I feel overwhelmed by all the work you suggest I need to be doing now, before I even submit to festivals for the very first time.

Good. You should be. You have a lot of research you should’ve done already, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a lot out of your potential festival run! You still have time, Sundance and Slamdance haven’t even announced yet, and they’re the start of the festival year.

Here is a list of things you can do right the f*** now:

  1. Get to know the people who run the festivals you’re applying to.
  2. Go to panels held by the festivals, meet key players.
  3. Don’t be a dick to key players.
  4. Get to know the lay of the land of the festival town, main venues, housing, transportation.
  5. Get to know local meeting places and possible space for an event near your screening.
  6. Research other films that have played the festivals.
  7. Read success stories of the films that have screened there.
  8. DON’T call your festivals 800x.
  9. DON’T SHOW UP at festival headquarters unless necessary.
  10. DON’T STOP APPLYING to other festivals.
  11. Your chances of getting into the first couple festivals you apply to are very slim, apply to the next ones and the next ones.
  12. Watch daily, see what festival deadlines are coming up.
  13. Go to festivals in your area, while you wait to hear.
  14. Go to AFI Film Festival, while you wait, meet as many filmmakers and staff there as you can. Many of these people are associated with other festivals and it’s a great festival all by itself.
  15. DON’T BE AN A-HOLE to volunteers EVER.
  16. Befriend volunteers everywhere, you need them, they are a hugely important part of the circuit and know EVERYONE.
  17. Get to know the filmmakers at every festival you can, you will see them around the circuit for at least the next year, you will need them, they know more stuff than you do.
  18. There will be free alcohol everywhere, don’t be the story of the festival by having too much.
  19. Understand how festivals work, they need to please their sponsors by getting press. If your film is press-worthy, you have a better shot of getting in.
  20. Don’t be mad when you don’t get into your dream festivals. It doesn’t mean they didn’t like your film, it doesn’t mean your film wasn’t awesome, it just means you didn’t get in.

I’m currently teaching 2 film classes at an arts high school, wish me luck!

Heidi Van Lier is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has directed 3 feature films, with another one on the way. Her first film, Chi Girl, won the Slamdance Film Festival in 1999. She has written a film school textbook called The Indie Film Rule Book, available on She has been a programmer for the Slamdance Film Festival, and on juries and panels at countless festivals around the country. She has an expensive 8-year-old daughter, send help.

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