10 Lessons From BAFTA Short Sighted

1. Film Funds First

Whichever method you're planning to fund your short film, go through the traditional routes first: government funding, schemes and competitions. Even though they're highly competitive and you're not likely to win, the process of putting together your treatment and readying your pitch forces you to develop your project.

 

You'll come away from your rejection letters not with a sense of crippling disappointment, but with a folder full of preparation, able to pitch your project at the drop of a dime, more than ready to delve into other funding options, such as crowdfunding for example.

 

But if you do happen to be successful with one of these applications, you'll obviously receive a big chunk of money and support, so won't have to worry about starting your own crowdfunding campaign. It's a win-win!

 

Check-in with Creative England and BFI, who often run governmental funding opportunities. Click here for No Film School's list of winter grants for filmmakers. 

2. Go After the Assistants

Filmmaker Jonathon Schey had a really great bit of pre-production advice: when trying to find heads of departments for your film (art director, editor, etc), ask someone's assistant. Schey got his casting director by phoning a big, successful casting agent and asking to talk instead to her assistant - offering them the main role as a casting director on his film The Entertainer. She did it for free and has now gone on to bigger work, thanks in part to this credit and the experience it gave her.

 

Assistants almost always want to transition into being the head of their department, hence why they're assistants in the first place, but need credits in being able to make that step - and that's exactly what you as a filmmaker can offer them. For this reason, they often work for free on small productions, because just like you, they will not only treat exciting projects as vital career stepping stones, but also because just like you, what they do is their passion.

3. It’s Harder to Make a Short than a Feature

What? That's like saying it's harder to walk to the shop than trek across the Sahara.

 

Well, listen to this, producer James Brown talked about the mountains of footage you inevitably get with a feature, lending you more to work with in case scenes aren't working in the edit. His film 'Still Alice' featured a 30-second shot of Julianne Moore waiting around, sitting on a sofa. This was shot before the sound had started recording, meaning Moore was actually not acting, she was literally just waiting for someone to shout 'action!'. It just so happened that this shot plugged a hole in the edit, and was in fact fundamental to making a scene work. 

 

With a short film, every scene needs to justify its inclusion in the first place, so inevitably a lot of extra content just won't have been shot - there is less scope for thrifty reorganisation in the editing stage, as you have less to work with - on all levels. If what you've shot for a short film isn't working, you're most likely stuck with it, but if you're in the same situation with a feature, there's plenty of material to work with to fix it.

 

Lesson: if you're finding it hard to make a good short, that's okay - they're really hard, for everyone. Keep going, if you master shorts then you're in good stead for ultimately moving into features.

4. Crowdfunding? Be Insufferable

The crowdfunding session was one of the day's highlights, with inspiring advice from Jonathon Schey and Christopher Manning, two filmmakers who have successfully funded short films through Kickstarter. 

 

One of the main things I took away was the idea that to be successful with your campaign, you need to become 'insufferable'. Keep telling people about the fact you have a crowdfunding campaign on the go, to the point in which they will probably start to hate you. But hey, as long as awareness is high and enough people give you money, it doesn't really matter if you lose a few friends along the way. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - post, post, post -  contact people directly if you think it'll work.

 

And keep at it! Make it into a job - it will be worth it in the end.

 

Take a look at both Schey's and Manning's Kickstarter pages for inspiration, and in Schey's case, the best campaign video of all time.

5. Find your Niche

This was touched on by the crowdfunding filmmakers primarily, as they are both from communities that they were able to draw support from during their funding campaign, but definitely applies more generally to any stage of filmmaking, whether that be during the very first parts of pre-production, or during the release phase. 

 

Jonathon Schey is from a Jewish background, with his film featuring a Bat Mitzvah as its main location. Christopher Manning, meanwhile,  explores strong LGBTQ themes in his work. Both their campaigns inevitably drew notice from members of those communities, while sticking out as more unique and underrepresented projects to a wider audience.

 

So if you or your film has a niche, don't hide, use it as a strength. Filmmaking is crying out for unique voices. This doesn't just apply to the funding stage, keep it in mind for the promotion as well - if your film isn't solely about a white fellow with a gun and taste for the ladies, then chances are it has something unique or different about it, and people want to know.

6. Know What You're Entering

So you're ready to submit to festivals.

 

DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.  

