March 6, 2013

Why Short Films Are Rejected from Festivals and Reasons You Should Make a Short Before a Feature

You finished your short film and it's the perfect calling card. It embodies you as a director: your range of styles, the twists and turns of your scriptwriting skills, and your ability to create high production value on pennies. In short, you’ve made it awesome. Unfortunately, the programmers at your favorite film festival disagree. You cry on your keyboard, eat a roll of raw cookie dough, and shout "Why?!" to no one in particular. Maybe that's a tad dramatic (or is it?) but nevertheless, I think everybody can agree that it's frustrating not being able to find out why your film got chopped. In the videos below, HollyShorts Film Festival Co-Founder Daniel Sol talks about why shorts might get rejected from a festival, goes into detail about how they program their festival, and mentions why you might want to make a short before a feature.

Thanks to Film Courage for these videos, here is Daniel Sol giving an honest and candid explanation of some aspects that might knock your short out of the running:

Sol seems to suggest that in the short film realm, a tendency to try to fit in too much can really mess with the story -- and ultimately, story is king. Sol's points:

...people are trying to showcase their abilities in many different ways instead of just staying true to the one story you need to tell. You are dealing with a short film, short content.  Feature films can have that type of texture, you can go longer, and into backstory. When it comes to a short, you're not making a feature, you don't have that kind of luxury.

It sounds obvious, but staying true to the story in something as brief as 5 minutes is extremely difficult, especially when there's an industry notion that a short should be a filmmaker's calling card. In case you're now racked with self-doubt about whether your recently-made-short has gone astray, I made this handy-dandy litmus test of festival potential based on Sol's comments. Do you:

  • Describe your short as a mix of impossible genres, say “Requiem for a dream” meets “Meet the Fockers”?
  • Have a 1 minute opening title sequence in your 5 minute film?
  • Fear that while making your short superbly awesome, your story got lost?

If you answered yes to any of the above, your film probably has a greater chance of being rejected by the festival circuit. Of course, there are always other reasons for a rejection, as Sol points out in the subsequent Film Courage clips. He also goes into detail about how they program the HollyShorts festival:

As he says above, your film may not fit in with a festival’s particular program that year. There are also other basic reasons you may never have thought of: the DVD got stuck in the player because of your paper label, or the intern watching it was hungover. It's a perilous journey.

In the last clip, Karen Worden mentions our own Ryan Koo's Manchild project, and his choice to make a short before the feature. Daniel explains why this is a good idea, and why you might want to think about doing it with your next short:

The HollyShorts Film Festival has two deadlines coming up, so if you've got a film that fits the guidelines Daniel mentions above, the Regular Deadline is April 12th with a $50
 entry fee, and the Late Deadline is May 24th at $60
.

What do you guys think about good storytelling in the short film format? Do you agree with Daniel? Does it take different abilities to pull off a short over a feature?And what do you do, other than cry, when your short gets rejected from that festival you had your heart set on?

Links:

Your Comment

31 Comments

This is really interesting! Thanks a bunch, more post like this!!
I'm actually just started research and sent to a few Festival my new short film called "FISH HEADS".
You may have a look at the trailer if you're interested:

https://vimeo.com/58445265

March 6, 2013

0
Reply

Hey Salvatore - thanks. And I'm a sucker for heist flicks with funny characters. Good luck and let me know when "FISH HEADS" gets a premiere!

March 6, 2013

1
Reply
avatar
Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Editor

Sure, I'll let you know, thank you Oakley!

March 7, 2013

4
Reply

Just reading the cost of entry to the festival & having been applying to many festivals lately - It's really shameful how expensive majority of American festivals are to apply to. Really scandalous.

March 6, 2013

3
Reply

I should say though that I thoroughly enjoyed the post :)

March 6, 2013

-1
Reply

I know what you mean. I feel like you have to be really sure a festival is worth going to in order to justify coughing up the $$$ (or €€€ or £££). I mean, we're independent filmmakers, naturally we have no money! ;)

March 6, 2013

0
Reply
avatar
Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Editor

I actually just started a film festival called, "Awesome Film Festival" - applications are $250. Sure to have the best of the best!

