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How to Lose a Short Film Competition

Sophia has been the coordinator of a prestigious short film competition for one year and the judge for four years.

Reverse Psychology for Success

Having just finished coordinating and judging a well-known short film competition, I have learned a great many things about the ingredients of a quality short film and where it can all fall apart before you even click the submit button.

The amateur productions I have had the privilege of watching have been nothing short of inspiring. However a number of the masterpieces I judged, did not follow the rules (official and unofficial). I therefore had to make the frustrating choice to disqualify them, when I actually wanted them to win!

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The following are actions that will send you to the trash folder as fast as you can say Lights, Camera, Action!


1. Go Overtime.

Are you a long-winded person who finds it hard to reign it all in, no matter the consequences? So am I and that’s one of the reasons why I am yet to enter a short film competition!

Size does matter! Well, length does anyway. Bringing your imagination to life about your chosen subject content is a wonderful experience. However, be sure to keep tabs on where your film is heading because there is often a time limit. Yes, three minutes does actually mean three minutes!

Throughout the submission process, I considered the perspective that our easy-going Australian society takes a flexible approach to details. This is not necessarily a problem in many cases flexibility is an asset to the creative process. However sometimes we tend to think that breaking the rules just a bit is no big deal. Well, in competitions it is. I will forever remember the frustration I felt after watching amazing short films that were over the time limit. I had to make the call – 3:08 is not and never will be 3 minutes.

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2. Go Under-Time

You must think I am so picky!

Now, when I refer to ‘under-time’ I am referring to the narrative of the film itself. Yes, follow the rules of the competition, however do not cut your narrative short out of fear that you will go over time. It then becomes an underdeveloped story. The audience does not understand the characters, the plot and especially not the finale.

The effect this has on the audience’s perception of the film is disastrous.They see the creators for who they really are! Unskilled amateurs that really, really wanted to submit something but don’t have the skills to strategically develop a plot that fits the time limit. They also feel unsatisfied due to the lack of closure the story provided them.

3. Submit Your Film After The Due Date.

A no-brainer, but it does happen. Your internet goes down, the server is not responding or your file is too damn large! These common issues and a whole lot more could be thoroughly discussed here.

Unfortunately, technology behaves badly nearly every time when you are pushed for time and need to meet a deadline. However if judges accepted every late film, there would never be a winner or even a showcase of finalists. The amount of administration behind a substantial competition is quite laborious. The fact of the matter is, there is no time to make exceptions for late submissions and why should these be rewarded anyway?

Some of the best films are submitted weeks before the due date. You could be one of them!

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4. Forget the Specs.

In the heat of the creative process, it is very easy to forget the fine print – the very details that are the blue print for any degree of success in a competition. The specs are developed to ensure optimal length, viewing quality and to establish a viable timeframe for the judging and screening processes.

Subtitles may be required as well as a full credit list, a copyright-free soundtrack or even the inclusion of a particular object. Don’t forget any of these things unless you wish to be disregarded before the film is even viewed.

5. Use Poor Language.

Language is the power behind any narrative. It drives a story, adds oomph to a conversation and affects characterisation. Therefore the choices you make in terms of language can make or break a film.

Subtitles with typos or incorrect translations not only make your film look amateur, it also distracts the audience from the film itself. For those of us like myself who are language teachers, all this does is drive us crazy!

Swear words have a place in texts whether that be films, books or songs. However overuse makes the film producers look like they have a poor command of the language. Reserve the use of swear words to create emphasis and to exaggerate emotions. In other cases, consider alternative phrasing or better yet more effective acting.

6. Don’t Edit.

We are all busy people with varying degrees of tech savviness. However forgetting to edit or cutting corners in this area will backfire something shocking!

Editing goes far beyond special effects. In fact, don’t overdo them. Use special effects if they add something to your film. Throwing in some fancy effects for no good reason won’t win you any prizes.

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7. Be Unoriginal.

The truth is…Everything has been done before. It is highly unlikely that your idea will be a pioneer. However fear not, your creation can nevertheless have a lasting impression on us. You can still surprise us, make us laugh, cry, think and feel.

It is the twist you add to your idea.

However submitting a film with a ‘run of the mill’ plot will not do you any favours. A boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after is as boring as it gets. Spice it up by adding a historical context, fantasy themes and unforgettable characters with their own additional issues.


8. Be Too Weird.

On the other hand though it is important to submit films that will not traumatise viewers or be so off target that it does not even meet the specifications. Thinking outside the box is an excellent idea but a disturbing subject matter might be counterproductive.

So there you go. Some key factors to keep in mind when creating a short film for a competition. Surely you want to win. Use the reverse psychology this article provides to create an awesome masterpiece.

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