Imagine Your Dreams, llc

Helping Actors, Directors, & Writers get THEIR WORK into festivals

The first thing I would say to you is that life isn't always fair.  I've been to tons of festivals and have served as a judge on many of them and I learned early on that this is a very subjective business.  A perfectly brilliant film can be overlooked simply because it wasn't something the judges for that festival's panel were particularly interested in.  But we make films because we love making films, love watching them with our family and friends, and occasionally get to stand in the spotlight.  So rule #1 is to not take anything personal and remember why we make films in the first place - to be entertained. 

#1 You need to have thick skin

If this is going to be your first film to be shown in a festival, keep it short - no more than five minutes.  Judges get hundreds if not thousands of films submitted and so the shorter your film, the greater the likelihood that it will get properly screened.  Once you have successfully shown a film, then you are somewhat "known" to that festival and they are much more likely to watch a longer piece from you.  (this also speaks to the "who you know" rule we will get to later on).  A shorter film also solves the problem of plugging a small gap available in their programming schedule.

#2 Keep Your First Film Short - No More Than 5 Minutes 

A judge recently confided in me "I can't tell you how many films we stopped screening because at 45 seconds they were still showing the credits."  This is a hard-fast rule.  If you open with anything, open with just the title and keep it to 5 seconds max.  Save the credits for the ending roll.  Sometimes through fundraiser campaigns we make commitments to list big contributors at the start.  List only the Executive Producers,  and keep that at 5 seconds total.  Consider saving the title for the end.  But never exceed 10 seconds on opening titles & credits.   What is far more important in the first 30 seconds is to grab your judge's attention and hold it.  Demonstrate through action and not exposition if possible. 

#3 Open With Just the Title - 5 Seconds Max

You should target film festivals that specialize in the genre of your movie.  Horror movies work best in Horror Film Festivals.  And by all means follow the rules of the festival to the letter.  Create an account on where you can search and enter electronically thousands of festivals worldwide.  There is no excuse now with withoutABox, a partner of  Most festivals require an entry fee, but I know one filmmaker who often writes festivals asking for a waiver for this or that reason and he gets one about 20% of the time.  It can't hurt to just ask.

#4 Follow the Rules, Use

I have been making films for about 20 years and judging them for about six years now.  The #1 technical issue is without a doubt - sound.  People don't pay enough attention to sound.  Audiences can tolerate quite deplorable video but they won't put up with bad audio for long.  It jars them out of the experience and can kill your movie's chances. Sound is not difficult, it's not rocket science, and in the scheme of things it's not particularly expensive to buy or rent the gear to get it done.  Sound technique is beyond this article but we love this site: for lots of tips and tutorials geared for the beginning to advanced filmmaker.  You'll find what you need there to solve your sound problems.

#5 Pay Attention To Sound -

The old saying "it isn't what you know but who you know" holds true for festivals as well.  Network as much as possible with people in the business.  Volunteer for work at non-profits.  Sign up for news letters.  Go to luncheons & after work mixers.  Read website daily for news, opportunities, & gigs.

#6 Networking is Important -

These are just a few of the many tips & tricks we have to help you get into festivals.  At our seminars we discuss scripts, visual design, how to get people to work on your set for free, how to start a campaign to get donations for your film and more.  Check back often as we update our new site.

We are often asked how did we get that "film" look on our movies.  The answer isn't what most people expect.  They think that there is some technical expertise, some sort of filter we drop on our timeline to magically transform our movies into film.  Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

That "Film Look" starts in pre-production.  When someone says it has the look of film what they are really saying is the movie feels professionally made.  It looks and feels like something out of Hollywood.  That starts with a good script.  No amount of filters is going to help a bunch of amateur actors stammering through an amateurish script.  It took me six months to write "The Twin", then another six months re-writing.

#1 Keep Re-Writing Until You Have a Great Script

Your actors are the second link to that film look.  It's hard to get good actors without paying  them.  I'm on an extremely tight budget as are most indy filmmakers.  I can't afford to pay the entire cast and crew.  So I developed relationships with crew members where we help each other out.  I reserve the cash for the actors.  For example, I posted a casting call for a non-paying gig and got 10 to 15 responses.  I re-posted that same gig as a paying gig of $150/day and had over 100 responses.   Your movie won't have that film look and feel without quality acting.

