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Selling a short film

17 December 2010

You’ve made a short film. But how do you get people to see it? Producer MJ McMahon on how he got his short film Gin & Dry to run in UK cinemas.

There’s a number of rules when producing a short film that my fellow producer Matthew Jones and I follow.

One of these is that the sales and marketing for each short film must at least be equal to that of any independent feature film.

There are many reasons for this. We want to elevate our short film above others in the short film circuit. Also, if we can make short films that have excellent stories as well as marketing, it instils confidence in potential creative and financial partners to invest in our feature projects.

Gin & Dry is our latest short film. It’s a funny and heart-warming story set in a retirement home over Christmas, where the carers have decided to ration the alcohol. So in the dead of night the unhappy residents hatch a plan to save Christmas...

Once we completed the film we arranged two private screenings. The first was a preliminary screening at Working Title Films, who loaned us their screening and function room for the evening. The King’s Speech exec producers Mark Foligno and Deepak Sikka and senior execs from Working Title Films attended. Then it was down to the pub for drinks afterwards.

The second was at 20th Century Fox’s screening rooms, where it was screened three times in two cinemas across the space of an hour. This was our official cast and crew premiere, and over 130 people attended. We had a party nearby in Soho straight after, which proved a big success. We invited City Screen programmers along to see if they might like the film, as well as people from Scion Films.

The only cost to us for both of these events was the alcohol. We also used it as a marketing exercise, serving ‘Gin & Dry’ reception drinks before each screening. The screening rooms were courtesy of Working Title and 20th Century Fox.

The next day City Screen, who programme the Picturehouse cinema network, decided to acquire the film with a view to placing it in front of a feature film. Why did they buy it? Because they liked it and the film has a Christmas vibe and they wanted to support what they consider to be a quality short film.

Gin & Dry is now playing ahead of feature films including The American, the re-release of It’s a Wonderful Life, Somewhere and The Thorn in the Heart. It is currently booked to play in nine Picturehouse cinemas across the country, screening approximately a 100 times.

It’s hard to forecast exactly how many people will see it. But one thing is for sure, it’s a lot more than had we just gone down the regular short film route of releasing it in festivals and we have all of that still to come. The early screenings of the film have had good turnouts thanks to the feature films Gin & Dry has been placed with.

But it’s not just about people seeing it. Now it’s had a theatrical outing, we will be able to secure the UK tax break and receive a cheque back for 20% of the overall budget of the film. This is small but significant. We also get a small profit share from Picturehouse cinemas, which means we are half way to recouping the budget for the film. We still have festivals, TV and DVD to go, so it’s a great start. If we can demonstrate we can make money from our shorts this will only create confidence in future investors for larger projects.

Our marketing has mostly been organised in-house at Capture, our production company. We have designed the posters, flyers, official website and created a Facebook Page, which are all crucial in building word of mouth and are an extremely cost effective way of doing so. We have cut a trailer, up-loaded it onto Vimeo and embedded that on the website and Facebook page.

From tracking this trailer at the time of writing it has been seen over 1,000 times across 26 countries. Picturehouse have supported this marketing by advertising it in all of the associated cinema programmes, its website and Youtube channel. Once the theatrical release is complete in early January 2011 we’ll be hoping to secure a good festival run followed by TV broadcast and a release on DVD. The DVD we’ll sell direct from the website.

For screening information see the Gin & Dry Facebook page. Or see the official Gin & Dry site or

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