Feb 28, 2013

Succeeding at Tropfest

by Chris Vlahonasios

If you get selected to screen at Tropfest Australia your film career will experience a definite boost. However, it’s important to know what sort of film you should make to get selected to screen.

I have provided some observations as to trends and “formulas” of why certain films are selected or even win. This is based on attending nearly ten years of Tropfest screenings. Films mentioned here are from Tropfest 2013. You can read my reviews on these films by clicking the following link:

You can view previous year’s finalists via Tropfest’s YouTube channel:

How to get screened… and win!
There are several things to consider before making your Tropfest film.

Understand your audience
As mentioned on the Tropfest website they are seeking films which suit the screening environment:
·        Tropfest Australia is screened during summer to a large crowd.
·        It is a social event where people come to drink, chill out with friends and watch films which are not too serious, but entertaining and touching.

Although a lot of film buffs attend; however, Tropfest wants films which will appeal to the general population so as to attract the huge crowds every year. This does not mean making “dumb” films, but films which are clever, funny and emotional.

Australia culture
It seems the most common values expressed in Tropfest films are based on Australian values. Theses include:
·        the Aussie battler (aka “the underdog”)
·        the larrikin (a person who is fun-loving, loud and funny)
·        showing Outback, bush/rainforest or beach scenery
·        the “iconic” Australia

Australian people don’t like to take themselves too seriously and enjoy having a laugh at themselves. Although this behaviour may seem rude to American audiences, in Australia it’s seen as part of our national character.

Look at Better than Sinatra, the audience connected strongly with Raymond, cheering him on til the end. Films about the “little guy” are always a crowd favourite.

Films with an emotional element also do well. As in Time and We’ve all been there, they’re tales about ordinary people and our sense of humanity. I remember a great Tropfest finalist from 2002 called Lamb. It was about a father, his young, blind son and cattle dog living in a shack in the Outback during the Great Depression. They had nothing to eat except for a young lamb which the boy was very attached. The father didn’t want to kill it as the boy loved it more than him; they had a stained relationship. However, they were starving and out of desperation the father slaughtered the lamb. This would crush his son and destroy whatever relationship they had left. So what was he going to do? The next day, as the boy went to pat the lamb as he did daily, the father wrapped the dog in the lamb’s wool. This way he could he give his son the one thing he loved the most. It was his act of love towards his son, although the son would never know. It was a powerful film; therefore, it won Best Film.

But that’s not to say humorous films don’t do well at Tropfest. Quite often people like the comedies with clever one-line punches.

However, which films get screened or win really depends on that year’s panel of judges and popular public opinion in society at the time. As long as it’s clever and witty it will at least be selected.

Production values
Most finalist films have very high production values. This does not necessarily mean expensive sets and location, but use of cameras that produce high-definition images. This is ideal for satellite and TV broadcasting.

This means filmmakers with fewer funds and less sophisticated equipment might not get selected. Therefore, there are two options: invest in a good quality camera or create a powerful short film which the selectors can’t refuse.

If based in Australia, or even overseas, try to secure small time Australian actors or celebrities. Tropfest loves screening films with “names”.

Australian actors are always interested in doing Tropfest films as it’s their way of giving back to the industry, adding extra screen credits and self-promotion. Furthermore, both the Festival and Australian audience want to feel as if they’re supporting local talent.

Also, children are very popular, especially ones with big personalities.

The Tropfest Signature Item (“TSI”) is an item that MUST appear, at least once, in a Tropfest submission.

The TSI can appear most obviously or be very subtle. In most finalist films the TSI is interweaved into the actually story. This demonstrates to the selectors creativity, innovation, and skilful storytelling. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing a film where the TSI is just ‘thrown in’ just so it classifies as a Tropfest entrant but could easily screen at any other festival.

Audience also respect a film where the TSI is the centre of the story. It shows uniqueness and originality.

In summary
Make a film that speaks volumes – a film that’s inspiring, witty and beautiful. But most importantly, make a film which is guided by the principles of your Orthodox Faith. This way we can show the world true Christian creativity.

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