamour), a couple of British films by established directors that failed to find a premier at one of the big international competitions are thrown in, finally a lucky two or three (invariably TV or lottery funded) British films are added to complete the lineup (heavily promoted by the festival as promoting new British talent) and that about rounds it off, the festival is simply a world cinema showcase event. I given up wasting time, energy and money submitting to it as I would only rate it as a British film festival, not a competitive festival. Competition wise, Edinburgh is the most important in the UK, followed by Birmingham. In my time I've competed at several major international film competitions and National film festivals. My worst experiences were often at British film festivals. Sadly, there seems to be a culture of fear in regard to filmmakers talking out and publicly criticising festivals that let down British filmmakers. People often talk therefore talk in generalities rather than facts, perhaps afraid to burn bridges that they hope to cross in the future. Years ago there used to be a forum on the web naming and shaming festivals providing poor customer service, I'm sorry but since I last visited it seven or eight years ago it's name has slipped my memory (anyone help here please?), yes...importantly we filmmakers are customers, by paying fees, we become customers and should enjoy all the benefits of that along with the festival audiences, who pay and are also customers. Festival have a duty to serve both as customers fairly with ethical and legal standards. Remember this is after all a symbiotic relationship, festivals cannot exist without filmmakers submitting films, one cannot exist without the other. I know on the grapevine you hear horror stories about film festivals, when your on the film festival circuit you hear them all the time. I would like to suggest therefore that shooting people establish a small sub section on their website to allow filmmakers to pass on their own personal views in regard to their experiences with festivals and their experiences, both attending and submitting. All could be made safe by a clearly stated waiver by Shooting People at the head of the page. If you made it searchable, using keywords I would fall in love with it. Finally ending back on subject "bad practices"...list and explain in detail my personal worst festival experience, screening at The East London Film Festival.

    3 years ago
  • I seem to remember the list being posted by the noted American lawyer Mark Litwak, sadly it doesn't seem to exist anymore but his website is still a superb resource for filmmakers that I would highly recommend.

    3 years ago
  • I agree with the OP. I too have been pleased by DC Shorts' feedback even though I didn't get in. It made me feel like I got something for my entrance fee. On the other hand I've had my fair share of issues with other festivals who don't seem to be concerned at all about contacting the filmmaker to let them know if they've been rejected. IMHO, there is simply no excuse not to send a form e-mail to filmmakers who have been rejected. With the type of clerical software available nowadays, it's a simple click to automatically send an e-mail to hundreds of recipients at once (and some software will even personalize the e-mails automatically with the recipient's name). Festivals who charge money for submission, and then don't even bother to let you know if you got it or not (or at the very least don't bother to let you know when the program film list is available for viewing) really don't deserve to be part of the festival community.

    As far as feedback, I think that is so incredibly useful. DC Shorts is fairly unique, but I really wish more festivals would consider doing this. I realize that for some it's just too time consuming, but it's a great way to give back to the very community which allows you to exist in the first place.

    Lastly, festival submission fees have been getting out of hand lately with minor festivals charging upwards of $50 for short film entries. As a filmmaker who wants to try and gain as much visibility from your short, you probably should expect to enter between 20-50 festivals (and hope to get in 10 or so if you're lucky). The fees accumulate very quickly, sometimes adding up to thousands of dollars including shipping costs and DVD or BluRay duplication costs).

    From my point of view, I am seeing most festivals becoming less and less relevant in today's social media driven world. I've attended festival screenings with less than 10 people in attendance. So in essence, for my $50 fee I have paid each and every one of these spectators $5 to watch my film. It makes no sense whatsoever, I can put up my movie on YouTube and easily get over 100 people to watch it...for free!

    Times are changing!

