How to Increase Your Chances of Standing Out Among Film Festival Submissions (In A Good Way)

1.    Do your research.

First of all, get the idea of ‘Sundance or bust’ out of your head. Facts are facts, and the fact is that less than 1% of the thousands of submissions get accepted to Sundance. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t go for it – the festival still is one of the Meccas of indie film and rightfully so. But set your sights beyond the obvious choices to find the real gems that might fit your film. 

Think about what your film has to offer, and start from there. Is your film set in a particular location? Is it addressing a particular subject? Is it catering to a particular audience? Research the festivals that might best fit that description. 

2.    Make it easy on the programmers.

You’d be surprised how many entries and submissions come in to festivals I’ve worked at that are unmarked and unpaid. Make sure your online and/or mailed application is all good to go; don’t leave it up to the programmers to chase you up for your missing DVD or online screener. They’re busy as it is, and the least you can do is make sure your materials are all in order and labeled correctly. Festival entry fees should be a crucial part of your budget from the start; don’t leave yourself scrambling to cover them once your post-production is done or your festival strategy will be over before it begins.

3. Establish a relationship with the programmers.

Start with your local festivals, or check with your filmmaking friends who may have a friend who’s a programmer. Or else stop in and deliver your DVD in person if you’re near their offices to say hi. Be courteous, not pushy. Have your film’s 30-second pitch memorized, but don’t pull it out of nowhere unless the programmer expresses interest. Remember, filmmakers approach them all the time so desperation won’t do you any good. At the end of the day, they are cinema-lovers just like you and I and they’re simply trying to find the gems that will make their festival special – maybe your film can be a part of that. 

4.    Attend film festivals.

It astounds me the amount of filmmakers I speak to who have never attended a film festival, whether large or small. How can you be applying to be included in the short film program of a local festival if you don’t even know the kinds of films that festival has selected in the past? Start with whatever is accessible to you, mark those dates on your calendar, and make sure you attend. Stay for the Q&As and get to know the filmmakers if possible – they’re doing something right, after all. The shorts and features they have selected should at the very least give you an indicator of what they considered to be unmissable that year.

5.    Craft a good film.

This last step is the most important one. Make your film one that you yourself enjoy and would pay money to see. Do your utmost to make it something you are honestly proud of. Festivals around the world vary in their submission processes, but they all look for something worth showing to an audience. At the end of the day, whether you are accepted or rejected hinges on a multitude of factors. Maybe your film was too long for the slot they were programming. Or maybe the programmers enjoyed it but they didn’t think it was the right fit for their audience. Regardless, it all comes back to your ability to craft the best film you can. Ff you aren’t in love with your film, why should anyone else be?


–Ana Souza - USC M.F.A. graduate in Film Critical Studies, Programmer at Outfest Film Festival, Producer at Scratch & Sniff Pictures.  

Latino Filmmakers Bypass Studio System to Make Culturally Accurate Hollywood-Style Film

The youngsters once brought into the country during the Latino immigration spree of the 2000s are now all grown up, fluid in both cultures, and ready to have their voices heard. 

Most of these first-generation Americans have adjusted seamlessly into all aspects of the labor force, and many are actively making a positive impact in our communities on a daily basis . . . yet it’s still a rare perk to stumble upon inspiring cinematic stories that depict a truthful perspective of what it’s really like to be a person of multiple cultural backgrounds living in the US today. 

The life of the American Latino is a story Hollywood has not yet captured correctly, not for lack of talent or innovative voices, but because of the intrinsically rigged studio system favoring the development of the same old narratives where white actors invariably land the lead roles. 

But why isn’t the mass media catering to Latinos in the way they want to be portrayed? And why is nobody exploiting this market? It comes down to a lack of opportunities for artists who can lend their first-hand life experiences to create these kinds of narratives.

But the wait is over! 

Empowered by a generation of under-represented media consumers and crowdfunding, Scratch & Sniff Pictures will release their upcoming film Blast Beat during the summer of 2015 – AN AMERICAN LATINO ADVENTURE About Carly, a 17 year-old Colombian metalhead who must stop his younger brother from executing a crazy plan that jeopardizes the future of their undocumented family.  It promises to be the real deal told in a new Hollywood style! 

Scratch & Sniff Pictures is an emerging team of bilingual, bicultural, and open-minded storytellers from the best American film schools whose goal is to fulfill the high demand for this type of content. Sound cool?

 Be sure to check out and support their film here:

(954) 635-8837

Ends on May 1st, 2015.

