So you made a short film!
In the best of all worlds you would have set aside a budget for festival submissions in pre-prod, had short-listed the festivals you wanted to submit to already and had a Facebook and twitter handle up soon after the shoot to generate publicity. But this isn’t the best of all worlds is it? This article will act like a primer for film festival submissions for short films. The information provided here, while fact-checked at the time of writing, is not meant to be comprehensive.
Budgeting for festival submissions:
Lets all spend a few seconds in silent praise for cloud-based storage and FTP uploading which lifts your film data into the ether-sphere. That many film submission sites allow you to upload your film and that many film festivals around the world accept it will save you a lot of money that you would be spending on postage of your DVD screeners around the country/world. Many film festivals are also OK with just posting your Vimeo link for them. Did I mention how much money you saved?
As for budgets for film festival submissions, it helps if you had it planned from pre-production onwards. Its not a death sentence if you didn’t, but knowing which film festivals you are aiming for beforehand can act as great checkpoint markers for the completion of the project itself.
When submitting be pragmatic. Know that many, if not most of your film submissions won’t hit the mark. This may not be your film’s faults, it just might not fit the film festival’s programming criteria for that year. Spend accordingly.
There are, of-course film festivals that have no submission fees. But you will find that everyone had the same idea as you and made a beeline for them. They are swamped with entrees, and many times will not even inform you if your film is not selected.
If your film is selected, it might be a good idea to travel with it to a few festivals. If you are making a short film, most likely you are a first time director. The exposure that you receive at a fest will be worth whatever travel costs you end up spending.
Targeting Film Festivals:
It might be impossible to be objective about your film very close to its completion. But try. Or ask someone else to be and take notes.
Knowing your film’s strengths and its genre and submit accordingly. There are literally thousand film festivals out there, and you can’t submit (pay) to all of them. It helps to be circumspect about your submissions; your film is science-fiction, target sci-fi film fests. If it’s is documentary; aim at film fests that are specifically seeking out docs.
Some festivals have rules on the films premiere status. They can range from world premiere to state/county/city premiere status. It helps to pay attention to the fine print because you really don’t want to be wasting money submitting to fests that you are not even qualifiable for.
Newer festivals, while not carrying the brand value and prestige of more established ones, can be a great place to have your film accepted. Most submission sites offer you a chance to send a cover letter with your film. And it is always a good idea to accompany your submission with a cover letter giving information on you and the place and ideas your film is coming from. That might be the only time to put a face to a submission process that can be very impersonal.
This brings us to:
Festival Submission Websites:
The major player here is withoutabox. It is also the most controversial. Beside the problems mentioned in the article, it has an online submission that I swear is longer than the one I needed to fill to get a new passport. The upload for online screeners is absolutely miserable (we had a dozen failures before we finally managed to put our film on their servers) and they charge you for the service of submitting screeners to film fests but provide nearly non-existent customer support when you run into trouble with their site. But as the articles mentions, many major film fest submissions go through them and as they are owned by Amazon/IMDB, they are the easiest way to get an imdb page for your film.
There are other sites as well of course. Short Film Depot is connected to Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival (“the Cannes of short film”- quote unattributed) has an intuitive layout which also lets you submit to many other no entree-fee festivals. Other websites that would be useful would be Filmfreeway and Reeplport. Some websites will ask you to upload your film, some will be fine with posting a vimeo link, and many other film festivals have their own interface for submission. It’s all good.
I can’t stress how important it is that your short film be, you know, actually short. Most film festivals have a cut-off that starts from 15 minutes and can go to 30 minutes. You might feel that your film has to be 40 minutes long to tell its story, but know that it will have a harder time getting selected in many film festivals.
Honestly, a good film has no length, you are unaware of time while watching it. But festival programing exists in the nitty gritty world of scheduling, managing audience perception and drawing a crowds to the venue. Even a film festival with more flexible cut-off length would have a hard time fitting a magnificent but obscure movie with a larger duration.
This is of-course just an fyi you need to know at the time you are writing the script itself and not something that needs to be manage at the time of editing your film.
Major Short Film Festivals
All film festivals have short film submissions. But ask yourself, when was the last time you attended a film festival and went the screening section for short films? The feature films are the one with the buzz, those are the ones you stand in serpentine lines to watch. Short films will always be the middle child whose name grand-mom forgets.
But not wanting to make this whole article and the time you spent reading it seem pointless, we think it would be great idea to point out that the ideal place to see short films would be at a short film festival. They actually have a larger number of days dedicated to programming short films. They know their directors names won’t ring any bells but that’s the point of the festival. They have competitive prizes for short films. And (maybe) best of all, they are attended by distributors and buyers actually interested in shorter narratives (a topic we will definitely cover in the future).
There are of course dozens of film festivals for short film. But some of the major ones are:
And if after all this…your film does not have a…how should I put this…a very active festival career? To be honest, my guess is most film-makers make their film so that their stories and a crucial part of themselves can be viewed by other. God knows there is very little economic sense behind making a short narrative film. A short film screened at a few festivals is watched by maybe a hundred people (and trust me I am totally exaggerating that number).
It’s great because it gives you a sense of nurturing to be selected, a sense of achievement to travel with your film. And its fulfilling to know that your films are being noticed and are not just stones you are chucking into a void.
But if your goal is to bring your film to the largest audience possible, 40% of the world is connected to the internet. Put your film online.
1) A great resource for world film festivals, and Indian Film Festivals in particular is Film Festival Guide released by DearCinema.com. It is organized into Indian, Indian Film Festivals Abroad, International Film Festivals, and Documentary and Short Film festivals. It allows you to have all the necessary details about a film fest at a glance, although future editions with a maximum duration column for short films would come in handy.
2) This guide by Film London is dense with information.