How to get your short film onto the festival circuit

If like me you’ve written a screenplay and been lucky enough to have had it made, you’ll be wondering what to do next. Does your film have a life beyond the first screening? Yes, on the festival circuit. But some producers and / or directors may not seem too keen to do the legwork involved in getting it onto the circuit (fortunately my director is, and ‘Enemy Lines’ has just been nominated for the Best Short Film at this year’s Rushes Soho Short Film Festival – but more of that in another post). If that’s the case with you, perhaps you should consider distributing your film yourself (check with your producer first that you have the right to do so). And of course, if you’re an independent who has written, directed and produced your film, you’ll need to do it anyway.  Screenwriter Keith Jewitt gives us some advice on how to go about it.

You will need:

  1. A stock of DVDs of your film – preferably labelled with the title, director’s name, aspect ratio, format, duration and contact details.
  2. Stills from the film in electronic format.
  3. Director’s filmography in electronic format.
  4. The names of the key professionals involved including director, producer, DOP, sound, music, editor, designer.

Distribution websites

There are several websites which will help you distribute your film. Some of the best known are:


This website aims to be comprehensive and it gives you access to a wide range of festivals. First, you need to do quite a lot of set-up work, entering the details of the film. Withoutabox needs these because at a later stage you will ask the system to “qualify” your film, ie check that it fits the criteria laid down by the festival.

One of the most important details is the list of screening formats which you have available. For instance, the film which I am currently distributing was shot in high density video and the screening format is DVD-PAL Region 2 – this is what most people would call a normal UK DVD. The producer can, if required, also supply Mini DV and Digi Beta. However, many festivals call for formats which I cannot provide, such as 35mm or DVDs tailored to the US market: this lack of fit should be highlighted when I “qualify” my film.

When you go into Withoutabox you can search its database of festivals in many ways: you can look for festivals by name, or festivals in given country, or festivals with a submission deadline within a certain period. In most cases, you can click on a link and view the festival’s submission rules and entry form: in many cases, you can submit your film online. If you submit online, this doesn’t usually mean emailing the film in electronic form: you will usually be given an entry number which you need to write on the DVD before posting it.

Withoutabox also allows you to set up Paypal details which you can use to pay entry fees for many festivals. Some quibbles concerning withoutabox: many of the festivals listed are in the USA. Most charge a submission fee and many do not accept European formats. Hence you may need to do quite a lot of spadework to find festivals that you want to enter. Note however that some festivals only accept submissions through Withoutabox or Shortfilmdepot. Withoutabox also has a category for screenplay competitions too. A summary of up-and-coming festival deadlines will be emailed to you once a month if you sign up for their newsletter.


Again you need to spend time setting up your film on this system. Once you’ve done this, you need to log in regularly (say once a week) and it will suggest festivals with deadlines in the near future. You can often enter at the click of a button.


This site is maintained by the British Council and includes a list of UK and worldwide festivals. The database does not guide you: it’s up to you to search for festivals that you may wish to enter. However, I like this website because it’s very easy to search.

Suppose that I am looking for UK festivals: I choose UK from the drop-down menu and I get a list of festivals in alphabetical order. The list shows the month in which the festival takes place, and usually the deadline for submissions. This enables me to make a very quick decision about which UK festivals are likely to be accepting submissions at the present time. I click on the name of a festival and I can view a page containing brief information. This may enable me to make a snap decision about eligibility eg the festival may specify young/black/gay filmmakers only. I can then reach the festival website with a couple of clicks.

Competition Rules

Always read the rules of each festival carefully. There are innumerable variations on many basic themes. For instance, some festivals only accept submissions online. They will allocate you a number which then needs to be written on the DVD. Some festivals accept both online and hard copy submission forms. Some festivals need two copies of your DVD. Some require a press kit including still photos, director’s biography etc, others don’t. There’s no point in wasting postage if you haven’t followed the festival’s rules.

Eligibility and ‘premieres’

Most festivals prefer to show films which can be billed as premieres. You will often be asked to state whether the film has been publicly shown in the territory in which the festival takes place. Don’t assume that you have lost the “premiere” effect once your film has been to one festival. There are very few festivals which insist on world premieres. Remember that your film can have several premieres – in the UK, in the US, in France etc.

However, if you have already made your film publicly available online, you have effectively given away its “virginity” and from that point onwards its festival life is circumscribed. Some festivals specifically state that they don’t want to show films which are already online. The subject of online distribution is of course a separate, and more complex subject. Most festivals ask when your film was completed and in many cases they will only accept films made within a certain period – often two years before the festival date.

Sending your film

The whole process ends with a trip to the Post Office to post your envelope containing the film, the form, the cheque etc. Before you go to the Post Office, make sure that you have labelled the envelope “FOR CULTURAL PURPOSES ONLY – NO COMMERCIAL VALUE.” Many festivals actually specify this in their rules. As you can see, there is a lot of clerical work to be done and the process is quite expensive when you add up submission fees, postage and stationery costs. If you are lucky, the producer may have funding for this part of the process and may reimburse you: but if this is a self-produced film, and you have limited money available, you need to think carefully about your distribution strategy so that you get the best value for money.

Keith Jewitt is the founder of North East Screenwriters who meet on the third Saturday of each month at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle upon Tyne. His films are ’69 Miles to London’ (Shakabuku Films, 2007) and ‘Litterpicker’ (Pinball Films, 2008)

Related posts:

  1. Short Story Film Festival: ‘Enemy Lines’ in New York
  2. Rushes Soho Short Film Festival
  3. SoCal Film Festival – semi-finalist
  4. Writing Short Films
  5. Tynedale Writers’ Festival

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