A while ago you had a brilliant idea that triggered you to write a script. You developed an amazing story and started working on a short film. You invested a lot of time and energy to raise funds, find partners, assemble the team, go into production and complete the film in post-production. After many months of hard work, you finally hold it in your hands: The DVD of your short film!
Many filmmakers (not only students, but professionals as well) experience standing in front of a big question mark once they have finished their films. They have achieved the goal of transforming their artistic vision into an audiovisual work, but then they are not sure what to do with it. Not knowing how to reach their audience, they feel lost and confused in the world of film festivals, markets, distributors, sales agents and VOD platforms.
The process of filmmaking does not end when the final version leaves the editing room. On the contrary: quite a big piece of the work starts right there. As a director, it is easy and tempting to think that from now on, everything is the producer’s job. And if the producer is very lucky, he can delegate marketing and promotion to his distributor or sales agent. In reality, however, this is hardly everthe case. Especially in the independent and short film world, where everybody is multitasking and often wearing many different hats, for example that of an author and producer at the same time, it is crucial to have at least some basic knowledge of marketing, promotion, festivals and sales. The more understanding you have of the distribution process of your work, the less frustrated and more efficient you’ll be.
The first step usually is planning the world premiere at an international film festival. As every festival has its own profile and vision, this decision requires some research to find out which festival might be the most suitable for your film. Check out their previous selections and see which programmes look the most interesting to you and which you would like to be part of. If your film is a classic drama, Krakow, Locarno and Tampere are worth a try. If you are going the more experimental route, Berlin, Rotterdam or Venice might be an option. If your film has real commercial potential or it’s a quirky animation, focus on US festivals. Read film magazines, research festival websites, talk to fellow filmmakers and film institutes in your countries– try to find out as much as you can about the festivals’ profiles to choose the right one for your world premiere.
When starting festival submissions, make sure that you have all necessary materials available. Apart from the DVD screeners, it is most helpful to prepare a press kit containing all information festivals usually ask for, such as a logline, synopsis (in short, medium and long version), cast and crew list, director’s statement, biographies and filmographies, technical information (format, length, available screening formats etc.), contact info and some well chosen film stills.
In addition to your preferred festival for the world premiere, we recommend that you make a wish list of festivals in different territories all over the world. Many festivals ask for the national premiere in their country, so try to avoid giving your film to a very small festival right at the beginning and thereby blocking your entrance to the bigger ones.
These strategic selection of premieres is important at the beginning of your short film’s festival career. After the first months, however, there is no sense in being picky. Keep in mind one basic principle: A short film has a short life! Following the world premiere, there are maximum of 2 years to present your film efficiently. Once your film is older than 2 years, hardly any festival will include it in its competition. You have a very limited period of time to make your film visible, so take all the attention you can get. There is just no festival which is too small or not important enough. You never know who will happen to sit in the audience –maybe somebody who loves your film and will recommend it to many other people, or maybe even someone who could support your next project.
Once your film has entered festival circulation, it might even develop its own dynamics – especially if it is screened at festivals with a market attached and with many guests from the international film industry attending. The melting pot for short films is the festival in Clermont-Ferrand, where programmers from other festivals crowd in the screenings and TV-buyers attend the market looking for content. For animation filmmakers, Annecy is the most important festival with the attached MIFA – a buzzing market specialising in animation content. If your film is selected to Clermont-Ferrand or Annecy, where programmers from all over the world will see it, there’s a good chance that they will approach you later to invite your film to their own festival.
OK, you get the festivals, but TV distribution is a different story. First of all, there are only a very limited number of TV channels in the world which have a slot for short films at all. Second of all, while festivals tend to be open for any kind of artistic expression, TV programmes are subject to many restrictions, such as length (in the short sector, anything longer than 15 minutes is hard to sell), genre (animation, drama and comedy are much easier to sell than horror or experimental films) and different regulations for daytime or evening slots. Most channels cannot screen any scenes containing violence, sex or swearwords during daytime – some are not allowed to screen them at all.
Theoretically, your film needs to have certain commercial potential to be suitable for TV broadcasting. However, don’t think too much about this! TV broadcasting is only a small part of your short film’s career. Much more important is to make the film visible at as many festivals as possible. This is where you meet and can be recognized by the film industry, where you can find partners and support for your next project – because hopefully, your short will be followed by more shorts or maybe even by a feature film. Plus, there are often considerable amounts of money to be won at festivals. Remember that some films only work with festivals and that’s ok!
TV short film sales can bring you some money, and if you find a sales agent, to manage your short film – great! Still, it’s not worth focusing on sales too much. Start with making films by following your artistic vision and telling stories you care about. If your film has commercial potential, that’s not its main value, but a nice extra. If the film is good, buyers will find it.
When choosing a sales agent, try to do some research – see what films they are handling, ask other producers about their experiences with different companies. Read the contract carefully and ask questions before signing. Once you’ve chosen someone, try to be supportive and show trust – a good sales agent works in your interest and is keen to discuss ideas but it’s impossible to do this job if the producers and filmmakers don’t give them any space.
You shouldn’t make short films for money but make sure to make most of the films’ lives – go to festivals, meet people, learn, and if there’s a nice economic extra to it – even better!
text: Anja Sosic & Jan Naszewski (New Europe Film Sales)