Topic: Judging Guide

Film Festival Judging Guide: Comedy Film Category

By Mikel Fair

Judging Guide: Comedy Film Categories

Written by Mikel Fair. Updated 11-09-20: Download .pdf

Have you ever wondered what criteria film festivals use to judge the Comedy Film and Comedy Micro Film Categories? Our selection process for selection is pretty straight forward. Looking for top film festivals that offer Comedy Submission Categories? The following Film Festival Circuit event, use the same criteria to rate and judge submissions.

We Started Out With A Comedy Film Festival Years Ago

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 event. 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 similar principles for our other film festival events.

Our film festivals have combined for more than 15,000 submissions in the last 12 years. We strive to have a system that has integrity and is consistent for the different groups of judges in each of these four cities. (Portland, Austin, Houston, Reno) Even with these guidelines in place, different judges from different cities rate certain films higher or lower than others, based on creative reasons and not technical issues. It's all about the perception of "what is funny" to the individual judge. At most of the large “mainstream” film festivals, the drama category seems to dominate the attention and awards. That’s not true with our partner fests. Comic relief is an important part of keeping the crowd engaged and entertained. We even have a Horror Comedy Category at most of our events. Making fun of the genre, or mixing comedic situations within the Horror genre gets big cheers from the crowd.

Animated Comedy Film Category Description:

This category is reserved for funny cartoons, 2D animation, 3D animation, clay animation, sand animation, Anime, Computer Graphics, Puppetry Animation, Stop-Motion, Flip Book Animation, Experimental Animation and any form of animated films that may exist, but we haven't listed. Comedy Films that have a mixture of animated elements and live action characters are eligible for this category as well.

Comedy Film Category Description:

This category is reserved for films that make people laugh. The judges are looking for films that have funny moments, comedic situations, fun dialogue, humorous acting, and great characters. This event has screened great musicals, sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, family comedy, silent comedy, slapstick comedy, romantic comedy, action comedy, student comedy, fake commercials and more at our past events.

Comedy Series Episode Category Description: This category is reserved for filmmakers that are presenting their creative comedy videos in a sitcom, TV Pilot, Web series or ongoing Episodic format.

Dark Comedy Film Category Description:

This category is reserved for films that are on the darker side of the comedy genre. Sometimes referred to as “Black Comedy” these films have a sick sense of humor and may not be suitable for mainstream festivals. Often times these films end with the death of a character or have some strange gruesome scenes. Dark comedy films can make you laugh and cringe at the same time. If your audience laughs and then says “that’s messed up,” then you’ve probably produced something pretty dark. This event has screened dark comedy films that feature strange cruelty, or feature characters that are trying to get rid of a dead body, or they accidentally poison the wrong person, or even dream of murders, dark situations and revenge with strange dark comedic elements.

Funny Music Video Category Description:

This category is reserved for music videos that are meant to make the audience laugh. Do you have a funny concept, lyrics and story for your music video? Have you completed a fun parody of a popular song, film or person? The judges are impressed by good stories, great acting, excellent cinematography, and cool editing that sync really well with the music. If your music video is publicly available on Vimeo, Vevo or YouTube, your submission is qualified for entry. Official selections, nominations or awards on the Film Festival Circuit may help your video get exposure.

Horror Comedy Film Category Description:

This category is reserved for comedy films in the horror film genre, that are full of jokes? Is it a Slasher parody, is it a reality show about vegetarian Vampires or Redneck Zombies? Is your film full of 80's era bad one-liners, full of nudity for no reason? You know if your film is a Horror Comedy Film, the question is, are you going to send it to us?

Mockumentary Film Category Description: This category is reserved for comedy films that are presented in a documentary or testimonial format. This is a fun category for our judges to review, which frequently has the most creative concepts. There are few film festivals in the world with a dedicated Mockumentary category, but this event has had one since the beginning.

