Independent Films by the Numbers

The marketing of Independent Films

Archive for the 'Film Festivals' Category

Tips on how to plan a film festival run

The film festival circuit can be overwhelming to the novice filmmaker.  Without good guidance, it is difficult to plan a festival run for your film.  This post will give some solid advice on how to start the planning and make your way through the festival circuit.   

  1. Regardless of the film, you will be rejected by some film festivals. Rejection is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your film, since the art of festival programming involves a balance between finding the most compelling individual pieces and fitting them into a program of other films. Also, personal tastes of the programmers can make or break your application; which is out of your control and very hard to predict. My advice is to not let the rejections get to you. It is part of the process.
  2. It is important to set goals for your run. It is hard to plan anything if you do not know what you want.  For instance, if you want a distribution deal, you should focus your festival run on festivals where the buyers are.  The clearer you can be about your goals the better your chances are at succeeding in obtaining these goals.
  3. The sequencing of your festivals run is important for two reasons — playing at some festivals will lessen your chance at playing other festivals, while some festivals act as recruiting grounds for other festivals.  If we take a look at the films that played at Sundance in 2008 that also played at other festivals (, the clear pattern is that few feature films shown at Sundance come from other festivals, while this festival is used by other festivals to find films for festivals.  Shorts are more able to play elsewhere and then Sundance.   Get to know the sequencing of festivals.  Most filmmakers desire to premiere at one of the top-tier festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, Berlin, etc…), which is solid strategy; however it can be difficult since these leading festivals are very competitive.  For those unable to land a slot at a premiere festival, it is possible to have a very successful run by premiering at another festivals and using that festivals to ladder to other festivals.
  4. It is useful to see how other similar films to yours are working or have worked the festival circuit.  This is useful as a means to understand and then replicate successful strategies of other films, and as a means to understand how to position your film.  Positioning should involve some thought on how to differentiate your film from competitive films, since festivals tend to want to attract films that stand apart from previous films they have shown.  
  5. It is important to research what kind of films a festival shows… topics, genre, and formats.  As any reader of this blog knows, runtimes are important for determining success getting into festivals.  If you have non-standard runtime, it is useful to see a given festival you want to apply to programs films of that length.
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Added new data and festivals

I have added the data for the Ourense (in Spain), True/False, Full Frame, and Palm Springs (not the short fest), as well as having a full 5 years of Berlin data.

These data show the emergence of True/False as a top documentary film festival. It has strongly captured the post-Sundance position with a strong set of films, despite having a limited roster of films. I have heard great things about the programmers at True/False and their lineup/positioning shows it.

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33 Festivals are in the Database

I have just loaded in the 33 Festival into the Lathrios film festival database, which have shown just shy of 4,500 films.  I am off to Sundance this weekend, but will be back next week.  Until then, here is a list of the available festivals with data…  Ashland Independent Film Festival (2007)

Berlin International Film Festival (2007)

Boston Film Festival (2007)

Boston Independent Film Festival (2007)

Brooklyn International Film Festival (2007)

Cannes Film Festival (2007)

Chicago International Film Festival (2007)

Cucalorus (2007)

Florida Film Festival (2007)

Hamptons International Film Festival (2007)

London Film Festival (2007)

Los Angeles Film Festival (2007)

Maryland Film Festival (2007)

Mill Valley Film Festival (2007)

New York Film Festival (2007)

Newport International Film Festival (2007)

Outfest Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (2007)

Palm Springs International Short Film Festival (2007)

San Francisco International Film Festival (2007)

Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2007)

Sarasota Film Festival (2007)

Seattle International Film Festival (2007)

Silver Lake Film Festival (2007)

SilverDocs (2007)

Slamdance Film Festival (2008 | 2007)

South by Southwest Film Festival (2007)

Sundance Film Festival (2008 | 2007)

Telluride Film Festival (2007)

Tokyo International Film Festival (2007)

Toronto International Film Festival (2007)

Tribeca Film Festival (2007)

Vancouver International Film Festival (2007)

Woodstock Film Festival (2007) 

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Top Award Winning Festival Films

 A list of festival films winning more than 2 awards in the Lathrios database….  [Disclaimer:  This is based on 30 major film festivals within the Lathrios database ]

