Tips: Getting your Film seen by an Audience

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You’ve gone through several drafts of a script, locked down your actors, found your locations, secured your crew and equipment, worked out logistics for getting everyone and everything to set, navigated all unforeseen obstacles and shot your film, edited your film, scored your film, colour-corrected and mastered your film and it is spectacular.  Now you want to share this masterpiece with the world.  I’ve been there; my friends have been there, and now, as someone who screened at festivals, had films broadcast and as someone who also runs a small festival I have seen things from a few different perspectives.  So, here are a few tips.

  1. Budget for promoting your film
  2. Show your film to your cast, crew, and local supporters
  3. Apply to Film Festivals
  4. Look for other opportunities to showcase your film
  5. In closing

Budget for promoting your film

It’s tough to think so far down the road when you are at the point when you are starting to plan out your shoot, but it is important to consider your goal for making the film.  Is it a home movie you’ll enjoy very much at an occasional gathering?  Is it a film you make to share online with friends, family and fans on social media? Is it a film you’d like to use to showcase your cast, crew and your own abilities, to use as a calling card for your next, larger project?  If it is the latter, you need a plan of attack and it will often take some investment of time and financial resources to get you over the line.

Show your film to your cast, crew, and local supporters

Showing the final product to the people who helped you make it makes you feel good as a filmmaker and is also a key step in marketing your film.  The people who helped you turn your vision into a reality (often donating their time and talents) are your best ambassadors and a key allies to help you to build buzz about your film.  You can often find venues for small screenings.

A note on screenings if your end goal is a screening at a specific festival, on a platform or to get a broadcast deal.

  • Check with your cast, crew and extended film family to see if anyone lives in a building with a party room or screening room or works at an office with a large boardroom with AV capabilities that they can access and secure permission to host a screening. This is often a free option.
  • Check out local pubs.  Some may have a room for larger groups with a television.  They may even let you reserve the room for free, as long as you spend some money on food and/or drinks.
  • Check out local media resource organizations.  DARC (formerly SAWVideo) is one example of a local organization where members can rent equipment and space for very reasonable rates.
  • Check out your local library.  They may have rooms or even auditoriums that you can rent out.  In most cases, you may need to provide your own audiovisual equipment.
  • If you can afford it or find an innovative way to pay for it, you can also rent out a commercial or independent theatre to show your film.  You can even open up the screening to the general public and sell tickets to recoup your costs.  This is referred to as “four-walling” in the industry.  If you go this route, you should also account for any costs associated in re-mastering your film (some cinemas only accept DCPs).
The short film Sophie directed by Phil Arntz at the Treepot Film Festival in Dundonald Park in 2013

Apply to Film Festivals

There are several local and international festivals that accept submissions online.  FilmFreeway is a popular platform.  There you can search by location, any particular niche your film covers, dates and cost.  If you are targeting local festivals, searching on the word “Ottawa” brings up six festivals on FilmFreeway, as of the writing of this article.

  • Ottawa Canadian Film Festival
  • Ottawa Black Film Festival
  • Ottawa Spookshow and Fantastic Film Festival
  • Mirror Mountain Film Festival
  • Animal Crackers – Pet Film Festival
  • Kino

There is no reason to limit your festival selection to a particular geographical area, though.  After all, stories that have universal appeal can appeal to audiences everywhere.  It is important to read through the criteria for the festival you are targeting before submitting, though.  This is important especially if there is a cost to apply. Consider other aspects that will help you get the most out of a festival run.

Look for other opportunities to showcase your film


With most broadcasters expanding onto streaming platforms, there is always a chance your content could fit perfectly with what they are looking to program.  

If you are looking at exposure on broadcast as well, CBC’s Short Film Face-off is a great platform to have your bring your film to a wide audience.  There is a call usually in the spring and the CBC looks for short films in every region of the country to compete.  Nine films are usually selected to compete for a prize for several tens of thousands of dollars in cash and services (courtesy Telefilm Canada and partners) but most importantly, it is a chance to network with other filmmakers, a panel of professionals who critique the films and in non-pandemic times, it is a chance to travel to beautiful Nova Scotia.  I had the good fortune of participating as a director and producer of a film on a number of occasions and I recommend checking it out! Recent seasons the Short Film Face-off can be found on CBC Gem.

Local CBC stations also showcase content produced in their area during the summer months on a series called Absolutely Canadian.  I recommend searching around and reaching out to CBC to see if you can pitch your film for inclusion.

An Indie friendly crowd gathers at the CBC Ottawa Shorts screening at Pubwells Restaurant on September 1, 2012

Online Platforms and Blogs

Local blogs like Apartment613 Video of the Week spotlights on locally produced content.  

If you are on Vimeo, they curate good films for a channel they call Vimeo Staff Picks.  

The National Screen Institute ran an online festival a few years ago to spotlight short films. The NSI website shows the festival running from 2008 to 2020.  It’s not clear from the archive whether the platform will continue but the archive of films is still available online, including one that a team of us made in a 72-hour challenge in 2011 called Polar Bear Love. Check it out. It’s fun.

Other Local In-person Screenings

The Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival primarily screens films that are responses to a catch released every year but they do have a Community screening block where they showcase content that is already produced.  It is free to submit your film for consideration.

DARC, the Digital Arts Resource Centre (formerly SAWVideo) has an annual screening called Resolution where they feature content created by their members. Submissions to this screening are also free.

In closing

Those are a few tips. It’s certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list. Nor is it meant to be a template that will work for all film projects, but should provide you some ideas.

One important thing to note. I would advise reading the requirements for festivals, broadcasters or platforms that you are specifically targeting because public or private in-person or online exhibition may disqualify you from submitting in the future.  This is not the case for all platforms, broadcasters or festivals but if you are targeting one specifically that has this condition, take that into account.

Also, when you are negotiating with broadcasters, be aware that there is a difference between an exclusive license and a non-exclusive license and that agreements are usually written to be effective over a specific period. For example, if a broadcaster offers you a non-exclusive license for a year, that means may limit your ability to have your film shown elsewhere for a year after you sign your agreement. If you are in doubt, you should consider reaching out to legal resources who specialize in entertainment. I highly recommend the local group Edwards Creative Law. If you approach things correctly, you may get some great free advice before you dive into the sometimes complicated world of entertainment contracts. They have a good reputation in town and have helped out a number of artists in our community.

Jith Paul

Web Designer, Editor, Film Reviewer

Jith Paul is an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. While pursuing a career as a software engineer, he decided to take a detour to follow his passion for film and filmmaking, establishing Treepot Media in 2010.

He is a co-founder of the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival, and editor of the film613 blog.

When he is not busy fighting crime, he coordinates the efforts of an international team of software developers and service providers as the Team Lead for Digital Development at CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel.