Taking a short horror movie around the festival circuit

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Cat Davies and James Moran talk about their short horror film Blood Shed, and how they got it noticed.

Cat Davies (@KittyCointreau
James Moran (@jamesmoran

Previously, on Blood Shed: we wrote a short, funded it through Kickstarter, and made it. But then what? What do you actually do with a short film? How can you give it the best shot at being seen, especially if it’s about a man-eating shed?

Most of the time, short films are submitted to film festivals, unless they’re made available online first. We followed the traditional route of festivals first. This offers a number of advantages: networking, possibility of further distribution, awards and cash prizes, reviews, parties and, of course, exhibition. But it can be expensive… Blood Shed has about 50 international festivals to its credit in a year since its world premiere at FrightFest 2017. These include Oscar-recognised festivals like Seattle and Nashville, BAFTA and BIFA qualifiers like Underwire, Encounters and Norwich, genre festivals including Molins, Fantaspoa, Cinepocalypse, Nevermore and Knoxville Horror, where we scooped three awards, plus more niche, specialist festivals. We’ve played to a global audience and, as a result, attracted wider distribution for TV and online sales, a positive following and appetite for our future work, great reviews, and met brilliant people.

But how does it work?

There are many festival submission websites to sign up to – Filmfreeway, Withoutabox and Festhome are just a few. Set up a profile and upload information about your film. You’ll need a striking poster, a couple of high-quality stills (think about this before you shoot and don’t forget to do it on set), filmmaker biographies, a synopsis, director’s statement, trailer and a link to a private screener version on Vimeo or YouTube. Then search through the hundreds and hundreds of festivals… find ones that might be a good fit. This takes research – be targeted with your approach, think about what you want from festivals. Of course, you want your film to be screened, but also consider…

• Do you want to your film to be seen at cool festivals?

• Do you want to be in the running for bigger awards like BAFTA or the Oscars?

• Are you interested in cash prizes?

• Do you want to participate in workshops or labs?

• Do you want distribution? Festivals with film markets are key.

• Do you want to network with renowned filmmakers? Or try to meet financiers and producers? Then you need festivals that attract those names!

Research the festivals, see what they offer, and compare it with what you want, but also how you meet the festival’s preferences, audience needs and requirements. Look at what they’ve programmed before. Is your work similar? Is there a consistent tone or style? Do they have a horror or genre section? How many shorts do they programme? Do they take hundreds, or just 10? Who is their audience and is it right for their eyeballs? Choose wisely.

Play the odds!

There’s nearly always a submission fee. This can range from $5 to $80, especially if it’s an awards qualifier. When you consider that a 10% success rate is positive for a short, you may get into one out of 10 festivals, even if your short is amazing. You can end up spending hundreds, even thousands, on submission fees. So, set a budget. The smaller your budget, the more targeted you’ll need to be. Once you’ve submitted, you’re competing with hundreds, often thousands, of shorts. Festival programmers have to balance their selection, so if you’ve made a brilliant giant robot film, but they’ve got three brilliant giant robot films, you might lose out. Or maybe your short is a few minutes longer than ideal – shorter films are easier to programme. Festivals may have lots of people viewing the submissions. You might get someone who doesn’t dig your sense of humour, genre, lead actor, or themes – there could be all sorts of reasons why they don’t select it. Or maybe they like it, but don’t have the space. That’s tough luck. Stay strong – rejection is part of filmmaking.

But, when you are selected, the fun begins! After all that hard work, it’s great to see the film playing to an audience. You’ll meet other filmmakers and possible collaborators, sometimes press, financiers, distributors, festival programmers… Maybe even have a glass of wine with your heroes – like we did with the team behind Chucky at FrightFest last year. Build your shed, and they will come…

Building an audience through carefully selected festivals can lead to other festivals approaching you with waiver codes so they can see your film, without costing you a penny. This is the sweet spot and has increased with Blood Shed this year. Some will be keen based on word of mouth, but when they actually see it, they may still turn it down – but at least you’ve got the money in your back pocket to repaint your fine shed.

The waiting game to see if a festival wants your film can be nerve-wracking, and you may be surprised by who wants it and who doesn’t. We submitted to several we thought were a long shot, who loved it, but others we thought were a no-brainer never even responded. It can feel like a kick in the teeth, but when you get a yes, it’s the best feeling and only the start of your true festival journey. It’s like getting a yes from that hottie in school you were desperate to fumble around with in the shed… well, not our shed, or she’d have your arm off.

See more at bloodshedfilm.com, or on Twitter @bloodshedfilm 

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