A majority of our survey participants agree that seeing a star pop up in a film doesn’t factor much at all into whether that film moves ahead to the next stage of review. In some cases, they may actually grade that film more harshly, knowing that a certain budget level and the privilege of being able to lock down such an actor are both at play.
So, as long as your budget is ultra-thin, your cash will probably be best spent on the quality of your essentials: sound, production design, locations, and proper lighting.
If you can leverage connections to attach mid-to-high tier actors to your project, go for it—just don’t put all of your eggs into the specious basket of star-hunting.
Indeed, when polled regarding immediate tip-offs that a submission is not up to snuff, most participants pointed to bad sound design, bad acting, and bad visuals. Adds one surveyed programmer: “Bad title font is another giveaway. That points to bad aesthetics, which usually means the film isn’t going to stand up visually.”
“Bad sound tanks a film immediately.” — Submissions Judge
“I’ll accept a lot of other flaws outside of bad acting and bad sound.” — Programming Coordinator
“It’s a red flag if any character has to explain what they’re doing (show, don’t tell), or if the sound isn’t good. If you can only pay one person, pay your sound guy.” — Shorts Programmer
“Bad sound can sink your submission quickly.” — Programmer
“For fiction films, a tell-tale sign of poor quality is when the acting is awful. There aren’t many fiction films that are of much value if the acting is unconvincing.” — Artistic Director
“While it can be an advantage, casting a star ultimately cannot help a bad film.” — Program Director
“Don’t spend your budget on famous actors. Diversify your cast, but don’t tell someone else’s story. Keep it simple.” — Programming Associate