How to Get Your Short Screened at Film Festivals

How to Get Your Short Screened at Film Festivals

Hi, John Hess from Filmmaker – Let’s
say you just finished your short – it’s brilliant, but now what? Today I’m going to explain some of the tips
and tricks that I wish I knew when preparing to enter my short films into festival. In the interest of full disclosure, my experience
thus far in my career with festivals has been with short films so I’m focusing only on
shorts in this video. I’ve had two 20 minute long shorts play
at seven festivals. I made these before I began creating Filmmaker
IQ courses so they’re not my most recent nor my most educated work. Although it’s been a few years, I believe
the advice I’m going to give in this course is still relevant especially for the first
time submitter. Furthermore what I’m going to say is based
on generalities – your film may be that one in a hundred thousand short films that blows
everyone away and totally negates any advice I may have. If that’s the case, congratulations! But what’s more likely is you’ve made
what you think is a “very good” film and what I’m about to cover is designed to try
to save you money while at the same time maximizing your festival experience. I’m going to begin by talking about the
elements of the short itself. The first question everyone asks about is
the length. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
defines a short as less than 40 minutes whereas Sundance sets it at 50 minutes. If you poll an online forum you will get people
chiming in at all sorts of hard fast rules for time ranges from no more than 5 minutes
to 5-7 minutes… that’s all nonsense. The fact is there is no hard fast rule for
precisely how long a short can be or needs to be. A short just needs to tell a story – however
long that takes. There are 7 minute shorts that feel longer
than 20 minute shorts and there are 20 minute shorts that feel like a feature length. The primary determinant for how long a short
should be is the story. Now with that said, you will probably not
find much luck trying to get a 40 minute short into film festivals. Festivals generally schedule short films into
blocks of 80-90 minutes each. In the festivals I was in, the blocks would
contain a mix of very short shorts and longer form shorts – so a short block might have
three 2 minute shorts, three 10 minute shorts and two 20 minute shorts. So if you walk into a festival with a 10 minute
short, programmers will have an easier time scheduling that than a 20 or 30 minute short. If you walk in with a 40 minute short – well
that leaves a lot less time for other films in that block. If your film is straddling that line between
short and feature length – honestly your best bet is to rework the script and tell a smaller
story to get it down or tell a bigger story and make a legitimate feature. Next is the content. No one wants to be censored but you will have
a lot harder time getting a short film that has a lot of violence, nudity and language
into festival because of the fact that you are are sharing your time slot with other
short films. It would be less of a concern if you were
submitting a feature. I would say you can probably get by with what
would be considered a PG-13 or light R rating but really not much more than that. And here I am primarily talking about mainstream
film festivals, there are speciality film festivals that will have their own standards
which we’ll discuss in the next section. In a perfect world you could enter your film
in all festivals and then just see which of them picks your film. But every entry comes with a fee and at $50
to $75 a pop for some festivals, that’s going to add up pretty fast. Before you start entering film festivals,
it’s actually a great idea to attend a few different film festivals. This is advice that’s not usually heeded,
I mean I never attended festivals myself outside a screening here and there. But festivals can be a lot more than just
film screenings – they’ll often have social functions, workshops, parties and meet and
greets. Even if you don’t have a film in the program,
a festival can be a great way to network with other filmmakers. Even consider volunteering to help at a festival
– this is a great way get your foot in the door and build personal relationships with
festival directors and programmers. Some of you are probably grumbling about how
that’s unethical, I’m not saying it’s flat out favoritism. They probably won’t screen your film as
a favor if it’s crap, but if you made a great film and it’s a choice between you
and an equally good film from a stranger from the other side of the country, you might just
get the edge in the final selection So that brings me to the first bit advice
when picking film festivals – favor local festivals over far distant ones. You have a better shot at a small local film
festival that’s a 20 minute drive away than you do at a small local film festival that
requires you to hop on a commercial jet. There are two reasons for this: first is some
film festivals have relations with their local film boards or film promotion agencies. Because of this and a healthy dose of local
pride, they tend to like to showcase local talent. Secondly by showcasing local talent, they
have a better opportunity to sell tickets to cast and crew who are going to be able
to make the screening and their friends and family which will help you stack your audience. In case you’re wondering, most festivals
do not share the proceeds of the ticket prices with the filmmaker – that’s not because
