Don't Miss

Article – Want To Improve Your Chances Of Getting Your Short Film Into A Festival? 


Posted December 28, 2015 by

Full Article

Want To Improve Your Chances Of Getting Your Short Film Into A Festival?

11 things you can do to improve your chances of getting your short film into film festivals (And one thing to do after it’s an Official Selection)…

Some of these will seem very basic, but they bear repeating because apparently a lot of people still do (or don’t do) them.

There’s a 10:1 rejection ration on average – It’s brutal, but you should know now that you’ll probably get 10 rejections for every one acceptance. If you only submit to 10-15 festivals, more than likely you’re not going to screen very often. It is, unfortunately, just the way it works and with as much competition as is our there, you need to be prepared for a lot of rejections.

Have a compelling story – It is the key to the entire film. If your script sucks, regardless of how technically solid it may be, your film will also suck. A short film doesn’t need 3 acts, but it probably needs two. Tell an interesting story, or re-tell an old story in an interesting way. Just don’t bore us.

Along the same lines are the technical issues – The biggest noticeable problem that far too many filmmakers seem to ignore is sound. If you didn’t hire a sound mixer or sound editor (assuming you didn’t do it all yourself, which also may not be a good idea) then there’s a good chance you’ve got some sound problems. I can speak from my own experience that if you only pay one person on your crew, pay a sound editor to fix your post production sound. If the sound mix is uneven, has breaks or changes between scenes, you’re unlikely to get into any reputable festivals. Surround sound isn’t necessary, but it should at least be in stereo.

Did you use real actors? – Not every film requires professionals in front of the camera, but it is fairly obvious when an actor just doesn’t have the chops. We have run across a lot of films that had potential, but because the acting was weak, it got rejected.

“Artsy choices” – Making “artistic” choices just to put them into your film may not be in your best interest either. So many people try something new or fancy just to include it in their film, but it doesn’t fit the story. Interesting techniques are good, but if you have a heavy drama that’s supposed to be emotional, but you insert weird cuts, flashes, or that sort of thing, it detracts from your story and as was mentioned earlier… Your story is key. Don’t ruin it by trying to get fancy just for the sake of getting fancy.

A word about credits… – For a short film , it is completely unnecessary to have long (or any) opening credits. A title card alone will do. Last year we rejected a film for this reason alone. The film was 9 minutes long and the first 2 ½ minutes were opening credits and the closing credits were 1 ½ minutes.. The film itself wasn’t bad, but almost half of the film was credits. I would say that if you absolutely must have them, make your opening 15 seconds or less. A title card is all that is necessary. Thank all of your Kickstarter donors and friends in the rolling end credits. Also, try and keep those to 60 seconds or less. At our festival, if the closing credits are longer than 60 seconds, we cut them off at 1 minute for screening purposes.

Keep your background music appropriate – Music is very important to set the mood or tone of your film. It is an excellent way to enhance your film, but there is such a thing as too much. If you have music embedded throughout your film in scenes where it’s not actually necessary, we are going to assume that you are hiding poor sound quality. While I cannot speak for other festivals in this regard, our festival does require that filmmakers have all rights to music prior to being accepted. Claiming fair use probably won’t get you anywhere, and there is a plethora of free music (with licenses) available on the internet. If we recognize a song in your film and you don’t have rights to use it, we will immediately disqualify your film. I know this is also true of major festivals, although some smaller ones may allow it.

Your running time may also prevent you from getting that Official Selection – Most film festivals have a limited number of timed blocks that they have to allot to programming. On average, 90 minutes is standard. Some festivals plug shorts in before features, others have entire blocks of just shorts, as we do. There is an upward slope that, as your film gets longer, the less likely it is to get in. Quality clearly matters here, because the better it is, the more likely that programmers are to forgive a long short film. That being said, if you have a 30+ minute film, it needs to be VERY good in all aspects.

If you can tell a story in three minutes, DO IT. In my experience, 9-12 minutes is ideal. It allows enough time to fit in all of the elements to tell your story while still being brief. We accept films up to 40 minutes for submission, as that is The Academy standard. However in 2015, the longest film we screened was 29:29 (It was nominated for 10 awards) and the average length of films that we screened was 12:19. We only screened a small handful of films that were over 20 minutes.

The content of your film should be considered before submitting – If you’ve got a slasher/horror film, don’t submit to a festival for children. Requirements are often listed in the festival rules, so make sure you read them before submitting. Some festivals that have multiple categories may be more forgiving (and reclassify your film once submitted) and some don’t have any criteria. However, being aware of this fact will always help you in the end.

Know your film – Some films are always going to be harder to “sell” to festivals. Niche films should very likely be more focused toward niche festivals. I’m fairly confident that a horror film will never be nominated for an Oscar. There are about 10,000 film festivals around the world. There’s a niche festival for every type of film. If you find the perfect one, great. But I would not expect an odd experimental film to screen at Cannes, Berlin, or Austin. Also, most people think their film is better than it is. That’s normal. It’s your baby. We are all guilty of this. Sometimes you have to be patient until your film finds an audience. I had great dreams for my last film until it got rejected by a lot of big festivals, so I started submitting to small festivals and it took off like wildfire and went on to play five continents and win more than 20 awards, but never played a major festival.

Sometimes it’s none of these things – A lot of festivals have specific types of blocks for specific types of films. A buddy comedy is probably not going to be programmed in a block about death & dying. A faith-based kids film is probably not going to get into a horror block. You may have the perfect sound mix, with a terrific script, and talented actors, but your film just isn’t a fit. It happens. Don’t sweat it.

Congratulations! You got in! – Now what? First of all, don’t ignore emails! Read the rules! Many festivals have specific time frames in which you have to respond to their “You’re in” email. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION. Our limit for a response is 15 days. Our first year we had an astronomical 20% of filmmakers that were accepted that either did not respond to emails or responded months later. (All were disqualified for ignoring our rules for response time.) Additionally, ignoring emails may prevent you from getting into that festival (And potentially other festivals) in the future.

Hopefully someone out there will take these suggestions to heart. Maybe that person is you. Every festival is different, which is why it’s critical that you read their rules before submitting. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help you to get into more festivals.


Read Similar Articles?…

[Article] – Underwire Film Festival 2015
[Article] – No/Gloss Film Festival 2015
[Article] – Crystal Palace Internatioanl Film Festival 2015: Horror & Sci-fi Night

Reviews | Joint Reviews | Articles | Debates | Promotions | Interviews |

Written by:


Kevin Machate
Kevin Machate – Website
The Big As Texas Short Film Festival
Freelance Contributor

Join The Debate! Leave us a comment…

One Comment


    Great information! Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Response


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.