March 6, 2013

0
Reply

Haha. Well that sounds like a deal...I just hope it's also somewhere really far away and you insist that filmmakers pay their own expenses to get there!

March 6, 2013

0
Reply
avatar
Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Editor

LOL Oakley!!! Exactly!! :D

May 7, 2013

-3
Reply
Melanie

withoutabox has search options that filter festivals by price, and there are HUNDREDS that are 15 dollars or less. Also, there is a blog covered on here a week or so ago that covers free festivals

March 7, 2013

-7
Reply
john jeffreys

No doubt there's plenty of free festivals, on reel port.com & shortfilmdepot etc. but the worthy festivals all seem to charge $50-80 for a short entry. It's the 'worthy' ones that count.

March 7, 2013

-3
Reply

Shameful is right and God forbid you send in that $50 all so a hungover intern can reject it. I highly suggest watching the documentary Official Rejection. Shines a light on the scam that is most film festivals.

March 7, 2013

-2
Reply
Owen

I've actually been told by past festival runners that they prefer films that are short - if you're pushing 12 minutes or more, they're less likely to take them on because:

-longer runtimes = less films to show
-less films = fewer filmmakers showcased = lower ticket sales to a production's family and friends

I'm positive that if it's an outstanding film, they're open to showcasing it, but the logic above that was described to me by a couple of sources makes a lot of sense as well.

March 6, 2013

0
Reply

I didn't know anyone got rejected from Hollyshorts. It didn't seem like it from the screening I went to at least.

March 6, 2013

-1
Reply
Cal

In what regards? HollyShorts had over 1000 submissions and only accepted/showed 320 of them? A lot were rejected or asked to screen during their monthly screening sessions, which they have during the off months of the festival. HSFF believes in showcasing quality work, not just taking filmmakers money for the sake of it. If you've ever been rejected from the festival, you receive an email explaining and asking you if you're interested in showing your work at a later date. How many fests do that? Kudos to Daniel for sharing some information about the behind the scenes process. Looking forward to this year's fest!

March 6, 2013

-1
Reply
Nicole

I think he's joking that the quality wasn't really there. I haven't been there so I can't personalyl. It's not an easy job programming films. I saw some amazing shorts at Slamdance in 2012. Some that blew me away so much I contacted the directors to tell them how much I loved them.

March 6, 2013

0
Reply

The guy raises a lot of important points. I learned the hard way.

My graduating Short Film, a "Superhero Drama" shot on Super16, was simply too big for its shoes. The Short Film format is very, very different to the Feature Film format and is, in some ways, harder to execute. You just simply do not have the time for multiple characters, extensive back story and sub plots. I'm currently working on a few scripts at the moment, and most of the time I'm asking myself "Is this getting too big?" Just focus on telling a great story in the time that you have.

March 6, 2013

3
Reply
Kori

Maybe Hollywood Shorts is different, and I'm sure SunDance and certain other festivals have their merits.

But I'm wondering why I should actually PAY to submit my film to any festival. Like, ever.

I've seen the trash that wins regional film festivals; often times they look like student films. Interviews with the rapping cowboy and his family.. "Best in Show!" at Atlanta Film fest. really? I couldn't watch more than 5 minutes without turning away.

My "local" film festival told me quite plainly "local films aren't the draw here", as they took an identical film from another state.

Many, many film festivals will only accept content through WithoutABox, and I don't down-sample my 4K timelapse work to the 640 pixels that will fit onto the DVD format.

Who is doing who the favor here? Why should I even bother submitting to film festivals anymore, when they so clearly resent my efforts to share my work?

My philosophy now is to only care about a film festival if my film has been invited. I didn't realize what a big deal it was to have my film invited to the Vermont Film Festival, otherwise I would have made a grand effort to attend in person.

