Short of the Week's Andrew Allen on How to Make the Most of Your Short Film
Here's some indispensable advice for navigating a shifting festival landscape.
Short of the Week has long been known as an authority on short films. One could even say that it's thanks to platforms like this one that film festivals were ultimately scared into having a "must be premiering at our show" attitude. That's because they had been getting a glimpse at the future.
That future has arrived and festivals, whether the programmers like it or not, have been forced to accept it. The internet is far too valuable a tool for filmmakers who, above all else, rightfully seek exposure. Why should we limit ourselves as we murk our way through an environment that is already incredibly difficult to break into?
"A big mistake that we see from some promising filmmakers is they cash in that ticket too soon to make a few quick bucks at the expense of their long-term prospects."
Andrew Allen founded the website with exactly these thoughts in mind. After releasing a successful short of his own, he realized that one day recognition on the internet would be just as valuable as recognition at a festival. In order for that to happen, however, there first needed to be outlets which sift through the clutter and give exposure to the best and brightest emerging filmmakers.
As part of that effort, Allen has collected advice from hundreds of filmmakers in an attempt to put together a FREE guide that directly lays down what works and what doesn’t when releasing a film today. Be Everywhere All At Once—The New Path for Filmmakers features indispensable advice for filmmakers looking to make the most of their short film release by getting the most from festivals, online, and media to attract the biggest audience and maximize their career options.
On the eve of its release, No Film School sat down with Mr. Allen to discuss some of the strategies his guide presents.
NFS: What is the biggest new challenge emerging filmmakers face today?
Andrew Allen: We live in a very different world than we did 10 or even just five years ago and the media landscape has become much more open. As the tech analyst, Ben Thompson has said, "The end of gatekeepers is inevitable: the Internet provides abundance, not scarcity, and power flows from discovery, not distribution." As a creator, that discovery is fueled by exposure. The biggest challenge for emerging filmmakers today is exposure. Exposure opens up your access to vast audiences and ultimately opens the door to future opportunities.
NFS: What do you think the most important goal for a filmmaker should be?
Allen: It really depends on your what stage you’re at in your filmmaking career. Early on, your goal should be about finding your voice—experimenting with techniques to filmmaking that bring something new and uniquely ‘you' to the world. Short films are the perfect laboratory to do that work.
We work mostly with emerging filmmakers who’ve made a few shorts and are looking to take the next step. They're looking to find an audience, and even more importantly, connect with producers, lab directors, managers, studios, and others in the industry on a bigger, future project. Your goal here is exposure. Every aspect of your release strategy should be laser-focused on that.
NFS: What is more important: exposure or money?
Allen: For emerging short filmmakers, exposure is more valuable than money. There is no significant money in short films—particularly in the United States—and money almost always comes with handcuffs in the form of exclusivity. Your short film is your ticket to bigger opportunities. A big mistake that we see from some promising filmmakers is they cash in that ticket too soon to make a few quick bucks at the expense of their long-term prospects. How much would you pay to have thousands of producers, managers, studio executives, and other collaborators sharing around your work? That’s what you’re giving up.
NFS: What is the Be-Everywhere-All-At-Once Strategy?
Allen: Be Everywhere All At Once is a guide for filmmakers who are looking to find an audience for their short film and kickstart their career. It’s based on hundreds of interviews and surveys with successful filmmakers who’ve managed to reach millions of people and build careers this way.
The conventional approach of sending your film out to hundreds of festivals, then pursuing distribution on TV or VOD, then finally putting it online all stretched out over the course of two years, is no longer the best approach to maximize your film’s exposure. It locks you into exclusivity deals, waters down any buzz you may build by stretching your release out over years, and pushes off the biggest channel for exposure (online) until the very end.
"You no longer have to think of festivals and online as separate runs, but as part of an integrated strategy."
Be Everywhere All At Once flips that all around with two simple axioms. "Be Everywhere” means to get your film on every platform you can. Go to where audiences are. “All At Once” means compressing your release timeline to deliver as pointed a launch as you can. Do your festival and online releases in the same month, week, or day. Build buzz and momentum. Don’t string out attention over the course of years.
NFS: How is the festival landscape shifting for short filmmakers?
Allen: There are many more online festivals and many traditional festivals are now very supportive of online films. About 70% of major festivals accept films that have been online, including Sundance and SXSW. Here’s an overview of short film festivals.
NFS: Is there truly a winner in the online-versus-festival debate? Is one better than the other?
Allen: As a filmmaker, sidestep the debate and just ask what each outlet can do for your film. Festivals are great for experiencing a live audience reaction to your film and building relationships with other filmmakers and programmers. Online is great at reaching a much wider audience (1,000x) and generating more serendipitous connections. It’s also better at driving industry interest in your work as more and more decision-makers are forgoing the travel to festivals and finding emerging filmmakers online.
The best release strategy we’ve seen combines the best of both. You no longer have to think of festivals and online as separate runs but as part of an integrated strategy. You can premiere at a top-tier festival, go online a day later, and then continue to screen at other festivals. The boundaries are now gone.
NFS: How many festivals should short filmmakers look to apply to?
Allen: There’s a common misconception that more is always better when it comes to festival submissions. The reality is that, outside of the top dozen film festivals, you’re likely playing to a mostly regional audience. Even at top-tier festivals, short films take a back seat. Don’t submit to hundreds of film festivals. Save your money. Submit to a couple of the big ones that can make a meaningful difference and any that you just want to attend.
"You don’t need to be a digital marketing guru to be a great filmmaker. "
NFS: How do you make the most of your festival run?
Allen: All of the benefits of experiencing your film and meeting people are lost if you don’t attend a festival. Only submit to festivals you will attend.
NFS: How do you make the most of your online run?
Allen: Approach online just as you would festivals. One of the biggest regrets filmmakers express to us is that they waited too long to put their film online. Make submitting to online sites part of your first round of submissions. Online festivals like Short of the Week take submissions year-round and let you know within a week. Best yet, you can work with them to set a release date that works with your larger strategy. You want to know all of your best options up front.
NFS: How focused should you be on social media engagement?
Allen: Do as much as you want—but no more. Another common misconception is that, in order to be successful online today, you need to be a self-promotion machine. This is just wrong. You don’t need to be a digital marketing guru to be a great filmmaker. It’s perfectly fine to be a socially-awkward filmmaker. If you want to become a social media marketer, by all means, spend your time on it. But if you want to become a great filmmaker, spend your time on your craft and not your next tweet. Doing more. better work will get you further and will be so much more rewarding.