Four Tips to Crack the American Latino Market in Hollywood

As a millennial American Latino I grew up in a whirlpool of ideas that have radically influenced who I am and how I perceive my surroundings. Like me there are millions. Yet we feel rare, underrepresented, misrepresented, like hazy reflections or even worse, like vampire reflections (as Junot Diaz puts it). Not there at all!

There is this collective sense of shame I have identified time and again amongst my Latino compadres.  The shame I’m talking about is subtle but lethal like a ninja fart: the Hollywood myth. The subservient landscape worker. The hyper-sexualized chonga. The stoner homie. The brainless thug. The exotic Othello. The evil gangster. The incompetent leader . . . Ah! I start to hear the bongos of my ancestors. Los del maíz. My jungle savages. Yes. I start to feel the color of my skin . . .

This phenomenon is at its worse whenever I travel. Many times when I establish contact with foreigners all they know about me is the resounding name of Pablo Escobar—because I was born in Colombia. Folks joke about it. But it’s difficult to make them understand it ain’t funny, actually. I have to try extra hard every time to prove I’m not the reputation of my country. Familiar with this feeling?

Regardless of this phenomenon, talks, data, and trends of the emerging American Latino demographic point at one thing that’s for sure: we have become a relevant “consumer force.” Yet why isn’t the media catering to what we want to watch and the way we want to be perceived? As a Latino USC MFA alumni, Film Independent Fellow, and head of creative development at Scratch & Sniff Pictures, I have come up with four ideas that serve as a guideline for those of bicultural descent whom are inspired to construct masterly told Hollywood narratives about underrepresented people.


In preparation for writing a screenplay you must be familiar with the language of cinematic film. Start by reading screenplays of your favorite movies. Let the masters’ ideas seep into your pores. Your goal is to create something as beautiful and impacting as the thing they’ve made.

For this, you will have to be rigorous and demanding with yourself and those who choose to collaborate with you. Read books and screenplays. Attend talks. Form a writer’s group. In short, BE A WRITER ACTIVELY. Find like-minded collaborators. Watch films. Dissect scenes. Find out why is that scene interesting to you? What function does it serve for the rest of the story? Notice what makes you feel suspense in movies. What evokes laughter in you? What evokes anger? Sadness?  This is the beginning of your idea. So make sure to nurture it with top-of-the-shelf inspiration! 


I was one of a handful of non-white candidates in my M.F.A. class. What I learned at USC was that my instructors and classmates were most interested in my work whenever I explored situations that had to do with my family, close friends, and relatives. Over and over I got remarks from people saying how they had never encountered characters in the media quite like the ones I was creating.

I was only writing about what I knew using cinematic tools that I had been learning there. I was having fun with my voice, always trying to amuse myself first. I was truthful about how complex my people really are. I invented character as smart, sophisticated, funny, brave, non-victimized, and flawed as the true heroes in my life.

That’s your real challenge. Hollywood is interested in innovation—your way to innovate is by constructing amazing stories with universal human themes about people whom are rarely portrayed in the media—using modern cinematic language that all audiences can and will be able to understand.  


As a filmmaker your goal is to entertain an audience and move their emotions. Many of us have fallen into the trap of wanting to change the world by showing a glimpse of “reality.” Unfortunately it is often true that reality doesn’t make for great drama.

As a fiction filmmaker one must understand that the important messages that one feels like communicating will only be transmitted successfully if that message is delivered in a way that provides entertainment value. This means that you have to create a spectacle first, so well timed and so well constructed that your audience will have no choice but to be mesmerized by it. Think about those movies that held you in awe and attempt to do something similar with characters that come from your own life. Imagine if instead of Sandra Bullock on Gravity, Your tía Chavela (who makes a mean tamal) was the one servicing the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Okay that’s one idea that you can take or leave if you liked Gravity, but you get my gist. Give awesome roles to your non-white leads.


You will be surprised at how many minorities are in on the struggle for fair representation. So tap into that vein. Your people want to help you make your film. You are the vessel with the message they want.

You need to be heard. Why, though?

Tell your community the value of what you are trying to achieve. Let the people that surround you know that your work carries with it their shared hopes and fears. Let them know that you are the person who will represent them in the eyes of popular culture.

You are the one responsible for doing the legwork to improve how we are perceived in the eyes of America and the rest of the world. You are creating our community’s heroes for today and for the future. So be prepared to deliver should you be given the opportunity to shine!

–Erick Castrillon  - USC M.F.A. graduate in Writing for the Screen & Television, Film Independent Project Involve Fellow, Head of Creative Development at Scratch & Sniff Pictures.

Follow us in the making of our upcoming short film BLAST BEAT, an uber-metalized Latino adventure that’ll kick your ass back to the Y2K.