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On Film Festivals - Part 1

It feels like you've done the impossible. Gotten a script together for your short film. You've saved, raised, borrowed and begged for funding to produce your film. With the film in the can, there are still edit-bay freak-outs, issues with sound and color, work-arounds, killed darlings, and the constant thought of pick-ups to deal with. Yet through all that, you persevered and are confident the final product is going to blow people's minds.

The last thing to do? Get into film festivals so the world can see the movie and contact you to tell you how amazing it is. There will be a bidding war for your talent between WME, CAA and ICM. Netflix, Sony and Universal will offer you, an unknown, a three-picture deal. You're on top of the world! Well, that's the dream anyway.

So you go to FilmFreeway or any of the other film festival aggregators and begin the submission process. There are so many to choose from! Some have final deadlines tomorrow, some qualify for the Oscars, others offer cash prizes! Click! Click! Click - you submit to them all, because why not? Your film is freaking GREAT!

Then you click the check-out button and literally crap your pants. $3,475 for festival submissions? WTF? That's ridiculous. You didn't plan for this. Don't these festivals know you poured a year's worth of savings and your soul into this film? Shouldn't they just be honored to see your work?


I've made a lot of short films and submitted them all to film festivals. I've won awards, traveled abroad to screen them. I've written acceptance speeches and used them, others I've kept modestly pocketed when not hearing my name announced by presenters. Along the way, I've learned enough about the short film festival circuit that friends, and friends of friends come to me for advice.

I love meeting new people and hearing about their productions, but honestly, I'm bored of telling this same story over and over again so this is a three part blog detailing what I've learned. Below are my strategic suggestions for your film’s festival run. I hope you're reading this before you go into production because the info below might save you a lot of time. For example... Should you waste your time making this film after all?


  1. Have a good script, that's where good films come from. Know why you're making the film, the genre, who your audience is, how big that audience is - then, stay true to all those things throughout production.

  2. Know the timing for the final resting place your film will be showcased. There are practical and audience attention span issues with each format. You need to consider commercial breaks, download time, streaming requirements, and scheduling concerns festival programmers consider when selecting films.

  3. Mobile - 5 min or less

  4. Internet - 15 minutes or less

  5. Standard TV - approx 22-24 minutes (long shot)

  6. Film Festivals - your odds are best at 5-10 minutes. That said you can go up to 45 minutes if your story, cast, production value, and quality warrant that much time. But know this, only the most exceptional films are even considered for short films festivals if they have over a ten minute run time.

  7. Have all your paperwork in order. Not all fests ask for this but some do. Be prepared with:

  8. Signed cast and crew releases

  9. Proof of music rights/ releases.

  10. "Chain of Title" for everything associated with the film. Meaning, you or your production company are solely responsible for the film and no other creditor, writer or producer will come out of the woodwork and shut down the ownership, sale or screening of your film.

  11. Select priority festivals in advance that you know you'll want to submit to, then build your production schedule around those submission dates. The earlier you submit, the less expensive it tends to be. This also gives your production a deadline with explicit cost implications if you go over schedule. It becomes a natural motivator to move production along through post toward completion.

  12. Did you take any behind the scenes pictures while on set? Hopefully. Some festivals like to have them to promote.

  13. Do you have a poster for your film? I recommend both a proper one-sheet as well as something sized for a banners and social media posts that can be used on websites.

  14. Do you have your deliverables ready to go? Basically, that's all the things it will take for someone to show your film. You should have a 1080p ProRes .mov version. It doesn't hurt to have a 2k, and 4k and even a compressed .mp4 version as well. You may need a DCP or BluRay for some festivals, but pay those expenses when you become an official selection.

  15. Lastly, have an entertainment lawyer on standby. You won't need them for smaller fests, but if your dreams come true, having someone there to keep you contractually safe is smart business. I've made a bad deal in the past, and it SUCKS when you unknowingly sell your baby into slavery.

All that stuff dialed and ready to move on to selecting your festivals? #Sweet - On Film Festivals - Part 2 is about selecting festivals and some of the pitfalls that exist.

Got more questions? Leave a comment below.

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