Updated: Aug 25
Making a short film is a long, tough journey, and releasing it to the world can be one of the most stressful moments you’ll face in the process. Where to start? Where do you premiere? Which festivals? Which online sites? Which platform? How do you think about sales? Will anyone see it? Will anyone care?! Hold up for just a sec there, partner.
First thing first: Ask yourself what it is that you really want from your short film release? What you want out of the process? Job? Prestige? Money?
Know What’s Most Important
A recent survey conducted on hundreds of experienced filmmakers who’ve gone through the process of making, and releasing short films, and across the board two things stand out as the most important outcomes from a successful short film release: opening up new career opportunities, and finding an audience.
While short films are amazing works of art all their own, for many ambitious filmmakers they primarily serve as a proving ground for something bigger. You make a short film so that you can make a feature film, or a hit Netflix series, or a Cartoon Network show, or to join a commercial roster, or simply establish yourself and connect with other talented collaborators. Short films are a great way to showcase your voice as a filmmaker and kickstart your filmmaking career.
It’s About Exposure
Ultimately what drives opportunities in today’s media landscape is exposure. Hundreds of filmmakers featured on Short of the Week have gone on to bigger things, from big-budget films to streaming deals, festival breakouts to national commercials. Behind every one of those successes is an accelerator—an executive handing the keys to a franchise, a financier greenlighting a project, or an experienced producer who hops onboard a talented writer/ director’s script. The common factor is exposure to the right person who can recognize talent and accelerate a filmmaker’s ambitions.
Every aspect of an exhibition and distribution strategy should be laser-focused on maximizing the opportunity that your work is discovered by the right person. A hundred million views online won’t guarantee that you land a Netflix deal, nor does a mere 100 views forgo that possibility. But being seen as much as possible progressively increases your odds.
The Conventional Approach is Broken
For the past decade, the conventional strategy has been to stretch out your film release over years, starting with a festival run, incorporating a sales period with exclusivity windows, and culminating in an online release. This worked in a system controlled by gatekeepers. But in today’s world driven by exposure and discovery, there is a better way.
A New Approach
The strategy we recommend for the filmmakers is one we call the ‘Be Everywhere All at Once’ strategy. It’s an amalgam of two simple axioms:
Be Everywhere. You can now reach millions of people around the world. Go to where the audiences are and get your short film on as many platforms as you can. Lower barriers to make it as easy to view and share your film as possible. You likely don’t know the producer, manager, or intern who may discover you or the editor who may feature you on a big platform. Broaden your reach and allow serendipity to happen.
All at Once. We live in an increasingly noisy world. Your goal is to pierce through that noise by compressing your film’s release window to build momentum. It’s a tactic that marketers have used successfully in other industries like music, where big albums today are surprising drops rather than long unveilings. Deliver your message with one massive swing of the hammer rather than multiple light taps. In a noisy world, it works. It also saves time.
Rather than spend two years slowly rolling out a short film and getting a response back in piecemeal, push it all at once and get a response, and get back to making films. This rapid feedback is really important to filmmakers still developing their voices.
Here’s how you can put BE EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE INTO ACTION:
What’s Great About Festivals
Film festivals hold a special allure for filmmakers, so it’s important to be clear-eyed about what to expect. Festivals are a great way to experience the thrill of watching your film in front of a live audience. They’re also a great place to build relationships with other filmmakers and programmers. Top-tier festivals can provide critical validation, something that can open doors throughout your career and act as criteria for approving future projects. All of these are good things.
However, many filmmakers overvalue the impact that a festival can realistically have on their career trajectory. Even at top-tier film festivals, short films are often an after-thought amidst the buzz and celebrity of the feature film programs, and attending screenings is an inefficient use of key decision-makers’ time, so few (if any) attend.
What’s Great About Online
The vast reach and accessibility of the internet mean that your film can reach an audience of millions. Online is how a short film can go from a small release on Vimeo to a segment on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show. For most filmmakers, online now presents their biggest opportunity to connect with audiences and generate interest. As the world of online creators is exploding, agencies, managers, producers, development teams are increasingly skipping festivals and turning first to online sites in search of new filmmaking voices. It’s much easier for an intern or assistant at a studio or production company to share a link to an online film with their boss or partners. The next generation of filmmakers is now being discovered online.
The Best of Both: Festivals + Online
Don’t make it a festival or online conversation. The best strategy leverages the strengths of both festivals and online together. Know what matters to you, and have realistic expectations around what each can deliver.