September 13, 2017 at 3:53PM


Why am I not getting into festivals?

Hey folks - I'm relatively new to the filmmaking game as I've only made two full-fledged short films. I've done a lot of other small projects and mostly focus on writing. Since I did not go to film school, this was how I learned. And obviously, I'm still very much learning. So, help me get better please.

This was my first short - completed in 2015. It suffers from normal first-time filmmaker problems, and from the 10-15 festivals I submitted it to, got into none of them. No surprise there.
Certified Mail:

This is my second - completed early this year. While it too is nowhere near perfect, by any means, I thought it was a huge improvement on the first. And I expected it to get into at least one festival. Of the 15 or so responses I've gotten so far, no.
pw: mactans

Maybe I'm aiming too high with my festival selection, but I chose them pretty carefully. And I know it's hard to get into festivals based on numbers alone, but it never hurts to get some audience feedback.

Let me know what you think, and I'd be happy to return the favor.

Thanks so much for anyone who can help.


the first short is probably too long for many festivals..... maybe try recutting both to get them to half their original lengths....

September 16, 2017 at 6:45AM, Edited September 16, 6:45AM

Matt Lovell

Yes, I definitely agree on the first one. And I knew that going into the second one, and tried to make it much tighter. Any comments on the second one?

Stephen Lanus

September 16, 2017 at 12:34PM

i think Latrodectus could be cut down shorter as well, its well done, but again seems to take its time..... but you might find that its the application/supporting materials you need to work on more than the films... personally i found aiming for genre specific festivals made a big difference with my first short... once you get it into one, its usually easier to get it into others it seems....

Matt Lovell

September 18, 2017 at 6:17AM

What festivals are you aiming for? Latrodectus is a fun short, and it has really nice production values. Lighting especially. Do you have a trailer? and what about a press pack? in my experience, you got to make not only a great film but package it in an easy to market and digest form for festivals. There are just so many films being made now, it's a hard nut to crack.

I found the story arc a little choppy, the knife at the midpoint... I don't know but the gag set it up for a really nice dark twist but then it stalled before delivering the final twist at the end. Maybe 1 twist too many!

September 16, 2017 at 1:08PM

Thomas Hogben
Director / Cinematographer

Do you have any ideas how much saturated festivals are? We have entered an era in which not everybody will enter.

September 18, 2017 at 4:03AM


I don't think the story is strong enough in your films. Your lighting/composition/sound/production value was okay, but those things on their own don't make a good film. In the future I would really focus on making sure you have a solid script. On a positive note your story was better in the second film in relation to the first. So keep at it and keep progressing.

September 18, 2017 at 9:08PM, Edited September 18, 9:08PM


Hi Stephen. Your production values are strong and the core of your story is pretty good. I think you have something to work with.

First the bad news:

The script has lots of problems and 15 minutes is too long.

The good news:

Because your film is so long, you actually have enough material to "rewrite" the story in post without reshooting. Try and get it down to 5-7 minutes.

It will be brutal process, but you will be a better filmmaker when you're done.

Take some time to research what makes a good story. Learn about character arcs, motivation, tension.

You should be able to answer these questions for each scene:

- what is the goal of this scene?
- what do the characters want?
- what are the characters doing to advance their desires?

One you have the answers, story board out your new "script" with the beats you want to hit.

Mad Max: Fury Road was actually cut this way. Here's an interview with Margaret Sixel, the editor of the movie:

September 21, 2017 at 2:50PM, Edited September 21, 2:54PM


The technical aspects of this film are not bad, they are actually pretty good. However, the story does not contain enough conflict to engage your audience. Personally, if you want me to sympathize or feel anything for this character, you need to mop the floor with him first. But instead, he just arrived at his goal in a very fast and nonchalant manner without any real conflict. Also, why am I so up close and personal with this character so soon? I don’t even know this person!

Close up shots are very intimate shots. In real life if you’ve just met a person for the first time and this person gets within your kissing distance to introduce themselves, you would feel like they were invading your personal space. It’s no different with film, introduce your character gradually and give us time to get to know him so that we can feel something, or at least so that we can have enough time to relate to their situation. All the closeups at the beginning made me feel uncomfortable and pushed me away from the character, whereas I should become so attached that I morph into the character. When I watch Spiderman, I feel like I am Spiderman while I watch! And I say this based on this particular situation, if it was a different film, I may feel differently about the close ups of the character.

