Attend and read up on the various festivals.
Research is the key, and poking around asking questions is always a good idea. The best thing you can do for yourself strategically is to know which festivals cater toward your style of film.
Goldberg advised a proactive approach: "Talk with other filmmakers and ask them what festivals they like and who they feel supported by and why they feel that way. Look at film websites and see where films similar to yours have been doing well. There are festivals for every genre, for women only and for certain political ideologies." She added: "Find your angle, find multiple angles and work them all."
Yutani also suggested watching other shorts and checking up on which films are having successful festival runs. "As a short filmmaker, it is important to see what other short filmmakers are doing," she advised. "Go to LGBT festivals, buy or rent DVD compilations, watch Logo's Click List, download them off of iTunes, and search for them online. â€¦ It's essential to know what is getting submitted and accepted to festivals."
Aim for the biggest festivals.
One of the little-known secrets of the festival circuit is the fact that smaller festivals often scour catalogs of bigger fests such as Frameline in San Francisco and Outfest in Los Angeles for programming.
"You can't miss Outfest and Frameline," said producer and director J.D. Disalvatore, who has also worked as the festival manager at Outfest. "All the other LGBT festivals pick and choose generally from these two festivals, so it's really important to get into one of them."
Talk to programmers.
It's important to get in contact with programmers and establish yourself in the right way even before you submit. "I suggest getting to know the programmers â€” go a screening and introduce yourself," Disalvatore suggested. "Then when you are working on something, just send them a note saying, 'Hey, I have this new film about this, and we're shooting now.' Stay on their radar."
Know the guidelines.
It sounds simple enough, but it's also one of the biggest pet peeves of festival planners and could earn you an automatic rejection. Tsiokos offered: "Filmmakers should review submission guidelines before contacting a festival with simple questions â€” for example, 'When are submission decisions made?' â€” because those kinds of questions are often clearly answered in submission guidelines."
And though getting in contact with programmers is a necessary step, this certainly isn't the way to go about it. "A lot of programming does take place in a short amount of time, and these kinds of unnecessary questions don't do filmmakers any favors," he added.
Do your homework and be prepared.
Festivals are competitive, and it's going to take more than just a good film to get noticed. Be ready with all the supporting materials that will make your particular movie attractive, and get prepared to "sell" your film not only to the screening committee, but to audiences as well.
Kami Chisholm, producer of the upcoming Godspeed and director of last year's festival offering FtF: Female to Femme, advised ample preparation and planning. In order to wow selection committees, she suggested putting together a bulletproof press kit that includes high-res photos taken on-set, a brief (but compelling) synopsis of the film, a powerful director's statement, bios of major cast and crew, and dialogue lists (for international fests).
"These kinds of supporting materials will give context and additional information about your film for programmers and screening committees, and can help guide how they view your work," Chisholm explained. "As a filmmaker, you need to be the best advocate for your film, and that begins with describing and interpreting your work."
Disalvatore agreed: " Presentation is hugely important if you are going to be noticed, and your packaging and materials are what they see before they load up your film." She also mentioned the need for a little guerilla marketing on-site: " Usually filmmakers arrive to a festival a week before their screenings just to promote. You go to parties, do newspaper and radio interviews, hand out your postcards. This gets the house full. I've done it; it works!"
If your film does get in, be sure to attend the screening.
Nothing is better for a filmmaker than networking opportunities â€” and that's what festivals provide. Panels, parties and even the other screenings give you ample opportunity to make new contacts.
"More often then not, those festivals will organize panels in conjunction with the film festival, and these panels are full of industry people," Madeleine Lim offered. "So, you meet producers and actors, and acquisition people. â€¦There're a lot of contacts you can make."
If you do successfully navigate the submission and screening processes and you're your film into a festival, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It may just spark the inspiration (or the collaboration) that results in our own long-awaited Dykeback Mountain.