Is There an Ideal Length for a Film Festival Short?

Length is always a tricky issue when it comes to short films. Some advise that you should keep them as short and sweet as possible, others say you should let them be as long as they need to be to properly tell the story. Continuing the great conversation with HollyShorts co-founder Daniel Sol, Film Courage asks with the clip below "How long should a short film be?" Click through to check it out.

It's clear that if you make a good film, it's going to find its way into a festival somewhere, but as Daniel mentions, length can become an issue. You might find yourself in more festivals if you make a 5 minute short versus a 15 minute one. A lot of this is simply down to the math involved. If two movies are of similar quality, and both deserve to be in the festival, it's only logical that the shorter film has a better shot, especially if there are multiple shorter films that could be programmed in place of that one longer movie.

There is also the subject of how long a film feels. A faster cut 20 minute film may work better in a shorts program than a very slow 10 minute film. These shorts programs aren't just about the movies in the screenings, but how the screenings as a whole are put together. If you put a bunch of very slow films together, the audience is going to get restless fast, and it's going to make people think twice about coming next year.

So what's the takeaway from all of these clips? Know exactly the story you're trying to tell, and tell it as well as you possibly can. You've only got so much time with a short film, so it's probably best to save the genre-bending twists and turns for a feature. If you can tell the same story in 10 minutes that you can in 20, you might have a leg-up when the films are being programmed, because there are only so many shorts that can fit into one package.

If you want to enter the HollyShorts festival, there is still time left, so head on over to their website to learn more about their submission process.

What do you guys think about short film length for festival films?


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Running a film festival is all about filling screens and filling them for blocks of time, usually the length of a feature plus some clear-up/switch-over time. If I want to fill a screen with a program of shorts then I need around 10 short films of 10 mins each (100 mins + 15 mins clean-up/changeover) to fulfil the criteria of offering variety and filling the time slot.

If your film is over 10 mins including all credits, then it's likely to get binned before it's even screened. It's cruel and heartless, we know, but with more than 600 short films submitted to our festival each year there will always be something else that fits the bill. Occasionally - and I mean VERY occasionally - something longer will get through, but it has to be of such extraordinary execution - and that means idea/script/acting/lighting/editing/direction/CGI etc. all have to be amazing - for this to happen and, frankly, most short films are just never going to make the grade in that way.

A good short film should be a set-up and a punchline - get in/get out - tell your story in a few words and few shots as possible and don't make the mistake of thinking your long arty shots are impressing anybody. They're not. Almost every short film I've ever seen has been too long by at least one-third so seriously, do yourself and your festival programmer a favour and keep it short.

March 19, 2013 at 9:01AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I've been working on a "short" film for a long time now, about a year. Currently it's clocking in at 35 minutes including closing credits (which only run about 20 seconds). I've been seriously debating submitting it to festivals due to the run time alone. A lot of what I've read online kinda suggests not to bother. Is there anyone here that's had any festival acceptances with a 35 minute film?

March 19, 2013 at 12:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


It's an odd length. Many years ago I did what was supposed to be a 16mm feature and it ended up being only 31 minutes long. Some people liked it but it has only ever played once at a festival. A programmer for a Vancouver festival told me that they really liked it but that it was too long to put in a shorts program or before a feature and that they just couldn't find anything of an hour long that fit it thematically.

There are many factors that programmers have to work with. It's like being a DJ in some ways. One film affects the next one and so on.

March 19, 2013 at 12:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Clark Nikolai

So, basically, "no". :-)

March 20, 2013 at 6:40AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Yep, I guess so.

What's frustrating is that the movie I've been working on can't be cut down any further. Sure maybe a minute or maybe even two minutes. I tried it. But when I did, the movie became a hurtling onslaught of seizure-inducing cutting and the whole pacing becomes erratic. There's no time for it to breath.

Maybe it's just because I haven't made a lot of movies yet that I feel this way. I'll post it online when it's finished and maybe some of this community can provide some feedback.

March 20, 2013 at 6:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Don't care how long a short is as long as something interesting happens in the first 30 seconds, that's going to make we want to watch a bit more of the film. So no pretentious credits or endless montage of SDOF shots at the top. Get to the story, and make it interesting very quickly.

The other problem with shorts is they're marketed so badly. You need to be MORE to the point, with MORE of a twist. Unlike a hollywood film you don't have lots of CGI, amazing explosions, & big CUs of global superstars, so all you really have is your story. Don't make a trailer which is just a compilation of your best shots and a bit of shouty dialogue. Your average person needs more of a compelling reason, and that compelling reason still has to be something that can be articulated in one sentence.

