How To Make It With
A Short Film In Europe

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.

Raindance Film festival Open for SubmissionsShorts 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. Raindance collaborated with Nokis and produced hundreds of 15 second long shrts which can still be viewed on Raindance.tv in a package we labelled The World's Shortest Film Festival.

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 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, your press kit  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 or DCP 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. If you submit your film to Raindance you will get a copy of every international short film buyer, along with their contact details and commisioning policy.

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.

Raindance Film Festival is Open For SubmissionsTop 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
Brussels Short Film Festival April
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

Sales Agents

Hamburg Short Film Agency
Future Shorts
Dazzle Films

2. Internet Self Distribution

The explosion of YouTube and MySpace means that you don't need to rely on the whims of a festival programmer (the job title of the person at a film festival who decides which submissions are selected for screening). You can simply upload your masterpiece yourself to one of the www2 sites, send an email to everyone in your address book with the link and hope that enough people watch and love your movie and tell so many friends that your film becomes a viral hit leading to your discovery as the next Spielberg.

3. Internet Distribution

Sites like Atom Films, iTunes and the Australian channel NICEFILM specialize in shorts and offer different forms of revenue recoupment: either in the form of a one-off license fee, or a revenue participation model based on the number of people who see your film (and see the ads on their site. Each of these sites have different adjudication processes.

4. Mobile Telephone

Cell phones are fast becoming the "fourth screen" medium, after television, cinema and computers. Mobile telephone operators are trying to encourage their clients to use their telephone for non-talking activity, specifically to watch films. The European mobile networks now purchase content for their users to download or MMS, either on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis (depending on the content) On one hand, they pay huge sums for the right to MMS their subscribers goals and key plays from the top sporting events, to small amounts to filmmakers who have created short films, typically under 40 seconds (for G2.5 users) to 120 seconds (G3 users). Filmmakers receive a few pennies per download from the .50 - .75 charge they make their customers.

Content aggregators such Raindance.TV, present packages to the European mobile networks. These collection of short films are discovered at film festivals, or are the result of competitions like the now defunct Nokia 15 Second Shorts competition. Filmmakers can make over $1,000 a film, depending on the deal, and depending how many people see their film or forward it to a friend. The Sundance Film Festival now distributes their festival's shorts and is joining forces with the GSM Association (GSMA), whose members serve more than 2 billion mobile phone customers across the globe, to create the Sundance Film Festival: Global Short Film Project, a groundbreaking pilot project that will showcase and extend the reach of the independent short film genre to mobile users worldwide.

5. Competitions

There are currently so many film competitions that a reasonably talented debutante filmmaker should be able to get the latest cameras, editing software, and even first class trips around the world on the strength of their successful submissions. Before submitting to a competition, it is important to research the organization or company sponsoring the venture to see if you can determine the reason why. Sometimes they are created solely to promote a product or service. In such cases the benefit to you as a filmmaker, is solely the value of the prize. The best competitions are the ones where the promoter is seeking content for their website, or broadcast channel: be it web-based, television or mobile. In these cases, usually by submitting you will be included as part of their content and the possibility will exist to earn extra revenue or exposure. It is up to you to decide which will suit your career best.

BAFTA, the UK equivalent of the Oscar's, held its 60 Seconds of Fame short filmmaking competition in 2007, reserves the exclusive right to use the Entrant's Short Film to market the Competition or showcase the work of BAFTA within the License Period. This is a good example of how the competition host gets the benefits of free or cheap content, and the filmmaker get publicity and hopefully a career boost.

A Raindance tradition has developed where the winner of the Diesel Film Of The Festival, gets the opportunity to create a 60 second festival identity for the coming year which is screened in 150 cinemas for six weeks prior to the festival, on a 35mm print. In 2005 the winner was the Japanese filmmaker, Kosai Sekine, whose brilliant short film won, and his ident called Daughter went on to win 3 gold awards at the prestigious Cannes Advertising Festival in 2006, thereby launching Kosai into the world of the super commercial. The 2007 version, Lone Rider has landed the Autralian filmmaking duo who made it, a feature film and comemrcials work.The 2010 version fell foul of the censorship bodies, but still was a great career move for the filmmakers.

6. Airlines

Cathay Pacific and Virgin are the only remaining airlines who license shorts for their airlines. Filmmakers typically receive $500 for a six month short. The best length for these shorts is about 10-15 minutes each, and soft romantic comedies are the topics the airlines like the most. The best agent to deal with is Dazzle Films in London. Owned and operated by Dawn Sharpless, it has been acquiring and selling shorts since the late 1990's.

7. Advertising Agencies

Ad agencies are always on the lookout for hot new talent. If your work is very short (under one or two minutes) than ad agency might consider you for a commercial. Make sure you invite the relevant executives from ad agencies in the cities that you play in. Obviously, London, Paris and New York have the most agencies, but don't discount agencies in smaller cities.
Some agencies, like Saatchi & Saatchi have in-house intranet sites (theirs is called Sushi & Sushi) where new work is put up for the exclusive use of their employees. The career advantages of this are obvious.

8 Compilation DVDs

Certain festivals like Raindance, organizations like Shootingpeople and others publish annual collections of DVDs which showcase shorts. As part of their marketing campaign, these DVDs are generally given to journalists, ad agency creatives and agents as a way of inducing filmmakers to allow their shorts to be placed on the DVD. From this platform, Raindance has noticed that the filmmakers included on our DVD receive many festival invites and offers of work.

FAQ's

Should I put all my films on YouTube, or not?

YouTube is a great way to get your showreel up, but it ruins the premiere status of your films for festivals, other web distributors and television. Be very careful about what and when you include your films on YouTube.

What is the most common reason filmmakers fail to sell their films?

Either they fail to tell a story, or they fail to clear music rights. Or both.

Does it matter what I shoot my film on?

Absolutely not. The story you're telling is far more important. Just make sure you are able to deliver your film in the correct format and resolution required by whichever festival or broadcaster you are targeting.

What happens if I sign an exclusive agreement?

It means that you are unable to give your work to anyone else, sometimes even other film festivals. Consider the repercussions carefully before you agree such a deal. Sometimes the commercial benefits will sway you, and other times it will be the exposure.

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About Elliot Grove

Elliot GroveCanadian born Elliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the
British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007, the Raindance Postgraduate Film Degree in 2011 and Raindance Raw Talent in 2013.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films incuding his latest feature film, Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

Open University awarded Elliot and Honourary Doctorate for services to film education in 2009.
He is regularly interviewed. Here is an interview for Canadian television

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How To Make It With A Short Film In Europe