by Elliot Grove
Filmmakers in Britain have always considered short form narratives and documentaries as a viable step into filmmaking. The BBC and Channel 4 in particular have commissioned and purchased shorts for broadcast on terrestrial television, often as a way to test new talent before awarding the filmmakers a more substantial contract to produce a feature film or documentary. However, since 2003, the landscape has changed. In the current climate the terrestrial television channels have scaled back their commissioned shorts programs and rarely acquire shorts for broadcast. This has left filmmakers with relying on festivals as the main alternative to getting their work seen.
Shorts typically have punchier story lines, are often shot on very low budgets giving them a gritty look, that combined with sharp short stories make compelling viewing. Filmmakers have been shooting movies on their mobiles since 2003 when Nokia introduced the first camera phone. The haunting images on television after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London demonstrated their news ability. This ground-breaking moment paved the way to the present BBC practice who issue quality mobile handsets such as the Nokia N93 to home-based journalists, who then email in their footage for quick assembly, edit and broadcast in the studio.
Using a short film, or a series of short films has always been considered a viable and useful way to demonstrate one talent to the industry powers-that-be on route to building a career in features, or in commercials and pop promos. Here are the routes novice filmmakers are using in Europe. Many of these techniques are applicable universally.
1. Film Festivals
A festival screening allows you to screen your film in front of total strangers, and often, in Europe at least, to people with whom English is not their mother tongue. Until you have sat in a screening room full of strangers watching your film you do not really know how the film "plays". Do they laugh at the right place for example.
Getting your film accepted into a film festival is not easy. Firstly, you research the festival world (there are nearly 3,000 film festivals around the world), download a submission form, and send it, along with an application fee and a copy of your film. Then you wait to hear if you have been selected. If you are selected, you then need to send the festival a screening copy of the film, usually on digibeta, along with a picture of yourself, or a still from the movie that they can use in their festival catalogue. Try and book your holiday around a festival screening. Get there a few days earlier and pass out postcards with a good strong image of your film on one side, and the screening dates and times on the reverse. Festival organizers should also be able to help you with a list of local distributors and sales agents who might be interested in acquiring short films (ie: buying a license to screen your film). Contact these people by email and telephone.
Screenings at certain film festivals almost certainly guarantee other festival invites. Many festivals rely on bellweather festivals such as Raindance, to act as a filter to whittle down the huge number of films to a manageable lot of a certain quality.
Remember that each festival has different taste, and to be rejected by one festival is not to be taken personally.
The best way to research film festivals is to look at these two sites: www.filmfestivals.com, an English-speaking company based in Paris, and www.withoutabox.com, an American company with a subsidiary office in London.
Top European Film festivals for shorts:
There are at least 9 European short film festivals which show shorts only. Other festivals, such as Raindance, have dynamic short film strands. Research the festivals and try to ascertain which ones have videotechs, such as Rotterdam. At those festivals, even if you are not selected, industry scouts will be able to see your film.
International Short Film Festival Leuven January
International Film Festival Rotterdam January
Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival February
Tampere Short Film Festival March
International Short Film Festival Oberhausen May
Cannes International Film Festival May
Cineam Jove International Film Festival June
Vila do Conde International Short Film Festival July
Raindance Film Festival - October
Kinofilm Manchester International Film Festival November
Encounters International Short Film Festval November