they’re greedy as ticket proceeds usually only make up a small portion of a festival’s
revenues. Most festivals just break even with the remainder
of the money coming from sponsorships and grants. Another reason why you should aim for local
festivals is should you be selected, you should make every effort to attend the festival in
full. So don’t enter festivals that you have no
interest or financial means to travel to. You may have heard that some festivals will
pay filmmakers to fly out… well that doesn’t happen unless you’re famous and certainly
not with short films. If you don’t attend a festival you got selected
for then all you will get out of the whole experience is the right to put a laurel leaf
on your DVD cover and frankly no one really cares. The second consideration when picking which
film festivals to submit to is the type of content. There are lots of specialty film festivals
– festivals dedicated specifically to genres like horror, or forms like shorts or documentary,
or special interests like LGBT films or cultural films like Asian American films. If your film can fill that niche you have
very good chance of getting in. Lastly we come to prestige. Film Festivals range from the top highly publicized
fests like Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, SxSW and AFI all the way down to, well honestly
a small black box theater in a shopping mall with a rented projector. In regards to the former, I would recommend
entering at least one of the big festivals but don’t spend all your money there. The odds are stacked heavily against you – Sundance
gets 13,000 movie submissions a year, 8,000 of those are shorts. Unless you have A-list talent, which many
of these films will have, your chances are very slim. Not non-existent, just slim. Take a shot, just don’t focus mainly on
these super prestigious festivals. On the flip side, I generally avoid the lowest
tier festivals if some of them can really be called that. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them
turned out to be scams trying to collect submission fees. As a rule, when I was submitting to festivals,
I would avoid any festival that was in its first year – not that they aren’t well meaning
but it may take a few years for a festival to really get its legs. That might be unfair but you should do your
research into any festival to make sure it seems like a legitimate event. Submitting to film festivals is both a pain
to the wrist in regards to filling out form after form and a pain in the wallet as you
dish out submission fee after fee. To help with the former there are now several
film festival submission platforms that help aggregate a list of festivals and allow you
to copy relevant entry information from one festival to another. When I was in the process of submitting there
really was only one platform: Without A Box. Now owned by Amazon, Without A Box had one
really nice feature that I liked: if you submitted to an IMDB eligible festival, your submission
would be automatically added to your IMDB page. Since then other platforms have sprung up
like These services can also help you in determining
which film festivals you should consider entering. To help with the pain that your wallet is
going to feel, try to apply to festivals as early as you can. Early bird festival entry fees are much lower
than late deadline entry fees. Avoid the late entries unless you have a very
strong feeling that the festival and you are a good match. Another strategy to deal with submission fees
is to reach out to the film festivals and ask for a fee waiver. This is usually granted based on a filmmaker’s
previous work but sometimes festivals will grant waivers based on hardship. Now for the actual submission themselves – every
festival will have a different requirement. When I was submitting, most of my submissions
were still in the form of a DVD but I imagine online screeners have started to take off. Now there have been some controversy where
filmmakers will track the view statistics on their screeners claiming that some festivals
never even looked at the film or only watched a portion of the film. On one hand, if you did pay the submission
fee, your film should be at least viewed. But on the other hand viewing platforms could
possibly misreport viewing statistics. And in some cases a screener may not need
to watch the entire film to realize that it’s not a good fit for the festival. Although I think screeners absolutely should
have to at least give every movie a chance, I don’t automatically assign nefarious motives
if they don’t watch a film to completion. Resist the urge to call out the festival if
ultimately you don’t get accepted. You don’t know the full story and the last
thing you want to do is get a bad reputation for yourself before you get started in the
industry. Fact of the matter is, most films really only
make into a handful of festivals. My best film got into 4 of the 14 festivals
I submitted to and two of those I was already an alumni having a short played the year before. Rejection is difficult to take but it’s
par for the course. Some festivals will offer feedback – I personally
have never entered one where that was an option but it can be something worth getting. Enough of this dour talk – what happens when
you actually get accepted into a film festival? Well the first thing to get in order is your
screening copy – in your acceptance message will be instructions for how to deliver the
final cut of the film for your screening. Follow these instructions to the T – this
