Pens to Lens Student Filmmaking Competition

About the Competition

When the Champaign Urbana Film Society (CUFS) first started the Pens To Lens K-12 Screenwriting Competition in 2013, it was with the goal of bringing a part of the filmmaking process to students to learn analytical thinking and an appreciation for the arts. Now the CUFS is bringing the entire filmmaking process to the students of East Central Illinois. Students will have new opportunities to work with technology, collaborate with peers and mentors, and show off their resourcefulness in this Pens To Lens Student Filmmaking Competition.

Submission Guidelines

  • For K-8 students, adult assistance is permitted for submissions as long as the story and creative decisions are all student-made. Adults are encouraged to help students improve their production quality by helping them with photography, sound recording, and editing technology.
  • High School student submissions must be written, directed, and crewed by current or just-graduated 9-12th grade students or equivalent grade homeschool students. Music composed by non-students is allowed, but all non-student participation must be noted on the submission form.
  • Student films must be produced in East Central Illinois.
  • Student films must have a run-time of less than five minutes.
  • Credits should be no longer than 20 seconds in length.
  • The student filmmaker must have rights to use all third-party media used in the film (e.g. music)
  • There is no restriction this year on when the student film was produced; older work is welcome provided it meets the other criteria.

Submission Information

You can enter your film by submitting the form linked below. Before you fill out the form, you must upload your film to YouTube or Vimeo as an unlisted or password protected link. You will then include the link in the designated field in the form.

The submission deadline is June 30th, 2021. Students whose films are selected for screening during the Pens To Lens Gala will be contacted in July.


›Submit your film here!


Judging Criteria

Winning films will be determined based on the following judging criteria, with allowances made for the age of the director and contributions made by non-students:

  • Artistic coherence: films are expected to adhere to classical narrative structure (beginning, middle, and end), or have a unifying concept or idea that sustains its coherence.
  • Production value: the film shows good composition, framing, intentional lighting, and sound quality.


The winning films will be featured during the Pens To Lens Awards and Screening Gala; top selections will also be awarded cash prizes.

Resources for Student Filmmakers

If you’ve already made a film that conforms to the submission guidelines listed above, great! Send it our way.

If you don’t have a film yet, let us know! We can help connect you with equipment and online resources. You can email us with questions about equipment at

Here are some initial Q&As to consider as you set out to make your own film:

Q: What is your film going to be about?
A: It is always best to play to your interests.

Q: Do you like making special effects?
A: Make your film story revolve around some effects you know how to do.

Q: Do you like costumes or make up?
A: Set your story somewhere exotic, and decorate your actors accordingly.

Q: Do you prefer a good script and dramatic acting?
A: Keep it simple and focus your energy on finding a serious team and spend time on the edit.


In other years, we have helped connect interested students with experienced mentors to help guide them through the filmmaking process — given the enduring complications of the pandemic, we will not be doing so this year, but are happy to answer any questions sent to


  • Student films may not use copyrighted material without express written permission, to be submitted with the film. This includes music, scripts, photographs, and other intellectual property.
  • Student films may not feature excessive foul language or drug use. Nudity is forbidden.
  • Student filmmakers must not violate any laws when making their film.
  • The CUFS and the Pens To Lens Board are not liable for any legal or medical issues that may arise from the production of the film.
  • Rules subject to adjustment at the discretion of the Champaign-Urbana Film Society Board.