Notes From A Festival Programmer: Positioning Your Artist(Film) In Your Emails or How to Insure You'll Be Ignored

The submission season for the Atlanta Film Festival has opened and so begins the influx of email pitches. We receive all manner of pitches which include, but are not limited to: smartphone apps, distribution portals, distribution deals, SEO optimization, PR software, food vendors and vendors looking for tables. What we also are pitched on the regular are bands and performers. At this point, we've met with enough companies over the years that we only rarely meet with anyone. They almost never pan out, and by almost I mean 9.8 times out of 10 we meet once and that's the end of that. The primary reasons they never pan out is because very few of those companies:

  1. Know what a film festival is and isn't
  2. Have attended any incarnation of the Atlanta Film Festival
  3. Can articulate how their product will organically fit into our mission
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of how a film festival differs from a conference or a music event

These are also the main impediments to why we don't program bands from emails sent to us blindly.

May I present exhibit A below. I have stripped out the names, addresses and identifiers. My goal is not embarrass this person. My goal is to use this exchange to help folks understand how they can better target and communicate with festivals, get a better response and actually gain some traction.

Her First Email:


Are you also working on the Film Festival for 2013?


Yes I am.


How can my artist be able to perform at the Film Festival?

Mistake number 1: It should not take three emails to get to this question. She could have asked from the start.

Mistake number 2: I'm given no clue about the type of artist that's being pitched to me. There's no name and there's no genre offered.

A general mistake: Asking about 2013, as it's already passed. No big deal though.

Not a mistake: Asking if I'm working on the film festival. Organizational turnover, changing job descriptions, I may indeed not be working on the next film festival. So asking is not a mistake, and isn't bad practice if you haven't spoken to someone in months.



For our parties and events that have some live component, we try to match the performer to the vibe of the venue or the film. So it varies. Other than The Goat Farm, we won't know what we'll be screening and doing till around December. And for Goat Farm, we heavily program the event from the videos selected to be in competition.

While no name or genre was included, that doesn't preclude this phantom artist from potentially performing in 2014.  Maybe I could have narrowed down my response. At this point any and every artist is a potential performer for next year, so there is no need to shut the door.



My artist is a ********** think of ****, **** and **** all put together and you have ****. She is universal so where ever your put her she will create a vibe that matches the venue. For example she performed and opened up for ****, ****, ****, **** and much much more. If you like I can send you a press kit, and hopefully we can be apart of the Film Festival or any other events you may be coordinating.

Mistake number 3: Okay, so I now have genre and a name. Why did it take 5 emails to get this information?

Mistake number 4: The artist has opened for some name talent I recognize, yet not one film festival or an event built around film. Again, not a deal killer. There are parties after the films where she might fit.

Mistake number 5: Of the acts the artist has opened for, only one potentially fits our demographic and vibe. This I would have partially forgiven if she had asked who makes up our audience, and then tailored her answer, but...

Mistake number 6: Bolding this because this all too common. Saying that her artist is universal and she'll "create" a vibe that  matches the venue is bullhockey. Filmmakers will often send a similar email about their films as well. Programming is about selecting a film or performer for concrete reasons. One can't say an artist (or a film) is universal and then list performances, save one, that doesn't fit anything that's occurred at the festival. If you have a film or artist that can play to multiple audiences, then illustrate that from the outset and then offer up some specific scenarios in which her performance can add to the festival.



It's much better to followup with us around December. We've just opened for call for entries and we're already on track to hit 3300 submissions this year. I can take a press kit, but the chances this will stay on my radar for 8 months is near 0. Especially because we focus most of our attention on selecting performers from the music videos that are submitted first and then go from there.  

Here I'm reinforcing that inquiring about an artist in April/May is too early. I'm also reinforcing the most important point: We are a film festival first and foremost. I have now mentioned twice that we look to our music videos before we start considering anyone else. Lastly, I'm trying to be honest that at this moment in time. Our focus won't be on performing acts.

I've become more blunt with my recent emails, not because I want to dissuade. What I want to avoid is wasting someone's time or put them in a holding pattern. It's incredibly hard to not put people on permanent pause. Sometimes you just don't know if you can or will say yes or no. When I can, I try to avoid it, cause it's rude.



 As per your request attach is my artist Press Kit I will also follow up with you in December. Look forward to working with you.

Mistake number 7: What!??? Reread my previous email. I didn't request a press kit. I in fact politely, yet pointedly made it clear that a press kit is absolutely useless.  I can take a press kit, but the chances this will stay on my radar for 8 months is near 0. It's irrelevant digital data taking up space in my inbox. Maybe I was being too lenient in my response. I could have straight up said no, however, as a manager, one should understand this is the time to stop pitching. At this moment in time I'm a dead end. Add a calendar reminder for November or December and keep it moving.

EVEN BETTER: Tell me you're going to submit a music video for consideration at the festival. Press kit or music video? Which do you think is most useful to me right now?

I get the distinct feeling there is no overarching strategy in how this manager is approaching bookings. Throw her artist at as many events as possible, hope someone will respond.


So let's go back to my 4 reasons these emails fail and compare:

  1. Know what a film festival is and isn't? Not evident
  2. Attended any incarnation of the Atlanta Film Festival? Not evident. The artist was never pitched as "she'd be perfect at Paris on Ponce, or The Goat Farm." Nor did she mention attending the festival in the past and why she thought we were even worth approaching. So I'm going to say the answer is no.
  3. Can articulate how their product will organically fit into our mission?  We're easy to find more information on. We have a website. A Wikipedia page (where I personally added a short blurb about Sound & Vision and The Goat  Farm). Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter accounts. We're easy to Google with fairly strong SEO--we can post a new page and Google will often pick  that up and add it to its search results in less than 15 minutes.
  4. Demonstrated an understanding of how a film festival differs from a conference or a music event? Simple answer, no.

We in the festival world harp on misuse and abuse of email for a reason. It's not that we don't want emails. Two films we played this year, CASTING BY and OUR NIXON, only came to our attention because the filmmakers emailed us. We want useful emails that will help us program the best, most interesting event possible.

If you're going to email any organization, I strongly suggest doing just a bit of research first. Ten minutes visiting a website and basic Googling should be enough. Not all events and organizations are equal. And email is such a low-cost, low-barrier tool, it means without specifics, your email will more likely be lost in a sea of digital white noise and dismissed.