Sight of Sound is an annual event that challenges filmmakers to create short silent films that are set to and inspired by classical music, much like Disney’s Fantasia, yet inclusive of live-action films. Competitive entries are reviewed and selected by a jury of filmmakers, and the most outstanding films are screened in concert, with the Dallas Chamber Symphony performing the soundtrack live-to-film. Select filmmakers are also eligible for monetary prizes and license to use the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s recorded concert audio in their films.

Traditionally, filmmakers create their films with the expectation of adding a soundtrack in post-production. They might enlist the services of a film composer to write an original score for their film, or acquire licenses to dub existing musical recordings to their film to enhance the action on screen. Sight of Sound explores the reversal of this cinematic process. It is the first and only contest of its kind in the world, that asks filmmakers to create a visual work of art designed to serve and enhance the drama of a musical score. Sight of Sound is about finding ways to cinematize music, tell amazing stories, and breathe new life into some of classical music’s greatest masterpieces.

Finalists are eligible to receive a $500 Audience Favorite Award (selected by audience members via text), as well as a $500 Best Picture Award, to be determined by the competition’s jury of filmmakers. After the debut concert, both Semifinalists and Finalists are given complimentary license to use and distribute the orchestra’s professional musical recording, dubbed to their films, across all motion media, worldwide in perpetuity.

Films can be narrative, abstract, animation, live action, etc., as a diverse variety of formats and interpretations are welcome. The most successful entries tend to be those films that are three to ten minutes in duration and which exhibit a strong interplay between sound and picture. Filmmakers should consult the Competition Guidelines for more information before submitting a film. Sample films are available online, which serve as good examples of the types of short films that our jury is most likely to select for a public concert screening. The one main rule of the competition is: no sound except the classical soundtrack.

Filmmakers may either submit a film for accompaniment with one of the competition’s pre-approved Music Selections or enter a “Wild Card” submission to a piece of their choosing. Wild Card submissions require additional approval before submission, so please consult the competition guidelines before submitting one. A jury of filmmakers with experience across all genres selects the Finalists who shall receive a live concert screening at Dallas City Performance Hall, where the Dallas Chamber Symphony performs the soundtrack live-to-film. Films are projected on a large screen above the stage, as the orchestra performs the musical score underneath.

Sight of Sound provides an opportunity for artists to create new films for pairing with some of the greatest masterpieces in classical music, while extending professional recognition and exposure to filmmakers in front of local music and film critics who will attend the event.

Finalists are eligible to receive a $500 Audience Favorite Award (selected by audience members via text), as well as a $500 Best Picture Award, to be determined by the competition’s jury of filmmakers. After the debut concert, both Semifinalists and Finalists are given complimentary license to use and distribute the orchestra’s professional musical recording, dubbed to their films, across all motion media, worldwide in perpetuity.

Filmmakers choose from one of the competition’s Music Selections 2016, and create an original silent film, in which the Music Selection is utilized as the complete and unaltered soundtrack.

If you would like to use a piece of classical music in your film that is not on the Music Selections list, you may submit a Wild Card Request and Entry. Wild Card Entries can sometimes be complicated, so please read the Wild Card Guidelines, and get prior approval before you create your film.

Synthesized recordings (or recordings that utilize electronic, non-acoustic instruments) are not allowed. If you are unsure about your selection of music, please use the Wild Card Request Form to ask us about it before you create your film.

Filmmakers must dub the complete and unedited “Official Placeholder Recording” into their film, as this music (which is unlicensed for distribution), serves as a temporary musical placeholder, to which you synchronize the visual action on screen. If your film is selected for screening as a Finalist, the Dallas Chamber Symphony will then mute this musical placeholder, and perform the score live, in perfect synchronization with your film, at a public concert at Dallas City Performance Hall. After the screening, you will then have license to synchronize the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s professional audio recording with your film, and distribute the combined sound and picture for non-commercial purposes. Semifinalists (those whose films are deemed excellent by our Jury, but not screened in concert) still receive the DCS’ synchronization license, provided that there is a Finalist for which their identical music selection is performed and recorded. Commercial distribution licenses may be negotiated if necessary.

Music Selections cannot be distorted, modified or altered in any way, as these changes would make it impossible for the Dallas Chamber Symphony to replicate the soundtrack in your film. The orchestra will only perform the composer’s original score and sheet music as published, without any alterations.

Aside from your Music Selection, your film must be silent. Dialogue and sound effects are not allowed. Extensive use of subtitles is also prohibited.

All of the selected Finalist films will be presented by a Christie L2K1000 digital projector, onto a 13.5- by 24-foot Da-Lite Dual Vision screen, suspended over the stage, above the orchestra.

Films must be appropriate for concert audiences of all ages. Please only submit films that would be suitable for screening to a ten-year-old.

While not required, we strongly encourage Finalist Filmmakers to attend the Sight of Sound film screening with the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Attendance will not influence contest results in any way. Please consult the Dallas Chamber Symphony website for performance details and ticket information. Filmmakers who confirm attendance may have opportunities to introduce and discuss their film, as well as accept in-person the competition’s Audience Choice Award. Finalists invited to participate in the concert screening are provided up to four (4) complimentary event passes.

