What is a short film?

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The answer may seem obvious to some; it’s a film that is, well, short. But what’s the line between a short and feature film? What length of movies do festivals accept? And maybe most importantly, why should filmmakers consider making one? 

What is a feature film?

Before we define a short we need to define a feature. A feature film is a movie that’s typically between 75 and 210 minutes long. It’s considered a “full-length” movie; that is to say, it’s long enough to be the primary part of a media presentation. Features are what people are typically referring to when they say they are going to watch a movie. It seems obvious that a short film would simply be a movie that’s shorter than a feature. But is a 74-minute movie a short film? Not exactly.

What is a short film?

A short film is a movie that is typically less than 40 minutes long. This time limit is the hard cutoff for the majority of festivals. It’s a problem we’ve run into a lot; we’ve seen excellent 42-minute films, but with festivals there just isn’t wiggle room, even for exceptional work. If you plan to submit your movie to festivals, you need to make sure it comes in under 40 minutes. That’s not to say there is never a festival that goes up to 45 minutes, but they’re rare. Going over 40 minutes will severely limit the number of places you can submit your movie. 

Update: after our experience submitting Biters & Bleeders to festivals, we received some helpful feedback we wanted to share. Just because a film festival says they are accepting submissions that are up to 40 minutes long, it doesn’t actually mean that they will program your movie if it’s on the longer side. Most of the festivals we submitted to said that they prefer to program movies that are 12 minutes long or shorter. That way they can feature as many filmmakers as possible. Our best advice? Make your movie as short as you possibly can to maximize your chances of your film being shown at as many festivals as possible.

According to the Academy Awards, a short film is “defined as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.” So that means you can’t just have your story be a tight 40; your credits need to fit that time limit as well.  

What are the types of short films?

The Academy Awards accepts two types of short film; live-action and animated. While this particular film festival only accepts works of fiction, there ARE documentary shorts. There are also micro short films; the International Micro Short Film Festival has two categories, for films under five minutes and films under two minutes.

Why should I make a short film?

There are lots of reasons people make them. Maybe you don’t have a reel; with a well-done short film, you won’t especially need one. Your film can represent your work even without a traditional reel. Maybe you don’t have the time or budget to make a feature film, but you want to make a movie anyways. Maybe you have a scene, character, or theme that you can’t get out of your head and want to explore. Maybe you just want to have fun making a movie with your friends, or you want to enter something you’re proud of into festivals!

All of these are valid reasons to make a short. At New 32, we produced our first short, Biters & Bleeders, because we fell in love with a script written by our own Charlie Monroe. Regardless of why you want to make one, we think you should go for it; it’s a great way to improve your craft and advance your career. 

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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