Step-by-step guide on how to run a virtual film festival

  • Paul 

Starting a virtual film festival has never been easier or more profitable in 2022. Due to the pandemic, there are now more virtual platforms that are also affordable and easy to use. This guide will help both people who are thinking of starting their own film festivals and experienced festival directors who are looking to take their local film festivals to a worldwide audience.

Step 1: Setting up your virtual film festival (6-12 months in advance)

There are a few things that need to be done in order to legitimize your film festival to the filmmakers of the world. Once you’ve decided on your festival name, you should build a professional website with a real domain (none of this nonsense), acquire the social media handles for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, and then you can proceed with creating your listing on Film Freeway.

Film Freeway Admin

Creating your listing – Film Freeway will be one of the most important parts of your film festival. If you’re a new festival, do not mark your event as a virtual festival. If you do that, your film festival will not be discoverable on Film Freeway. It will only be visible by going directly to your listing page. In order to avoid this, you need to mark yourself as a physical event. This requires inputting a venue at which the festival will take place, which you can just input the address of a local theater. Make sure you fill out your Film Freeway listing as best as you can. Pictures are extremely helpful but so is having a detailed description of what your festival is all about.

Picking a date – There are 12,000 film festivals annually and 70% of film festivals occur between September – November. Most of the film festivals choose these months because they believe it will improve their chances of becoming an “Oscar Qualifying Film Festival”, which would mean being selected by the festival qualified the film for the Academy Awards. Until your festival is around long enough and builds up enough prestige, it’s highly unlikely to become an Oscar Qualifying Film Festival. Therefore it’s recommended to choose a time in the spring or summer, that’s also far enough away from any other competing film festival dates.

map of film festivals in the united states
Map of film festivals in the United States

Setting up a call for entries – Receiving submissions (and the submission fees) will be an important revenue driver for your festival. On average, festivals can earn between $1000 – $10,000 in festival submission fees depending on how popular your event is. Try to have a decent number of categories and awards. A small festival will typically select 20-40 films, a medium festival will select 40-80 films, and a large festival will usually select between 80-120 films. Most submission fees range between $20 – 45. We highly recommend NOT making your submission fee $0 because it will result in many low quality submissions. It’s a better idea to provide fee waivers instead.

Step 2: Do the work (3-6 months in advance)

Now that you’ve setup your festival, it’s time to get to work. As a festival director there are many tasks you’ll need to tackle. So getting help is incredibly important so you don’t overwhelm yourself. You can also source volunteers from various film organizations, film schools, or even classifieds like Craigslist. You’re the engine that drives your event but the more manpower you have, the better off you’ll be.

Create a jury – While not required, having a jury will elevate your festival and let everyone know that your awards are not just handed out through nepotism. Jurors give your festival legitimacy and the high profile jurors you can find, the better you’ll look. Having esteemed judges can also be a great asset for marketing your festival. Try to find celebrities who originated from your hometown or have shown a particular interest in the type of content your festival is focused on. For example, if you’re a climate film festival you could reach out to Al Gore to be one of your judges! Then you’ll need to give them jury access on Film Freeway so they can watch, rate, and make notes on films.

cannes jury

Select the films – This process should be handled by the jury and ideally they can also decide on the awards in advance. Some platforms like Filmocracy provide ratings data from the viewers, which can be compiled with the jury votes as well. Once you’ve made your selections, notify all of the filmmakers (whether they were selected or not), so they can prepare for your festival. Since it will be virtual, you can just confirm the dates with them and see if any are available for a panel or Q&A.

Choose a platform – There are many options for hosting your film festival, which include Filmocracy, Eventive, Film Festival Flix, and many festivals opt to just use their own website with links to Vimeo and Zoom. It really depends on what type of festival you’re trying to be as most platforms cost around $1000 to start. Our recommendation is to use Filmocracy, as it’s the only platform that combines live/on-demand streaming, ticketing, and virtual conferencing all in one platform while also being the most affordable. Most other platforms charge additional fees for number of guests, DRM (digital rights management), ingestion, and other extraneous fees. Also when choosing a platform, make sure to attend a festival on that specific platform so you can experience the event from the audience perspective.