is after all why you submitted in the first place. Also make sure everything on your film is
locked. At a screening of mine I discovered that I
had submitted a version of the film without music. Luckily it was a hometown festival so I was
able to replace the screener for the second screening of my film. Once you have your screener figured out, take
a look at any press materials they suggest – this will include posters or other movie
paper you want to include, I’ll talk more on this in a bit. After you’ve got your submissions squared
away – you have to decide whether or not you are going to attend the festival. Now it should be pretty obvious – if you get
accepted to a festival, you absolutely should attend – that’s kind of a no brainer. However there are costs involved – there’s
travel and accomodations unless of course you’re in your local hometown festival. But if you’re traveling to a festival with
a short film you probably won’t have your travel arrangements comped; regardless be
sure to inquire as far as group rates on hotels. Generally it’s a good idea to stay at the
official hotel of the festival as the hotel is likely where many of the events will also
be held. The less traveling about the better. As for your stay – make sure you are at the
festival for the key events. If you are going to a festival just to attend
your screening – you are wasting a valuable opportunity to network, learn, and yes even
party. So when it comes time to booking your trip,
plan it so you can make the opening night, panel sessions, networking events and closing
ceremonies. Trust me, it’s these things that make the
film festival worth the trouble. Now let’s talk about the actual screening
itself. The first hard fast rule about film festivals
– festivals DO NOT market your film for you. That is YOUR job. I’ll regale you with the story of my first
festival experience. I didn’t know a thing – my screening was
at 10:30PM. Being the natural introvert I didn’t invite
anyone from the film to the festival. I had dinner by myself and then showed up
to the festival about 90 minutes early. The film playing in the theater before mine
had a huge audience – standing room only – for an Italian Mafia Comedy where one of the supporting
actors from the Sopranos played a bit role. What a great opening for my film I thought! The film itself was really good… for the
first act. Then it went down hill and fast. By the end I just wanted this film to be over
with. When their credits finally started to roll,
I ran to the bathroom as the sake I had earlier at dinner had finished its journey through
my system. I got back to the theater 10 minutes before
my screening and… not a single person was left in the room… completely empty. Not one. My film began and I was the only person there. What did that crappy Italian Mafia Film do
right that I didn’t? They marketed their film heavily. They went on local radio to talk about their
film. Half the cast was there, though not the guy
from the Sopranos. They had posters all over and an after party
for the screening. And me? I was so nervous about my deeply personal
film that I didn’t invite anyone. And here I was sitting alone watching a copy
of my own film about loneliness… alone. I walked back to my hotel that night and vowed
to never let that happen again. If you don’t champion your own film at your
festival, no one will. It begins by hustling at every opportunity. What most filmmakers do is create postcards
for their movie. Postcards are nice in that they’re inexpensive
to get made up and act like a mini movie poster you can put in your pocket. Now since you won’t know your screening
time most likely till the very last minute, I like to leave a little blank space on the
postcard that you can write in the screening times with a sharpie. Have plenty of these postcards on hand, give
them to everybody you meet as well as the festival organizers who can put them in the
goodie bags that everyone gets. Now you don’t have to just limit yourself
to postcards. The sky’s the limit in how you want to hustle
to get people to your film. But it’s not all about pure advertising
dollars – go to the networking events and make friends with other filmmakers – agree
to see their films and invite them to yours. It should go without saying but invite your
cast and crew and their friends. The more people you have that were with you
on set the more evangelists you have on hand to help get butts in seats. And then ultimately the one bit of advice
when attending a festival with your short film – relax. I’m going to break the real hard truth here,
you’re not going to sell your short film at a festival for a million bucks, you’re
not going to meet a hot shot producer who’s there scouting for talent and who’s instantly
going to sign you for a studio contract. You’re going to wake up the next morning,
maybe a little hung over, but the same person that went to bed the night before. A festival is not a magic ticket. It is however a celebration of the work that
you and other filmmakers like you have accomplished – being able to turn a million variables into
a cohesive motion picture. It’s a chance for you to connect with other
filmmakers and perhaps even reconnect with your cast and crew. It is the celebration of what makes us most
human – our love for story. So go out there and make something great. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and consider
becoming a patron on Patreon for exclusive behind the scenes and more. I’m John Hess and I’ll see you at Filmmaker

