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Improve Your Chances With Film Festivals

So you've finished your short film, and you're ready to submit to festivals.

After watching thousands of submissions, I've come up with 10 'rules' to improve your chances of getting selected.

Although I'll never reject a film because it doesn't follow these 'rules', I will however be more inclined to select it if it does.

Really, it's just about not giving the festival a reason to doubt you.

Let's get started!

In no particular order...

1 - Check Your Emails

It's not common, but it has happened enough times now to be worth mentioning.

Some submissions have outdated email addresses, and some notifications are going into people's other/spam folders. So although this isn't technically a tip on how to improve your chances, it's for if/when you do get selected, you need to know about it, so that you don't miss out (it does happen).

Also, when a festival emails you, reply. Even if your film has been rejected this time. You're making another one, right?

2 - Keep Your Credits To A Minimum

A wise filmmaker and lecturer, *cough* Ben Mallaby, once said...

"Credits should only be as long as it takes for the audience to clap."

We've had films with 5 minutes of credits. No one is clapping after 10 seconds.

If a film in the 'maybe-consider' pile has really long credits, it automatically gets a no from me. It just tells me that the filmmaker doesn't understand the short form medium.

30 seconds MAX.

3 - No Opening Titles

Same as above. Know the medium you're working with, stop kidding yourself, and delete them.

Your film's title is fine, but try to think of it as a shot in itself and use it to an affect. Thanks for the tip Mdhamiri Á Nkemi.

4 - Production Stills Are Not For BTS

Not a big one, just a general note for submitters.

On film festival platforms such as FilmFreeway, you will have the option to add 'Production Stills'. A lot of people use this to upload fun behind-the-scene pictures of their production. Festivals don't really care for those. They want to see strong stills from your finished film that they can use to promote it.

Upload maybe one or two BTS stills too if they're good.

5 - Cover Letters

If I feel like the submitter has done their research, and chosen to submit to my festival for a reason, I'll be more inclined to select it.

I'll admit, there have been a few instances when a cover letter has swayed me.

6 - Submit Early

I really don't know why, but we've noticed that the majority of films submitted at the beginning of a submission window are a lot worse than those submitted near the final deadline. I have my own theory, but there's no real logic to it. It's just how it is.

So submit early, and if your films good, it will stand out.

7 - Fill In All The Boxes

If there's a box, fill it in.

When we look at a submission, we see everything all at once. We occasionally wonder things like "what was this shot on?", "I've seen this actress before, is it ...?", etc, and there are boxes where the submitter can enter this information.

The more we know, the more likely we are to remember your film, and it might just put you in front of someone who didn't fill anything in.

8 - Have Your Film Elsewhere

Just in case the festival's preferred platform isn't working properly on the day, have it online somewhere else too. Alternatively, have a download option available.

There have been times when a screener has been constantly interrupted by buffering, and we will persist through it, but it really needs to be watched again. However, realistically it will only be watched again if it was really good. Have a back-up and don't take that chance.


Keep screener passwords short and simple.

No one wants to type S#gAo2svjBfrMTs:ff...

Edward Snowden is not going to hack your Vimeo.

9 - Get Translations Checked

Most crucially, your film's title. We've come across quite a few poorly translated titles, and titles that just have an unintentionally comic effect. In some cases, it has influenced our decision. However, we have also sourced our own translator to re-subtitle a foreign film that we really liked. But don't take the risk.

Find someone from the country of the festival you're submitting to, ask for their opinion on your film's title. More than likely they'll be more than happy to help you.

I once called upon someone from France, who I met very briefly at another University, and I just asked for his opinion of my film's title. A few days later, he'd not only saved me from embarrassment, but had subtitled the whole film.

His girlfriend now does this as a job. *cough* *cough*

10 - Keep Making Films

Nothing will improve your chances like buying more tickets.

Filmmaking is a craft , and your style and skill will develop with experience.

Experience is making mistakes.

Just make sure you screen every film you make, learn from your mistakes, and have fun while doing it.

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