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Film Festival Submission Cover Letter

Know the Festival

Who programs the films? Is it a committee or one person. Often times one person is doing both the watching and the programming. This is to your advantage because it's easier to figure out what they are looking for and there is a history of programs you can look at.

Find out which school they went to. This can be easy or hard, but could potentially give you either a school or state connection. People in general love helping out other people who share communal elements like this.

Where does your film fall within the scale of films they generally accept? As much as filmmakers like to believe a $25,000 film can compete with a $5 million film, not all film festivals feel that this is true. Considering that some festivals submissions fees are as much as, and sometimes more than, $100 for features a lower budget film cannot absorb this cost as much. Budget is also equated with the ability to do publicity for the screening of your film. These are consideration you should think about when picking film festivals to submit to.

Where does your films talent fall within the bounds of what they normally accept and how is your social media presence? Some festivals will actually check the actors in your movie to see if any of them will have pull with press. A festival like Tribeca that prefers A-list talent is more than happy to take your submission fee and not program your film which is full of fresh faces, while a smaller festival would rather give you a shot over a big guy who is going to cause them a lot of logistical problems. One way of offsetting this is having a solid social media presence. The latest rumor is that 10k Facebook fans goes a long way.

Know the Programs

This is easier than you think because most festivals only update their website right before the festival and everyone keeps archives available to the public. Check to see if they have specific genre programs. When I program NewFilmmakers I am always looking for films which fill out my "Crime and Punishment," "Urban," and "NewLatino" programs.

This gives you a chance to let the programmer know you are aware of their formula and fit into their plans for the festival.

Look at the general runtimes of each of the short film blocks. I generally do ~45 minutes and ~75 minutes. This allows me to do an hour long program or a 90 minute program and the Q&A is accounted for. Why should you care about the length of the program? A 15 minute short has a better chance of fitting into this format than a 25 minutes short.

This also goes for documentaries, which I fit into a 60 minute block. Having a 45 minute cut of your documentary will make it not only a better for Film Festival exhibition but also a good fit for television network programmers.

Know How You Fit In

Film Festivals are a fantastic opportunity to screen your film and meet other members of the creative community. A screening is a moment about you and an hour or two about your career. This is a chance to meet other people like you who also want to make their next film.

Mention in your cover letter something about yourself which fits into their community. Like minded people attract like minded people and it should be fairly easy to spot if there is something that might connect you in with the community. This could be as easy as mentioning a friend who has screened with them before.

YoungFilmmakers is a fairly easy festival to fit in. We program all student (or recently graduated student) films. We're new so the focus hasn't been placed on genre programming yet. We've also intentionally kept our fees low to make them approachable for students to submit.

If you've got a film you just finished for class and would like to submit to our festival you can go to WithoutABox.com or FilmFreeway.com and apply.


Last modified onTuesday, 29 September 2015 21:43

More in this category:« Meet YoungFilmmaker - Lucas RudermanMeet YoungFilmmaker - Joshua Tebeau »

Brandon Ruckdashel

Brandon Ruckdashel is the Festival Director for YoungFilmmakers. He has been the Program Director for NewFilmmakers for the last three years and Marketing Director for six. Brandon is a filmmaker who is most well known for his acting work in the HBO series Co-Ed Confidential and numerous B-Movies. Brandon has worked with Roger Corman alumni Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski along with a number of other very talented directors. Brandon's Directorial debut GRINDER will be out in theaters in 2016.

YoungFilmmakers screens quarterly in New York at Anthology Film Archives. Opened in 1970 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage, Anthology in its original conception was a showcase for the Essential Cinema Repertory collection. An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form. The project was never completed, but even in its unfinished state it represented an uncompromising critical overview of cinema’s history, and remains a crucial part of Anthology’s exhibition program.


I'm a zero budget filmmaker who went out and shot a film that was completely original, and I broke all the rules along the way. I've been "submitting" to all the big festivals and two months later get a Dear John. Should I risk another 50 green ones on your festival?

Answer: Dear Filmmaker, Zero Film Festival was designed for YOU.

If this is a zero budget film festival, then you know we're broke, why are you charging us entry fees!??

Answer: Autonomy. Entry fees allow us to grow organically without homogenizing to the demands of Sponsors or Hollywood studios. Charging entry fees also helps us by weeding out uncommitted filmmakers and allows for ample time to select quality films. All films entered are screened multiple times by festival directors. Not interns who speed through the first ten minutes and dump it in the recycling because there aren't any C-List stars!

But, I'm short on cash, and fast drownin' in the credit card debt, can't you give me a break?!

Answer: Absolutely. Each selected filmmaker becomes part of the Zero Film Fest family. We will cultivate our relationships with emerging talent until the day they move on to big budget more Hollywood oriented festivals.

What do you consider "Zero Budget"?

Answer: Self Financed. The primary reason why we ask filmmakers to write a cover letter is because part of the selection is determined by YOUR DEDICATION TO YOUR FILM... We know the filmmaker who put everything into their film will attend the festival and work hard to help promote their film, bringing a lot of people along to watch the screening and celebrate the grand life at our now mythical after parties…

Kickstarter? Is that self-financed?

Answer: Yes.

