Have you ever run a maze backwards? It's a breeze. Looking at the choices from the angle of the maze-builder makes it a thousand times easier. The same can be said for film festivals. If you're a filmmaker who has never worked for a festival, you probably don't know which way to turn. I understand. I've been there. We all have in one way or another in different aspects in life. It's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if you didn't have questions, this blog wouldn't exist.
One of the many decisions you have to make is whether to submit to a festival early, to get the screeners while they're fresh, or later to be more on their mind when it comes time to decision making.
For the most part, it doesn't make a difference to us… for the most part. There are a couple of things that do make a difference.
First, whether it's late or early, do NOT submit your film before it's finished. I mean, completely finished, including test screenings for a handful of other filmmakers for honest notes, then re-edits, then professionally edited sound, music that doesn't drag the film to a grinding halt, color-timing, everything!
Yes, we accept works-in-progress, but look at the maze backwards. We don't know who you are. We don't know if your idea of "finished" matches ours, and we're spending month after month watching movies that people tell us are complete. They aren't. So we'll watch your work-in-progress. If the story isn't good, or the acting is sub-par, then we're going to pass no matter how much work you do on it. But if you've done a good job with the script, and the cast is good, then we're going to be interested.
Now put yourself in our shoes and run the maze. You have ten good movies, but can only screen three of them (obviously, the numbers are made up). One is a work-in-progress. The others are equally good and finished. Which do you pick?
Another "for the most part" is the very late submission. Every year we have extremely late films submitted. By "extremely late" I mean on or after our late deadline. The ones that come in after are usually from friends of the festival. "Hey, is it too late to…?"
We take as many of these as we can, but they are a pain in the behind. We have to watch them on short notice during our busiest time of the year. Our first thought when screening these ultra-late movies is, "why are these idiots paying so much money at the last minute?" But, they did pay, so we treat them almost exactly like any other submission.
I say "almost" because if you submit on or after our late deadline, it's going take us a couple of days to get to screen your movie. During that time, we're programming the festival. Sure, final decisions have not yet been made and technically you have the same chance as any other movie, but we're only human. We have a list of our favorites. We've contacted those filmmakers to update their premiere status. We already have more movies that we like than slots to fill. The ultra-late movie is going to have to be head and shoulders better than anything we've seen in nearly six months of watching submissions in order to bump a movie we already like off the list. That's a big hill to climb.
Having said that, for some odd reason, many of these late submissions are really good. We have programmed them before and will again – but it's not our favorite way to do things and it does hurt your chances to try to come in under the wire. We have passed on perfectly good movies just because they were so late that we didn't feel they were good enough to bump off movies that submitted in a timely fashion.
So, those are the extremes. Some people submit too early, before their movie is finished. Some too late, while we're in the middle of making decisions. What about the average movie? Is there a best time to submit a movie that is completely done and ready for prime time?
No. We've programmed movies that were the first to submit, the last, and everything in between. During the final selections we go through every film – even the ones with passes from every screener – to make sure they have had a fair shot, and that we haven't missed a diamond in the rough. Because, after all, those hard-to-find movies are what DWF is all about.
We're open for submissions. If your film is ready, send it in.