Film Festival Judging Guide: Comedy Film Category


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Judging Guide: Comedy Film Category

Updated 10-30-18


Have you ever wondered what criteria we use to judge for our comedy film festivals? Our process for selecting comedy films, dark comedy films, funny music videos and TV/web series episodes is pretty straight forward. This guide is our Film Festival judging explained handbook.


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Our Goal For Comedy Film Festival Events

When my wife Brooke and I started the Houston Comedy Film Festival in 2008, there weren’t many resources available that would clearly explain the judging process. Our goal was to create a system that would eventually screen the funniest submissions at our comedy film festivals. We set out to select films that had the funniest situations, the best pacing, the best acting, and a level of production value that would screen well, in a commercial movie theater. Today, we use these same principles for our four active comedy film festival events.


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Our Top 4 Film Festivals For Comedy Films And Screenplays

The Atlanta Comedy Film Festival, Austin Comedy Short Film Festival, Houston Comedy Film Festival and the Portland Comedy Film Festival. These four festivals combined, have received over 8,000 submissions in the last 10 years. We strive to have a system that is consistent. Which is important to the integrity of our events. Each of these four comedy film festivals have a completely different set of 12 judges. Sometimes these different groups will rate films higher or lower than the others. It's all about the perception of "what is funny" to the individual judge.

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Our Film Festival Judging Process in 3 Rounds

We have three rounds of judging for each film and screenplay submission of all genres. Each film is viewed and scored by 12 different judges. Furthermore, each judge is blind to the other judges ratings in the first round. The overall score of each film is an average score of a 1-10 star system. The top 33% of films from the first round advance to the 2nd round of consideration. The 2nd round is a technical evaluation of the film. The last round, is the final round of overall consideration where the judges reach a consensus about which films will screen in the time available for the festival event. Continue reading for more details about each round.


Round 1: Universal Questions For All Films Of All Genres

  • Was there anything about this film that you really liked? (Limit 5 sentences)
  • Are there things about this film that you really did not like? (Limit 5 sentences)
  • Be honest, was this film boring to you? (Yes or No)
  • On a scale of 1-10, please rate the acting? Were the characters/actors believable?

Round 1: Comedy Film Specific Judging Rating (1-10)

  • 9-10 - A very funny comedy film that I personally liked a lot and think that other people will enjoy. I can't wait to tell my friends about this one!
  • 7-8 - A good comedy film that I enjoyed.
  • 5-6 - It was OK. It didn't really blow me away. Not my kind of humor. Other judges may think it’s funny.
  • 3-4 - There are some problems here and the film just isn't very funny.
  • 1-2 - This film is not funny and is not ready to screen at a film festival

Round 1: Dark Comedy Film Specific Judging Rating (1-10)

  • 9-10 - A sick and twisted comedy film that I personally liked a lot and think that other people will enjoy. I can't wait to tell my friends about this one!
  • 7-8 - A good dark comedy film that I enjoyed.
  • 5-6 - It was OK. It didn't really blow me away. Not my kind of humor. Other judges may think it’s funny.
  • 3-4 - There are some problems here and the film just isn't very funny.
  • 1-2 - This film is not funny and is not ready to screen at a film festival

Round 2: Technical Film Review

The top 33% of films advance to the 2nd round of consideration based on their average rating in the 1st round. Please keep in mind, that we screen films on giant commercial theater screens in high definition with great sound systems. We cannot play films that are filled with technical problems, no matter how good they are. If time permits, I will email the submitter of a film if they had a great score in the 1st Round, but their film has technical issues. This gives the film submitter an opportunity to update the film (if time permits.) We do not want to create financial stress for filmmakers, but sometimes we bring these things to their attention ahead of time. We've had plenty of success stories, where filmmakers just needed to re-render the film and update it.  All of the films in the 2nd round are assigned a “Flag” based on technical aspects of the film. The flags are for internal use only and the filmmakers do not see them.




Round 2: Green, Yellow And Red Flags: What Do They Mean?

Green Flag : Clean Audio, clear picture & well paced edit.

Yellow Flag : Some problems with audio, picture or edit, that may result in a negative screening experience for the audience if it isn't updated.

Red Flag : This film has two or more technical problems that eliminate it completely from consideration. Examples: Inaudible words. Clipping sound effects or dialogue. Dark and grainy footage that looks bad on a large screen. Glitches in the edit (media offline.) Visual problems extreme brightness or “blown out” footage for no creative reason. Missing words or bad dialogue sync. Subtitles are too fast or too small. We’ve encountered other problems, but if the film has a red flag, there is usually a very big problem.


Round 3: The Final Selection Process

The 3rd and final round is considered our deliberation round. All judge’s comments and ratings are unlocked so that the other judges can see them. The 12 judges re-watch all of the Green flagged films from the 2nd round. The judges are free to edit their ratings based on their 2nd impression of the film and may consider some of the other comments about the film as well. We have spirited discussions on Google Hangouts about our favorite films and discuss the pros and cons of each. Then, on the night before notification day, I (the film festival administrator) select the top films based on the judges average ratings and our total screening time. Then I announce the “official selections” to the public. The “official selections” are all of the films that will be invited to screen at the event.




