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Guide to uploading your short film online

Once you’ve done the rounds at international film festivals you are probably wondering what is next for your short film. You may have got some buzz going and even won a few awards. What next? Time to put your film online. Set it free, out in the big wide world.

The best-case scenario is that your work goes viral, gaining you attention and millions of views. Ideally this attracts the attention of a successful talent agent or connected producer, and maybe you even sign a first-look deal with a major studio! South-Korean animator/writer/director Kyungmin Woo did this with short film Johnny Express, signing with Illumination (the studio behind the Minions franchise). Wild success stories are rare, but they do happen.

This handy guide contains tips and advice to ensure you have the best chance of success with releasing your short film.

Should I put my short online for free?

You should only put your short film online gratis if you’ve exhausted any film festival screening opportunities and potential sales deals. Don’t jump the gun. Short films usually have a lifespan of about two years on the film festival circuit. If you are still submitting to festivals consider holding off because releasing your film online may make your short ineligible.

Where are the best places to upload your short film online?

Choosing a well-known service is your best bet for exposure. Services like Vimeo On Demand, Facebook, Youtube or BitTorrent will keep your costs low and offer access to a large audience. There are of course many many other platforms.

Here is a list of sites that work best for short films:

  • Vimeo gets high levels of traffic, provides a higher quality of video and has opportunities for your film to be featured on Staff Picks, or Staff Picks Premieres (if your film has played at an Oscar-qualifying festival like Show Me Shorts in the last 2 years, email premieres@vimeo.com to ask them to consider your film). Note that if your short film is featured on Vimeo Staff Picks it must be available to be viewed worldwide, there is no option to geo-block territories.
  • YouTube has the most viewers, but is less targeted to the film community. If your film has wide general appeal though, like comedy, this could work well for you.
  • Short of the Week is another great organization that helps to push out short films they like through a variety of online and social media channels. You need to send them a private Vimeo or YouTube link to watch your film online (password protected or unpublished) for them to consider your film, and they charge a small fee. With Short of the Week you are allowed to geo-block territories. This is useful if you have sold the online rights in some places, but still want to take advantage of the high reach you can gain from having your film on this outlet.
  • NZ on Screen showcases local New Zealand content and has a large database of historical and contemporary films. They will host your video for no charge, and have a reasonable following.
  • Short Film Connection functions as a short film community. Allowing you to make connections while also promoting your film.
  • Reelhouse is an online video platform and self-publishing toolset that provides filmmakers control to self-distribute content directly to their viewers. Their recent partnership with Sundance suggests that this platform could be a big contender in the future. Content creators can choose between a variety of customization and monetization options. Reelhouse also offers an experimental crowdfunding function that allows viewers to directly support your work on the same site.
  • Film Shortage is similar to Short of the Week, but smaller and based out of Montréal instead of New York. Their community is more closely tied to the Canadian film industry. Submitting to this site will cost a small fee. Like Reelhouse they also offer a crowdfunding option.
  • Bit Torrent is often mistakenly associated with internet piracy. But after recent rebranding, BitTorrent Bundles is now offering an extremely flexible way of distributing content that is currently unmatched by any other service in terms of it’s concept and potential. Some high-profile films have begun making their rounds on the site including a new short film co-directed by Madonna.
  • Reddit is basically one giant open comments section. Sub-Reddits are communities centered around a particular topic, and they run from broad to extremely niche. Posting a link to your film on a relevant sub-Reddit can be a great tool for promoting your film.

Another option is hosting your short on your own website, which you will have created as part of your marketing strategy.

Find your hook and hustle

You should already know what the unique selling proposition (USP) for your film is. The thing that makes your short film different from all the others out there will help you figure out who it will be especially interesting to, and how to reach them.

Once you have uploaded your film you need to start the hustle. Target key influencers. Get in contact with film bloggers and news sites that share an interest in your topic to see if they’re interested in writing about your short. Look up websites with similar themes to those in your film (environmental, LGBT, comedy, etc) and hit up their editors to write about your film. Seek out as many avenues as you can, through your own networks and those of your supporters.

TIP: Make sure everyone involved with your film is making an effort to promote it too. Encourage your crew and community to share the link to your film through their own channels and networks.

What to watch out for

Provided you don’t upload your film too early or agree to make your release exclusive with a dubious website that no one has ever heard of, there isn’t much danger.

Be wary of distributors who claim they have a direct relationship with any platform and can get “special placement”. You do not need a distributor for releasing your film online for free.

Pace yourself. The success you will get out of online distribution is directly related to the amount of effort you put into it, so it can be a lot of work.

Before you hit the upload button

Just because you made the film doesn’t mean you own every part of it. Now is a good time to go back to your original paperwork. You need permission from any copyright owner whose work appears in your short. Make sure you have signed release forms for footage, actors, artwork, writers, locations and music featured in your film.

Plan for the future

Now that you have successfully marketed your short and have plenty of traction use the support from your fan-base to shore up support for future content/projects. Be sure to collect their contact details when they view your film. Ask them to sign up to your mailing list, like your Facebook page and follow you on other social media.

Have your next project ready to pitch. Tell your community about your plans, and ask for any support you need.