Top 5 Reasons Your Film Didn’t Get in

The best part of my year is notifying filmmakers that their film was accepted into the GI Film Festival. The worst part of my year is notifying filmmakers that their film was not accepted into the film festival. How do you tell someone that their baby isn’t cute? Or that their baby is cute but just not cute enough?


Most filmmakers take the news in stride and move on with their lives. Some, however, like to argue, fight, threaten and cry. Some say they want feedback and when we share feedback with them, they respond that our feedback is wrong. (It’s like the American Idol reaction from singers who think they can sing and are told they can’t. Most don’t believe the criticism).

While there is no standard blueprint about what makes a film “good” there are striking similarities on what makes a film “bad.”  Out of the thousands of film submissions we have received over the years, their is a distinct pattern of mistakes that keep emerging.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to address each individual filmmaker on the reasons why their film did not get accepted, so here are some common themes that may have occurred within their film.


1. Casting:

over acting

Please don’t cast your girlfriend or boyfriend as a key character.  No matter how tempting it may be to do so and what they promise in return, it’s not worth it if no one sees your film. The only exception would be if your girlfriend is Meryl Streep.  Then  cast away. I like to call it “distracting acting ®.”  Bad acting can ruin a film and take the viewer out of the moment.


2. Technical Proficiency:

green screen

While we don’t expect independent filmmakers to film with Sony Red we do ask for some basic level of proficiency.  Things we notice: the director’s reflection in the mirror/window/glass behind the subject. More pet peeves- the over use of title slides.  If you need a title slide every two minutes to explain your story – you may need to re-think your story.  Also, filming a live-action play is not a movie. Just don’t.  Three more words: bad green screen. And finally, if the DVD you send or link that you share doesn’t work – then there is nothing we can do to help you.  These are easily fixable mistakes that can save you and us some grief.


3. Story:

2 soldiers

Nothing kills a movie faster than a bad story.  It would benefit filmmakers to spend 90% of their time on story and 10% of their time on filming. Within the context of your film’s world – there should be consistency. For example, if after a year tour of serving together in Afghanistan, two buddies go on a final mission, there is a level of closeness that we expect between the two. Then during this final mission, the first buddy asks his pal where he is from – I’m suddenly not buying the story. You want the audience to believe that these two have served together for a year and this is the first time that question has come up?  Not likely.


4. Editing:


Edit your final film by 20% If it’s a 10 minute film – take 2 minutes off.  If it’s a 120 minute film, edit out 24 minutes. Nearly every submission we receive is too long.  The story will end in the film and then, for some inexplicable reason, the film will continue for another 10-15 minutes. Extra footage?  Save it for the anniversary DVD.  The cute story about how your parents met in a film about the Revolutionary War – delete it.  Please end the film when the story ends. We and your audience will thank you.


 5. Programming Originality:

drum and fife

Part of a festival’s mission is to program interesting and original content that people would want to see. Out of thousands of submissions to a military film festival – guess how many films use snare drums or show a bugle playing taps?  (More than you may think). While this may be an original creative choice that you make as a filmmaker, when lined up against thousands of other films making the same choice, this will hurt your film’s chance to get into the festival.  Festivals also notice if your film has screened within the same town multiple times – especially in the months leading up to the festival.  Lots of screenings may be good exposure for your film, but it limits the audience who will be willing to pay $10 to see your film during a festival. Decide on your marketing strategy before submitting to a festival – which do you want more – official festival recognition or multiple in-town screenings?


So these are the top five reasons films don’t get accepted into festivals.  Each film festival has it’s own personality and own standards.  Learn what they are and don’t submit your film unless it’s a match.  And if your film did make the festival, congratulations.  Your baby is not ugly.