Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a certain kind of film that the festival circuit likes to program, and if you ain't got it, they won't program it. I won't say that I agree or disagree with their philosophies -- it just is and you need to learn how to survive outside the festival circuit should you be shut out of it.
It's very well known that premiering at a larger festival and garnering positive reviews lays a strong foundation for the release of your film. But what do you do when you have that "bastardly commercial" film that they don't like...
You embrace the fact that your film is "too commercial" and you try to sell it into the more commercial avenues. Funny enough, I have one of those films and when I told our sales agent about our plight of being shut out of the festival circuit, he laughed and said, festivals program films I can't sell. I can sell your film. I was very relieved to hear this and thought, you know what?, I'd rather have a sellable film than one that plays a festival and can't find a buyer to save its life. That's making lemonade out of lemons.
As an indie filmmaker, you are brought up to believe that the film festivals are your only way of gaining exposure for your work. But that isn't true. You may have made the film outside of the Hollywood system but that doesn't mean your film is a natural fit for the festival circuit. There is a misconception that because you made it indie, the festival circuit is the only means of promoting it.
When taking your film to market, absolutely apply to the big festivals because you never know and a premiere at one of them will definitely help your sales agent have an easier job of promoting your film. But if you are shut out, don't despair. It may not be an indication that your film is bad (I won't deny that it could be); it may just mean that your film is meant for another means of exposure.
You have the power to get your film out to the world in many different ways. Get creative. Know your audience and reach out to them directly. Social media is your friend when you need to reach out: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, etc. If you have a lot to say, start a blog or a vlog. Do a podcast. Create a Web site. Just don't let the film festival rejections get you down. Instead, resolve yourself to prove them wrong!
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