  1. Freeheld (2007) – 38min | 6 awards
  2. Everything Will Be OK (2006) – 17min | 5 awards
  3. Pariah (2006) – 28min | 5 awards
  4. War/Dance (2006) – 105min | 5 awards
  5. The Tube with a Hat (2006) – 23min | 4 awards
  6. PERSEPOLIS (2007) – 95min | 3 awards
  7. Pop Foul (2006) – 20min | 3 awards
  8. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) – 105min | 3 awards
  9. The King of Kong (2006) – 79min | 3 awards
  10. 27,000 Days (2007) – 10min | 2 awards
  11. A Son’s Sacrifice (2006) – 27min | 2 awards
  12. Arranged (2007) – 91min | 2 awards
  13. Audience of One (2007) – 88min | 2 awards
  14. August Evening (2007) – 135min | 2 awards
  15. Autism: The Musical (2007) – 94min | 2 awards
  16. Billy the Kid (2007) – 85min | 2 awards
  17. Black Irish (2006) – 92min | 2 awards
  18. Body of War (2007) – 87min | 2 awards
  19. California Dreamin’ (Endless) (2007) – 155min | 2 awards
  20. Clear Cut, Simple (2006) – 14min | 2 awards
  21. Contact (2007) – 10min | 2 awards
  22. Control (2007) – 121min | 2 awards
  23. Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life (2006) – 85min | 2 awards
  24. Death to the Tinman (2006) – 12min | 2 awards
  25. Enemies of Happiness (2006) – 58min | 2 awards
  26. For the Bible Tells Me So (2007) – 100min | 2 awards
  27. In The Shadow of the Moon (2006) – 100min | 2 awards
  28. Manda Bala: Send a Bullet (2006) – 85min | 2 awards
  29. Red Without Blue (2006) – 77min | 2 awards
  30. Run Granny Run (2007) – 77min | 2 awards
  31. Salim Baba (2007) – 15min | 2 awards
  32. She’s a Boy I Knew (2007) – 70min | 2 awards
  33. Shotgun Stories (2007) – 90min | 2 awards
  34. Silent Light (2007) – 127min | 2 awards
  35. Souvenirs (2006) – 9min | 2 awards
  36. The Death of Michael Smith (2006) – 88min | 2 awards
  37. The Devil Came on Horseback (2007) – 85min | 2 awards
  38. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) – 112min | 2 awards
  39. The Ladies (2007) – 13min | 2 awards
  40. The Needful Head (2007) – 5min | 2 awards
  41. The Price of Sugar (2007) – 90min | 2 awards
  42. Tuya’s Marriage (2005) – 96min | 2 awards
  43. Unsettled (2006) – 80min | 2 awards
  44. We Are Together (2006) – 86min | 2 awards

 [ Disclaimer: Yes, I am the producer of Freeheld, so it probably has some home field advantage.  That being said, the film run has been impressive with 6 additional awards unreflected in my database of 30 festivals, so it deserves to be up near the top! ] 


Sharing Films between Festivals

I just added a new feature to the database site, which allows a visitor to see how many of the films listed for a festival are shared with other festivals. This is kind of interesting if you want to your film show at many festivals. Some of this information may be biased by festivals occurring at the start or end of they year, but it is still fascinating. Here is the list ranked by percentage of films shared with other festivals:

75% Newport International Film Festival (2007)

65% Sundance Film Festival (2007)

63% Chicago International Film Festival (2007)

60% Telluride Film Festival (2007)

59% Hamptons International Film Festival (2007)

55% Vancouver International Film Festival (2007)

53% Seattle International Film Festival (2007)

51% San Francisco International Film Festival (2007)

49% Woodstock Film Festival (2007)

48% Sarasota Film Festival (2007)

47% Florida Film Festival (2007)

47% London Film Festival (2007)

47% Mill Valley Film Festival (2007)

45% Cannes Film Festival (2007)

45% Toronto International Film Festival (2007)

44% South by Southwest Film Festival (2007)

43% Maryland Film Festival (2007)

41% Slamdance Film Festival (2007)

39% Los Angeles Film Festival (2007)

36% Berlin International Film Festival (2007)

36% Tribeca Film Festival (2007)

32% Ashland Independent Film Festival

31% Silver Lake Film Festival (2007)

28% Palm Springs International Short Film Festival (2007)

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The Lathrios Festival Search Engine is Live

I have just launched version 1 of my Festival Search Engine. It allows someone to search for films or festivals. It is the research tool that I wanted a year ago when we started marketing our latest film.

I have some 18 film festivals in the database and will be adding more over the course of the next weeks.

Comments positive or negative are welcome.

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Best Run Time for Festival Short Films

Deciding upon a run-time for your independent short film is a classic optimization problem. On one hand, you want to make the film very short (~5 min) so it can most easily be slotted into a festival calendar, but it is best to make a film longer (>8 min) to maximize your chances of winning an award. Obviously, these two goals are at odds with one another.

The key is to find a time that is the best blending of timing to be screened and ability for that runtime to win an award.

This is not an easy task. There are a number of ways to do this process given the incomplete data we have, which will give you varying insights. A true understanding of the exact tipping point is impossible with the dataset I have since there are not enough data to provide a statistically valid sample at a very granular level. That being said, some general trends can be discerned.

The 8 minute mark is the tipping point for films having a long enough run time to allow them to win an award. Films shorter than this probably have trouble competing, since one can only do so much story development in 5 minutes. Despite their craft, these films naturally feel less substantial than longer films where more story development can occur.

