Reel Truth: Entry Fee Waivers
“I can’t afford to apply to all of the festivals I want. Should I ask for a waiver?”
In short: No. But that should not stop you — if you do so respectfully and understanding what you are really asking.
First, waivers are not given out lightly. Programmers evaluate serious waiver requests to find out the pedigree of the filmmakers, evaluate past projects, and look at the project under consideration. By granting a waiver, festivals are actively investing in you.
Submission entry fees are not festival cash-grabs. For the majority of festivals, ticket sales average about 30–40% of revenues. Grants, sponsorships, and cash donations account for another 40–50%, which leaves submission fees — a paltry 10–20% — to make up the difference. Compound this small revenue stream with a typical festival’s cash flow: most of it comes in the month before, and the week of the festival, and it’s clear that submission fees are a way to bring in a relatively small amount of income in during the rest of the year.
Now, let’s talk about HOW to ask for a waiver. Do not send a cut-and-paste email to the festival’s generic inbox stating that you are broke. Festivals receive dozens of these haphazard messages every week. They take a great deal of time to prioritize and respond to, and they keep programmers from watching movies and doing their work. But most importantly, these careless requests reflect poorly on you.
For filmmakers who have done their research, turning that generic message into one that is genuine is easy. State your connection to the event, and clearly outline why your film fits in with the festival’s programming style. This goes a long way to let a programmer know that you have done your research and are a serious contender.
I would take that one step further. Since festivals are making an investment in you, why not offer to increase their return with some marketing help. Offer to send out a few social media messages about your excitement to send your film for consideration. Offer to volunteer screening films, or even refilling beer cups at an upcoming event. Again, be part of the solution.
I am well known for my catchphrase, “there is a festival for every film, but your film is not for every festival.” Filmmakers who understand this — really understand how festivals work, and for whom — gladly pay fees because they know the potential opportunity to screen at these events far outweighs a $30 to $75 investment. But when they ask for a waiver, they do so respectfully, and with the festival’s interest in mind.
You Have Questions — We Have Answers
Please send your questions about film festivals to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will respond to as many as I can over the next few months.
Jon Gann is a force in the film festival world, having created, consulted with, and fostered dozens of events around the globe. He has authored two books about festivals and programming available at festbooks.com, juried dozens of events worldwide, and has presented at over 120 universities, film organizations and film festivals worldwide. Jon is a founding Board Member of the Film Festival Alliance, and consults with both festivals and filmmakers through his firm, reelplan.com.