Award-winning filmmaker Tanuj Chopra is a seasoned pro when it comes to the festival circuit. His debut film, Punching at the Sun, premiered at Sundance and screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, the precursor to CAAMFest. Since then, CAAM has gone on to screen his films Grass and Chee and T. CAAM also co-produced his web series, Nice Girls Crew.
Check out Tanuj’s tips on submitting to film festivals:
- Respect the fact programmers are dealing with hundreds to thousands of submissions by talented makers who put in just as much time as you or more. Understanding this reality provides a healthy perspective on all matters submission related – it’s something you might need to continually remember when dealing with the wild world of submission challenges.
- Respect that festival programming is often about what aligns with a festival’s themes or a section’s creative direction. Selection isn’t always about the best films and rejection is not about bad films. Understand programmers are finding blocks of material that fit into their agendas. Work on removing your ego from the equation.
- It doesn’t hurt to send programmers a short, thoughtful note about your submission to a festival you feel is a good match – the key word being short. Especially if there’s a relevant regional festival – expressing a passionate thought about why screening in the city where you made your film is sometimes useful. Festivals want to cater to their local markets and pay it forward when they can. This is also true for aligned themes – search for festivals that are looking for your genre or your themes. Also – look at past programming of festivals you like as well – sometimes that’s a good way to understand the creative directions and tastes of festivals…and they’re all very different and context helps knowing what do you. There’s no one universal film festival standard – one festival’s trash is another festival’s treasure.
- Have a healthy relationship to your additional materials. Don’t oversell or over-populate your WAB or Film Freeway especially if you’re looking for your premiere. A few quality stills and short synopsis information can be enough. Let programmers do some of the math, let them figure out why your film is great from watching the cut, not your marketing. An element of surprise goes a long way – leave them some surprises. Also – good sound matters more than a good color grade when it comes to a rough cut. A temporary sound mix pass where you can handle basic dialogue sweeting is a better use of time/money than an early pro color grade (if you have to choose). Also – it’s ok to label your film a rough cut – it’s your responsibility to make it sing but don’t panic if the final details or technical aspects aren’t in place. However – your story has gotta click, has gotta sing. A technically rough film with a top notch story is the most basic goal.
- Make a killer film and don’t overthink submissions. Really good work has a way of finding it’s way to the right places. All the submission tips in the world can’t convince a programmer to play something that isn’t right or doesn’t work. Make the work true to yourself and undeniable – not your festival submission methodology. And if you don’t get into anything, roll up your sleeves and make another.
Tanuj Chopra’s first feature film Punching at the Sun about teens coming of age in a post-9/11 Queens NY premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival while he was still in film school. Since then, Chopra has continued make his mark on cinema with Grass (2016) and Chee and T (2016).