Welcome to Directing on a Dime, where indie moviemaker Andy Young provides tips and insight for moviemakers whose budget is more The Blair Witch Project than Avatar. Have questions for Andy about low-budget (or no-budget) moviemaking? Ask away at .
We live in a world dominated by YouTube, where your short film has the potential to be seen by hundreds, thousands, even millions of people without you ever having to leave your living room. But what moviemaker dreams of one day getting “20,000 views” or seeing their movie on somebody’s iPhone? No, you want to see it on the big screen: Blown up, projected in a dark theater with booming sound and surrounded by the smell of popcorn as moviegoers file in to see your work. To many, this experience would be a dream come true, but making the dream into a reality can be intimidating. The price for renting a commercial theater screen, even for only an hour, can be astronomical. Fortunately, there are a still some great ways for moviemakers to get their short films on the silver screen:
First, the good news: Because moviemaking is now so accessible that anyone can make a short film, there are hundreds of thousands of festivals held around the world that showcase short films! The bad news? Because movivemaking is now so accessible that anyone can make a short film, competition can be tough and the submission/acceptance ratio can be discouraging. However, most submission fees are fairly cheap (if not nonexistent), and even if your movie doesn’t make the cut, most festivals offer a discount on your attendance badge just for submitting. So even if you’re rejected, it’s always worth showing up to meet moviemakers, check out panels, build up your own buzz and, of course, see some great movies. I definitely recommend Fantastic Fest, SXSW and the Austin Film Festival if you’re planning on making a trip down to Austin, Texas.
Most universities, especially ones with an active film department, have some sort of regular screening/contest for student-made short films, or at the very least would let you check out a screening room for yours. Student-run festivals are by-and-large easier to get accepted into than mainstream festivals and can be a great opportunity to see some films by other young moviemakers—a.k.a., people you may want to work with in the near future. Also, be sure to subscribe to the film school’s newsletter. They’ll keep you updated on all the festivals, screenings, shoots and seminars you can get involved with.
But wait. This school-run festival only accepts student work, and you don’t go to this school? Well, I seem to recall your friend in the biology department serving as an “Executive Producer”…
Local Theater Bumpers
Many local “mom and pop” theaters will often look for amateur work to play before their scheduled films as a bumper. This could be a funny instructional video for the rules of the theater, a sweded version of a popular film, B-roll that relates to the movie you’re about to see or even just a funny short to keep audiences in their seats. (Note: Go for all-ages material.) Here’s the bumper that played in front of every major film at SXSW 2011; it’s a very creative short and definitely an awesome calling card that got seen nightly by some big players in the entertainment industry.
The 48 Hour Film Project
Doing the 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP) is some of the most fun I’ve ever had making movies. Here’s how it works: You’re given a genre, a character, an item and a line of dialogue to incorporate into a four-to-seven-minute-long film. Then, you and your team have exactly 48 hours to write, produce, edit and turn your film in! Teams can consist of anything from hundreds of moviemakers to, in my case, two or three friends with a camera.
The submission fee, while a little steep (about $100), is well worth it, because 48HFP is guaranteed to screen all films completed on time at least twice in a local theater. You can invite friends and family to the screening, and if you’re lucky you might win an award and get to screen with other award-winning shorts! The winning short in each city usually goes on to compete with other winning shorts from around the world, and some have even gone on to screen at festivals like Sundance and Cannes! How’s that for getting your money’s worth?
My sketch comedy troupe participated in the Austin 48 Hour Film Project last year. We were given:
Genre: Detective/Cop Drama
Character: Kevin or Katie Withers, the soccer coach
Item: A purse
Line: “Don’t tell me what to do!”
Our short, Tony Seven, was picked as one of the top 10 entries and was screened with the other winners at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (over 200 seats, sold out!). We won “Best Use Of A Line of Dialogue” and got to rub elbows with all the other moviemakers and festival staff. Later, the short also got some play on a local TV station, but that’s an article for another day.
You can see Tony Seven here. (Fun fact: Not only did I direct/produce/edit/run sound/operate the camera, but I also played Kevin and Katie Withers.)
Have any other suggestions, or personal experience, about ways to get your short film on the big screen? Use the comment section below!
Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer who lives in Austin, Texas and studies in the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio Television Film program. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 150 short films and one feature, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy is currently a director and staff writer on the Texas Student Television show ”Shenanigans” and continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.