Do you know what it takes to get a film selected for a film festival?
Making a Short Film that Film Festivals want to showcase in its program can be a challenge.
There is nothing like putting in blood, sweat, and tears into a short film product only to get polite rejection letters from film festivals.
I have struggled for years trying to make the best short film that film festivals want.
The reason for this how-to guide on creating a short film that film festivals, is because over the past two years I have been a jury member of a local film festival.
By being a jury member I finally understand what a jury looks for in terms of a short film project that the jury wants to proudly showcase in his/her film festival.
This post will go over the key elements of short film filmmaking that all filmmakers should pay attention to for a film to be selected by a jury for short film festivals.
I will go over 5 key elements in short film filmmaking like script development, pre-production, production, post-production, and submission suggestions to help a project have a better chance throughout the selection process.
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How To Make A Great Short Film Introduction
My Film Festival Jury History — over the past three years, I have been a jury selection member for a local film festival in Victoria bc called “Short Circuit — Pacific Rim.“
Each year I watch close to 150 short film submissions to narrow down the selections to 32 films for the festival.
The criteria that many of the jury members look for in a short film to be recommended to the final stages are very detailed.
In terms of the selection process, the jury members look closely to the following criteria below for us to recommend to the final stages:
- Art direction
After the films have been judged individually, the jury members then meet to discuss what they believe should be included in the program.
Most of the time, this process can involve heated discussions as to why a certain film should be selected over short film submissions.
After the jury has come to a consensus, the jury begins to look at the short film’s length, and then the program selection begins.
And trust me on this one; the time of a short film can matter to short film festivals.
No matter how good your film is concerning the criteria above, if your film is over 15 min, it better the best 15 min short film in the program because that is close to three short films at a 5-minute length that it could be replacing.
Every screenwriter has an idea that they believe will make a great film whether it be a short form or full-length feature.
But what a screenwriter needs to understand while writing the screenplay is will the screenplay translate will on the screen to create engagement in the audience.
The key factors in having a great screenplay are to make sure that your character arcs are complete, having tight dialogue to keep the scene moving from one to the other, and having an idea that will knock the socks off the audience.
If you are a beginning screenwriter and unsure of how to make a good script great, I suggest reading this article on the best screenplay books screenwriters should read to help guide you through the process.
If you have gone through several drafts of a particular screenplay, pass it off to a few reliable people you trust to give you honest feedback. Make sure you get any notes on what works, and what should be improved to make the story flow.
If you are satisfied with your screenplay and ready to lock it in place to go into pre-production, then you are completed with this stage of getting your short film selected in short film festivals.
Side note: When I am writing a screenplay, I use my favorite screenwriting books beside me (Save The Cat) at tall times. Also, I use Beatsheet calculator for all my screenplays to help in knowing where my act breaks should be and so much more.
Short Film Pre-Production
A critical mistake that many beginning filmmakers make when trying to film a short film is not having a pre-production checklist to go through before shooting.
And trust me on this; you can’t have enough planning in regards to making a short film be jury selection worthy.
What Should A Pre-Production Checklist Look Like?
The key purpose of the pre-production is to ensure you are fully prepared to begin the production stage of filmmaking.
What I like doing right at the beginning stages of preproduction is having a team meeting with my producing team to go over the script.
Production Team Walkthrough
What my team goes through is locations needed, props needed, cast needed, and a final read-through of the screenplay for any errors that may have been missed.
After this process is done, the team focuses on casting and finding the right talent for the characters.
Next, we look at the filmmaking equipment needed for the shoot and the crew that is needed to keep the film production moving effortlessly.
Cast Read Throughs
Once you have everything in place, I can’t reiterate this enough, do multiple readthroughs with your cast to make sure they understand the script.
This will help you in the long run when it comes down to shooting a fast-paced production.
Through the pre-production stages, you should discuss with your cinematographer on the look and feel of the film.
Plus, the camera angles that you will want to establish each shot.
Make a shot list from this discussion, so you can prepare for shooting each scene during the film production process.
Side Note: Make sure you have a great 1st Ad for your crew. They can make or break a film production.
Short Film Production
Now that you have exhausted the preproduction stage and are ready to begin filming, the next steps are where you need to focus on some of the key points that the jury is looking for in selecting films for film festivals.
The job of the director is to make sure that the actors in the scene are giving the best performance to maintain direction in the screenplay.
If the acting is dry and not believable enough to draw the attention of the audience, this is a major red flag for any juror member on a film festival panel.
This is where the multiple readthroughs in preproduction help on the production side.
Your actors should know everything about his/her character before arriving on the set, so then it’s just a few takes to get the best out of your actors to move to the next scene.
I have seen quite a few short films that within the first 30 seconds of the film I know from the performances that the film will grab my attention.
If the performances are weak with the first 30 seconds, I tend to stop watching the film and pass on the selection. So, make sure you have the best performances for every shot with your actors.
Make sure that you are proving the right atmosphere for each shot through the lens.
If you have a good director of photography on the set, they will know exactly how to get the best shot through the lens using lighting and camera tricks to keep the audience engaged.