    3 years ago
  • I gotta say, that when it comes to making short films it has to be a story you feel you really need to tell and not something that you think might win awards.
    I've entered quite a few and I've so far gotten into more festivals than I've been rejected from. I've had emails from festival directors and so on, but only from festivals that I've been accepted to, so it's strange they asked you to hold back. Some do want to be your movie's premier but unless it is in writing that you are in, and it is something like Berlin or Cannes, then I would not hold my film back. I've been doing the short film thing for about 18 months and made three. The one I have out at the moment I put over 5,000 into and it is now doing the festival circuit. I raised the cash by selling my car, an big ebay sale of crap and quality, and the rest went on my credit card - madness right? ...Nope I made something I really believed in and off the back of my small 19 minute short film, I got hired to do a dialogue polish on a feature film which has paid me for only one months work, more than all my films have cost to date. My short also helped me sell my feature film script in Cannes this year and I've been hired to direct a 1.2 million feature. ...Believe me, I am not trying to show off, or say "hey, check me out" - I'm trying to say that if you put your everything into your project, if you go balls to the wall, then one of two things will happen -- You'll get noticed and attain your dream. Or you'll realise you were perhaps chasing the wrong dream.
    You've not failed until you stop getting back up.

    Good luck with it.
    Adam
    PS
    Find something you fukn love and make it!

    3 years ago
  • There was one bad experience I had with a festival a number of years ago now. I submitted a film to it, filled in the accompanying forms, sent in a cheque (which they cashed) and a copy of the film in a format they specified. The festival said that these copies of films would be returned if I included a stamped self addressed envelope, which I had included with my submission, whether I was accepted or rejected. Then they sent me a confirmation note that they had received the submission.

    Anyway, I waited, didn't hear from them for a long while, chased them up as to whether I'd been accepted or rejected and finally I got through to someone on the phone and found out I hadn't been accepted. I asked for my film back and they said they had no record of it being with them. I showed them the correspondence and offered to show them my bank statement with the cashed cheque showing on it but they kept maintaining the line that they had no record of the film. I tried speaking to someone in charge but then they stopped answering my emails and wouldn't put me through on the phone to someone with a bit of authority to sort this out. After a few months of hitting a brick wall, I gave up. It was one copy of a film and life moves on but I thought they were pretty shoddy about dealing with me. After all, if they had lost the film why not confess and apologise and be done with the deal? Stonewalling and denying something when there's proof to the contrary was very poor on their part. I've learned that apologising doesn't come naturally to people in the media!

    3 years ago
    • Name them! We have to start "festival shaming" crap like this!

      3 years ago
  • Great to see this discussion. I have been furious with the attitude and arrogance of many festivals. It is quite an outrageous business model where festivals survive on the back of film makers effort and dreams. What's worse is these festivals are funded in main by the films they reject. Imagine of X-factor was run by charging hope-fulls £50 submission fees? The festivals then charge people to watch the films with not a penny returned to the film makers. The short film festivals might offer free accommodation and some food but again even those are few and far between. There are some great festivals out there and ones that are worth the entry fee, but they are few and far between. (In the USA Palm Springs and Sedona are excellent and are meticulous at screening submissions carefully.) We need a way to review these festivals and either reward with positive feedback or warn others of our experiences. I am astonished that some festivals can't be bothered to reply if they have accepted fees however I can understand a free entry festival not having the man-power. I have festival rejections that were so well worded and thought out that I've written back to say thanks and even framed one! Festivals need film makers just as much as we need the festivals and the respect should be mutual. I now avoid with-out-a-box where possible as it's perpetuating the corrupt system and instead aim my film at free, or very low fee festivals, which are often of a higher caliber anyway - especially morally. The idea that by complaining about the system means we are bitter losers, is a poor and feeble excuse perpetuated by the guilty. My last film is coming up to its 100th festival screening worldwide and has been blessed with 31 awards across 5 continents - I have been to many festivals world-wide and the experience of each varies massively from appalling to dream like.
    Here is a good website that lets you give feedback : www.shortfilmcentral.com/

    3 years ago
  • One thing I forgot to add. I was told once by someone experienced on the circuit, that an average film will get into about 1 in 10 of the festivals. A good film will get into 2 in 10 festivals and any average better than that, is superb. I'm saying this because 'rejection' is part and parcel. My film has in the same week won at a major festival and been declined by small film event. Different festivals have very different tastes too so if you want to raise your average - try and find films that have been on the circuit with a similar feel to yours and apply to those festivals. Also, don't waste your money applying in the last few weeks before a deadline (and/or paying the higher fees esp. some of the big ones in the USA) as they won't
    have time to look at your film properly. Good luck!

