How to win Bristol Science Film Festival… or at least make the shortlist (science fiction category)

Thinking of submitting a film to our short film competition? We already have a blog post with some top tips for the science fact category that is a useful read for science fiction and fact filmmakers alike.

This year (2021) is the third time we have also run a science fiction category. Read on for some tips on how to make the sci-fi shortlist!

Think about genre

Science fiction has so many different flavours and sub-genres. So what type of sci-fi are we looking for?

We’re a science film festival, so we expect some inspiration from science or the world around us. This means that the films we shortlist are often not on the fantasy and horror side of the sci-fi spectrum.

The winner of our first science fiction category imagined a sustainable future of carbon capture. This combined real scientific knowledge and applied it to a fictional future:

The Carbon Farmer by Andy Clarke won the first science fiction category at Bristol Science Film Festival

We like to interleave science fiction with science fact, and it’s great to be able to see in our programme how the two can inspire one another.

Tell a complete story

We’re looking for short science fiction films, which means they must feel whole as a <10 minute film. This is actually pretty difficult as sci-fi can require some ‘world building’, which is challenging to do in a short time.

This might mean that you have to scale back your ideas a little. This is key to avoiding the final film feeling like a trailer or clip of a feature-length film.

Make sure to step back from your film and ask yourself what the beginning, middle and end is. Ask yourself (or a friend) what questions you’re left with at the end of the film. Did you intend these questions to be left unanswered?

Format can really help with this. Ege Kökel went for a mockumentary-style interview, which meant that the audience wasn’t expecting a long, plot-driven story. This format really suited a short film, and because we were watching an interview we learned a lot about the character’s fictional world in just under 7 minutes.

Dodo in the Room by Ege Kökel was runner-up for the 2019 science fiction category.

Treat tropes with caution

Science fiction is rife with film and TV tropes and themes. References to well-known sci-fi plot devices are cool, but can confuse a general audience.

I (Katherine) am not as knowledgeable about science fiction as Robbie is, which means sometimes I feel lost watching film submissions that heavily rely on sci-fi references.

Tropes are great if they can be a cheeky nod to the sci-fi nerds (i.e. Robbie), but make sure you don’t leave behind the rest of the audience (i.e. Katherine) by not making the story line clear enough.

When you’re immersed in your film project, it’s really easy to forget to make certain details clear. Make sure you try out different cuts of your film with different audiences and check their knowledge after watching.

Remember that the main plot should be clear after a single viewing. Having said that, if there are extra juicy details in there to pick up on during a second or third watch, Robbie and I will appreciate them!

One of my personal favourites from last year’s Festival was A man with Monet, which showed a man stewarding an inhospitable earth after humans had departed. The overall (quite minimal) plot was clear each time, but I had different theories about the main character every time I watched it.

Still from The Man with Monet by Thomas Chan just before all the humans left earth. Each setting had so much detail, which we could spot with each viewing.

10 minutes is not a target

On average shortlisted sci-fi films from last year were 6 minutes. Even then, we had lots of judge’s comments recommending more editing.

The winning amateur science fiction film from 2020 was just 1 minute 20 seconds! Not every film requires so little time, but more time would not have added anything to this particular story!

Joonas Ennala won the 2020 amateur science fiction category with Good Morning.

Sci-fi can make you laugh and cry

It’s really easy to have a grand vision for science fiction that makes a comment on society or predicts the future of technology. With short film, it’s so important to simplify that vision.

Frames, which was in our 2020 shortlist, gave us a glimpse of a surveillance-heavy dystopian future, but didn’t burden us with too many details.

Frames by Farhad Pakdel.

Sci-fi doesn’t have to be so serious. Another of our shortlist definitely was a ‘laugh then think’ sort of a film. Good Boy imagined what would happen if tech could show us what dogs are really thinking.

Good Boy from Brody Gusar. (2020 shortlist).

Our science fiction category is definitely still evolving. Most importantly, make the project something you will enjoy and have fun with!

If you have any questions about our film competition, please get in touch with us.

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