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It’s that time of year again when we open our submissions and start viewing the best new British comedy films. Whilst some entries will undoubtedly be wonderful and surprising there will inevitably be some that don’t hit the mark. Over the last few years of programming the festival we’ve noticed it’s often the same reasons that stop films from being selected. So we decided to put together some advice based on the most common mistakes and issues we see in both short and feature submissions.

This is the most common thing we see that negatively impacts submissions. What could be a rip roaring and hilarious few minutes is dragged out to a much longer running time without the story to justify it. Try to always keep your film moving forward and don’t allow it to get bogged down by unnecessary sequences just because they contain a couple of gags you like. Remember that if you start with a good story you’ll have a stronger film.

This doesn’t mean we dislike longer or slower films. Our 2013 short film winner ‘Tooty’s Wedding’ fills a well-deserved 18 minutes and our 2014 winner ‘Mickey & Michaela Bury Their Dad’ revels in its glorious pauses. It’s all about finding the perfect length for your film.

If the central character is boring, surrounding him or her with crazy characters won’t help. Too many lead characters have very little individual personality and feel like thinly disguised versions of the film-maker. Instead, maybe ask yourself “Who’s the most interesting person this could happen to?”

Female characters are still regularly side-lined or absent altogether. In many films where women do appear their purpose is simply to set up comedic situations for the male leads, and no thought has been put into their own characters. Often they take on one of two roles: the eye-rolling and disapproving girlfriend/wife/boss; or the doe eyed, innocent, and infatuated love interest. If you can sum up their characters that easily you may want to put a bit more work into them.

Not specifically a warning concerning elderly relatives but a reminder about the importance of getting the right cast. There’s nothing worse than watching a submission and thinking, ‘I bet that was funny on paper’, because poor performances have ruined a potentially funny script. Occasionally you can sense that someone has been roped in because they’re a funny friend, a harassed family member, or the only actor available, but simply having someone to play the part doesn’t mean they’ll do it justice. The humour of your script will fundamentally live or die within the performances.

Each year we see some films that have very similar characters delivering very similar jokes within very similar situations. Think about what your film offers that hasn’t been seen a hundred times already.  Try to be original and ambitious with your story and the characters that will inhabit it. Look at your jokes and scenarios and ask yourself whether they seem very familiar and, if so, how you are using them in an interesting way.

This definitely doesn’t mean you just need to think of a wacky concept to make your film stand out. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on a well-known theme, as long as you use it creatively.

Sometimes when watching a submission you wonder if the filmmaker budgeted for an expensive camera and a beautiful grade but was left with 50 pence for the entire sound department. It’s surprising how many films you see with muffled dialogue, distracting effects, and generally poor audio. This isn’t something unique to comedy films but it’s very hard to find something funny if you’re straining to hear it.

As programmers we want to be thrilled by individual visions from confident and passionate filmmaking teams.

So, don’t worry about what might be selected by a festival or get two big thumbs up from a TV commissioner.  Do what you think is best for the film you want to make. If you really want to produce a drawn out old-gag fest staring your inexperienced grandparents with sound recorded on a Dictaphone in a wind tunnel, then go ahead. We look forward to seeing it.


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