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  1. Oh yeah, I remember sending my film to our local film festival… Montreal World Film Fest to be exact.
    They failed to secure the funds, the cinema that held half the events dropped out 3 days before the festivals. Majority of the screenings are canceled, including student films sections I was in.
    Students from as far as Russia and Israel flew here for nothing.

    It wasn't until some of us created a Facebook group, send out open letters, go onto radio stations talking about the incident, that the film fest finally scheduled a screening for all student films in a small cinema.
    I make an afford to attend every single day. Sadly, the majority of the time, I was the only one in the theatre, marveling at the crafts of the international talent.

  2. I’ve been rejected by every film festival I’ve submitted to so far in my life (granted its only been about 6), but you hit on some things in this that I haven’t thought about. I’m really hoping to go to some of these events in 2018! How important do you think it is to have a website and/or Facebook page for your film? I understand it for features, but for shorts it seems a little short lived to me (I try to create multiple shorts a year).

  3. I have a question, when submitting a feature to, for example, Cannes, do you need to find distribution before the screening or do you find distribution after it has been shown?

  4. Very good info. I wish I had this info a long time ago. I submitted my first film to the New York International Film and Video Festival and it was excepted. It cost $300 to enter at that time and I thought that was it. Then they started calling wanted to market the film, for $6000, ouch. I thought it was a scam and didn't have the money anyway and let it go. It was enough for me, at that time, to just have it accepted. I wish I had sent it to local festivals instead because NY was 1000 miles away. Still, the film did very well besides the NYIF&VF. It was picked up by Free Speech TV and actually earned money from that. FSTV aired it for over a year. It took off and it seemed like it was screened everywhere. Even had an Acadamy Award filmmaker call me several times wanting to do a project together. Then Public access TV picked it up and was playing it for months all across the country. I sold thousands of DVD copies and did many interviews around the world. It was illegally uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed tens of thousands of times there. Not bad for a first film. That was 2003. The little film I made was Arsenal of Hypocrisy. Kinda dated now.

  5. Thank you so much for the amount of information you put in this episode. Many things you talked about I have no idea about before. I have a question please, why long films are called features?

  6. 3:48 Nuts. That means i can't get my shorts screened at a film festival. Then again, I guess my shorts would get screened at a film festival. See what I did there? Double Whammy!

  7. I'm sad to hear that no one showed up for your screening, I would have loved to just sit with and watch. Thanks for sharing John

  8. Is there any advantage (or the opposite) to uploading your short to the internet (YouTube or anything) prior to submitting to a festival? Would view counts help sell your film?

  9. As always, a greatly informative piece done in a very engaging style. Also enjoyed hearing the Wilhelm scream in your opening! Always look forward to seeing (and learning from) your new videos when I get a notification. Thank you!

  10. Great episode!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge about film festivals. Btw. eventhough we are a shortfilmfestival (for films shot on smartphones:) we fly in our winner filmmakers and give them free accommodation. Plus we watch all the submitted films with joy πŸ™‚ Anyway… keep up the great work! We love your channel.

  11. @Filmmaker IQ – I absolutely love your stuff. I've learned so much. I have a request: can you include more women filmmakers in your videos or talk more about women's involvement in the filmmaking process? I know that the industry didn't give as many opportunities to women behind the camera for a long time, but I would really like to see how that has changed over the years. Thank you!

  12. why your channel does not have the verfied channel sign(right click, kind of nike logo or idk i not able to explain excetly that sign) next to your channel name while having over 2 lacks subscriber ??

  13. Sorry I have to admit, that I recently discovered this channel and have been using it to fall asleep for my afternoon nap. I don't what it is about your videos but they're perfect for putting me in a slumber. Thanks, I suppose.

  14. I love your last piece of advice. I've never been to a film festival before (other than at my college), but I have been to a one-act theatre festival before, and I can attest that everyone is there just to have fun and enjoy the craft that they all love.

