In 1994, Wes Anderson directed the short film Bottle Rocket, a film about a group of thieves in training. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and became the basis for Anderson's first feature film. Since then, his distinct, quirky style, characterized by memorable characters, has been featured in films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson's path is not unusual. Many filmmakers launch careers with short films, but it's no longer just a stepping stone. Even established feature directors and well known actors are making short films.
This year’s Oscar winner, The Long Goodbye was written by and stars Riz Ahmed, the star of last year’s Oscar nominated film, The Sound of Metal. Pedro Almodovar not only directed Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers, he was also shortlisted for his short The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton, and he has two more shorts in pre-production. This year's shortlisted film You're Dead Helen is going into feature production with studio support, just like prior short films Skin, Madre, Curfew, Whiplash, and Frozen River, among others.
Director Joe Wright not only directed Cyrano this year, but also the short film Princess & Peppernose with the Samsung Galaxy S21 in 8K. Professional athletes Matthew Cherry (Hair Love) and Kobe Bryant (Dear Basketball) both went on to win Academy Awards after they collaborated with iconic artists in the animated short film category.
So let's see how you can get your short film shot, finished and distributed to maximize exposure.
Short Film Distribution
For most filmmakers, they may have a firm grasp on what they want to do artistically, but getting it seen by audiences is often a confusing and frustrating experience. For example, FilmFreeway, which is a global film festival submission platform, boasts over 10,000 film festivals. How does a filmmaker or producer navigate such a vast selection of festivals? What are alternatives to getting your film seen and the director noticed and funded? Check out our Creatives Offscript episode with Director Brig, from Tool of North America and winner of 11 Cannes Lions including the Top Young Director in 2015. on how he funded his first big spot, which led him to winning the Top Young Director award at the Cannes Creativity Festival in 2015.
Short Film Distribution Strategy for Traditional Film Festivals
In terms of the film festival strategy, there are traditional film festivals and there are online short film festivals and curators.
To break down this complicated landscape, Assemble turned to Linda O. (Olszewski,) one of the most passionate and knowledgeable people in the short film industry who has served as Vice President of Acquisitions for ShortsTV and the Oscar Shorts Theatrical / VOD / iTunes / Airlines releases. She is on the Executive Committee and a member of AMPAS’s (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) Short Film and Feature Animation branch and has served on over 100 international film fest juries and panels. She teaches master classes around the global festival circuit and scouts for potential Oscar nominees to support in their Oscar journey, all the while taking pictures of the short film world and everyone she sees. In other words, she knows this world intimately.
Some questions that arise for filmmakers are how do you promote your film? Which distribution platforms feature or sell shorts? Are feature distributors, studios and marketing companies also working with short films? Are TV channels buying short films? Do airlines buy short films?
Linda says “the answer to all of the above questions is YES - there are some short films that have broken the myth that short films are just for film festivals or online. Netflix, Neon, A24, Fox Searchlight, HBO, MTV, Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Sony Classics, Lexus, Jet Blue, American Airlines, iTunes, Arte, and ShortsTV have all bought, produced, funded and promoted short films and have continued to expand their interest in short films for the last decade.”
ShortsTV, the global television network for short films, proved that theatrical distribution of the Oscar-nominated shorts could produce significant interest and revenue. Linda continues, “up until the pandemic, Oscar shorts were doing close to $4 million at the box office. A huge release. About 600 cinemas in North America. Outside North America it hit between 100 to 200 screens in theatrical settings and festivals. It is respectable and the Oscar Shorts have a bigger release than most independent features. But with the pandemic, this year, it will hit closer to $2 million global box office. It’s great we have been able to keep the release going and people are in the theaters watching the films on the big screen. The theaters cannot be completely full with the Covid restrictions, but the turnout is respectable. I believe when the pandemic is behind us, interest will only continue to grow and surpass the $4 million mark”.
Linda advises any producer seeking distribution to start with the Academy qualifying list of film festivals, not simply for the needle in a haystack of hope that your film will be nominated, but for the quality and integrity of the festivals on that list. “I am on the festival committee and we vet these festivals. Filmmakers are treated well. There are good opportunities for the films, filmmakers and excellent films featured from all over the planet. Also, one great thing about the festival list, is that many of these festivals don’t require a fee to submit. Unlike the US festivals, where there are festivals trying to earn a buck off of filmmakers, many of the international festivals are supported by their governments or sponsors and they also support the filmmakers attendance with travel stipends, have cash prizes, industry opportunities, workshops which are all part of your acceptance package into the festival at no cost to the filmmaker.”
