By Jonathan Brown, Raindance.Org: Many short film makers, especially those who’ve just started out in the industry, will be shooting on very limited budgets where every penny and pound is stretched to its limit. The idea of having a marketing budget for when the film is finished is like asking some climbing Everest if they have brought a tie so they can look smart for their ‘conquered the mountain’ selfie.
The problem is that, hopefully, the day will come when you have finished the film and your cast and crew are asking ‘What Next?’ The usual answer is ‘I’m going to stick it in a few festivals and see what happens.’ This is all well and good, until you start looking at entry fees to the big name festivals and you realise that your £200 shooting budget is going to be increased by at least 50% just to have the small chance of possibly, maybe getting into a handful of big festivals.
But there are alternatives that don’t cost a penny and can be just as effective in getting your film out to an audience that matters.
1. Screening nights
If you live in London, then this is almost a must these days. There are so many nights across the city that will show your film for free in front of an audience of your peers. Not only that, but a lot of these nights will have a Q&A with key members of the film so you’ll get your moment in the spotlight and the chance to tell that amazing story about how you managed to shoot that one amazing shot using just a skateboard, a snorkel and some sticky-back plastic. You will also get the chance to ask other film makers questions, like how did they get McKellen to feature in their film.
A lot of film makers who have already done festival circuit also use screening nights as a way to keep their film alive for a bit longer before moving onto the next project or as they are starting up a new project and are looking for key cast and crew.
Another benefit is that, unlike festivals which often limit you to one of two tickets, you can bring along the whole cast and crew for a couple of quid.
Venues like The Roxy in London Bridge often have screenings, or you could try Rotoreliefs and Kino. Braine Hownd Films, which I’m a part of, have just started two new screening nights – one in the new ArtHouse cinema in Crouch End and another at The Hob in Forest Green.
2. The net
It used to be the case that a lot of festivals wouldn’t accept your film if it had already been uploaded to the internet but many are starting to realise that this is foolish and some are, in fact, sourcing their line up from video sites.
Everyone instantly thinks YouTube when you say online films, and it’s not a bad outlet. However, the filmmakers’ choice is Vimeo. Not only is the quality excellent but the videos tends to be actual films instead of clips of cats falling off cars.
Vimeo also has a staff picks. I’ve been informed by a reasonably good source that some big name festivals actually use the Vimeo Staff Picks as a source for their festivals. To get on staff picks is like trying to boost your ranking on Google – a bit of a mystery. The official word from Vimeo is that you need to post a link to your video in the ‘Shoutbox’ of either of the Staff Pick channels and the staff will try to watch them. Again, my source suggests that if you manage to get a certain number of likes in a day (around 30-40) then this flags your film up with the staff.
Vimeo are also going the pay-per-view route. Joss Whedon has recently put his new film on Vimeo on Demand and you can do the same for your short film. Whether anyone would be willing to pay to see short is another matter, but maybe a package of them might work better.
There are other online options, like Snoovies, an online short film ‘watchable magazine’ which not only includes the films but also behind the scenes footage and interviews with film makers. You can submit your films to Snoovies for free and might even get a small royalties payment, depending on downloads.
3. Free festivals
There are a number of festivals out there that don’t charge for entry. These can be difficult to track down, but there are a number of websites, like filmfreeway.com, which you can use to find them.
While many of these may be small and limited in their exposure, they can all add to your film’s CV. This means if you decide to apply for some of the bigger festivals, you’ve got some backing that your film is good. Getting into festivals is a lot like applying for a job – the more experience and proof that your product is good, the more likely of success you are.
It’s also worth checking out local festival to ask if they can screen you film. These don’t have to be film festivals and, for getting free screenings, might be better if they’re not film related. Near me is the Crouch End Festival and they are always happy to host screenings from local film makers. Check your local listings and see if there’s a festival that might want to show your film. It especially helps if you can prove that you live locally or that the film was shot locally.
4. Screen it yourself
Anyone can shoot a film these days, as production kit becomes cheaper and the quality better. While this hasn’t quite reached the home projection market yet, there are affordable options out there to show your film guerrilla-style.
Hand held projectors start at around £150 but the quality is pretty poor. However, try your local pub and see if they’ve got a projector. If you ask them nicely, and promise a load of film makers who’ll no doubt spend their hard earned cash behind the bar, then they might let you use it for free.
Don’t want to hire out a whole room just to show your two minute short? Then get a few of your films together or ask some other film makers to join in. You could even try asking some film industry people or casting agents along. You never know your luck.
5. Select one festival
If you’re really proud of your film and you feel it ticks the boxes that film festivals are looking for, then you could just pick one festival and go for that. There are a number of Oscar qualifying festivals out there – like Raindance – do your research and see which is best fit for your film.
Make sure you’ve got everything to back it up as well – posters, trailers, behind the scenes photos, biogs of everyone involved, links to their other work. The more work you do on promoting your film and making it look professional, the less work the festival organisers will need to do. Make it hard for them to say no.
Have you made a film? Short or feature? Have you any tips? Please put them in the comments box below.
Jonathan Brown is an award-winning short film maker, journalist and blogger. His short film, I Am Lonely, which was produced by Braine Hownd Films, won the $10,000 NFB Canada Short Film award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and has had over 220,000 views on YouTube. He has also written for a number of magazines including Short Sighted Cinema and has worked as a journalist and editor for the past decade. He currently is writing freelance and runs a blog that was named one of the Top Three Coffee Blogs in London.