This thing should be the other way 'round. Why would I pay them to reject my film? Why would I pay them to accept my film, either? Aren't they charging admission at the door? Wait, so they're charging the filmmakers and the audience?

Yeah, maybe I just don't get it. I'll take 100,000 views from Gizmodo over winning just about any festival except for SunDance or Cannes. At least I don't have to pay Gizmodo for sharing my video!

March 7, 2013

3
Reply

Right on. The festivals are scams.

March 7, 2013

-2
Reply
Owen

You pay them for labor basically.

Why pay the mechanic to find out what's wrong with your car, if he ends up telling you nothing is wrong with it?

Labor. Simple as that really.

March 9, 2013

1
Reply

I would think that films with bad sound (kinda like in these videos) would probably raise a flag.

March 7, 2013

-1
Reply
yes

I've been thinking about and studying this a lot lately because I'm trying to decide on my next project. I think the way to go with shorts is to come up with all that backstory, and just hint at it.

Look at the last episode of The Walking Dead ("Clear"). IMO one of the best episodes they've had and an example of what I mean. Without getting into spoilers, the most compelling parts were two people talking. (one actor was particularly great). They talked about things that happened in the past, things that you would have seen if you had been watching the show from the beginning, but you didn't feel lost. In fact I think it was MORE compelling because there were no flashbacks and your brain was engaged.

March 7, 2013

2
Reply

I'm still curious to hear from Koo, what happens if the short doesn't turn out well? For whatever reason it doesn't connect or the performances just don't do it, etc..

You basically have almost no chance of making the feature at that point or raising further money.

Granted you'll still have the $90,000 to make your film, but as you've eluded to, that's not going to be enough to make the feature.

Just curious if you've thought of that aspect? Not to be a complete pessimist, but was just curious because I had your idea of making a short based off a feature and was talked out of it by producers who said if the short doesn't work, kiss the feature good bye.

March 9, 2013

1
Reply

Film shorts are very similar to movie trailers except with condensed continuity. I've had decent luck using that concept. Start fast, build, keep it severely focused and end with a nail-biting teaser. Always ensure production quality is top notch. For credits (if they're required by contract), put them on the paper label attached to the outside of the protective case. Use a magic marker to identify whatever media is used so it can be ID'd if separated from the protective case. As for budget, ensure a fair amount is spent on quality editing. Sure, it's hard -- but it's not impossible.

July 26, 2013

0
Reply
Josh Obert

Yeah my film is nearing 26 minutes and I've even submitted it to ones that have the 45 minute cap and I've even been rejected by those. Two of my film's actors got nominated for the Young Artist Awards for their performances in my film and I've barely heard any negative feedback from anyone I've shown the film to and the film is even streaming on a major Hollywood producer's website. Yet, it's been rejected from every festival entered. It's part of the game I guess. I've been told by other filmmakers that the festival circuit is worthless now and the best way to show your film is online to get noticed. Has anyone else gone this route?

August 24, 2013

2
Reply
Chris

Hello Daniel, you said you would take 100,000 views on Gizmodo than paying a festival to get your your film screened. That said isn't the reason most film makes submit their film to festivals is to get it seen in hopes to receive exposure or recognition?

I personally have performed in some films (shorts included) that I never saw or they never got seen outside my local area.

How did you get invited to the Vermont Festival? Was it due to the success of your project on Gizmodo?

December 26, 2013

3
Reply

This guy is talking rubbish. 9/10 most festivals have already preselected shorts before they even declare any deadlline. I know this as I have had films selected even before any deadline was announced. This is know in festival terms as an invitation. Also, the big corporate events normally select shorts that are associated with company's which normally fund the festival. y best advice if you are making an independent short is to research free festivals and email them a months (If not a year) before the festival and make them aware of the film. Only pay money if they offer to screen your film, otherwise it is not worth your while to submit as not only is that burning money from your pocket but most likely the festival has already preselected its shorts. This is done to make sure the festival to make a profit incase there is a low turnout in submissions.

