Once word got out that I sold my short film “Crisis”, with Carlos Samudio of Looknow Productions to an international distributor, everyone wanted to know how I did it, or could I help them out in anyway.

Let’s go back to the beginning:

Many people interpret what short films can do for your career or how it can help. I’ve heard many different opinions and the best option is to form your own opinion. I’ve discovered, you’ll get two worlds from making short films. The first one, people tend to see it as a way of furthering your career, or self-distribution. They’re absolutely right. I mean, why make a short film if you don’t think it will help you in the long haul? The second, and this can get tricky, is the MONEY. Yes the money, you’ll get people asking you, “Did you make any money off it?” Whether the answer is yes or no, they think you might have wasted your time. Truth is you didn’t, no matter what people may think.

You may ask yourself, 'how do I get my money back?' Another tricky question, you won’t break the bank on making short films, so you have to go in knowing that. However, there is a way to turn a profit on it. Let’s talk about that.

Growing up I come from a sports background, not an arts background. I’ve always had an appreciation for the arts and always been a huge film buff. You’re probably wondering what my point is. My point is that look at it as a game that you may win or lose. Now, throughout the years, aspiring artists, (no matter what field you’re trying to get into), often say, “How do I break in?” or, “it’s very tough to break in.” I agree with everyone. It is tough and I still work in the independent world, not studio, but what if you found a way to increase your chances over everyone else. There are some ways to do that.

There are two games I think about when I work on marketing for a short film, Chess and Blackjack. They’re both strategy games and marketing is a strategy type job. In Blackjack, the object of the game is to get to or close to twenty-one to win. Easy enough right? Making a short film and marketing it is a gamble, although, like Blackjack, it’s beatable. Think of yourself as card counters at the table. I need to beat the house (the dealer), in order to win. Again, you’re probably wondering, this guy is talking about card games and not film. I’m getting to my point, I promise. Marketing a short film is like playing a game of Blackjack, it’s all about STRATEGY. You want to here some examples? I knew that you would.

First example: Throughout the years, I’ve talked to a lot of independent filmmakers at social or networking events. Many say to me, “I just made a short film.” I tell them “Congratulations”, they say “Thank you.” We talk for a little while longer and I ask them, “What do you plan on doing with your short?” Most of the time, filmmakers choose to go the festival route, which I think is smart. But... What about life for your film after the festival circuit? I usually get two responses’ and they elaborate. First response: “I like to sell it.” Easy enough, right? We all like to do that. You’re at the Blackjack table you’re sitting on the number ten. The dealer asks, “Do you want a hit or stay?” Remember, the idea is to get to or close to twenty-one and to beat the dealer. I usually get from the filmmaker: I’m looking in how to do that, I have my producer (s) handling that, or I hope to take it to a major festival and hope to have someone see it and pick it up. That does happen from time to time. However, if you don’t get into a major festival or get rejected from other film festivals, you have to re-think your strategy.

Let’s see how this relates to Chess. In that game you line up your pieces: Ponds, rook, bishop, knight, queen, and king. The object of the game is to capture the king, you’ve done that you won. It’s a thinking person’s game and depending upon which piece you would like to move; you can go forward, vertical, horizontal, or even backwards. Now, I’m going to provide more examples: I was recently hanging out with an actor friend of mine and he was telling me about a short film he just did, and as we talked some more, he told me that the director wanted to sell it to a major network. I had asked him, “What other places do you guys plan on sending it too?” I could see in his facial expressions that he was thinking what next to say. He told me that he was just looking at that network. I said “good luck.”

With the rise of technology, there are many avenues to show your film: Internet, cable, DirecTV, YouTube, and even Facebook. Those seem obvious, but if your lucky enough to get distribution, and the filmmaker(s) can do research on this too. You can show your short in cinemas, schools, museums, bars, and libraries. Did the cinema theater avenue get your intention? Some movie theaters will show short films before their features, but I would advise to do some research to see how that works. I know some distribution labels that do that. However, if they can do it, then it doesn’t mean they will do it. They might take a look at your film in make you an offer, but the offer is not in movie theaters, but on television. They just think it plays better on television and if you try to argue that concept, they might say, “Okay, well we don’t want it now.” Be very smart about the art of negotiation. Also, don’t be greedy, they can pull the same thing on you if you ask for more money.

Let’s go back to film festivals for a second. Throughout the years, I’ve also talked to a lot of filmmakers that want to take their shorts to Sundance, or Cannes. That’s certainly fine and it never hurts to try and get it in those festivals, although, you’re going straight for the king on the Chess board, trying to end the game early, huh? Let’s think about this, those are the two biggest film festivals in the world and a lot of filmmakers all over the globe want their films to be shown there. I heard Sundance gets about fifty thousand submissions each year and they only accept a limited number of features and shorts, though shorts number is a little higher. Think about that for a second, fifty thousand, that’s almost more submissions then what people make in their day jobs. Why not submit to a festival that you know you’re going to have a good shot to get in and maybe even win an award. Cannes is the same way, but they do have the film market.

Speaking of film markets, let’s touch upon that. I’ve never tried them and I have mixed feelings about them. Besides, Cannes, there’s the AFM (American Film Market), EFM (European Film Market), and several others. If you can get in those, I would applaud you, but the reason I have mixed feelings is because they set you up to show your film to potential buyers and distributors. They might select your film and they either say yes or no. However, if they say no, and you try to submit the film to their distribution label, they might come back and say, “I’ve seen this already and I said no, why I would say yes months later,” just some food for thought. Don’t go straight for the king, strategize, and capture your opponents’ ponds, knight, and bishop, to get to the king.

I would highly advise every filmmaker, who has done a short film, or even a feature to do some research about the subject of distribution. There are some people who are lucky enough to get distribution set up during pre-production because they have a friend or know someone who work there. I would be the first to congratulate you, but if you’re a person like me and have never been in that position, it will take time. It will not happen for you the day you finish it. It will take months and maybe even a year, but if you feel like you have a good product then stick with it and something awesome will happen.

Matthew Paris

Matthew Paris is the screenwriter of Crisis, a short film with international distribution.

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