Short films have grown tremendously in popularity over the past decade. With the accessibility of video technology and platforms for distribution, more filmmakers are turning to shorts as a creative medium for storytelling. This surge of short-form content has led to new venues and channels for these films to get exposure.
Unlike feature films which have a more defined distribution path, short films can often get lost in the shuffle. Filmmakers face an uphill battle in getting their shorts seen by a wide audience. However, with the right festival strategy and distribution plan, there are ways for shorts to break out.
In this article, we’ll explore the main channels and opportunities for short films to get viewed and gain exposure both online and offline. We’ll also provide tips for filmmakers on how to maximize their chances of getting their work accepted and seen.
Where Do Short Films Get Shown? 10 Venues Screening Short Films
Submitting to film festivals offers the best opportunity for shorts to get seen and attract industry attention. Major festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, and Clermont-Ferrand have dedicated short film programming.
Getting into top-tier fests provides huge exposure and buzz for short films. Many distributors and press attend festivals to scout new content. Shorts that win awards or garner press coverage can fast-track distribution deals.
According to Sundance organizers, over 12,000 short films were submitted to their 2022 festival. Of those, only 73 were selected across categories like fiction, documentary, animation, and experimental. While the competition is fierce, veteran short filmmakers stress the importance of targeting the right festivals.
Crafting a smart festival strategy is critical. Here are some tips:
- Research which fests best fit your short’s genre, style, and production quality. Use sites like FilmFreeway to filter festivals accepting shorts.
- Aim high, but also be realistic. Balance dream festivals with 2nd tier fests you have a stronger shot at.
- Don’t limit yourself to just US festivals – target relevant international fests for a wider reach.
- Optimize your press kit and synopsis to highlight elements that set your short apart.
- Follow up and network with festival programmers to build relationships.
Getting into those first-tier fests can catapult a short into a whole new level of buzz and visibility. But second-tier regional fests also afford valuable screening opportunities and feedback. Not getting accepted shouldn’t deter further festival submissions.
Online Video Platforms
The internet has become a massive outlet for short film distribution. YouTube and Vimeo are where most filmmakers initially publish their shorts to start building an audience.
Simply uploading your film directly to these platforms offers a way for anyone to watch it on-demand. YouTube in particular has endless potential reach. Shorts with compelling thumbnails and titles can gain millions of views organically through shares and YouTube’s recommendation algorithm.
YouTube also offers options to monetize shorts through their Partner Program and sharing ad revenue. At a minimum, it allows filmmakers to publish their work freely and control the rights. Uploading to both YouTube and Vimeo ensures wider exposure.
Pitching short films to exclusive streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video has also become a viable distribution path. While acceptance rates are low, they license shorts in packages and anthologies. Recent examples include Netflix’s Black History Month and Pride collections.
Some benefits of getting short films picked up by major streaming platforms:
- Gain access to their subscription-based audiences of millions
- Possible licensing fees or revenue-sharing deals
- Increased visibility, press, and industry cache as an “official selection“
But how do you get your foot in the door? Leverage any festival screenings or awards to pitch your short. Seek referrals from producers or sales agents with existing platform relationships. Have any name talent attached that might capture interest.
While a long shot, landing a streaming deal can be a career-changing break. Websites like Coverfly and Stage 32 run online pitch contests to help get shorts seen by industry execs and programmers.
Television remains a sought-after outlet for short filmmakers. Many cable channels license shorts for specialized programming blocks.
The main one is ShortsTV, the first 24/7 HD TV channel dedicated to shorts. They run themed collections like comedy, sci-fi, and documentaries. Getting picked up by ShortsTV provides valuable TV credentials and licensing fees for creators.
PBS also programs independent shorts for their annual Online Film Festival and on their national show SIFF Selects hosted by Elvis Mitchell. Similarly, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) spotlights shorts in partnership with the Library of Congress.
Individual segments on entertainment channels provide another option. IFC airs shorts as part of their “Short Cuts” segment between programs. Sundance TV and AMC also program shorts in limited runs.
Some tips for getting shorts on TV:
- Target shorts programming that aligns with your film’s genre and tone
- Submit through their website or Film Fest partnership programs
- Ensure shorts meet broadcasting technical specifications and standards
- Enlist a TV producer or sales agent to pitch license deals on your behalf
While the marketplace is competitive, television remains a valuable driver of viewership. Having shorts included in festival recap specials or anthology shows also provides a nice credibility boost.
