• Third Coast Festival
  • Navy Pier
  • 848 East Grand
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • 60611-3509

Shortdocs FAQ

The question "And what happened then?" - does it have to be worded exactly like that?

Nope! We could imagine "What happened next?" Or maybe, "what did you do after that?" or any other variation on the theme - encouraging the narrative/plot to move along. This can be in your voice, a subject/character's voice, found/archival tape, any other way you dream up.

Please elaborate on the shout of silence/cry of laughter rule. 

This rule comes straight from Studs' own thoughts on interviewing (read them here!). We hope it will encourage you to explore subtext in your stortelling. Experiment with this in all sorts of ways - meaningful pauses, bittersweet joking, and anything in between. 

How do I submit my ShortDoc?

This year we are using Submittable to accept ShortDocs. If you have tech quesitons about the submission process, please contact the friendly folks at support@submittable.com.

How are the submissions judged?

Four submissions will be chosen as winners by Third Coast staff, with guidance from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive. First and foremost, we'll be looking for submissions that tell a good story. We’re also looking for interesting interpretations of the rules, and thoughtful and intentional use of sound (remember, this is AUDIO). Technical quality and originality will also be considered.

What's the Peoples' ShortDoc Award?

Once again, we're letting the public choose an additional ShortDocs winner from the finalists!  We'll post the contenders online in early June, then open it up for public voting. 

Are you only looking for documentary stories?

While Third Coast is largely a documentary audio festival, the ShortDocs Challenge welcomes all stories, from documentary, to mockumentary, to radio drama, to abstract sound art. And everything in between... as long as it follow the rules.

Can I submit a story that I co-produced with another person?

Co-productions are absolutely welcome.

Who owns my story once I submit it?

Producers retain all rights to their work, but Third Coast retains permission to feature ShortDocs submissions on the radio, in our podcast, in public, and for promotional and programming purposes - including on Public Radio Remix. Any income generated through PRX will be paid to Third Coast (approx. $3 per licensed ShortDoc). Producers will always be credited and notified whenever Third Coast presents their work.

On the flip side, Third Coast respectfully requests that producers reference the "2015 Third Coast ShortDocs Challenge" with all additional distribution/publicizing of submissions.

I've never produced a radio story, but I'm game to try. What's my first step? What equipment should I buy?

Bravo! There are a ton of resources online to help you get going with recording, interviewing, thinking about your story. Besides listening to everything you can get your ears on, and thinking carefully about what you hear, we recommend checking out Transom.org (especially the Tools section), StoryCorps' guide to interviewing, and/or Radio Diaries' Teen Reporter Handbook (even if you're post-teen) for invaluable tips from the experts. You might also listen to some Third Coast Conference sessions from years past, especially Bring Extra Batteries from Rob Rosenthal, which is full of basic production tips, and Sound Design 101 from Brendan Baker and Katilin Prest. 

I'm full of ideas! How many pieces can I submit?

Our limit is three submissions per producer. Pick your very best ideas to develop into stories. (See, you're already developing your editing skills).

What's the deal with music rights in ShortDoc submissions?

Since we're not experts, we highly recommend you avoid this issue entirely by seeking out copyright-free music from online resources like WFMU's amazing Free Music Archive. Or invite a friend to score your ShortDoc!

I've already produced a story that just happens to fit your rules, or can be easily adapted to fit. Can I submit that?

We won't say no, but since the whole point of this Challenge is to inspire new stories and approaches to storytelling, we'd rather you submit new work.

Do you accept international submissions?

Absolutely. In fact, we'd love to hear from 25 countries this year - help us reach our goal!

Can I submit a piece that's not in English?

Yes! Other languages are welcome, but an English transcript (provided along with your one-sentence summary on the submisison form) would be helpful. Broadcasting non-English pieces is tricky, but if yours wins we'll figure out a way to at least play part of it on the air.


Still have questions? Send us an email or holler (nicely): 312-948-4682


words o' wisdom from studs on interviewing


Remember! Your 2-3 minute story must:

- have a question for a title, beginning with one of the five Ws

-contain the question "And what happened then?"

-include a shout of silence or a cry of laughter



important dates

Feb. 18-April 14: Submissions Accepted

June 2 - Finalists announced, voting opens for People's Short Doc Award

June 24 - Winner announced!



Looking for inspiration? Check out some past ShortDocs Challenges.

Still have questions? Ask away.



Thanks to our partner:

And to: 

for offering free Pro accounts to all participants!

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