Yo! Check out my movies on YOUTUBE! Let me know what you think!

Answer: No! Enter your film into our festival and we'll preview it!

Once entered, we are not opposed to screening youtube films. If the entered film is on youtube, it better be amazing because it will be more difficult to get people to attend screenings in warehouses, cinemas and community film centers. Even with our AWESOME after parties with AMAZING bands playing!

Why do you require a cover letter? How long should it be? What should it say? I'm a filmmaker not a paper writer for -----'s sake!

Answer: Tell us how much you care about your film, how much you spent, did you sell your kidney, were you arrested by the Homeland Security, did you get stitches running from security guards after getting that mind-blowing guerilla shot? It could be one sentence, could be a page, tell us why we should care about your film, we don't know… we are programmers, not professional readers for -----'s sake!

But, I'm really broke, and my film's got the best dialogue since Linklater/Taratino/Ozu… can't you waive the fee?

Answer: We want to, we really do, but our policy is 100% no fee waivers. If your film is that good, enter it and we'll screen it, then you'll never ever have to pay another one of those pesky entry fees again.


Answer: We're sorry. No. This is the Zero Film Festival, everyone participating is broke, it just wouldn't be fair.

But my film screened at like twenty Dance festivals!?

Answer: Sorry.

New York, Los Angeles, London & Toronto??

Answer: As of July 2011 Zero Film Festival is operational in New York, London, Los Angeles and Toronto.

If I enter my film to your festival, is it in consideration for screening in all of the Zero Festival cities?

Answer: No. We have a separate call for entry for each city so that filmmakers can choose which city they most want to screen in- it saves disappointment and allows us to keep our entry fees low.

Why so many cities?

Answer: Zero has kept growing because each year our community grows, opening new doors and possibilities for our filmmakers to gain exposure.

My six friends and I each put (one, ten, thirty) grand a piece on our credit cards and shot a feature documentary about camels, is that zero budget? I took my still camera, switched it to video, and made a documentary about camels, should I enter?

Answer: Absolutely! Camel double feature, what a coincidence! This makes programming so easy.

But Zero Film Festival, can't you please waive my fee or check out my youtube video?

Answer: We don't have time to figure out how to waive fees or click on youtube, we're too busy previewing properly entered films from around the world and connecting with rad booze sponsors. Like Pabst Blue Ribbon and…

This is a great festival concept! Can I help?!

Answer: Yes, we are currently looking for marketing interns/volunteers in several key cities throughout America and the rest of the world to help get the word out to filmmakers about our Call for Entry and venues to support our mission. Don't hesitate to get in contact with us! Email us at info@zerofilmfest.com

My cinematic work of no budget to speak of is powerful, but it's marginal and doesn't have an easy marketing hook. If I enter, and you screen my film because it's so original and amazing, what will I get out of it besides exposure in New York, London and Los Angeles and Toronto, recognition for my years of hard work and dedication, the best parties and free booze?

Answer: For our experimenters, animators, visual artists and fiercely original short filmmakers we will create a Shorts Compilation to be released by Zero Film Festival and distributed internationally by the amazing and highly respected Lowave. We are currently doing everything we can to release a collection of Features and Documentary Features as well so don’t be a stranger…

Why did you start the Zero Film Festival?

Because like many of the filmmakers Zero Film Festival supports, I had made a film financed on credit cards and dreams. Not of Hollywood and financial success, but the dream of actually creating a feature length film, telling a story that was deeply meaningful to me and actually following through on a lingering hunch that I might be able to create a film. Well, I did it. I made a film and being ignorant to the industry, spent thousands of dollars on film festivals where interns threw my DVD and cover letter in the trash without watching it or even attempting to understand it because the festival programmers they work for are looking for tight Hollywood stories featuring some recognizable actor or genre formula story. I realized the entire industry worked like this, and the small handful of festivals who programmed original work seemed to be so niche specific and hidden that it did little to benefit the filmmaker- and I know this first hand from the few festivals who did screen my film, and the similar films of my friends who shared the same experience with me.

So I started Zero Film Festival to support all of the thousands of filmmakers out there, who despite being born in the wrong city or to a family without Hollywood connections, chose to take the same risks as I did and follow their dreams. I wanted a festival exactly like the one I needed, to know my film had a chance to reach an audience, to have a festival take the time to read my cover letter and try to understand my film. While a few of the films we screen may not be perfect, we know that they came from an honest and authentic place, and I wanted to create the one film festival with a heart. It is strange, but because of this we have been extremely lucky because there are people out there, few and far far between, who understand that the Zero Film Festival means something more than red carpets and corporate marketing, and we have been able to exist because of their bravery and generosity.

Finally, taking these filmmakers and their hard earned films into the Zero Film Festival community, I have worked tirelessly and with no income to make the Zero Film Festival not only a place where their devotion and ingenuity can be recognized and appreciated by a broader audience, but to make possible the steps to ensure they can continue to create new cinema. Revolutions are born in fertile ground, and I believe that the Zero Film Festival is the closest festival to achieving a revolution in cinema. And I want to take this time to thank Lowave for agreeing to distribute our shorts DVD, looking beyond the flaws to see the beauty and intrigue of a compilation that if all the rules were followed, would not exist.

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