    3 years ago
  • Thanks for all the responses, really interesting and reassuring to hear other peoples points of view and experiences, and some really good points above.

    I absolutely agree with Adam and Mark re; rejections being a key part of the game, and making the film you want rather than the film you think will be successful. Mark’s stats are interesting about how many festivals you may or may not get into - and if you can't take rejection, this isn't the industry for you! However, it’s HOW those festivals provide that rejection (or not) and what exactly we're paying fees for here; and more generally, what are the good and bad practices that festivals have towards the film-makers they are supposedly supporting. So it’s really interesting to hear about others experiences.

    I also agree you shouldn't make films in the hope you'll get awards - I’ve had the fortune to have short films shortlisted and winning awards before, and whilst it is very nice to get that recognition occasionally (!), I agree that you should make the film you want to make rather than a film you think might tick boxes. (I've also done that exercise in the past, which leads to even more disappointment if and when those festivals you KNOW will pick up 'this type of film' then don't!)

    On that note- very interested to also hear about festival practice if and when you have been successful. Do you get a free ticket? Free pass? Free accommodation? I recently had a film shortlisted for a prize at an international film festival and despite being a relatively new festival, they at least offered me accommodation (in student halls, yes, but accommodation still). Whereas I've had screenings at larger better known festivals that also don't offer anything - not even a free ticket!

    Festival relevance may not be what it used to be - you only need to look at someone like Ben Wheatley for an example of someone who used the internet well to start his career. However, doing the festival circuit still seems to be a key way of getting recognition in the industry- particularly if you’re hoping to get funding for your next film, most key funders still require your last film to have had some festival success.

    And, when done properly, good film festivals are a great way for film-makers to get their films out there, meet like-minded people and hopefully take you somewhere. But when done badly...

    Interesting point from Mark re not submitting too late as they won't look at them- this is despite many festivals hiking up the submission price in this final month for 'late submissions'.
    And on the note of free film festivals, do check out the NoFeeFilmFestivals - they do regular mail outs about free festivals internationally.

    Finally (for now), the festival experience-sharing board is a great idea - maybe a score board or feedback rating of some kind on various elements of the festival process, from submissions to correspondence to screenings etc- but should be about making the festival submission process and/or general relations between festivals and film-makers a better one, and highlighting good practice, help particularly new film-makers with a limited festival run budget know which ones to go for and which ones to avoid. On this note, thanks for the link to the website Mark, will check it out. It would be good to have something on the SP forum too - how about it, Shooting People?

    Please do keep posting your experiences and thoughts, good and bad. I'd also be keen to hear more from people running festivals themselves about the points raised here and the challenges they may face.

    3 years ago
  • PS I've been asked to add something from the charity WAYout, which works in Africa supporting youth to make films and music (some great work - check www.wayoutarts.org).
    They've pointed out that most festivals are prohibitive for African film makers generally because 1. the submission fees are just unaffordable, full stop, and 2. there is an increased demand for online submission only- something not possible in many places due to chronic internet speeds and expensive Internet cafes. On this second point, I personally prefer online submissions over DVDs- it's cheaper and easier to direct someone to a password-protected screener, for me- but can see the need to have both online and DVD submission options.

    3 years ago
  • Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your own experience, and the same to all else who replied. Having been through my own experiences as a first-time filmmaker on the fest circuit, I have made my own mistakes and learned the hard way, and I personally believe that transparency is the best approach, so all of the honesty expressed here is a good thing.

    To Michael, I must say, the UK festival truly did you no favors by over-promising and underwhelming. In future, should someone demand this, you should not be cowed in asking for an Official Selection letter if they demand exclusivity in return. They should make it official, and if they do not, you should take it as a sign that you should keep sending it out, if there are other festivals that interest you. As it stands, this is a rather black mark on their festival director, and therefore their festival. At the very least, you should demand a fee waiver for your next film. If it's not offered, never work with that festival until the person has been replaced.

