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Categories: Features

So you’ve made a stylish engaging short film to demonstrate your skills, as a stepping-stone to longer form. But how can you use it to gain recognition for you and your collaborators?

Entering it into festivals is appealing, but the circuit is an intriguing and often baffling challenge when most people can allocate a £500 budget.

Make a festival strategy

There are a burgeoning number of festivals in the world every day. Most aren’t right for your project.

Entering festivals can be expensive starting as low as £5 and rising to £90++ for each entry. Early Bird entries are cheaper, but it means you have to wait even longer to find out if you’re selected. The later you leave it, the more it costs. There are also many that are free such as Clermont Ferrand in France, one of the world’s best short film festivals, but of course everyone enters the free ones.

There are also folks who supply a service to work out your strategy and handle everything, but it represents another cost.

BAFTA and Academy qualifier lists

In the first year after production, enter the festivals that qualify your film to enter the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards. These are the most recent lists but they seem to be constantly evolving:



Everyone wants these qualifiers so they are massively oversubscribed. For example, Sundance gets 12,000-plus entries every year. How is yours going to stand out?

Also see: http://film.britishcouncil.org/docs/KeyFestivalsList2014_1401474806.pdf

Choose your festivals carefully. Find out what won last year if you can. Get a sense of the festival’s character. How long has it been running? Does it have the reputation of Sundance, London, Cannes, Venice or Toronto.

Target carefully: consider whether your wise-cracking über-British comedy will be understood in Jakarta or Colorado.

Timing is key

Take the Edinburgh Film Festival. Their closing date is around the end of January with the event in mid June with selections announced mid-May.

Whilst you understand that they are inundated with films, it feels like a long time for you to wait. Do you enter anything else in the mean time? You can hold out for a qualifier festival, but choose to miss out on something else. For example, the East End Film Festival in London clashed with Edinburgh this year.

Also consider that some festivals have a longer limit on the completion date so you may still qualify to enter next year instead.

Guard your premiere status like a Mediaeval maiden’s virginity

Festivals like to screen as many premieres as possible. Some won’t consider your film if it’s not the UK/American/European/national/regional/city premiere. pitching

So who will get your premiere? Plan it carefully, and for all that, you may still not get selected. You may have entered several festivals at the same time, so what do you do if a non-qualifier festival selects you which means giving them your premiere? You can sometimes find out if that bigger festival that’s two weeks later is even long listing you by contacting them.

However, some people just wait to find out they are selected for both, and then withdraw from the “lesser” festival. It’s a strategy, but no doubt it annoys the living daylights out of the bleary-eyed programmers of the “lesser” festival.

Making entries easy

Whenever you enter a film, you have to submit every detail of cast, crew, technical info, loglines, short/medium/long synopsis etc. Luckily there are an increasing number of handy portals where you input the info once and they allow you to upload a trailer and a screener. All this information is stored and automatically supplied to any festival you enter. Such secure online screeners save you duplication, admin, packaging and postage, but you may still be charged each time.

www.withoutabox.com has an extra benefit. Enter an IMDB-qualifying festival and your film automatically gets an IMDB page. There’s no other way to get this for a short.





Different festivals use different portals, some will take entries from a couple, or only via their own festival website. Browse and select, and also arrange for reminders so you don’t miss deadlines.

Create a spreadsheet

So you pay your money to enter your festival. It’s easy to get lost on what you’ve entered, how much you’ve spent and what you’ve sent where especially if you have several films to enter. A spreadsheet can show you everything at a glance.


If you’re not submitting via a screener, remember to send the DVD. But don’t bother to send it in a library box unless they ask for one. It just adds to the P&P and is thrown away on arrival.

Choose the festivals for other reasons

In the first year, go for all the qualifiers. Then move on to next layer of relevant festivals. Follow these with the niche festivals that link to your subject matter e.g. sports, environment, kids, bicycles etc as these can extend the film’s life on the circuit.

Also if you fancy a tax-deductible trip to the Bahamas, enter the festival there.

Contact the curator

It may help your entry by finding out who the curator is and emailing a hello to introduce them to your film. Clapperboard

Some festivals invite entries from filmmakers and film students, so several are already on the short list before you’ve even entered. (That said, you can be invited to enter and still not get selected). Film school tutors often know the curators, and they can help get their students’ work noticed.

Sometimes, curators notice a theme emerging amongst the entries and they create programmes accordingly. Or they choose films for a planned theme. It’s impossible to guess what’s in a curator’s head so don’t even try. But if you don’t get selected, go to the festival and find out what caught their eye.

Beware of additional costs

Great news! The fabulous Wherever Festival has chosen your film.

Now they want an exhibition copy. Even if it’s a DVD, they’ve lost the one you sent.

So another disk, another envelope, another postal cost. But usually they want something better than a DVD – a HDCAM, a DCP. These are extra and not inconsiderable expenses that you need to factor into your festival strategy. Usually you get them back or they can be sent on to your next festival selection (saving you the bother and postage).

Collect the laurels and shout about them independentfims

When you get an official selection, they send you a bit of artwork with their laurels or logo. Put these in your press pack, and use them everywhere in social media, and on the film if you want. Even small festivals receive hundreds of entries, so their choice of your film still says something. 

The festival experience

Some festivals are professional and well publicised. Some are run by enthusiastic volunteers, but not very organised. Some festivals are a shambles.

Before you go, contact the festival and make the most of their publicity machines to share a social media buzz.

Go to the event if you can, and make the most of meeting curators and mixing with other filmmakers and the audience. You never know who’s talent scouting. You can find curators from other film festivals. You’ll get to see other shorts that can inform your opinions and inspire other ideas.

However some film festivals promise that producers, agents, luminaries and investors are attending the screenings. This isn’t necessarily true. Often there’s been no publicity about the event.

Some screenings are lucky to get two men and a guide dog. When you’ve spent your scarce budget entering and attending, it’s galling to be rattling in an empty cinema or to see your work being screened out of sync in an upstairs pub room.

Other festivals can be brilliant, fascinating, informative and enlightening. Find out about other people’s experiences of what’s good, bad and indifferent.

Learn from each film’s festival progress

The more festivals you enter with your first short, the less you’ll enter with your next.

It’s easy to run away and spend money like you’re in a sweet shop. Be cautious, take time to consider and compare.

Being selected by a festival says something about your film. But make sure it’s the right film festival that can help your career, rather than one in the middle of nowhere with no reputation.

Useful links:

http://jasonbkohl.com/archives/2011/short-film- festival-strategy

http://www.independent-magazine.org/08/10/ making-film-only-half-battle

http://www.shericandler.com/2010/01/03/a-film- festivaldistribution-strategy-to-study



Posted on Jul 6, 2014

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