What Do I REALLY Need for Film Festivals?

Author: Henninger Media Services |

What Do I REALLY Need for Film Festivals?

At Henninger, we pride ourselves on helping filmmakers at every part of their journey, whether they’re early in their careers or well established, just planning filming or close to distribution. Film festivals are an excellent way to find an audience but being accepted for screenings typically requires submitting to a number of festivals, and each entry involves navigating slightly different submission guidelines. If you’re accepted, you’ll need to provide materials that meet each festival’s specifications for screening.

We worked with a filmmaker who had a “wish list” of 25 festivals to which she was planning to submit her short film. In order to give her the best advice we could, we looked at the submission and exhibition guidelines for all of them. What we learned can save filmmakers some headaches (and possibly some money).

Get to know the FilmFreeway platform

If you’re a filmmaker, you have probably already heard of FilmFreeway. It’s a portal that allows you to upload a screener and information about your film and submit it to many different festivals with a few mouse clicks. You can also use the platform to help keep track of deadlines and to “shop” for festivals that might be a good fit for your film. In looking at the 25 festivals our client was considering, all but one allowed for submission via FilmFreeway.

Some filmmakers choose to host their films on Vimeo and link them to their FilmFreeway accounts. You’ll have fewer administrative hoops to jump through if you choose to upload directly to FilmFreeway, however. More information is available about this here.

Is your film a feature, or a short?

Submitting your film to a festival via FilmFreeway is relatively simple, whether your project is a feature or a short. If your film is chosen for exhibition however, you’ll have different specifications to meet depending upon the length of your project. While many festivals require DCP files for features, the issue is a lot murkier for shorts. Read on.

Wait to create a DCP until you KNOW you need one

This is the tip that might save you some money. Initially, our client assumed she’d need a DCP if she was going to put her film in festivals. For short films however, the need for a DCP isn’t automatic. Some festivals clearly state that a DCP will be required if the film is chosen for screening, but others create their own DCP blocks for their short film programs and specifically ask filmmakers for digital files instead. Some festivals stipulate that filmmakers delivering DCP files must also provide a Blu-ray backup, and some leave open the possibility of screening in a DCP-equipped theater but can’t guarantee it. Nine festivals didn’t provide screening specifications at all. That likely means they’ll send you specifications once you’ve been accepted.

Our verdict: you can wait until you’re accepted to a festival that requires a DCP before making one. Just make sure you leave enough time before your screening to have one made. Our typical turn-around time is about two weeks.


FilmFreeway allows filmmakers to upload a caption or subtitle file with their film. Information on how to do that is available here. Vimeo and YouTube also have this capability.

If your film is in a language other than English, including subtitles or captions is probably a “must.” Check each festival’s guidelines to be sure. But you might want to upload captions for your screening file even if your film is entirely in English. If your film includes people speaking softly, in noisy environments, or with a strong accent, uploading a caption file gives viewers the option to turn captions on if they need them. You never know in what kind of environment a reviewer might be watching your film, and anything that makes it easier to connect with your story and characters might give you an edge.

We routinely help filmmakers get ready for festivals by providing color correction, audio mix, and online editing as well as deliverables like captions and DCP files. If you have a film you’d like to talk with us about, please contact us.