    I had one festival last year rescind their invitation for my last short due a regional exclusivity issue, months after their initial acceptance and just weeks from our screening, despite them never noting a demand for a regional premiere in any of their materials. I was even told later by the festival director that he hires people to check the earlier festival's lineup and then removes any overlapped projects. They have since been banned from WithoutABox for essentially defrauding others in this way, multiple times. So if you're wanting to play a festival in Long Island, NY, the one to play is called LIIFE - Long Island International Film Expo, not the other one.

    Assuming you made a short, by your mention of DC Shorts, I would not worry too much in the future about premiere status for a short, even in the home country. More and more, festivals are accepting material that premiered and exist on the web, where the entire world can view it. Case in point, my last short premiered at two festivals on the same day last June. It played about 10 events before it played its first Oscar-qualifier, where it won a major prize. That event could have rejected it because it played in a nearby state, or determined it should not be eligible for a prize, but despite having 4,000 entries, it did neither. Those are the fests you want on your side, not ones who demand exclusivity for little-to-nothing in return. Even Sundance has avoided this practice in recent years, precisely because there is more latitude with shorts.

    If it makes you feel better for ignoring exclusivity demands in the future, my first short (allegedly) might have played a regional Oscar-qualifier if I had not offered my NY premiere to a(n admittedly smaller) festival in NYC much earlier in the year. To be honest, though it might have felt better to play the bigger event, the smaller event proved to be an excellent venue and opportunity, where I screened in a program with shorts from Sundance, Slamdance, and Palm Springs Shortsfest, and mine was largely judged the best of the program by audience reaction, so I would not have traded that screening for an alternative. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The events that a short plays matter only in three or four regards: 1) the press that your film can receive, such as reviews or interviews, 2) distributors who attend (or scour the lineup of) that bigger event who may offer you a deal to license your film, 3) the relationships you make with your fellow filmmakers in attendance, and 4) the relationship you make with the festival, who may (or may not) support future work like a feature.

    Whilst I understand that you may not wish to speak ill of the fest that did this to you, I'd actually encourage you to say which one it is. It's not like they can deny they did this to you if you have the messages that were sent. Judging by the timing, I can guess which one, but it's helpful to know who pulled this, in case others run into it too. As for DC Shorts, I know many who agree with your assessment, as I did when I sent my first short to them. I agree that festivals in general should provide feedback, and in some cases, they will if you email them after the festival, during their less busy season. However, as you noted in part, the feedback from DC Shorts can be...caustic. To the point where this allegedly wonderful, should-be-done-by-every-festival approach comes off as rather sadistic. I've had enough exposure to their model, and those on the receiving end of it, where I'll never send them another film of mine again. But that's just my two cents, and that's how much my opinion is worth. Others will have a differing view.


    On the topic of receiving rejection notices, having been through the process twice now, I can tell you, not with any glee, that festivals, which had previously accepted your film, still may not notify you the next time around if they choose not to screen the new one. It's less of an indication that you don't matter, but more that emailing hundreds, if not thousands, is a very time consuming process, and film festivals are often understaffed. It's a terrible reality, but no one ever said film business is a polite one. I watched films for a festival in 2012, submitted them a project in 2013, even paid the fee when a waiver was available, and never heard anything except a "NOT ACCEPTED" on WAB when announcements were made. Not exactly the thank-you I had in mind for free labour the year before, but life goes on. And yet, let's be honest, there are probably too many irate email responses that a festival has to deal with when the rejected are treated "politely." No one wants to read the eventual angry screeds, so chalk it up to the bad ones ruining it for us all. And yes, those festivals often do understand the pain of rejection of your hard-earned efforts - as Alistair pointed out, many festivals are run, often-times, by filmmakers themselves.

    3 years ago
  • I believe Mark is dead-on: rejection is to be expected. My second short film was accepted by two festivals, won an award at one of the two, but was subsequently turned down by a start-up festival a year later, telling me that taste can rule...or my award was falsely based.

    One charged me a fee, the other did not but the one that did charge, did not comp me anything, either.

    The cost to us filmmakers can be considerable, and that's without factoring in our production costs.

    And after all that, how many people actually saw my film?

