Sight of Sound, Dallas Chamber Symphony, Richard McKay Conductor

Concert photos by permission of the Dallas Chamber Symphony, Richard McKay, conductor. Production photos from Muse by Ezra Lunel (semifinalist 2015).

Rules & Guidelines

  • Filmmakers choose from one of the competition’s Music Selections 2017, 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 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 Best Picture and/or 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.

Submission & Review

  • Filmmakers must submit a film through 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 stage, we will also begin production of the concert event, while 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.

Best Practices

  • 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 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 ends, and overlaid onto a black background. Please consider that credits that appear while the music is still playing will 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.


  • With the submission of a film, you certify that you are its creator and legal owner, and have secured all necessary rights for the picture.
  • With the submission of a film, you certify that its exhibition, provided the free use of the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s live performance and recorded sound, will not violate or infringe upon any rights including but not limited to images and content.
  • With the submission of a film, you grant the Dallas Chamber Symphony and its Sight of Sound Film Competition the right to use the film at its public concert(s), and online for promotional, archival, and other non-commercial purposes.
  • By submitting a film, you grant the Dallas Chamber Symphony and its Sight of Sound Film Competition, the right to copy any submitted material, and utilize your image for promotional, non-commercial purposes.
  • With the submission of a film, your grant the Dallas Chamber Symphony the right to synchronize its live performance and/or recorded concert audio with your film.

Common, Yet Avoidable, Pitfalls

  • Wild Card Entries that are too long. Long music selections are more challenging for the orchestra to accommodate than short ones. Music Selections that are 3-7 minutes in duration are ideal. Anything beyond 10 minutes starts to get tricky. Furthermore, in the case of a 15-minute selection, our Jury would need to deem it so compelling, that it deserves a screening instead of, alternatively, a few good 5-minute selections. The orchestra has a limited time on stage, and thus the concert format favors (as will our Jury), a collective of diverse, short films, which make for the most enjoyable concert screening experience.
  • Clichés. There are certain themes that our Jury sees a lot, so please be advised that if you should choose one of the following, your film may face stiffer competition, and perhaps also lose points for creativity. Because they are ubiquitous, films with the following attributes generally need to be particularly strong, so as to stand out from the pack.
    • Painters. Films whose primary focus is on a painter, or other visual artist, who creates visual art as music plays in the background.
    • Dancers. Films of a dancer (ballet, modern, etc.), who dances as music plays in the background. While this genre is competitive, we have had some very successful entrants in this field, such as Arvo Part Said. We also like Music for 18 Musicians.
    • Infidelity. Films with a narrative plot that centers on a person’s discovery of an unfaithful partner, and that person’s subsequent depression, and/or quest for revenge.
    • Screen-savers. Videos that are merely computerized visualizations or slideshows will not be considered.
    • Overly dark, angst-ridden films. We receive many very sad, dreary films. If you gravitate toward darker subjects, that’s just fine! Sophisticated filmmakers who convey a clear and meaningful message with specificity and purpose will always stand out and be noticed, especially by our Jury. For what it’s worth though, consider that it is always the uplifting, fun films that receive the most votes for our Audience Choice Award.
    • Pastoral Images. Films which merely set bucolic images of nature to music.
  • Not Using the “Official Placeholder Recording”. If you have chosen to create your film to one of the pre-sanctioned Music Selections, it is imperative that you purchase and use in your film, the exact recording that we designate on iTunes. There are usually multiple versions of each piece of classical music that have the same title and composer, but that nonetheless utilize different instrumentations and thusly have different performance durations. Due to restrictions of instrumentation and sheet-music availability, the Jury can only consider films whose soundtrack is identical to the pre-approved Placeholder Recording. Furthermore, when all filmmakers work from the same Placeholder Recording and timecode, everybody’s film (including Semifinalists) can then be synched to the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s live concert audio in exactly the same way.
  • Challenging music-to-film synchronizations. It is far easier for you to edit your picture to a pre-recorded soundtrack than it is for us to synchronize a live orchestra’s performance to your film. While the orchestra will perform the exact soundtrack to which you make your film—no two performances of the piece are precisely the same. Films that require the musicians to play specific notes at specific visual moments are a challenge because a difference of even one or two seconds can make the film and music appear out of sync. Therefore, avoid edits that require split-second synchronization between sound a picture, i.e. numerous or rapid picture edits which must correspond to short, individual musical notes in the score. For example, see the opening of Blue Disquietude. In this excellent film entry, one can see how the notes align with flashes of light. If the orchestra were off even by a half a second, this film would not work. This kind of synchronization, while possible, is risky and very tricky in live performance. The films with the most successful live screenings are those with a strong interplay between the sound a picture, but which work even if there should be very small temporal deviations in live performance. The orchestra can perform your soundtrack to film very accurately, but please give us a second or two of wiggle room in either direction, whenever possible.
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