Secondly, What is the problematic or the central argument of the story? I couldn’t find one.

Summing up this film would go something like this: A guy has a fetish for tying girls to a bed on a first date, his mom thinks it’s a great opportunity, but instead he ends up at a girls house, eats her out for hours and then in a sudden twist of events, he ends up being the one tied to the bed, then she stabs him to his death. The end.
What is your justification for killing your main character?

Sure, you have a couple of twists, but what’s the catch behind them? for example, a man enters a convenience store through the roof after hours, he somehow gets locked in and has to call the police on himself. In this scenario, there is a twist and a catch.

I do like the way you foreshadowed his death at the beginning when his friend says “die trying” or when they discuss the protection, but again, what is it that you want your audience to learn, feel or act upon after watching your film?

So a really important question, perhaps the first question you want to ask yourself whenever you want to make a film, is WHY am I making this film? What is your intention in making the film, everything you do afterwards with regards to the film-making process should be based on that and it should be structured and constructed to support your initial intention.

John Truby has an excellent book titled ‘The Anatomy of Story’ I believe it will make all the difference. also, at this point my advice would be to make a few 2 - 5 minute films before delving back into something longer in duration. Good Luck!!

September 23, 2017 at 2:42PM, Edited September 23, 2:42PM

Elmoutasam Aziz
Chief Learning Officer

Plenty of other people have made comments on your films specifically, so I just wanted to share a couple more general thoughts.

The way I see it, some people will do pretty damn good work that goes nowhere. Others will do mediocre work that will get a lot of attention (especially due to connections, etc.). It's not a level playing field. But if you do something truly excellent, it is unlikely that it will go unnoticed. Obviously there are exceptions, such as artists like Van Gogh who never saw recognition during their lifetime, but it's rare.

So apply to festivals, but try your best to just keep making. Don't wait for them. Make your next thing, and make it better than the last. Make "okay" work until you're making unbelievable work that people can't ignore any longer. If you're looking to get better, try sending your films to a film professor and asking them to pull it apart. Keep posting places like this, requesting not "why am I not getting into film festivals", but "how can I improve my filmmaking technique" (and then listen with discernment). Read books, and weigh the advice you hear against those. Watch through your film, and ask why, very specifically, did you make certain choices. Nothing about what you do should be unintentional; the camera movement, the focal length, blocking, editing... every single thing should be a conscious choice. Figure out why different choices create a different psychological effect.

On a personal note, I have a film that's been rejected from about 36 film festivals (almost in a row). Many of these were pretty small festivals. Then, just a few weeks ago, I found out it was accepted into a huge Academy Award qualifying festival. Sometimes it just has to land at the right place. But ultimately, your goal shouldn't be to get into festivals. It should be to make work that affects and moves people, and festival acceptance is only a small and imperfect test for that.

I'm not an authority by any means, just wanted to share some thoughts and hope they are edifying.

September 25, 2017 at 12:08PM, Edited September 25, 12:08PM


Hey man thanks for sharing. I usually advise against getting feedback from other filmmakers as they can be pretty vindictive, but most of the above comments are pretty constructive. I disagree with the comment on closeups, however. Just look at the first shot of Little Miss Sunshine.

Ok- so hear are my thoughts. The biggest problem as other have said lies with the story. Have you heard the term plant and payoff? I don't feel like the ending is earned, because there was no plant early on that she was a cannibal, and frankly the dying line that Elmoutasam mentioned I totally missed - that whole first scene just needs to go. The other problem (and sorry this can't be addressed with editing) is that the actors are horribly mismatched. I don't feel any chemistry between them (though should we? that's a question for you).

I think the most interesting part of this film is the cannibal and murder elements so I would figure out how you can work with those bits. That scene where he's in the bathroom with the knife may actually be a good opening. Get the audience thinking who will kill who? Some voiceover may help smooth the story as well.

The parts that don't work are all the relationship elements (the dinner, the sex scene especially etc) because the actors are not well matched. Focus the cut around the murder/canibal element and you might have something....

This is going to take a lot of cutting and remember the adage - don't be afraid to kill your children!

September 25, 2017 at 12:20PM, Edited September 25, 12:20PM


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