Filmmakers need not include a visible timecode in their films. The orchestra will produce its own timecode and synchronization protocol which will be utilized by the conductor, and correspond to your film and musical score.
Submission & Review

Filmmakers may submit a film through this website or FilmFreeway, provide all required supportive materials, and pay the $30 non-refundable application fee ($15 for students), by the applicable competition deadline.

Submission fees directly compensate our jury members for their time, and all submissions will be viewed by at least three filmmakers with experience across all genres.

The Jury will convene for a preliminary review, at which time Semifinalists, whose films will advance to a second evaluation, will be determined.

Finalists, whose films will be screened in concert, will be determined during the second evaluation, which will be conducted in consultation with Richard McKay, the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s Artistic Director. During this second evaluation, each film’s unique instrumentation and musical performance parameters, as well as other programmatic and logistical concerns, will be taken into consideration. The Jury will work to curate a natural flow of contrasting films and musical styles, that our audience will enjoy, all while presenting each film in parity, and in the best possible light. At this time, we will also begin production of the concert event, making arrangements to have all of the appropriate shifts of musical personnel and soloists, as applicable, so as to make for a seamless live concert presentation. A final program and concert performance order will be decided and certified.

If your film is not selected and screened as a Finalist, you are eligible to resubmit it to future Sight of Sound competitions as a Wild Card Entry.

Filmmakers are welcome to submit multiple entries, but only one film per Music Selection.

Filmmakers are urged to consider that some of the competition music selections are naturally more accessible and popular than others. For this reason, films that explore the more challenging music selections may end up being more successful. Please also be advised that the music selections listed at the top of the Music Selections page tend to be utilized most, simply because they are at the top of the page! Please take time to listen to all of the selections to find the ones that most inspire you.

Filmmakers are urged to avoid editing their silent films so that the picture starts before or after the music. While there are exceptions to this rule, in general, the most successful submissions are those for which the sound and picture start and end more or less at the same time.

Filmmakers are encouraged to avoid lengthy textual, on-screen credits in their films. In a concert screening environment, the most successful submissions are those that limit credits to the very end, after the music, and overlaid onto a black background. Please consider that credits that appear during the music may prompt the live audience to applaud, and thus ruin the recorded concert audio for yourself and Semifinalist filmmakers who may also wish to use it. Therefore, it is best to limit credits to the very end, after the sound and picture have ended. We suggest the following format: 5-second Title Card Intro over black background, your film, 5-seconds of End Credits over black background. We understand film credits are important, and can provide additional printed credits in our concert program booklets as needed.

In general, the most successful filmmakers are those who have a sensitive ear, and who have taken time to consider the drama of the musical score and what it evokes visually. If the music in your film serves as mere background music, you might consider what you could do to generate a more dynamic interplay between sound and picture. If your film could be equally well supported by another piece of music with a similar mood, chances are that your film is not all that well adapted to your specific music selection. Sight of Sound is about creating a film as unique as its sound, in contrast to the convention of creating a film and then adding sound to it.

The most successful filmmakers are also those who take time to consider their unique audience and venue at Sight of Sound. While the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s audience is likely to include film enthusiasts who will love even your bravest, experimental creations, please be advised that the most successful films tend to be those with broad-based appeal, and an ability to speak to a diverse demographic spectrum.

For complete Rules and Terms, visit the event website.

Overall Rating
  • Jono Eshleman

    My film, 'The Swan', was awarded the Best Picture at the 2017 SOS. However, I had an overall negative experience w/SOS. On the one hand, the event was small, local, and very cool. Watching your film while a live orchestra performs the score is incredibly fun, but not knowing whether or not the festival is happening until 2 weeks prior to the event is nerve wracking!

    I worked hard to hit the festival's submission deadline of May 1st, 2017. In June, FilmFreeway told me my film was an official selection of the festival. I was stoked! One month goes by. Then, a SOS festival rep (who is also the Dallas Chamber Symphony conductor) emailed me to let me know I was actually a semi-finalist, and had to go through a second round of judging before becoming an official selection. And then no communication from anyone at SOS or DCS for the remainder of 2017. I emailed every month to check in, and eventually gave up hope on the event even happening!

    In January 2018, I get an email from the SOS rep who tells me my film is screening in Dallas in two weeks and my family will be given VIP tickets. BUT...the "SOS International Film Competition" has now been re-programmed as a separate composer-in-residency's World Premiere, with SOS as a small aspect of the overall event. I'm ticked!

    We get to the (free) event and and are told there is no VIP seating for the event, so my family (who drove w/me from Chicago to Dallas) has to SPLIT UP to find seating for this event...they get to the SOS portion of the program, and to my dismay, the orchestra speeds up the score to my film, and renders the experience of my film very different than I intended it to be.

    Overall, this whole festival was a bust. I do not recommend this festival to anyone, but I do recommend filmmakers try to make silent short films to hone their storytelling craft. What I got out of SOS is all the effort I put into it.

    May 2018
  • I'm Manel Gil-Inglada composer of the score of the film animation and science fiction EVO. I am very happy to have been a semifinalist in the Sight of Sound Film Festival. A unique festival where the relationship between music and image is valued like nowhere else.

    June 2016