Common Questions About Our Film Festival Judging Process

Few film festivals explain their judging process online. After traveling to several film festivals across the country, I noticed that it is pretty rare to meet any of the judges at the events as well. Why is this process so mysterious? At every single film festival event that we have, I’ll sit down with filmmakers and screenwriters and talk for hours about the film industry, film festivals and film production. Eventually the conversation leads to the following questions:

  1. How many judges are there?
  2. Approximately, how many films do you watch?
  3. How many times do you watch each film?
  4. Do you have the same judges for all of your festivals?
  5. Where do the judges come from and how do you find them?
  6. Can the judges vote for their own films and productions?
  7. Do the judges only consider the “star power” of each film?
  8. Do the judges of comedy film festivals really care about production value?
  9. Can I submit my film to all four comedy film festivals and still be fairly judged?

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1) How Many Judges Are There?

We have over 100 registered judges that actively watch films and read screenplays. Most of the time, the judges are registered to festivals that are local to their region. For example, we had 15 judges that lived in the Houston area in 2010. Three of them moved away (Orlando, Madrid and Dallas) but still judge for the Houston Comedy Film Festival. Things happen, life happens, but most of the time, the registered judges are local to each film festival. The Portland Comedy Film Festival  and Austin Comedy Short Film Festival  have more than 30 judges each that are currently active, but some of them will only watch 20-30 films per season, while others will watch them all. Each market is different. Caroline King is leading a new group of judges for the Atlanta Comedy Film Festival and all 12 of her judges currently live in the state of Georgia.


 2) Approximately, How Many Films Do You Watch?

Personally, I watch about 300 comedy short films per month. It’s a part of my daily routine. I don’t like to watch more than 2 hours of films in a single setting. I use high quality headphones and a 42 inch HD Television to watch films. It’s not exactly the same as watching them in a movie theater, but I don’t feel like watching submissions on my phone, at the gym is the right environment to fully evaluate them. We have monthly sessions for judges and watch films as a group. It helps, when judging comedy films, to be in a group setting. We have scorecards and often times, we stop films to discuss them. Individually, I encourage our judges to watch films on a large screen with good headphones. Many of them do like to use their phones and tablets as well. Most judges will watch 4-5 movies per day, pretty consistently. I have some judges that will binge 6 hours of films in an evening. Everyone has their own schedule and style.


3) How Many Times Do You Watch Each Film?

I personally watch every film submitted to every film festival from beginning to end at least once. Even more, I evaluate films for technical issues and award nominations. As a result, I watch some films 3-5 times! Our judges watch as many films as possible in the round, then re-watch films that make it to the final round.


4) Do You Have The Same Judges For All Of Your Festivals?

No, the comedy film festival judges are completely separate. The judges for the Atlanta Comedy Film Festival, Houston Comedy Film Festival, Austin Comedy Short Film Festival, and Portland Comedy Film Festival are different people. Furthermore, the judges from the four cities usually pick different films, it’s a strange phenomenon.


5) Where Do The Judges Come From And How Do You Find Them?

We get a lot of our judges from film enthusiasts that email us and want to be a part of the process. We also run ads on craigslist as well as meet people through networking. It’s not a requirement to be in the film industry to judge films. We like to have judges that are enthusiastic, consistent and who really enjoy it. It’s easy to “burn out” if you’re not very interested in independent film. Some judges will commit to watching less films, others will binge an entire festival season without blinking.


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6) Can The Judges Vote For Their Own Films And Productions?

None of the judges have films that are in the film festival event they are judging.


7) Do The Judges Only Consider The “Star Power” Of Each Film?

No. In a comedy film festival, it’s a lot more about being funny than it is about being “known” or having great cinematography. The event is designed to play back-to-back films that keep people laughing for the entire program. Sometimes, we get films with “big stars” and “known actors” that just aren’t very funny. It’s not a part of the judging criteria.


8) Do The Judges Of Comedy Film Festivals Really Care About Production Value?

First of all, really poor production value can hurt a film’s opportunity to screen. Rough dialogue audio is usually the “knockout punch.” At a commercial theater like the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas or 5th Avenue Cinema and Avalon Theatre in Oregon, audio flaws can become very distracting. Also, good cinematography and music are appreciated, but the funny moments take priority. Consequently, we’ve rejected beautiful films that weren’t that funny and we’ve accepted Smartphone films that are hilarious.


9) Can I Submit My Film To Multiple Film Festivals And Still Be Fairly Judged?

Yes you can, and many filmmakers do. It’s nice to get recognition for your film, at as many film festivals as possible. To win awards and advance your career in the industry is the goal. If you are looking for a partial fee waiver, promo code or discount to our film festivals, please bookmark our promo code page and save 20% on your submission rates.


10. Where Can I Get More Judging Guides and Filmmaker Resources?

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About the author
Mikel Fair

Mikel Fair

Mikel Fair My name is Mikel Fair. I am the Director of Film Festival Circuit Inc. First of all, we are a company that manages film festival events in Texas and Oregon. Furthermore, we like to have fun and celebrate independent film. I worked for 15 years in the television and film production as a location sound mixer and production manager. I have also worked in post production as an editor, post sound mixer and composer. Above all, watching independent films and reading creative screenplays is my passion.

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