Filmmaking is an art form that is more accessible than ever before, for both filmmakers and audiences. There are hundreds of screening opportunities in Toronto, and thousands of film festivals across North America. Platforms like FilmFreeway are also making it easier than ever to submit your content to different festivals for consideration.
While that means there is a greater number of outlets for filmmakers to screen their work, it also provides an opportunity for the unethical to prey on unsuspecting and inexperienced filmmakers. Young filmmakers, especially first time and student filmmakers, already work with low budgets, and many often do not even consider marketing costs. The number of filmmakers I’ve met that have blindly spent hundreds of dollars on film festivals that bore no fruit is astounding. You can google “scam film festivals” and find a ton of horror stories.
To save both your time and money, here’s how you can tell the difference between a scam festival and a reputable one.
Super High Submission Fees
The first thing you should look at is the submission fees. Toronto Youth Shorts charges $20 for our regular rate (free if you submit early bird), which is on par with festivals like the Canadian Film Fest, Reel Asian, Images and ReelWorld. Considering that two of Toronto’s biggest festivals, TIFF and Hot Docs, charge $55 at most for short films to enter into their prestigious festivals, keep in mind that a film festival that costs an exorbitant amount of money may not be worth your time.
Lack of Transparency
Ever stumble on a festival website that doesn’t list their staff? Do representatives from the festival send you emails without signing off with a real name? Do they use generic language or stock photos describing their event? If these things are missing, be cautious, as this may mean the festival could be fake.
No Public Screenings
This is a no-brainer. You can’t call yourself a film festival if you don’t screen films. Many scams will claim to be an awards event, or an online listing.
A Year-long Submissions Period
This is not a scam itself, but many shady festivals may keep their submissions period going for a really long time, even a whole year. They’ll also list a ton of deadlines, which is a way to keep their festival listing at the top of FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. Considering how Toronto Youth Shorts is swamped by submissions from a three month period, a year round submission process is more likely to be managed poorly, or simply an attempt to take in as many as possible.
Huge Number of Awards
Image Source: Give Me Mora
Again, not a scam in and of itself, but awards only have meaning and merit if they are hard to get. A high quantity of awards diminishes its impact and often feels more like a bait to reel in filmmakers looking to add laurels onto their portfolio.
I believe new filmmakers should try to get their work screened at as many film festivals as possible. Nothing compares to the feeling of watching your work with a live audience. There’s a certain energy to it that’s irreplicable. However, knowing easy it is to create a cookie-cutter website these days, and the ease of accepting online payments, filmmakers should exercise extra caution when submitting their work to film festivals. Do your research, and you’ll save yourself both time and money from knowing the difference between a scam festival and a real one
Written by Henry Wong for Toronto Youth Shorts.