Filmmaker James Q. Chan: Serve your film first and foremost

Five tips from the director of "Forever, Chinatown," including how to budget for film festivals and strategizing audience outreach.

Filmmaker James Q. Chan brought the delightful short film Forever, Chinatown to PBS earlier this year. Chan’s work-in-progress cut premiered at CAAMFest 2016 (under the working title, Frank Wong’s Chinatown) to a sold out crowd. The film has since traveled across the globe to multiple film festivals from Vietnam to the Philippines, and has garnered many awards.

Check out James’ tips on submitting to film festivals:

  • SERVE YOUR FILM – In the development stages, my proposal writing not only gets the movie in my mind onto paper, it also helps me identify the early stages of my audience engagement strategy. Each decision I make along the way, during pre-production to distribution, is to serve the needs of my film first and foremost. My co-producer and I were very strategic in regards to our film festival submissions as we viewed that as an essential element to our outreach campaign’s success.
  • STRATEGIZE – Around the later stages of post-production, we created a schedule of film festivals with their submission deadlines that fit within our film’s completion date. From that list, we identified the key festivals that fit our film for its pivotal “World Premiere” launch and threw caution to the wind by submitting our near finished “work-in-progress” cut. We were thrilled at the invitation to screen our “work-in-progress” on home turf at CAAMfest 2016. One month later with our completed film, we launched our official “World Premiere” at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
  • BUDGET – Festival submissions and travel is expensive so plan accordingly. Our strategy was to spend our limited funds submitting to the key festivals we identified on our list from AMPAS. From that list we emailed some festivals to ask for a waiver. Some said no, some gave us discounts, and others invited us to submit to them after seeing us at other festivals or in festival programs.
  • COMMUNITY – Once you’re invited, in addition to promoting your films screening(s), catch as many films in the festival and note the ones that may pair well with yours as possible suggestions to other festival programmers. Research any community organizations in the festival’s city that has common threads to your film’s themes. Outreach to them and invite them to your upcoming screening. Begin cultivating these relationships vis a vis your film.
  • DUST YOURSELF OFF – Celebrate your invitations and give yourself permission to grieve the rejections. There are a myriad of reasons why our film didn’t get accepted, but at the end of the day, it’s a first world issue not getting into a film festival. Continue to go to the festivals and offer support to your fellow filmmakers. You’ll need their support for you when you begin the process all over again.  


unnamed-1James Q. Chan began his career as a SAG/AFTRA talent agent in San Francisco. From 2000-2011, he was mentored by Academy Award winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet, Battle of Amfar). His producing credits with Epstein & Friedman began with The History Channel’s 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America (Emmy Award, Outstanding Nonfiction Series) to Howl (Sundance 2010 Opening Night; National Board of Review’s Freedom of Expression Award). His most recent directorial work is Forever, Chinatown (2016).

Be part of the world’s largest showcase of Asian and Asian American cinema! Submit your film to CAAMFest 2018 today!