Get Your Short Film Into Major Festivals

August 8, 2012 at 6:59 am

Get Your Short Film Into Big Festivals | Independent Film Blog


Aspiring filmmakers who produce short films usually have one goal in mind.  Festivals.

One of the biggest festivals in the world is the Toronto International Film Festival.  A massive gathering of some of the biggest stars, filmmakers and the up and coming artists of tomorrow.  Getting your short film into a major festival like TIFF can be absolutely huge for people trying to make their mark in the industry.

But what does it take to get your film accepted?  What do selection committees and programmers look for?

As an independent filmmaker myself, I decided to find out what it takes to get a short film into TIFF.  So I contacted the festival and was granted an interview with Magali Simard.  It’s her job to help decide which films are accepted into the prestigious festival so there is no better person to ask.  Her wonderful responses offered a unique look inside the process including a number of great tips and helpful advice.

So how do you get your short film into a major festival?

Here is an exclusive look behind the scenes from someone who has seen a TON of shorts and knows what it takes to get accepted.

Special thanks to Magali Simard and TIFF.

Can you briefly summarize the overall selection process for short films?

The Festival is in September, and filmmakers get to submit to us between February and May, by filling our form online through Withoutabox and sending us their films. We make our decisions in July and announce our selection in August.

What’s the first thing you look for in a short?

Maybe it goes without saying, but we look for excellence! Some films achieve high levels of production value, but if the content isn’t there, it just isn’t. It’s about artistic value, originality, execution. We see over 600 short films in couple months, so a film needs to stand out.

What are the most common mistakes filmmakers make?

There are so many steps to making a film – things can go wrong on so many levels. I’d say a recurring mistake is overwriting. The image usually conveys enough. It’s important to trust that the audience will be able to understand and absorb things without having to hammer it over and over.

In your experience, what is the ideal length of a short?

It really depends on the subject. The best run time is the one that is appropriate for what the film needs to achieve. Cutting back is hard for filmmakers, it’s their material and it’s hard to let go of some of it during the editing process. This past Festival we had a 1:30-minute short, and a 30-minute short. They were both wonderful, and time-appropriate.

Does a movie shot on film have a better chance of being accepted than one shot on a lower quality format?

Certain subjects are rightfully approached with a less polished look, and it serves them well. There’s something to be said about the ever changing formats people use.  Just about anyone can make a film, and it creates a ton of new content. Some great, some not at all, but the bigger the pool of production, the more chances good things can come out of it. Nothing should be limiting people from going ahead with their projects.

What would you say is the number one reason that a film is rejected?

Some films nearly make it, we have a certain amount of slots, and it’s heartbreaking to reject some excellent work, but it’s the nature of the beast. Others are not close to making it, of course. Films fail to impress for as many different reasons as they succeed. Concept, plot, character, and aesthetic – you basically need everything to come perfectly together. Yes, bad production can hurt a film, but so can a bad script, bad dialogue, untimely editing, choppy acting, etc.

Each festival usually asks for a submission fee which can add up quickly for many indie filmmakers.  Would you say it’s better to enter only the biggest festivals, the smaller festivals or a combination of both?

For short films, the Festival circuit is vital. So I suggest investing in those submissions but it’s not about submitting just anywhere – there thousands of festivals. Filmmakers should research the places they submit to and see the kind of selection they usually tend toward. Some festivals are more niche and that can be an advantage depending on the film at hand.

What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers before they begin their projects? What would you say to those who have submitted their films but have yet to be accepted?

Keep on submitting. Having your film(s) seen by programmers is invaluable. As a programmer, I want to follow filmmakers’ careers, see what they are up to, how they develop from year to year. Without the submissions, it’d be nearly impossible to track so many. Also: you can have a word with programmers after the submissions process to get some feedback. And festivals talk to each other, and if your name’s not out there, it’s kind of impossible to have it discussed. Keep’em coming.