Filmocracy Virtual festival platform
Filmocracy Virtual Festival Platform

Start marketing – It may seem straight forward to just create some facebook ads and call it a day but you can waste thousands of dollars without seeing any results. Simply creating a poster with a cool graphic isn’t going to cut it because there are simply too many events available at any time. Make your value proposition clear as day—for example if you’re the Martial Arts Film Festival of Atlanta, hyperfocus your marketing efforts on that which makes your festival unique. Show previews and trailers of films that will be playing. Invite industry experts to serve on panels or host an awards show so they will promote your festival to their audiences.

Also make sure to ask the platform you’ve chosen if they provide any marketing support. Filmocracy has a database of 150,000 subscribers who they will market your film festival to as well as thousands of their own subscribers who attend all of the various festivals on the Filmocracy platform. If the platform you choose does not provide marketing support, try to find film organizations or local businesses who may be willing to cross promote. Which leads to the next point.

Getting sponsors – You need to decide what will be the primary revenue opportunity for your event. Will it be sponsorship, in which case all of your efforts should be directed at getting the largest audience and the most attendees? Or will it be direct ticket sales. The best way to get sponsors is to THINK LOCAL. Find organizations and local businesses to cross promote with you by offering them a sponsorship package.

You can create your own or just copy this template:

By offering sponsorship in exchange for the business promoting your festival, you can save marketing costs and also build closer ties to these organizations. It’s never easy asking for sponsorship dollars the first time you host an event, but cross-promoting will get your foot in the door so you can ask for dollars in your next year’s event.

Portland Film Festival 2021 Sponsors
Portland Film Festival 2021 Sponsors

Step 3: The deadline approaches (1-3 months in advance)

Send your films to your platform – One of the biggest pains of the process is getting the film files, posters, and metadata to your platform provider. Since Film Freeway doesn’t allow any integrations, the process can be more work than you realize. Ask your provider what’s the best way to get the films to them. Some will require you to upload the films and metadata yourself, while others like Filmocracy will take care of the process for you. Either way, you’ll need to QC the films and then get the films into the platform according to the platform’s instructions.

Setup your ticketing – Unless your platform also provides ticketing, you’ll want to choose a ticketing provider that’s the most convenient for the guests. We can’t stress enough how important it is that your ticketing provider and your platform ARE THE SAME. Because if not, then you’ll be forcing your guests to register/login TWICE before they’re able to get to any of your content. And as we know, multiple steps is the key to losing customers. If you must use two separate providers for ticketing and hosting, I would recommend using Eventbrite because most people already have an Eventbrite account.

Rehearse – It’s all fun and games until the lights are on! This applies not only to you but also to your guests. Make sure to do a technical run through so all of your speakers and guests cameras and mics work. Sometimes a person will have an issue with a platform where their camera and mic are blocked. This most often happens when using a new Apple device and can be solved via this link:

When doing anything with an audience, it’s always a good idea to have a script. It will make your event much more professional and you’ll be less stressed leading up to the event itself. Below is a link to a sample awards show script for Filmocracy.

Awards show script:

Virtual Awards Ceremony
Virtual Awards Ceremony

Step 4: Event and post

You did it! Your film festival has passed, you’ve made money from submissions, ticket sales, and sponsorships! Getting your first virtual film festival was the hardest one and will only get easier from here now that you’ve got pictures and testimonials to share. Make sure to thank and ask all of your speakers and guests for feedback and reviews on your Film Freeway page. Continue to periodically post updates about your festival as the year goes on so that your audience is grown and primed for your 2nd edition.

And that’s it! You’re now an expert in hosting virtual film festivals. Filmocracy is excited to help in any way we can, even if just to answer questions you may have about this article!

You can schedule a meeting with us using this link:

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