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Magic Bullet Quickie: Are Short Films and Festivals Worth The Time of A Writer?

Exploring the world of short films, both from the WRITER and FILMMAKER perspective. Blunt assessments and uplifting information ensues...

In addition to the Magic Bullet articles, I'll be doing these "Quickie" articles that will consist of reader questions that I frequently get, along with the advice I reply back with. Please let me know in the comments if you find these useful, and I'll put more up.

Dear Michael,

Greetings from Ireland. I hope you're well. I found your latest article on high concept writing in Scriptmag very helpful. I'm currently working on a few feature scripts but have been concentrating on making my own short films up to this point, one of which will screen at the Irish Film Festival of Boston next month.

I was wondering if you could offer some advice... I have gone to festivals in the USA before (horror is my thing and I won an award at a competition in New Jersey and also went to the NYC Horror Film Festival with my last short), and done some good networking, but unfortunately LA has eluded me so far.

I'm torn at the moment between going out to present my latest short in Boston (not LA or even NY, I know), in the hopes of drumming up contacts and interest in my work, or saving the time and money to polish a few scripts and maybe head out to LA for a couple of weeks instead and try and get meetings etc. But, of course, I have no contacts in LA...

I'd really appreciate any help.




Thank you so much for your email and kind words on the article! I truly appreciate it.

To be perfectly blunt, unless a short is in a major festival like Sundance, it's best to save your money. While networking is important, unless it's in a major festival, the networking you'll be able to do will not be beneficial enough to warrant a trip (and certainly not one from Ireland!).

To put this in even starker contrast, when people ask me about short films, I always tell them one thing: unless you've got a feature script behind it, nobody in the industry much cares. Even when people get their shorts into Sundance, many times ALL that comes from it is the networking they manage to do while there - a festival winning short doesn't launch as many careers as it once did.

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Give it your best material... IN STUNNING HD!

On the flip side, if you do create a brilliant short, you will get 100 times more traction and career launching using the internet than you can from a festival. Especially if you're talking genres like comedy, horror, or sci-fi, which you are.

As well, if someone sees a brilliant short at a festival, they'll contact you using the email address in the festival program, so you don't even have be there anymore anyways.

Lastly, if you do have a brilliant short, and people are emailing you about it (whether from a festival or the internet), the ONLY question that every industry person will ask you is: do you have a feature script? Even if it's not a feature version of the short, the only currency in this business for filmmakers is a feature script.

Now, with all of that said, I would post your short online using vimeo, start trying to get websites and blogs to link to it, and let it take on a life of it's own. Before, during, and after all of that, I would focus on finishing your features. Again, that's the only currency you have as an unknown filmmaker, and your biggest asset.

Lastly, I wouldn't just come out to L.A. and try and drum up interest and meetings while you're here. I would use the features and short to drum up interest and meetings BEFORE you ever think of buying a plane ticket, so that you guarantee that your trip will be well worth your time when you come.

It sounds to me like you've definitely got talent (having been in multiple festivals), so it's what you do with your talent that will make the difference. The time right now is crucial, because I can't tell you the number of filmmakers who had a couple great shorts in festivals and then never finished a feature (and thus their festival successes never went anywhere). Getting a short or feature in a festival is the easy part - the networking you put into the event is the moderately difficult part - the hard part is finishing a fantastic feature that you can use when drumming up interest with your short.

Hope that helps,



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So that's what I sent Rob. That information was in the context of a FILMMAKER. What is incredibly important to add to the discussion about short films is for WRITERS. And that is this:

If you're a writer, and you encounter, are friends with, or know a quality director or filmmaker, offer to write as many short films for them as you can. Collaborate and make as many quality shorts as possible (while still writing your features, of course), and put them up on the internet. Why?

You never know which one of those will end up giving you a big break. ESPECIALLY if we're talking comedy - these days successful comedy short films and short film series are launching pads for talent. Donald Glover of Community fame (if you're not watching Community, do yourself a favor and check it out - the writing during the second season has been fantastic) launched his career making short films on YouTube for derrickcomedy, got his break and was hired to write for 30 Rock, and his star keeps rising every day.

The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island, i.e. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, who are now on a boat, started in their YouTube backyards.

His story, of using YouTube to get a break, is not unique. For every Donald Glover there's a Fede Alvarez, who got that 30 million dollar contract off his Sci-Fi short Ataque de Panico. and is becoming a virtual breeding ground for future talent - so just because you're "only" a writer doesn't mean you can't take part as well.

And if you can't find anyone to direct your short masterpieces, go to and hook yourself up with an online web series - courtesy of those 3D fuzzballs.

At the end of the day though, don't neglect your features. Short films are one more avenue to explore towards getting industry attention, but it pales in comparison with having a finished feature screenplay of quality.

If you have any questions of your own, please feel free to email

And of course, your high concept inspiration of the day.


For invaluable advice on short film ideas, download the 1st chapter of Roberta Marie Monroe’s book How Not to Make a Short Film! and create inspiring short films today.

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