Dean Williams, founder of Birmingham Film Festival, on what makes a good short film submission

26th January 2023

A friend of Screen and Film School Birmingham, Dean Williams is about to take the Birmingham Film Festival into its 8th year, and early bird submissions for the 2023 festival have already begun.

Dean recently took time out from his busy schedule to attend an industry masterclass with us in Digbeth. Our student audience was fascinated by Dean’s answers on what he looks for in a film submission. With these insights ringing in their ears as they left, talk turned to the future and we look forward to seeing the film projects our students create themselves in the coming year.

What are the prerequisites for submitting your work to Birmingham Film Festival?

“We open for submissions in January and the window runs through until August. It can be a feature film (72 mins or longer), short (5-72 mins) or micro short (under 5 mins). You must have the rights to let us show it. For example, if a film is out there already on a distribution platform, it means you’ve potentially already sold the rights. Furthermore, production on the piece must have finished within the last 2-3 years, too. You can then submit your film at”

How do you decide which films you’re going to show at the festival?

“Last year we had just under 1000 submissions, which was whittled down to 150 that we took on to the festival. Those films are then nominated for certain award categories, such as production design, cinematography, editing etc. All the films go on to Filmfreeway and each film is watched by at least one judge. Once they’ve been watched, there’s a judging score process out of ten based on several different aspects, then you get an average number. We then remove the lower scored films and have multi watches and go through the process again and again and filter it down. Then we gather as a group to shortlist the best.”

What makes a good short film submission?

“When it comes to shorts, it can be difficult to get the whole story across and introduce the characters in a short time. We get a lot of shorts that try to have a ‘shock factor.’ Then there is a lot of repetition; I couldn’t tell you how many films where the opening shot is someone stirring a cup of tea. It got to the point where we were considering doing a Best Stirring Award. I’d avoid these clichés at all costs.

Running times are important. I always think a good short film should be under 15 minutes. If you have something longer, either try to cut it down or extend it into a feature. We had a couple of really good shorts that ran just over five minutes. If they’d have cut them down those few seconds, then they would have got into the micro shorts category and performed better. Be very mindful of your times.

Budget is an important factor to think about, too. Having little or no budget means putting it into the right areas. Whether it’s the equipment you’re using or location, it’s very difficult to balance those things. We see a lot of amazing feature films, but they’ve left no room in the budget to promote and market them.”

What’s the best kind of subject matter/content?

“The content is completely up to you. What I will say again is think of your timings. If you’re doing a documentary, while Netflix have it nailed with their documentaries, their current trend is crime-based. In the independent scene, it’s difficult to get access into that area. But, off-the-wall, strange things, such as how someone made a replica of the Eiffel Tower out of toenail clippings, or niche things such as the day in the life of a welder, might not appear to the general filmgoer and may work better as a short.

I know that at Screen and Film School, students specialise in certain things such as writing, cinematography, producing etc. If you’re making a short and you’re the writer/director, have someone else edit it who can be a bit more cutthroat. You must be willing to be ruthless. If it gets to the edit and doesn’t add anything of value to the overall story, you have to be ready to take it out.”

When is the best time to submit to Birmingham Film Festival?

“It’s better to submit it to us early, as you get an early bird price. But in terms of the deadline, a film submitted both early and near the deadline in August will have the same amount of chance in the competition.”

Expert words from Dean Williams, covering all bases when it comes to filming and submitting feature films, shorts and micro shorts. Thanks to Dean for taking the time to speak to our up-and-coming filmmakers. And it’s worth remembering, if you’re cooking up an idea right now that early bird submissions for Birmingham Film Festival are open. You can submit your film at



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