Art House Cinemas
Indie theaters like the IFC Center and Film Forum in New York City regularly program shorts before feature presentations. Most major markets have similar art house cinemas that champion shorts.
The benefit of theatrically screening shorts goes beyond exposure – it qualifies films for Oscar eligibility. The Academy requires shorts to be shown in a commercial theater in LA County for at least seven consecutive days to be considered.
Art house promoters curate shorts into themed packages like action sports, animation, LGBTQ stories, or locally focused content. Filmmakers can submit directly to theater programmers through sites like Withoutabox.
Having shorts shown ahead of indie features aligns you with that community. Post-screening Q&As also allow valuable feedback. Strategize an initial local theater run of your short to build momentum for wider distribution.
Some tips for getting indie cinema play:
- Research which theaters play shorts in your region
- Submit to programming managers or film bookers
- Offer to help promote and share the screening event
- Spread the word through local filmmaking networks
Shorts shown in theaters also qualify for Film Festival Academy Award consideration. Building relationships with indie art house programmers lays the foundation for an Oscar-qualifying run.
Screening shorts at university film clubs, high school A/V departments, libraries, museums, and community centers represents another free channel for exposure.
These community events are often very receptive to showcasing local films and content from emerging creators. It also provides networking with other regional filmmakers and contests.
Here are some tips for getting shorts in student and community screenings:
- Research nearby schools with film production programs
- Contact instructors to offer your short-for-class critique
- Reach out to university film clubs that host public events
- Check libraries and community centers for screening series opportunities
- Submit to high school A/V contests like C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition
These local venues can serve as a springboard to generate press, social shares, and reviews to attract wider attention. Offer to attend in person for a Q&A to further momentum.
Mobile Apps and OTT Media Players
In addition to YouTube and Vimeo, niche short film apps have emerged for both streaming and downloading.
Leading apps include Dust, Short of the Week, ShortsTV, Short of the Day, and Tribeca Shortlist. Some are free, ad-supported platforms while others operate on a subscription VOD model. They license shorts non-exclusively from filmmakers.
OTT digital media players also carry short film content. These include internet-connected devices like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Chromecast. Major apps on these platforms feature shorts channels for their users.
For example, Dust is available as a dedicated channel on Roku. Massive movie platform IMDb’s app IMDb TV includes many shorts in its lineup. YouTube launched YouTube Shorts as a mobile-focused short content app. Targeting these streaming devices exponentially grows potential eyeballs.
Uploading shorts to niche apps provides another distribution branch separate from major social platforms. Filmmakers typically earn 50% of net ad revenue. While scaling viewership is challenging on lesser-known apps, they add to the overall audience pipeline.
Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter (Now X) have given short films major visibility. These sites make it easy to upload, share and embed short-form videos.
Instagram Reels and TikTok in particular have sparked many viral short-form video trends. Filmmakers can expand their social media footprint by:
- Sharing shorts natively – uploading directly to each platform
- Embedding YouTube/Vimeo links in posts and profiles
- Utilizing hashtags for discoverability in each community
- Collaborating on challenges, duets, and mashups
- Running social ads to further promote shorts
The key is strategically leveraging multiple platforms to maximize exposure. Use Instagram and Facebook to drive viewers back to the main YouTube or Vimeo source links. TikTok offers creative remix potential through duets.
Social media has its limits in terms of full-length videos. But it can be very effective at raising awareness of new shorts and directing fans to primary streaming homes. Short teasers and clips also work well.
Film Markets and Industry Events
Major film markets and industry gatherings have become destinations to buy, sell,, and license short films.
The top five include:
- Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Market – The premiere global short film marketplace held annually in France. Over 4200 shorts are screened from 100+ countries.
- Cannes Short Film Corner – Part of the Marche du Film during the Cannes Film Festival. Filmmakers can display and market their shorts.
- Berlin European Film Market – EFM offers a short film station and stand-to-screen shorts to buyers.
- Toronto International Film Market – Pitches short packages to buyers during the TIFF industry days.
- American Film Market – Programs short blocks of content focused on monetization.
These curated industry shorts showcases provide networking opportunities and directly engage distributors. Sales agents attend to package shorts for international buyers. Filmmakers can pitch programmers and find co-production partners.
Markets also facilitate industry panels and workshops. Attending gives creators insight into the evolving short film marketplace. Signing with a sales agent to represent shorts is advised for navigating larger events.
Galleries, Events and Pop-Ups
Thinking outside the box, short films occasionally get showcased at multipurpose venues. For example, arts institutions and galleries sometimes screen shorts as part of exhibitions.