April 13, 2014

-4
Reply

Asking questions are genuinely nice thing if
you are not understanding anything entirely, however this article provides fastidious understanding even.

July 24, 2014

3
Reply

Neurrofibromatosis iis claimed to ϲause 70% of human malignancies and affeϲtѕ just one oսt off jսst about
each 3000 folks. Researchers Һave dubbed іt Colony Collapse
Ailment ߋr (CCD), posasesses tɦеm andd beekeepers befuddled ɑnd bewildered to
covey tɦe tɦe very leɑst. Triphala includes:
Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis), beleric myrobalan (Terminalia belerica) annd Indian gallnut (Terminalia
chebula).

August 12, 2014

-2
Reply

Can you tell us more about this? I'd care to find out more details.

August 23, 2014

-1
Reply

Hi everyone!
First time posting, but I think it's important to say a few things here.
This is a good article, completely agree with the 1min length credits at the begining, focus on your story and don't get too many different directing styles in one shortfilm. It's better to make 4 shortfilms with different styles than one with the 4 of them.

But then there are a few other suggestions that are not there, and of them is probably the most important one:
Make your shortfilm's length between 5 and 12min.

Yep, it probably sounds stupid, but if you think about the amount of shorts that get submitted to film festivals, and also that they need to make the screenings of the official selections no longer than 2 hours, getting your 35min-long-shortfilm-master-piece in there is going to be a hell of a job.
You may think that 12min is not enough to tell your story, but it should be.
The grammar and structure of shortfilm's story telling is not the same as in features... Not at all.

Another very important thing when you submit your shortfilm to any festival is to do your homework. What does that mean?
Well, I don't know how Film Courage exactly works, but normally each film festival has a particular style they like more or less.
It's important to do your homework and learn about which films they normally select, even more important when in the US they're as crazy as to charge you 50 bucks just to watch your film...

I love No Film School, I believe is a great source for filmmakers, but it's true that it lacks a lot of information about the shortfilm industry and about shortfilms in general.
Also, this is an US website, which means that everything is focused in the States. Not a bad thing at all, except that for shortfilms, if you have to pay 50 dollars for an unknown festival just to watch your film, that means that you're need more than 3.000 bucks saved when you finish your shortfilm just to send it to 50 film festivals... And that doesn't make any sense.

In Europe, Asia and Central and South America, submissions for your shorts are free.
Yes, free.
And the best festivals around the globe are not in the US. Well, there's the excepetion that is Sundance, and yes, you should pay that entry fee no matter what.
The prizes that you can win in any European Film (or shortfilm) Festival are as good or better than in the US. Nowadays, for most of them, you don't even need to post a DVD and wait for ages, you can do everything through the internet.

I've been in the Shortfilm Festival Circuit for the last 2 years. It's a great experience. Most of the Festivals pay for your hotel, food and even your trip if you get in the Official Selection.

But there's one more thing. Making shortfilms and distribuiting your shortfilm are two very different things.
There are companies in Europe who's only work is to get your work to the best film festivals. People working at these companies know what each festival like, they know the organizers and they've been doing their jobs for years.
If you're not willing to look for a distribution company, you also have websites like Shortfilmdepot or Festhome that allow you to check deadlines from festivals all around the world and submit your film for 4-5 bucks (much better than 50, don't you think?).

Last thing (I promise):
Budget is not as important as you think.
If you have it, great! If you don't, don't use it as an excuse.

Huge budget amazing shortfilm:
Voice Over - https://vimeo.com/58150375

Low budget amazing shortfilm:
Tune for Two - https://vimeo.com/21362582

I hope this helps, at least a little bit, to all those who want to get their shorts showcased at Film Festivals.
I'm here if you need me.

October 13, 2014

-1
Reply
Gon Caride
Shortfilm Screenwriter & Director
22