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Digital Shorts: The Lowdown

As promised, my notes from last night’s Digital Shorts Roadshow with South West Screen. Enjoy.
Present were Sarah-Jane Meredith and Arilda Tymko from South West Screen; there was a pretty poor turn-out, just twenty or so people, though perhaps this was because of the timing: I would imagine most people are at work at 4pm on a thursday. Of the few that were there, people had travelled quite far, from Totnes, Tavistock and even North Cornwall as well as Exeter itself.

It was explained that Digital Shorts is a nationwide scheme, combining the talents of local screen agencies with the UK Film Council, so don’t despair if you don’t live in the South West of England; your local agency will have its own equivalent. Check out this list for contact details.

South West Screen commissions 8 films per year and have worked with such industry stalwarts as Aardman Animation, ITV West, Cornwall Film, The Engine Room, Calling The Shots and Somerset Film in producing them. ITV West are no longer involved however because they “haven’t the slots” for showing the shorts like they used to apparently.

We watched several screenings of previous shorts commissioned under the scheme: this was especially helpful since I was unsure where to even start. You hear of so many shorts being about depressing stuff and I was encouraged to see that none of them were – one, Ramble On, was hilarious (see the links below to watch it). Also, I hadn’t thought that animation would be included (it so often isn’t), so this was particularly illuminating.

Sarah-Jane and Arilda explained there are some broad perimeters to Digital Shorts, set down by The Film Council. These are:

– Shorts must be shot digitally; this is not a scheme for those wanting to work with film.
– Shorts must be no more than ten minutes and budget must be no more than £10,000; in reality, budgets typically are between £3,500 and £7,500.
– Shorts must be original and for a broad audience – or a particular audience (i.e. you must know your audience/genre well)
– They want good ideas succinctly told
– Everyone working on the film must get paid their proper daily rate.

There are roughly 100 applicants a year; 15 or 16 will be shortlisted before that final 8 is commissioned. You can apply as teams, but not as organisations this year.

When applying, the shorter your pitch document the better: they don’t ask for scripts in the first instance, though they think they may ask for writing samples, as writing a good pitch does not always mean one can write a good script – though this appears undecided for definite as yet. When I asked, Sarah-Jane said that “one sentence” would be an ideal length for a pitch and that up to two pitches can be submitted for the scheme.

Writers don’t have to direct their films, but they should let SW Screen know about their preference as early as possible.

The scheme is open to everyone, but 18-25 year olds are particularly encouraged this year, with up to three shorts ear marked especially for this audience.

Documentary is particularly welcome – they’ve never got one through the scheme before and are keen to put this right! They are also flexible when it comes to narrative structure, but they don’t want any artist film, however.


– The scheme opens in September for approximately 6 weeks.
– Once applicants are shortlisted, the final 8 will be commissioned and training and script development will take place from approx November ’07.
– Filming *should* take place early ’08 – no short should have more than a 2 day shoot.
– Delivery of the film will be in March 2008.

Those commissioned on the scheme should be aware that South West Screen owns the copyright to the finished article.


Shorts that have been made through SW Screen’s Digital Shorts Scheme:

One to One by Isabel Anderton.

Indians by Omni Productions.

Ramble On By Tom Parkinson. Watch it online here.

A Short Collection of Hilary Flamingo’s Dream Vocations by Harriet Fleuriot.

For a list of sites where you can watch short films online, click here.

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7 thoughts on “Digital Shorts: The Lowdown”

  1. I will be definitely entering Elinor… Gotta get through first, but if I did, I would direct though I’ll freak out royally. Think it would be good for me to face my fears tho! You going to go for PULSE, Film London’s version?

  2. Thanks for posting Lucy, interesting reading and I’ll have to make time to watch some of those shorts. I’m gonna go for Pulse, but got the Borough Production Schemes first.

  3. Oh yes. I think directing would be terrifying but a steep learning curve. It’s all about getting out of the comfort zone! Good luck tomorrow with the house-hunt.

  4. Thought you were Li – keep us posted.

    Cheers Elinor, we better get something or I may rain fire down on the south coast!!!

    Danny – will you be going for Digital Shorts?

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