One of the many things that we here at Raindance have to do (besides answering your phone calls) is to review submissions that people from around the world enter into the film festival. All of the submitted films are amazing, but only a few can make it into the actual festival–otherwise, each event would take days to screen!

To help prepare you for festival season, here are a few tips on how to make your short film stand out from the rest.

Tip 1: Have an original storyline.

It may seem like one of the most trivial things to say, but having an original storyline is one of the things that will make your film shine. We get thousands of shorts submissions and read hundreds of film pitches every day, and most of them are fantastic. So how do we start picking out the cream of the crop?

When it comes down to it, the first films to go are always the ones with weak stories and unmemorable plots. Acting and cinematography can be pretty subjective for each and everyone, but an original idea is less debatable.

When you’re writing your film, first things first–write a good, original story.

Tip number 2: Hook your viewer in immediately!

Since there are thousands of submissions to sift through, each short film only gets about 5 or so minutes of our time before we’re forced to make a judgement call. So what’s the best way to combat this?

In our experience, the films that have a strong, intriguing hook at the very beginning will keep us invested up until the end instead of prematurely getting the axe. If nothing in the film grabs our attention by the second or third minute, it will more than likely be passed on.

Give us a good reason to continue watching your film.

Tip number 3: Clearly convey what your film is about (without the use of descriptions).

Nothing irritates me more than a film with fantastic acting, beautiful cinematography, and smart direction… with a completely convoluted plot. Directors know what their film is about, but us? Not so much. We only get a brief glimpse of it before we have to move on.

By the end of your film, we should have a good idea of what your message is. It doesn’t have to be completely straightforward, but just don’t keep us guessing too much.

Also, don’t rely on your description to tell us what your film was about. Your film should be able to exist on its own.

Tip number 4: Extra long shorts are a bit of a turn-off.

A lot of footage that gets submitted goes unwatched–that’s an unfortunate side effect of submitting to a major film festival. What makes things even worse are films that are drawn out and longer than they really should be. Instead, you should keep your film short and snappy; cut out unnecessary scenes like showing your character getting up in the morning or doing something that doesn’t add to the plot at all. Remember that long scenes work well within a movie because the movie is at least an hour and a half long–you don’t have that kind of time in a short film!

Tip number 5: Don’t rely on another director’s style to get your film in.

It’s nice to draw inspiration from your favourite filmmakers like Tarantino, Anderson or Nolan, but make sure your film has the essence of what makes you a good filmmaker. We’re not interested in copy-cats… If we wanted to watch a Tarantino film we would just watch a Tarantino film. We want to see what you are capable of!

If you absolutely have to make a homage to another director’s work, that’s fine–but don’t rely on that to make your film stand out.

Tip number 6: Put effort into your film score.

Your score and your film are inevitably tied together, and sometimes it’s even the score that makes the movie legendary. Unfortunately, this is a concept that tends to get lost in many debut shorts. Remember that a good score can take your film from good to excellent, so don’t cheap out or rush the soundtracking of your film.

Tip number 7: Give your film a reason to exist.

When I look at an animation film, it shouldn’t be an animation just for the sake of being an animation. Give us a reason why your film idea can ONLY be an animation, and why it’s special! Live action films operate under the same philosophy: what makes your story worth paying attention to? Is it telling a story from a new perspective? Is it raising awareness to an underrepresented issue? If your film is a comedy–does it make your viewer laugh?

Why should we watch your film instead of what’s now playing in theatres?

If you’re having trouble answering these questions, you may want to reconsider what your film is about!

Hope these tips can help your film to get into any festival you are considering and hope to see you soon at Raindance!

If this article was helpful, share it with your fellow filmmakers!



Li-Wei Chu is an intern at Raindance London, and is currently studying Cinema and Digital Media at UC Davis and Film Production at Queen Mary, University of London. Originally from Diamond Bar, California, he enjoys volunteering for the Miskatonic Institute and various film festivals around London.

Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really any film that makes you go 'hmmmm'. He loves talking about film and indie music with others, so be sure to drop him a line if you want to chat.

Favorite films: The Babadook (2014), Evil Dead (1981), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

He misses sunny weather, but enjoys being in the big city.

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