Gary White continues his look into what you should be doing with your short film to best get it seen. In this second of three parts, Gary examines the world of festivals and offers his advice.
The entire world of festivals may seem daunting at first but they all follow similar procedures and are usually very straight forward. The process will typically involve these steps:
2) Complete entry forms, pay the entry fee and fill in all of the details for your film;
3) Submit a “screener”; a copy of the film for them to review, usually either by posting a DVD or uploading a file through their website.
Generally, the earlier you enter the cheaper the entry fee. Most festivals have “early bird” options, so planning ahead is a great idea. Don’t bother with elaborate press packages, graphic design or marketing pitches at this point; they literally have thousands of short films to watch, and you will be accepted or declined on the merits of your film alone, they simply do not have time to wade through additional material. The best favour you can do for yourself at this stage is to make it as easy as possible for them: Make sure the disc works, print the title and duration on the front or use neat handwriting, and make sure it is packaged to survive. After a few weeks or months you will get a reply, and if you are accepted they will explain their delivery requirements.
Which festivals you should enter depends largely on your film and resources. If you have a very strong film with broad appeal and Oscar potential, and sufficient resources, then you should head straight for the biggest and most prestigious festivals you can find; Tribeca, Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Sundance etc. Competition is high for the bigger festivals, but once you screen in one or two, you will find yourself getting invitations from different festivals around the world, including fee reductions and fee waivers—just like celebrities; the more successful a film is the more places it gets into for free! I have it on good authority that the programmers of these festivals are a tight-knit group, they keep each other informed on films that have caught their eye, so it is often just a question of getting your foot in the door.
If your film has more niche appeal, or your resources for entry fees are more modest, you will need to be more careful about which festivals you choose to enter. There are a number of festivals dedicated to promoting short films as a format—Bristol Encounters, Clermont-Ferrand, Palm Springs—that should probably be on any short film’s festival list. There are also genre-themed festivals—horror, Sci-fi, etc—which should be targeted if your film qualifies. Some festivals are exclusively dedicated to animation or documentary, so targeting these can also boost your chances.
Keep in mind also the fact that festivals will favour films with a premiere status: A world premiere is best, then region (North America/Europe etc), then country, then city. This means you should strategise; don’t blow your North American premiere on a no-name festival if you have a real chance of getting into Tribeca a couple of weeks later. Some festivals, such as Cannes or Venice, will only accept a short as a world premiere; if you screen anywhere else they will not even consider it. Don’t be afraid of contacting relevant publications about your film’s successes too, they will often be happy to do articles on short film that are doing well, which can only boost the profile of your film. Once you start getting into festivals, winning awards or making headlines you are likely to attract the attention of a distributor, which then leads you into the next phase of the film’s lifespan.
Gary concludes on Friday by taking a look at distribution.
Gary White is Media Content Manager for Network Ireland Television – an international distributor for TV and film, primarily selling to TV broadcasters around the world.