Unique temporary events also integrate short films to enhance the experience:
- Pop-up projections like Cinespia cemetery screenings in LA
- Outdoor screening series at parks, beaches, and downtown areas
- Site-specific projects like Meow Wolf’s immersive installations
- Bars, cafes, retail stores, and lobby spaces for entertainment
- Private loft parties, interactive theater, and secret screenings
These types of pop-up, interactive screenings aim to present shorts in imaginative ways. Filmmakers have leveraged art galleries, stores, concerts, amusement parks, and airports. The strategy involves creating an engaging event around the short playing in unique locales.
Getting shorts featured in these innovative spaces requires directly pitching the organizers. Demonstrate how your short can enhance the experience and draw crowds. Offer to host a Q&A or interactive element.
This out-of-the-box approach works best in locally targeted events to initially generate word of mouth.
Airplanes + Hotels
Two additional outlets regularly licensing short films are airlines and hotels.
In-flight entertainment systems on planes and short content channels in hotel rooms offer licensing opportunities through their intermediary platforms:
- Global Eagle – Inflight entertainment on over 20 major airlines
- GuestTek – Movie rentals for hotel room televisions
- LodgeNet – Free TV and cable content for hotels
- Enseo – Platform servicing 300,000 hotel rooms
These companies deliver a mix of Hollywood movies, TV shows, documentaries – and short films. The captive audience of travelers in planes and hotel rooms makes them ideal for digestible shorts.
Licensing to inflight and hospitality platforms generally involves pitching a slate of short films through a distribution company. Revenue splits and fees vary. But it can mean incremental income from secondary distribution channels.
Short Films – Thinking Outside The Multiplex
This overview covers the main channels short filmmakers can leverage for distribution beyond major theaters and streaming platforms. While shorts will never rival the marketing budgets of feature films, the expanding ecosystem offers many options to get seen.
A few keys to gaining traction:
- Craft shorts with an eye on engagement and shareability. Experiment with new watercooler formats like Quibi pioneered.
- Make the festival strategy a priority. Draw industry eyes by getting into 1-2 reputable festivals.
- Distribute across a mix of social media, streaming platforms, apps, and community screenings.
- Offer up shorts for relevant pop-up events, galleries, and contests whenever possible.
- Don’t spread efforts too thin. Focus on 2-3 viable outlets aligned with each short’s niche.
- Be open to secondary markets like airlines and hotels for supplemental income.
Today’s connectivity empowers filmmakers to self-distribute like never before. As technology evolves, new outlets will emerge. But for now, this guide provides a roadmap to increasing visibility. Let us know in the comments if you have any other short film distribution channels to add!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do you go to see short films?
Some of the main places to watch short films include film festivals, online platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, TV channels focused on shorts, art house cinemas, student/community screenings, mobile apps, and social media. Shorts also get shown at industry film markets and events.
How do I get my short film distributed?
Start with top film festivals to gain exposure. Then expand to online platforms, target streaming services, leverage social media, and look for screenings at indie theaters, schools, events etc. Pitching to libraries and education distributors is also an option. Hire a sales agent to hit wider markets.
Does Netflix take short films?
Yes, Netflix licenses some short films, usually through partnerships with festivals and aggregators. The odds of getting acquired are very low, but you can pitch your short to Netflix through online contests or film markets where they are looking to buy content.
Who watches short films?
Short films appeal to a wide demographic since they are bite-sized. But mainly the audience includes cinema lovers, students, aspiring filmmakers, fans of indie media, and people looking for alternative content. Niche shorts attract their own communities.
Do short films pay?
Not always at first, but there are ways to monetize shorts through licensing, ad revenue shares, distribution deals, etc. Top online platforms like YouTube facilitate payments. Sales agents can negotiate global rights. Festivals offer cash prizes. Sponsors help fund high production value shorts.
Where can I find actors for my short film?
Places to find actors for shorts include local acting schools, community theater groups, university drama programs, indie casting websites, local improv troupes, even crowdsourcing through social media. Leverage any connections you have to talent.
How much does it cost to fund a short film?
Budgets range dramatically – from $500 for microbudget shorts to $50,000-$100,000 for higher end productions. The median cost for festival-targeted shorts tends to be $10,000-$30,000. Have a solid budget plan when seeking grants, sponsorships, crowdfunding.
How are short films released?
There is not one set model. Generally filmmakers first submit to festivals, then distribute online, share social media teasers, get coverage on blogs/press, and seek opportunities for screenings/licensing. Release strategies are tailored for each short.