To that end, we asked Linda to create a list of the top 10 festivals and markets producers should target. She gave us 23.
Top 10 Festivals & Markets
- Clermont-Ferrand This is the largest film festival dedicated to short films. In terms of audience and professional presence, it is the second largest film festival in France next to Cannes, but the most important for short films.
- Cannes There is the official film festival for shorts as well as Directors Fortnight (first-time Directors), and Semaine de la Critique (Critics Week). All of these official parts of the festival are free to submit. There's also the Cannes Short Film Corner which is a big market. There's a hefty cost, but filmmakers have access to buyers from around the world. Cinefoundation and the American Pavilion Screenings also get an audience. Any filmmaker that has a film invited to the above should go if they can, solely for the opportunity to network.
- Tribeca Founded in 2003 by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. It focuses on artists, storytellers and independent film.
- Toronto International Film Festival One of the largest and most prestigious festivals in the world with an artistic mission “to transform the way people see the world through film".
- Sundance At this years Oscar’s two of Sundance’s Grand Jury award winners, CODA and Summer of Soul took Oscar wins. A gold standard destination for many filmmakers.
- SXSW Attendees can connect with a wide array of industry experts during the Film Festival, which runs concurrently with SXSW Conference, Music, and Comedy Festivals. Assemble recently highlighted some of the brightest from this year's festival.
- PalmSprings Shortsfest An oasis in the desert, International ShortFest & Short Film Market is one of the most acclaimed short film showcases in the world.
- Encounters (UK) Encounters is the UK's leading short film, animation and virtual reality festival. The festival discovers, supports and develops new talent in filmmaking.
- Guanajuato - GIFF The Guanajuato International Film Festival has placed itself as the most important platform for young filmmakers in Latin America and offers its extensive screenings, workshops and conferences free of charge. They have a collaboration with Cannes.
- Louisiana Film Prize To be eligible, your film must be shot in Louisiana. Nonetheless, the grand prize is substantial ($50,000 USD), making it worth considering production there.
Other Great Festivals to Consider:
- Tampere Finland festival. Five days of short films, feature-length documentaries, events and happy encounters.
- Guadalajara The festival’s mission is to show the best of Latin cinema and its creators, in order to cultivate relationships for a borderless industry.
- Berlin It is considered one of the most prominent film festivals in Europe. It happens concurrently with The European Film Market (EFM), a film trade fair and a major industry event for the international film community. The Berlinale Talent part of the festival has terrific opportunities for filmmakers.
- Short Shorts By creating a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world, Short Shorts strives to foster a new generation of filmmakers.
- Vila do Conde The Curtas Vila do Conde International Film Festival, created in 1993, is one of the most important cultural and cinematographic events in Portugal dedicated to short films.
- Bogoshorts A short film festival held once a year in Bogota, Colombia, which rewards short films of national and international rank. The festival's aim is to showcase up-and-coming audiovisual producers and make them known in the media.
- Flickerfest Internationally, flickerfest is considered one of the top short film festivals in Australia, and increasingly one of the top festivals in the world. The festival director visits festivals around the world every year, looking for new films, most of which have not been shown in Australia.
- Regard This festival is Canada's most important short film rendezvous and one of the leading short film festivals in North America. This friendly event features a unique and innovative program as well as an international competition.
- Hollyshorts Dedicated to finding and advancing the careers of talented and emerging filmmakers through screenings, networking events, and industry panels and forums in Los Angeles.
- Rhode Island Among international independent filmmakers, the Festival has become an increasingly popular venue for juried competitions. It features screenings, filmmaking workshops, meet-and-greet industry events and seminars.
- BFI London The BFI London Film Festival presents a selection of the best in world cinema, showing audiences a wide array of films, representing a variety of languages, genres and filmmaking styles.
- AspenShorts Aspen Film strives to educate, enlighten, and entertain through film. From its inception, Aspen Film has dedicated itself to creating memorable moviegoing experiences for cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike.
- Dead Center Oklahoma’s largest and most celebrated film festival, it is also home to award-winning education initiatives. The goal is to connect emerging filmmakers, professionals, funders, and audiences.
Short Film Distribution Strategy for Online Film Festivals & Curators
Online distribution of short films used to be hampered by the "premier status" requirement for prominent traditional film festivals. The requirements could vary. Some festivals might require a world premier, meaning your film has not screened theatrically prior to that festival, whether at another film festival or other ticketed public theatrical exhibition, and has not been broadcast or streamed on television or the Internet or released via any home video or other public distribution platform (Blu-ray, DVD, streaming, VOD, etc.) in any country prior. It also could be territory dependent, such as a premier outside the film's country of origin.