#2 You Need Good Actors

Next comes set design and blocking out the shots around the movements of your actors.  Small Indy filmmakers honing their craft usually get visual design all wrong.  It's just something not taught in evening film schools.  I had a digital filmmaking instructor recently tell me she had already covered the subject in one of her classes.  When I came and taught for an hour as a guest instructor, it was clear she didn't understand it at all.  The thinking is that "oh, well when the tension goes up I'll just change the music accordingly and move the camera accordingly. "  Then I'll have them watch two actors talking in a static tripod shot and ask if the rhythm present in the still shot is consistent with the tensionin the scene and consistent with other scenes in the movie.  I usually get blank stares.  But the Hollywood greats understand this.  When we look at people we are drawn to their eyes.  Three men staring at you all seated in a row is much less intimidating than three men each at different eye levels.  The eye levels of these three men form a triangle, which along with diagonal lines cause us to subliminally feel more tension without realize why.   Visual Design components are Space, Line, Shape, Tone, Color, Movement, & Rhythm.   A movie with strong visual design is so compelling that it will actually cause people to miss mistakes, to not notice continuity errors.  If you really want to set your film apart, to feel like a Hollywood Movie then attend one of my classes or get a copy of Bruce Block's book on Visual Design.

#3 Use Visual Design to Powerfully Convey Your Message

Shoot in wider format than the popular 16x9.  You know, when the movie looks wider than standard HD.   If you can't afford an anamorphic lens (which most of us cannot) then shoot it accordingly.  My films are PanaVision 65MM style movies.  Common HD is 16x9 or 1.77:1 pixel ratio.  PanaVision is 2.27:1  You can simulate this by leaving room at the top and bottom of your frame when shooting so that you can put black bars across the top & bottom in post.  It's not perfect but it still looks great.  Anamorphic lenses will stretch out the bokeh (those blurry out of focus lights in the background) and a few other little touches but this works well.

#4 Shoot Anamorphic Style of Panavision 65

Shoot with a Cinema Camera that records in Raw format for wider dynamic range.  That makes the blacks really black and helps in low-light conditions.  You can also shoot with a camera that has a really large sensor like the Canon 5D Mark II and III.   Shoot with interchangeable lenses instead of a Camcorder style fixed lens for a shallow depth of field.  The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is our favorite.  But there is no perfect camera.  What's right for me may not be right for you.  Wider dynamic range and shallow depth of field is the goal here.

#5 Use Cinema Cameras for Shallow DOF/Dynamic Range

People usually have too much color saturation in their movies.  Film movies for the most part have much more subtle colors.  Yes, there are bright Technicolor movies but the type of color is still decidedly different than camcorder colors.  Also, action, Suspense, and Horror movies of late tend to have blue or greenish hues across the board.  One of the best color grading packages out there is the Davinci Resolve from Blackmagic Design.  It costs $1k, and it comes free with any of  Blackmagic's cinema cameras.  But here's the tip - they have a free version that you can download which has something like 90% functionality of the full version.  This is one sweet deal and well worth taking the time to learn how to use it.  Check out the gazillion tutorials on the web in YouTube, Vimeo, etc that talk about color saturation, tints or hues in movies and see what we mean.

#6 Turn Down the Color Saturation

  There is one last tip and I hesitate to mention it because it can be so easily missued.  There are a number of "Film Grain" movies, shot on Red with 4:4:4:4 color that you can overlay your movie with.  Set the transparency to about 35% and it will give the illusion of having been processed as film.  However, there's a fine line between film grain and sensor noise.  Too much grain and it won't look like film, it'll just look noisy. 

#7 Cautiously Use Film Grain Overlays

We hope that these tips will help you achieve that Holy Grail of having  that "Film Look"  Good luck!


"the Twin"

Now showing at Film Festivals around the world

Copyright 2013. Imagine Your Dreams, LLC. All rights reserved.


Independent Films Producer.