Film Festival Judging Guide: Comedy Film Category

By Mikel Fair

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How Does The Official Selections Process For Comedy Films Work?

Have you ever wondered what criteria is used to judge films for comedy film festivals? At Film Festival Circuit, our process for selecting Comedy Films, Dark Comedy Films, Funny Music Videos, Mockumentary Films, Sitcom episodes and Web Series Episodes is pretty straight forward. This guide is the same one that we use to train our judges what to look for.


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 clearly explained the judging process. Our goal, was to create a system that would eventually screen the funniest submissions at our comedy film festival events. We laid out a process to select films that have 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, these same principles are used for five comedy film festival events as well as several “all-genre” events that have comedy categories.


Comedy Film Festival Submission Categories

Top 7 Film Festivals With Comedy Categories

These film festivals have combined for more than 10,000 submissions in the last 10 years. We strive to have a system that has integrity and is consistent for each group of judges in these four cities. 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. In most of the mainstream film festivals, the drama category seems to dominate most of 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 the Horror Film Festivals. Making fun of the genre, or mixing comedic situations within the Horror genre gets big cheers from the crowd.

Our Film Festival Judging Process in 3 Rounds

We have three rounds of judging for each submission. Each film is viewed and scored by 9-12 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 in our 1-10 rating 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 submission. The last round, is the final round for overall consideration. The judges must 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 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 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: Romantic 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 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 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, we will email a submitter, if they had a great score in the 1st Round, but their submission has technical issues. This gives the submitter an opportunity to update the film (if time permits.) We do not want to create financial stress for filmmakers, but most are thankful when we bring these issues to their attention. 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.

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 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 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, we select the top films based on the judges average ratings and our total screening time. Then we announce the “official selections” to the public. The “official selections” are all of the submissions that will be invited to screen at the event.


Portland Comedy Film Festival Submissions On FilmFreeway


Common Questions About The Film Festival Judging Process (FAQ)

Few film festivals explain their judging process online. After traveling to several film festivals across the country, I noticed something odd. It is pretty rare to meet any of the film festival judges at the events. Why is this process so mysterious? At every single film festival event that we have, I’ll sit down with submitters 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 of your film festivals and still be fairly judged?
  10. Where can I find more resources to help me submit to Film Festivals?

How Many Judges Are There?

We have over 100 registered judges that actively rate submissions. 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. 


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. 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. Most judges will watch 4-5 movies per day, pretty consistently. I have some judges that will binge six hours of films in an evening. Everyone has their own schedule and style.


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.


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

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


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.


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.


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.


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 Cinema Lakeline in Austin or 5th Avenue Cinema In Portland, 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.


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 20% partial fee waiver, promo code or discount on FilmFreeway, please use this link:


Get More Judging Guides and Filmmaker Festival Submission Resources
Film Festival Submission Tips and Articles
  1. Your Submission Contact Details Must Be Accurate. Do you know how many submitter emails bounce and don't have a phone number listed? Read more ...
  2. Choose A Submission Title That Is Memorable. Is your creative work getting lost in the shuffle? Read more ...
  3. Create A Tagline And A Synopsis For Your Submission. Do you know the difference? Read more ...
  4. Create A Director's or Writer's Biography For Your Submission.  Do you think that a Biography and a Job Resume are the same thing? Read more ...
  5. Create A Director’s or Writer’s Statement. This is an opportunity to explain your personal motivation, inspiration, experiences and challenges that lead to the creation of your submission. Read more ...
  6. Create A Poster For Your Submission. Stay ahead of the competition, don't be generic. Read more ...
  7. Create A Trailer For Your Submission. Because video gets more clicks than text. Read more ...
  8. Include A Social Media Link With Your Submission. Social Media is a free marketing tool that Film Festivals use. There are several reasons why you should not ignore this opportunity. Read more ...
  9. Include A Website Link With Your Submission. All roads lead to a central hub for your submission. Read more ...
  10. The Final Cut vs. The Festival Cut. The edit that you send to festivals matters. Do you know the difference? Read more ...

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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.

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