 

With no shortage of film festivals existing in this world, picking one in which to enter your precious short can be a daunting task. Just logging into submission sites such as FilmFreeway or Withoutabox presents you with an overwhelming array of options. There seem to be as many film festivals as there have been films in the world ever, which is why putting some time into research is key to maximising your film's festival run potential.

 

Although luck and timing can play a big part in whether your film is accepted into a festival or not, research into what festival is right for your film is vital. Cheri Federico, founder and director of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, said during her panel that she believes 'there is a festival for every film'. So, if your film isn't getting into any festivals, perhaps you're submitting to the wrong ones - and having a random, scattergun approach is most likely going to end with a heap more rejection letters than you'd have expected. 

 

So to save time, sanity and a whole lot of money, try to build a good knowledge of the right festivals to enter, and do this early - start thinking about what festivals would be a good fit for your project as soon as you begin the journey of making it.

7. Get your Materials Together

Although your actual film is obviously the primary aspect to be judged by a festival, paying attention to the materials submitted alongside it can pay dividends.

 

Although going mad with a mass of materials such as press packs can often prove fruitless - as some of the festival directors said during the first talk - a good logline, synopsis and high-quality film still or two are all valuable assets. This is largely because those things can be easily utilised for the festival's marketing material, should your film be chosen. 

 

Although Liz Harkman, programmer at Locarno and Flickerfest, stated that she never reads a synopsis before watching a film - they can provide context for some people, so it's always worth spending time getting those aspects right. You never know when it might make a difference. 

8. Submit to Early Bird

One mini-bombshell that blew this writer's tiny little mind was the revelation that festivals don't really want you to submit during late deadline submission window. The reason they're so expensive is because festivals generally have more than enough films by that point. That ridiculous price hike is literally designed to put filmmakers off.

 

This assertion was made by James Mullighan, a festival director and general submissions expert who imparted a host of invaluable advice during the day. He said that although you can still get into a festival if you submit in the latter stages, the programmers will most likely have seen more than enough decent ones already, so their glazed, square eyes may not be able to appreciate your film properly.

 

So before you spend £1,500 submitting four minutes before that deadline, why not wait till next year? If it's still eligible, then patience is a virtue my friend, and you can always submit elsewhere in the meantime. Plus, you'll be saving yourself a whole lot of dollar.

9. Accepted into a Festival? Attend!

If you make it into a festival and you can afford to go, go! And if they're paying for you to go, you just gotta make time. There are so many more plus points to go alongside getting into a festival than just having your film shown to a few more people - talks, screenings, parties. And yes, I'll say it... networking opportunities.

 

I know you're most likely sick to death of being told to network, but it's actually a rather important thing to do. Forging connections, making contacts - you never know when they might come in handy. Attending a film festival, no matter how small, gives you the perfect opportunity to do that.

 

'Be your own PR person' was a phrase that came up during a couple of the talks. Although a lot of us filmmakers are by definition quiet little weirdos, the filmmaking industry is indeed a people industry. So, make contact, follow up with a quick email, and start building those relationships - it's a fundamental aspect of a filmmaker's life.

 

Also, if your film makes it to certain foreign festivals, the British Council offer grants for you to travel there - which is a pretty sweet deal.

10. You're Gonna Need a Thick Skin

January 01, 2020

So you didn't get into any festivals and you don't have any money for your next project. Well, something that comes up in most pep talks, for good reason, is the art of maintaining a thick skin amidst a sea of rejection, failure, push-backs and criticism. 

 

Almost everyone will experience a whole lot more no's than yes's in their career, but the true test of character is whether you can use that barrage of 'not on my nelly''s to become a stronger and more determined filmmaker.

 

Writer and director Deborah Haywood said that looking back, she's relieved at being turned down for some of the funding opportunities she worked so hard to apply for; the reality was that neither her nor her project were ready at that time. Those rejections allowed her to look closer at how she needed to change her approach, massively benefitting her as a filmmaker and the project as a whole. This applies to festivals as well - perhaps your submission strategy was wrong, or maybe your film wasn't up to snuff in the first place. That's okay, you'll do better next time.

 

Saul and Karni, a filmmaking husband-and-wife duo, mentioned how filmmakers need to 'will their films into existence' - meaning that no one is going to serve it up on a plate for you. So take those rejections, learn from them, and keep going. It's a rough road but ultimately you wouldn't have it any other way.

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