So for the first time ever I have a finished short film that I'm really happy with. It's not perfect, but it's better than anything I've made before and it's the first film that I feel really represents the kind of stories I want to tell and the type of characters those stories are about. So I ask myself, what now? What does one do with a short film?
Why enter it into festivals of course! Film festivals, where independent no-budget films are shown all over the world. Where influential rich industry people crowd into screening rooms to snatch up all that fresh, juicy new talent. The first step on the road to fame and fortune. Not really 'film' festivals at all - more like DREAM FESTIVALS.
When I screened the film at the beginning of the month a friend mentioned that the submission deadline for Cinecity - the Brighton Film Festival was coming up. Best of all it's free to enter for Brighton-based filmmakers (which I'm not technically but considering I used to be and the film was shot entirely in Brighton and Hove I figure I'm okay). Great, I pop a copy in the post and wait to hear back. And if it doesn't get accepted, fine - submitting it was no problem at all. And I think to myself 'I'll enter my film into every festival if it's this easy'.
Then I find out that the deadline for the London Short Film Festival is also on the horizon. They showed a couple of Brother Pete's films a few years ago. I'll definitely enter this one. The submission is via Withoutabox. That's fine, I set up an account ages ago in anticipation of this very moment. So I fill out the forms for my film and submit it. There's a fee for this one, but because I'm submitting early it's only £10. Yes, I am now paying someone to watch my film which seems a bit backwards, but I appreciate they need to cover their admin costs and it's not all that much really. No problem, I pay the fee, pop a DVD in the post and wait to hear back. And I think to myself 'I'll enter my film into a great many festivals if it only costs £10 a time'.
But two festivals isn't enough. Not if I'm going to get everyone to see my film and become rich and famous off the back of it. I need to enter more! So I start trawling through the other festivals on Withoutabox. And there it is, the festival I've been looking for. The British Horror Film Festival! My film is definitely British!! And it's a horror film!!! And the deadline is in 4 days!!!! I'm totally entering this one.
And then I get to the fee, which is £60. That's £60 for someone to watch my film and decide whether they like it or not. And if they don't like it I've paid £60 for someone to not screen my film. And, as a friend warned me on Facebook, they may not even tell me they don't like it.
Okay, maybe it's a one-off. Maybe there are some other festivals out there that I can afford to send my film to. I check almost every upcoming UK festival in the listings. The prices generally range between £30 and £60. If I'm going to enter as many festivals as possible, or even just the relevant ones, I'm going to run up a cost equal to or perhaps greater than the cost of making my film. And for all I know the film may not be accepted into any of them.
Before anyone tries to explain to me that film festivals cost money to run I should point out that I run a film festival. It's called MovieBar and takes place on the first Monday of every month at the Caroline of Brunswick in Brighton. It doesn't cost anything to run aside from the few quid we spend on daft quiz prizes. Mostly it just costs time. There are six of us involved, and we put the time in because we enjoy it. And because I think it's really important that these films get the chance to be screened for an audience. We don't charge for entry on the night, we don't charge for submitting films and we don't have any submission guidelines. We don't show everything and I'm really bad at getting back to people with a decision but we do watch everything that comes in and at least when we don't show something no one has lost any money over it.
From running MovieBar I've noticed there are two types of short films - those made with money and those made without money. Some people are lucky or talented or determined enough to get funding, some people decide to go ahead anyway with whatever they can scrape together. Those in the latter category are unlikely to have money left over to enter festivals and it becomes further proof that you need money to make it in the film industry. That principle works fine in the feature world - even if you make a film for nothing you need a distributor to put money in so you can get it to people. Ideally it then makes the money back. The festival circuit seems like the short film equivalent of distribution and marketing in the feature world. The difference is that short films do not and will not make any money back.
Despite all that, I hover over the 'Submit Now' button for the British Horror Film Festival for some time before finally deciding against it. And I think to myself 'There has to be a better way to get people to see short films...'
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