Many prestigious festivals have waived that requirement (during the pandemic) as online film festivals and curation websites have become more and more important for independent filmmakers to showcase their work.
Here are some of the best short film and social media websites where you can distribute your film and build substantial viewership.
Short Film Websites
- Omeleto: Stellar quality of films, very user friendly and features a wide range of genres.
- Short of the Week: No longer just weekly, Short of the Week has daily content and boasts high quality films, a clean interface and is one of the most well known free content short film websites.
- Film Shortage: Ying to Short of the Week’s Yang, Film Shortage has a very similar aesthetic and a great reputation for high quality films.
- Films Short: Well-curated website that goes beyond the simple genre selection. However, the interface is a bit dated and not as easy to navigate as Short of the Week or Film Shortage.
- Nowness: A different experience and designed for inspiration, beauty, fashion and music, rather than strictly narrative short films. If your project is more experimental, this might be the perfect home.
- YouTube and Vimeo: We really could have said “YouTube versus Vimeo”. In the war of perception, Vimeo is the clear choice for short film makers. According to Film Shortage, a curator site we’ll discuss below, 90 percent of their featured shorts are hosted on Vimeo. In terms of viewership, YouTube reigns king as the second largest search engine behind Google. However, the embedding options on Vimeo are more customizable than YouTube's. Your film will look more branded and design-focused, matching your content. Vimeo also has curated “Staff Picks” which could get you more exposure and views.
Social Media: Facebook Watch, Instagram Reels, Tik Tok
There are limitations, but promotional value is not one of them. With Instagram Reels and Tik Tok, you may not be able to host your whole short film, but you can post clips, behind the scenes footage, quick interviews with cast and crew, and generate strong interest in your project. Facebook Watch can host your entire video.
“If you have put your film online for free you have pretty much killed any opportunity for television buyers to consider your film” , Linda continues. “PBS occasionally purchases short films, as does HBO, although mostly short documentaries and diverse films. MTV also buys and, of course, Shorts TV in their global television network. They spotlight filmmakers too. There are tons of global television buyers still buying and paying nicely for short films including Arte, Movistar, Canal+ so you might want to give your film a chance to reach the television audience before the online audience if you are truly interested in reaching as wide an audience as possible for your film. There are some distributors that are very much focused on generating revenue for shorts - like $5K, $10K, $50K, $250K - and they work with getting you an agent or manager and help in next steps for a feature or series. This is rare, but these filmmakers are also the rare birds that are talented, serious and ready for that step.”
The Short Film Deliverables Checklist
As a producer, you have researched the top film festivals (check the AMPAS list too) and compiled a submission list. When you are accepted to a film festival, what type of materials do you need to submit and what formats are requested?
Rights and Clearances
Have you identified whether you own all rights to your film and have the right to screen it at festivals and for wider distribution? Many festivals will require a clean chain of title including:
- Ownership of Copyright
- Music Clearances
- Actor’s Clearances
- Script Clearances
- Content Clearances (such as easily identifiable works of art, posters, book titles, company logos, TV clips)
- Location Clearances
Having a robust Electronic Press Kit (EPK) is helpful to both the filmmaker and the festival. Suggested materials include:
- High Quality Movie Stills
- Key Art
- Director’s Statement
- BTS Footage and Stills
- Sound Bytes from Cast and Crew
- Director's Bio & Headshot
- Producer's Bio & Headshot
- Clean Master: i.e. masters without burned in subtitles or captions. Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) or 4444 or 4444 (XQ) or 8K. Sound - full stereo and 5.1.
- English Subtitled Master: Not needed if your film is entirely in English or has no dialogue.
- Poster (Horizontal and Vertical)
- High Quality Film Stills: At least 1920x1080 in size.
- Dialogue List (Transcript): Must match dialogue spoken in final version of film.
- Closed Caption Files
- Music Cue Sheet
The most important element of finding success in distributing your film is to make a great film. Take the time in pre-production to ensure you are creatively satisfied. Make sure you have done your due diligence with a clean chain of title. Do not submit your film to the first festival with the most recent submission deadline. Get your film seen by the most appreciative audience by doing your research and strategizing. And as Linda suggests, have fun and “go to a festival in a city you’d like to visit. Make it a bucket list thing”