    My "award winning" film was probably viewed by about 300 people over four days. I added up all the costs for that festival and it came to about $5,000 with travel, lodging and fees. And then my film won for best short.

    Surprisingly, Spielberg did not call in the weeks ensuing, so I'm pursuing other means to garner exposure for my films. Exposure, I'm learning, is for more valuable than a slot in the festival line-up of a film festival.

    3 years ago
  • I'm a little disappointed in some of the responses in this thread. I understand the sting of rejection, and the wondering if someone even watched your film when you don't even get a rejection notice, but it's a lot of 1st World moaning that one does not get flown into an international location for making a no-budget short which just makes it into the festival, or that Spielberg didn't call when you won the Best Short With A Dog prize for making an appearance at the North Anglia Underground Short Film + Music Video Festival. Whilst it's true that many would like to transition into full-time filmmaking and directing, making films at this level is about the passion of doing it, and the desire to find an audience and peers who can help you get there, not a 3-picture deal. I'll say this as bluntly as possible - If you make films in an attempt to get rich or famous, you may as well spend your production funds on lottery tickets with the proceeds of selling your HD camera. You'd get rich quicker with scratch off cards.

    And let's be clear, if there's any distinction between a festival that requires fees and ones which do not, it's that that the ones which do not received a substantial amount of funding from an arts council or grant that allows for the dissemination of cultural material, and can allow for a paid staff of people to help make that happen. So that they can pay for theatre rentals, exhibition equipment, staff, interns, facilities, postage to ship out prints back to filmmakers or other festivals, travel expenses for VIPs with films in the festival, advertising, publicity, etc etc etc etc etc. Those which ask for a fee have to still pay for all of the above and more, AND seek out corporate sponsors and private donations and grants and trade-offs, etc etc etc etc. You want to complain about the cost of making films? Try running a film festival for 1 weekend, much less 10 days or two weeks. The business of running an arts exhibition is just as costly as any business, and this is a business. You paid your fee to be reading this, right?

    If you can only afford no-fee festivals, keep your fingers crossed that the other hundreds or thousands who are also skint didn't make a better film than you. However, it really should be stated that anyone who makes films and cannot truly afford festival fees should re-assess if festivals are the right forum for your creativity. It is as much of an investment in your project as is your camera package or sound equipment or actors, etc etc. As any A-list filmmaker or distributor will tell you, the cost of prints and advertising (P&A) - the means to disseminate a film - are costly enough to warrant that a film not get released theatrically, or even be made full-stop. That is a cost we all pay as filmmakers for the promise of the theatrical experience, whether as festival and postal or travel fees, or as Spielberg shelling out $40M to promote and screen LINCOLN on hundreds or thousands of screens all at once.

    If money is that tight, YouTube and Vimeo and other video sites for self-curation are far better venues if you're looking for as many eyeballs on your work as possible. It may even end up on Short Of The Week, a site that curates the best of free shorts on the web. Literal 3-picture deals have come from shorts and series uploaded to the web, not to mention offers for TV series, invitations to screen at film festivals, etc. Both YouTube and Vimeo are now in the business of funding successful "channels" on their respective sites. Festivals are starting to feel the impact of it, with top-tier festivals usurping the lion share of submissions, while smaller regional ones struggle to keep going.


    I'm not suggesting that festivals with fees are better, or that it's a bad thing to express frustration with truly bad behavior, as Michael did in his original post. If it bugs you that a festival didn't reply back with a rejection notice, show your disapproval by actively not supporting their festival with your next film or by not attending. But the moaning and anger is largely why festivals hate to notify filmmakers. Your chancer film made with friends may mean a lot to you, but when films made for 100K from Denmark and Australia are in the same pool as you, it's not a surprise which film will get selected. It doesn't mean you stop making films, it means you find another way to secure an audience. It means more than just a moan, but the imperative to actively do something to get around the problem in your way. And if you're in the filmmaking game to get your arse kissed from a festival, then you had better know your talent-level and production is worthy of that phone-call from Hollywood, because even if it you're at that level, it's still not guaranteed.

    3 years ago
  • Hi Michael
    I had the exact same experience and believe we were dealing with the same people - please send me a private message. Thanks.

    3 years ago