The 21 minute mark is another tipping point at which the film becomes harder to slot into a festival given the constraints of their schedules.

Within the 8-21 minute span of time, there appears to be a maximum point at around 15 minutes where placement is maximized and wins are solid. My gut tells me that if you have a strong product this optimal run time can be pushed up to around the 18 minute mark without much risk. Indeed, the strength of the 15 minute maximum probably results from being a “round” number for filmmakers and the resulting proliferation of films of this length.

If you have a short film at the far end of the time spectrum (approaching 40 min), the strategy for success is more risky, but given the strength of these films to win awards it can be more rewarding. The key for these films is placement at a top tier festival (Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, etc…) and have an award win there. If this happens, the buzz around the film will allow you to do well on the festival circuit and not be constrained by the normal restrictions of festival schedules. How can you do that? I leave that up to you and lady luck for the moment.

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CHAID Analysis of Festival Films

Last night, I completed a CHAID analysis of my database of festival films exploring what is predictive of a film winning an award or showing at more than one festival in my sample.

CHAID is a common statistical tool of direct marketing optimization and is a fun as stats get. Essentially, it is a massive exploration of a dataset using countless Chi-Square tests. The output from this analysis is commonly referred to a decision tree, which allows the researcher to segment the database using a series of variable predicting another variable. In this case, I used this technique to explore what variable are predictive of winning one or more awards and the showing of a film in more than one festival.

The results are broad, but here are the highlights:


  • The structure of the title seems to have little influence on whether a film would win. There were some loose patterns of adjectives use leading to increased award potential for non-fiction films and the use of a vowels to start a title, but it was not much beyond normal variance created by chance alone. Other parts of speech metrics, number of words in a title, and title length analysis proved insignificant.
  • Self-described country affinity did have some patterning. Films with an affinity with the USA did marginally better than non-USA films, which is not surprising given the number of US film festivals in my sample. Japanese affinity films (n=52) did not garner a single win, although this could be the result of so many Japanese films in my sample being classic films that are not in contention for an award. This being said contemporary Japanese film is under-represented in my sample. Lastly, films with a declared affinity to Israel (made in or dealing with) have a five times greater chance to win an award than films without this affinity. Political correctness prevents me from reading too much into this last insight.
  • Non-fiction films seem to be more likely to win awards than fictional ones. This is perhaps the result of the larger volume of fictional films than non-fictional films at festivals paired with the existence of special documentary awards. This insight is prone to issues resulting from a large number of films in my sample not tagged for this data column.
  • It should come at no surprise that film that show at multiple festivals tend to win more awards. This is a chicken and egg issue, since are they showing at more screening because they won an award or do they increase their chance of winning awards by showing at more festivals. I think it is a mix of both given my experience.
  • As I noted already, short films that are longer than 8 minutes win tend to win awards more than shorter shorts.


  • Sundance seems to be the strongest festival for predicting play at multiple festivals. Some of this result may be timing, since Sundance occurred early in my sample. The general result of this CHAID for festival is that there are two kinds of festivals international feeders (Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Tribeca, Berlin, etc…) and regional/specialty festival (LA, Newport, Seattle, etc…). Doing well at the feeder festival tends to open up doors for playing at regional/specialty festivals. Again, this should be no surprise to anyone with experience of the festival circuit.
  • Like with award winning behavior, the title structure seem unimportant to success at winning awards
  • National affinity tending to look like alot like the data for winning awards, except that the trends were weaker across the board for these traits.
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What is the best running time for winning awards?

I have begun an exploration of what makes for a winning awards film at festivals and once again the run time of the movie seems to be a prime mover. The analysis is not fully complete, but I do know the following:

  • Short movies tend to win more awards the longer they are… if they both play in the same festival, a 35 minute short is more likely to win an award than 5 minute film.
  • There are two run time inflection points for short films in my studies so far — 8 minutes and ~16 minutes. A CHAID study shows that shorts running longer than 8 minutes are twice as likely to win awards than ones less than 8 minutes. This pattern exists at an adjusted P-value of 0.04, which means we have 96% confidence that this pattern is not the result of chance. The inflection point of 16 minutes is based upon an analysis of the chance of winning an award for a given running time mixed with the chance of getting into a festival based on the running time. It seems that the mid-teens to twenty minute mark is the optimal point. I am working on refining this.
  • For features, it seems like the optimal length for winning awards is somewhere around 80 minutes
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More on Festival Film Titles

Some more random descriptive statistics about film titles….

  • 89% of Festival Titles contain at least one noun vs. 20% that contain at least one verb.
  • 23% have at least one Adjective, while only 8% have one or more adverbs
  • 4% of the above nouns-based titles contain a possessive
  • 5% of titles contain a number (numeric or alpha)
  • The average title contains just shy of 3 words

To help illustrate the structure of word titles better, I present the following histogram showing counts for the number of words used in a title.

Number of Words in Festival Title

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