  15. Please make a video on how to send short for already famous youtube channel. I feel thats a better option. And suggest some channels. Please.

  16. Thank you for being so honest about the Film Fest experience. Great tip to volunteer – that's brilliant!
    Another awesome video!! -Cheers

  17. Fantastic and down-to-Earth advice. Would you have a video or resource available for where fully CG Animated Shorts and Feature-length Films are screened at Festivals, and where to start doing my research for how to market those and other tips? Or, are the same principles of live-action Films the same, except the medium is just CG? Thanks for any help!

  18. Thanks so much for the advice, I submit my short film to 24 film festivals already. Around the Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and one in Los Angeles. I hope I have better film festival experience than yours. I will market the hell out of my short film in the film festivals

  19. I call bollocks on 4 to 14 ratio. My best film was selected at 11 film festivals, 2 of them A list Festivals, 2 time winner, and i had a ratio of 11 from…perhaps 100 – 120 ( i lost count after 80). If you say 4 to 14 ratio you either have a more a romanticized version of truth or you were really a happy submitter. Also, if you have such a great ratio i doubt you give up after just 4 selections. First you enter A list and major festivals (the " premiere " festivals) than regional, FIAPF then small and, in the end, all free festival you can find. But that is just me.

  20. I have had great feedback on my short What About My Happiness which is a drama, 6 minutes in length on my channel. I done everything he said and more, still no luck with festivals! It does seem like wishing upon a star. I think sharing my projects online with the hope of building an audience is my only option at the moment. You can't help but feel jaded with the ambiguity of how to get in to a festival, even the free ones!

  21. Thanks for the very detailed information, the last half of this video was the best talking about championing your film. marketing it to the right film fests and more importantly just relaxing! Lots to learn, thanks once again!

  22. I'm 16 and made a 13min short with one camera and phone…. I think it's pritty good … do u think it would be a complete waste of money to submit to any local film festive. … The end scene is the best.,,cause it was the least rushed to film and I had centre stage and acted good…. (the movie does contain copyright music is that a problem. … I am making 2 other 2min short films in the upcoming months…that will be much eiser to film but will have great message ane be open to self perception by the viewer

  23. When he said festivals don’t market for you I totally agreed. I forgot to tell people about the film festival and only 15 strangers showed up but that was still pretty decent. The film before me had 50 people show up.

  24. Does anyone know any film festivals that are happening from October 2018 to December 2018? Also, which festivals have little or no limits on content?

  25. I am surprised that you admit to not attending film festivals except when your own or a friend's film played. Why expect there to be an audience for festivals if you, someone teaching films, does not bother to attend.

  26. I was very happy that the first short film I appeared in five fests, including our hometown one of Chicago, where it premiered. (I have no idea how big that fest is – it's not on your prestige list – but it would seem pretty good.) I see your convos with others about posting shorts online. I'm happy that this first film is around, so I can show it. But my second appearance in a short, which also played five or six fests, is no longer online because it was bought for distribution in Europe – which is cool and all, but most of us don't get residuals or anything from it, and now we can't show our work.

    More troubling is a grad student film I worked on. I was told that they planned to send to festivals – which means IMDB credit, the only "payment" really at work. But the director quit school, then the "composer" (of ambient sounds not music) wouldn't give the rights to wider-than-class distribution. So it's not even online. I was very proud of the work, and I'd like to share it. Do you have any solution to this conundrum? (The producer did send me the final cut, so I can use parts in my reel, but I'd love for people to be able to see the whole piece.)

    And, thanks again, for a most informative lecture, Prof. Hess!

  27. Now make a movie about making a movie and having it on a festival and watching it there alone, a movie about loneliness. There's something kind of woody-allenesque to it.


    kader ,from Optical Power youtube channel … Filmmaker,Youtuber… and Performer at the CIRQUE DU SOLEIL in Las VEGAS

  29. Grear advice. I know that volunteering does help and having formed a professional relationship with the festival founder whom I did graphic design for, I have a lifeline for festival related advice and filmmaking advice.

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  31. I’ve been binge watching your entire channel. Loving every episode. Thank you for making these. You’re an absolute gem!

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