Romantic Comedy Film Category Description:

This category is reserved for romantic comedy films with a storyline about relationships, love, dating or romantic situations. Romantic comedies have funny moments, but may have some dramatic elements to them as well. Strong acting, good stories and funny situations are what the judges are looking for.

Our Film Festival Judging Process in 3 Rounds

We have three rounds of judging for each film submission. 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 is an average score of a 1-10 star system. The top 33% of films from the first round advance to the 2nd round. The 2nd round is a technical evaluation of the film. The 3rd round where the judges reach a consensus about which films will screen.

Round 1: Universal Questions For All Films Of All Genres

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

Round 1: Comedy Film Category: 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 Category: Rating 1-10

  • 9-10 - A sick and twisted comedy film that I personally liked a lot. I think that other people that may have a darker sense of humor, will enjoy it as well. 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 1: Horror Comedy Film Category: Rating 1-10

  • 9-10 - Funny situations, characters and storylines that use Horror Film genre monsters, villains, costumes or personalities.
  • 7-8 - A good Horror 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: Romantic Comedy Film Category: Rating 1-10

  • 9-10 - A fun story about relationships with great acting, good laughs and funny situations that I think my friends would really enjoy!
  • 7-8 - A good Romantic 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.

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 Meet or Zoom about our favorite films and discuss the pros and cons of each. Then, on the night before notification day, I (the film festival director) 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.

FAQ: Comedy Film Festival Category 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 festival events?
  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 to multiple events at FilmFestivalCircuit.com and still be fairly judged?
  10. Where Can I Get More Judging Guides and Filmmaker Resources?
  11. How can I network with other filmmakers virtually and make contacts in the film industry?
  12. What is the Film Festival Submitters Handbook?

1) How Many Judges Are There?

We have over 100 registered judges that actively watch films and read screenplays for each of our events. Most of the time, the judges are registered to festivals that are local to their region or state.

2) Approximately, How Many Films Do You Watch?

Personally, I watch about 300 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 or at the gym is the right environment to fully evaluate them. We also 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 oftentimes, we stop films to discuss them. Individually, I encourage our judges to watch films on a large screen with good headphones. Many of them like to use their phones and tablets as well. Most judges will watch 4-5 movies per day, pretty consistently. 

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 1st 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 film festival judges are completely separate groups of people. 

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.

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

None of the judges have films or screenplays submitted to the film festival they are judging.

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

No. In the Comedy Film Category, “Star Power” is not a part of the judging criteria. We do see a lot of actors that have been involved in large hollywood productions at times, but at the end of the day. If it isn’t a good film, we won’t accept it.

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 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 submission, at as many live film festival events as possible. Take advantage of our 20% FilmFreeway waiver code (LINK) and save money on submission fees to our events.

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

11) How can I network with other filmmakers virtually and make contacts in the film industry?

Please join us for our next virtual networking meeting for filmmakers, directors, screenwriters, producers, cast, crew in the film and television industry. Use this link: https://www.filmfestivalcircuit.com/en-us/networking to access our free events and learn more about our premium webinars. Hosted by me (Mikel Fair) and my long time friend, Hollywood Producer and CEO of Playworld Pictures, William Garcia.

12) What is the Film Festival Submitters Handbook?

It is a downloadable ebook filled with tips and recommendations for filmmakers that are submitting their work to the film festival circuit worldwide. Avoid common costly mistakes that filmmakers are making every day when submitting to festivals. Trust me, I’ve seen thousands of submission forms over the last 12 years. This will be the best $9.99 you’ve ever spent.

Mikel Fair

Mikel Fair

From 1999-2015 I worked on location in the television and film industry as a location sound mixer, production manager and field producer. I have also worked in post production as an editor, post sound mixer and composer. Today, I am the Director of Film Festival Circuit LLC, a US based company that manages international film festival events in Texas and Oregon. Our team is passionate about showcasing new independent films, videos, series episodes, screenplays and teleplays of all genres.

Topics: Judging Guide

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