March 21, 2013 at 3:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


You in US have very strange vision of 'short". Here in Europe, short film can be 40 minutes length. Oppositely, VERY short film (under 10 minutes) looks like unfinished or undeveloped project. Animation is exeption, but in our area festivals contains from 2 hour blocks with 6-10 movies. And no fee.

March 22, 2013 at 4:22AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks for posting these, really informative especially since I've been submitting my short to festivals the past couple weeks (sadly, HollyShorts is out of my budget lol).

March 22, 2013 at 9:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I' m so glad I read this as I'm in post production for my short, The Prank. I just had a conversation with my editor this morning and he says we are at 13 minutes and he still has one more scene to edit.

It seems to me it all depends on the Festival because some festivals say that the max time can be up to 40 min but to get it seen depends on the Festival's scheduling and process. Also I learned from this video that the most important factors for a short are the story, quality, and acting which sometimes can be challenging to get all three with a tight budget.

The one major take away is Marketing; I learned from Business school that marketing is huge factor as it relates to the product. A film is a film makers product how you get it introduced to the overall film market takes creativity and ingenuity.

December 26, 2013 at 11:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Oleg that's how it USED to be in the US as well until the industry filled up with with 10 second junkies. They want a fix in 10 seconds or less on everything. Seriously, when I first started making films 10+ years ago a short film was 30-40 minutes and no one wanted to take a super short as you described and few were making them. Now everything has to be super short for all of the "0 attention span" population here in the states. It's sickening. Few good stories are told in under 10 minutes. When I see a good film that's under 10 minutes I still don't think it's really a film. What we REALLY have is merely a PREVIEW of what could be.... period. Just a good preview of what probably could be a real story. The filmmaking industry is just odd. I've never seen a group of creative people who's art is ALWAYS dictated by what someone else wants them to do. We threw away film because electronics companies want us to buy their crap digital cameras that are obsolete before you can make more than 2-3 films with them. We don't give ourselves enough time to tell a good story because some losers who can't even make films want us to make shorter ones so they can sell more tickets at their festivals which only exist to make money anyway. We even have the nerve to tell other filmmakers what to shoot, how to shoot and most of us will let it flutter away in the back of our minds and influence our next film projects. We pay talent more than what they deserve for what they do (why should an actor make more than a doctor?). We make movies for more than it should cost to make them (better movies were made in the past for less money but now we feel like budget matters). It only matters because were are paying people in the industry more than what we should for what they actually do. Yeah, this was a rant all because of short film times but it's just annoying. When someone tells me to make a short that's 10 minutes or less, I say "No thanks. I don't make movies for idiots."

February 26, 2014 at 2:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


This is another example of more industry f*ckery. Everyone will try to tell you "10 minutes or less"", or 7 minutes or less", when nearly all of the career-making shorts I have seen are around the 20 minute mark. Examples include Wes Anderson's first short was over 13 minutes long and it led to Bottle Rocket, his first feature. PT Anderson's first short Cigarettes and Coffee was 20 minutes long and led to his first feature Hard Eight. The Duplass Brothers made a great short called Intervention that was 20 minutes long and won Sundance. The film Teddy Bear was based on a short film called Dennis that was at least 18 minutes long that also won Sundance. Recently even. Gowanus, Brooklyn is the 20 minute short film that Half Nelson is based on, and the latter ended up nominated for an Academy Award. Hell, Peter Sollett has a career now because he made an incredible short film called 5 Feet High and Rising that was at least 35 minutes long. Look where he is now. I can't stand when people in this industry start unfounded myths that defy actual facts that are readily and widely available.

April 29, 2014 at 9:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I agree with your point, I loved cigarettes and coffee and the past couple oscar winners like "curfew" and "god of love" pushed 20 minutes. To be fair I think the point of the article is more about how to get accepted into festival x than how to be the next PTA (of course, shouldn't getting accepted into a festival be a stepping stone in this direction as opposed to just being an exercise in getting accepted to festival x?). Also, most shorts that run 20 minutes are not going to be of this caliber, so I could see how it's tiresome to work through a bunch of overlong only okay shorts as a judging committee

June 21, 2014 at 1:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


These articles can be useful, and I don't want to be disrespectful, but it would be nice to have an authority that is slightly higher up the food chain than Hollyshorts. What do Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Tribeca, Berlin, Toronto and Venice have to say about this? I see plenty of longer shorts programmed at those festivals, so a grain of salt might be necessary for some of this advice. The best thing to do really is to look at a festival's roster and programmers to see what kind of taste they have. The best films are generally as short as they need to be, and films that are over 15 minutes can run into trouble, but there is no ideal length for a film. Vide Deeper Than Yesterday, which won Sundance, and runs at 19:52. Free to watch on Vimeo

October 12, 2014 at 4:26AM