Sound is something that many filmmakers overlook, but it is something that could take away an audience’s attention in a hurry and never get it back.
For example, if the scene is set on a remote island where the only access is by boat, you don’t want the audience to hear ATVs are constantly being heard in the background.
This happened recently on a film shoot I produced recently where the sound technician didn’t notice the ATVs in the background and made it for a difficult editing process in post-production.
Related Article: One Person Film Crew – How Master Filmmaking By Yourself
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With every film production, there are three stages of the filmmaking process.
We have discussed the importance of pre-production and film production in terms of what jury’s look for in selecting films in film festivals, but the most critical phase of film production is post-production.
Post-production is like a puzzle. You have all the pieces to the puzzle on the table, and now it’s time to place it all together without a missing piece.
But with post-production, there is a considerable amount of skill required to make the film puzzle complete. So don’t skip on finding a qualified person to do this job.
Here are the stages of post-production that can’t be overlooked to have a short film that will be the envy of all short film festivals.
At the start of the editing process, make sure you have a qualified editor able to work with the director to begin selecting the right shots that will make it to the final cut of the film.
If you have a qualified editor, they will decide on cutting the scenes in a way that will convey the film’s message.
Sound Effects Editing
As soon as the shots are edited in a way that the director is satisfied with the cut of the film, the sound editor will begin the process of cleaning out the audio.
The sound editor will make sure the dialogue is clear and easy for the audience to follow. Plus, this is the point in time that a sound editor can clean out any background noises that would take away the pacing of the film. Like ATVs in the background.
Side note: if the sound editor is unable to achieve a clean sound from the dialogue of the actors, please bring your actors in for an ADR session to replace the poor dialogue quality.
If you are unaware of ADR, it’s a process in which the actors say the lines of dialogue that will replace the previous lines that may have been poor during the scene.
This will involve the actors to rehearse his/her lines beforehand to ensure they are still able to convey the same passion from the film shoots.
Plus, this is an ideal time to clean up any background noises that may not have been recorded properly. Add in new sound effects to produce a better environment in the scene.
For example, a door slamming, or branches cracking during a running scene.
This stage of post-production is all about creating a tone and style of the film.
Think about some of the best shots in the film and what made them the most memorable. They all involved a musical score that provided tension or environment to the film.
Have a look at the clip below to understand how a good musical score can make a shot better.
This stage of the editing process can provide minor changes to the shots to make them even better.
If your scene was an exterior shot during a cold winter night, providing a visual effect of a cold breath from the actors can add so much to the tone and environment of the scene.
The purpose of sound mixing is to make sure that all the recorded audio is clear, balanced to make sure one piece of audio doesn’t overpower another.
I have seen this many times during my jury selections, in which the audio levels of the dialogue get overpowered by the musical score, and ruins the scene completely.
Related Article: 10 Best Filmmaking Books For Beginning Filmmakers
If you have everything checked off everything during post-production that a jury member is looking for, it’s time to begin submitting your film to short film festivals.
But, if you are a beginning filmmaker looking for exposure, I would suggest setting up an account with FilmFreeway.
FilmFreeway is a website through which filmmakers submit their films to hundreds of film festivals all over the world.
The great thing about FilmFreeway is all you need to do is create a portfolio, add your project once, select your favorite festivals, and click to submit.
I will warn you though, with 100’s of film festivals from around the world at your fingertips, a filmmaker could spend a lot of money submitting to many festivals. So have a budget in mind and stick with it.
The recent film that I produced “In The End“, is being selected for many festivals around the world, but I am afraid to look at the entry fees after the festival run is completed.
So pay attention to how many festivals you are submitting to.
With FilmFreeway, they will give you notices if your film project has been selected for a festival or passed. So, you don’t have to worry about being forgotten.
Here are two pieces of advice that I want to share with you about submitting a short film to a film festival.
First, create an electronic press kit for your project. Here is what should be included in an EPK:
- Synopses of the film
- Bios of the film’s creative team (writer, director, producers, etc.)
- Bios of the feature’s main cast.
- An outline of where the film was shot, how long it took to film the project, credits, etc.
- High-resolution stills from the film
- High-res production stills
- Clips of interviews of the cast and crew of how they found the project, what drew them to the project, etc. Keep the interview under 5 min.
- Contact information of the creative team
Second, if your film has been selected for a film festival, attend the film festival.
If you can attend your screening of the film at a certain film festival, you have a chance to talk to other filmmakers, producers and able to gauge audience reaction.
Plus, if you can attend, it’s easier for a filmmaker to win the audience choice award if they know who the filmmaker is.
If you are looking for a comprehensive list of film festivals to look at check out this site for all you need to know.
I hope that this post has given you(the filmmaker) a better understanding of what it takes for a short film to be selected into short film festivals or feature-length film festivals.
If you have the perfect team behind you, you can rest easier knowing that your direction, cinematography, sound, music, and editing will provide you with the best film project that you can achieve.
Just don’t be dejected if your film isn’t selected for a certain film festival, it’s all part of the process of filmmaking. Just remember this quote from Galaxy Quest “ Never give up! Never Surrender!”
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