Have you made a short film, or are you like me in the middle of making one? Are you thinking about making one? Do you regard short films as a ‘dry run’ for making a feature, or do you think they’re a valid form in their own right? Either way, this post may be for you.
On Monday I attended a day-long presentation at BAFTA entitled ‘Short Sighted: get your short film seen by the people who matter’. I thought fellow film-makers would benefit from a concise overview of what came out of that day, because there was a lot of detail – particularly in relation to film festivals and to the growing world of online distribution. The information was plentiful, especially to those new to the game, so I spent much of the time scribbling notes. What follows are the key points I recorded from the day.
[This presentation featured several directors of film festivals internationally, so bear in mind what they say is largely their perspective and may or may not match the experience of film-makers. We did, however, enjoy an interview with Ashley Briggs, whose film ‘The Search for Inspiration Gone’ has played at about thirty festivals, including Telluride and Clermont-Ferrand; I’ve incorporated Ashley’s comments into the list below.]
Advantages of festivals:
- you get to see how your film goes down in front of a live audience
- you get the opportunity to engage with fellow film-makers
- festivals also run other events (talks, music) which may be beneficial or just plain fun!
- programmers from other festivals (even from other countries) may attend the festival you’re at, and will pick up work they like to show at their own events
- the British Council website has a list of ‘key’ festivals; BAFTA’s site also has a list of festivals which are BAFTA-qualifying
- research is your friend – use online resources and plan your strategy
- submitting to festivals can become a full-time job: it can be several months (even as many as nine) before you know if you’ve been accepted
- every festival has a ‘character’ which has nothing to do with genre; look at what style of films they show
- ask fellow film-makers which festivals have been good for them
- programmers are always hopeful your submission will be good, because what they show reflects on them – so when they first look at your submission it’s always with a sense of optimism
- look for other ways the festival can help you, in addition to screening your film (eg Berlin Talent Lab)
- don’t neglect smaller festivals, as they can be good for building up your experience and confidence
- check the submission criteria very carefully – many festivals don’t accept DVD submissions, and some don’t accept Withoutabox entries
- if they like your submission, programmers will look at supporting material (eg a good website, a good EPK) to see if you know what you’re doing
- having one good still is a key element in your publicity – festivals like a really good photo which will stand out in the brochure
- you must attend the festival if you can, your presence makes a difference – programmers will look you up on Google, so make sure your site comes up top on a search
- you can submit an unfinished film – it must be the final edit, but the grade and sound need not be completed – but bear in mind you cannot resubmit if you are rejected, not even in a subsequent year
- Clermont-Ferrand is a good festival, as it’s both prestigious and free to enter; there’s also a market there if you don’t get accepted, and lots of programmers go
It’s perfectly possible to get your film screened in a cinema. Although most cinemas won’t show shorts (they don’t make any money), some independent cinemas can be approached directly. The Independent Cinema Office has a helpful website.
- some independent cinemas (such as the Riverside and Rio in London, or the Star and Shadow in Newcastle) are prepared to screen shorts and will accept a direct approach, there are also special screening nights at venues like Kino, which has an ‘open mic’ shorts night)
- Virgin Media Shorts is the biggest short film competition, and they will get your film screened theatrically in front of a feature presentation
- local film societies are always looking for interesting films, and there are also occasional ‘pop-up cinemas’ (usually at architectural landmarks)
- if approaching direct, make things easy for the cinema – have beautiful stills, clear music rights, emphasise any local connections your cast/crew have, and write a good piece on why people should see it (what will the audience get out of it?)
[These sessions were presented by people from Distrify, Vimeo and Short of the Week, so what I’ve written reflects their take on the online scene. They were bullish about the future for online distribution, but there was general consensus that this is not the way to make money from your film, more a way of getting it seen, getting feedback and building your presence.]
There was some disagreement during the day about whether screening your film online disqualifies it from acceptance into festivals. The conventional wisdom is that it does; however, most panellists accept that festivals are having to be more flexible about this – and Jason Sondhi, founder of Short of the Week, is convinced that most festivals aren’t bothered by it and won’t check in any case. I don’t have the experience to offer a comment.
Anyway, the Distrify model – for those who are unfamiliar with it – is that you post your film and offer people the chance to see it either by buying it or by paying to rent it. This allows you to monetise your product. You put up a trailer, which people watch for free, and then they decide if they want to make a financial commitment. It works best with niche communities and subjects, people who have a specific interest which is easy to market to. This tends to be documentary; fiction is less easy, unless you have a very obvious hook or have recognisable names involved. Where Distrify scores is that it incentivises people (with small amounts of money) to share videos they like, thus encouraging them to market your film for you. However, a good supporting online campaign is essential if your Distrify film is to succeed, you can’t rely on people stumbling on it (which is true for any online offering).
Vimeo is regarded as superior to YouTube, because it consists of a community of film-makers even though the overall audience is smaller. If you want your video to get two million hits, you’re better off going with YouTube, but if you want to screen your film to a more sympathetic and supportive audience, go with YouTube. Vimeo also has a community of moderators and curators, so there is more quality control than YouTube. Vimeo encourages the consumption of good quality stuff by promoting the best films through its Staff Picks (but this is under Vimeo’s control). It also offers a video-on-demand service, in which 90% of the money taken goes to the film-maker, but this is only for those with Vimeo Pro accounts (the Vimeo representative, Jordan McGarry, who is the lead curator, said that Vimeo is re-examining how the Vimeo Plus and Vimeo Pro accounts work, as there seems to be some overlap between them). A good tip for getting noticed is to plan a proper launch, bring in partners who have a big following and can get your film a lot of Likes in the first week.
Short of the Week
Short of the Week offers a curated selection of short films: there is a front page ‘Best Of’ but also a browsable catalogue, searchable by genre. It claims only to show “great stuff” regardless of whether it’s won awards or not. It only shows films for free, so there are no paywalls and no chance of using it as a money-making venture. Although the site does allow direct submissions (for now), it tends to favour material that has been validated elsewhere, ie films which have generated an online buzz. Sondhi’s position is that the online audience can click away at any moment, so the stuff you present has to be concise and arresting. The site also has a selection of articles about short films, including one about how to launch your short online.
We were then treated to a presentation by Fat Rat Films, whose video ‘Act of Terror’ went viral. They gave us a lot of information about how they promoted the film and what they think worked (and didn’t). As there’s a lot of useful information about promoting your film online here, I’ll save this for the next post.
The day overall left me with an optimistic feeling that there is a much bigger market for short films, both domestically and internationally, than I expected. Whether The Ditch will go into festivals or straight online (or both?), we have yet to decide. The situation is changing all the time. But we aim to make it as widely available as possible – it’s a terrific story which deserves to be told and deserves an audience. We want you to see it, and this blog will keep you updated with where you might be able to.