How To Make Award-Winning Films & Videos

By Hunter Todd, Chairman & Founding Director, winner of more than 115 international awards as Producer, Director and/or Cinematographer of over 300 films, including Features, Shorts, Documentaries, TV Specials, TV Commercials, Business & Corporate films.Please Note: This is really just intended for beginning filmmakers, students and first-time film/video makers. To all of our seasoned pro’s out there, this is not really intended for you … just the dear beginners!

Get a script…
“A good story, well told – is the true beginning of any movie. Tricks and techniques will not make a bad story better. Hollywood manages to prove that every day. Your story needs the basics; a beginning, a middle, and an end – with an intro, a conflict/crisis, and a resolution. These are the very basic elements. Need a good story? Pick your favorite short story or one by O. Henry. A story that is simple, short and to the point.

Storyboard it.
Not a great artistic feat, simply line drawings of each scene and every scene, so you can plan it all out. Helps in editing too. If you have a pal that is an artist, that is even better.

Buy a Tripod!
One of the most basic mistakes our juries see in thousands of entries is the “nervous camera” which really detracts from the film. Hand-held is acceptable if it helps the story. But for most shorts, a steady camera platform helps tremendously. Jiggly cameras simply come between the story and the viewer. A good tripod can cost as little as $25 new! Great cameras are fine, but too much shake, rattle and roll will give your viewers a very serious case of mal-de-mer!

Lose the Zoom Lens!
Few things are as annoying to an audience or a film festival jury as OVERUSE OF THE ZOOM LENS! You will notice that Hollywood rarely – if ever – uses the Zoom … use wide shots, then cut to a close up or medium shot … never zoom! It is highly distracting even in home movies about a cute baby! Even a crude dolly-in shot from a wheel chair or wagon is better. Once in a rare while you can use the zoom for impact, but we hate to see it messing up your good story. Keep it in the bag! You will thank me later.

Choose Your Weapon!
Buy or rent a digital video camera that offers the highest resolution you can find. You can buy really good ones, that can cost as little as $750 to $1,000. Professional models are coming down in price and can be rented from equipment rental companies for small daily fees over the weekends. Make friends with your local equipment rental company, they can be a very important guide in your quest to make a movie! You can buy a used Bolex 16mm movie camera for just a few hundred dollars, shoot on film and then edit on tape which does give you far better quality. Shooting on film and then digital editing on tape is the way the pros and the big studios do it, and you can too!

Can You Hear Me Now?
Clear audio is critical. The puny built-in mike on your video camera just won’t cut it. It is a cheap, low quality mike. It is too far from the action, too far from your actors. You can get an inexpensive wireless, clip-on model from Radio Shack or any sound or video store. Good sound quality is critically important. Listen to the actual scene playback! If you use a boom mike, be very careful to keep the mike out of the shot! Check playback!

Lights, Camera, Action!
Available light is not really good! Inside and outside it makes shadows and hides details. You can get a camera mounted mini-fill light for just a few bucks! Or bounce a big spot off a white foam-core sheet. Same for outside, fill-light works and gets rid of bad shadows on the face. Even a plywood board with shiny foil glued to it helps bounce sunlight into the scene. Hollywood does it, and so should you. Keep the light steady though. Wiggly light is also very distracting.

Take Four, Scene 32! Rehearse, Rewrite and Re-do!
Try to run through each scene with your actors. A dress rehearsal of the entire show is fine. Shoot each and every scene many times. At least three to five takes! Shoot from different angles, use close-ups, long shots, medium shots, establishing shots, cut-aways! Replay the takes every time. Look at them on a big monitor; check the sound and the video quality. Make sure you have a good take that you really like. Sometimes a re-do is impossible later. Watch out for that boom mike in the shot!

Cut, Slash, Edit and Re-edit!
You can buy a really good movie editing program for just a few hundred dollars. Final Cut Pro is more costly but worth every penny. Use free programs like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to cut your very best takes together to assemble the final cut. Review it, make changes, and use new or different scenes and cut-aways to make it more interesting. Keep your short no longer than 15 minutes. Ten is even better. Many film festivals will not accept a short film that is more than 15 minutes, like the 900 pound gorilla – Cannes! WorldFest-Houston accepts longer shorts, but they better be really good! Step back; take a beat … look at the video again later. Polish and make changes until you feel it is perfect, then fill out the entry form and send it in! Best of luck!

The Festival Madness…
There are now more than 4,000 so-called “Film Festivals” in the world. When WorldFest began, it was the 3rd in North America, after San Francisco and New York! We began in 1961, and after SFO , NYC & WorldFest, along came Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Cleveland and many, many more. There are now even companies that promote your entry into many film festivals. (WorldFest does recommend and use the suberb new Free Submission Service, FilmFreeway.com – this is the only service we support and sponsor. You may use www.filmfreeway.com in addition to our own Online submission system. We do require a DVD or BluRay with your entry. Some of these new film festivals are scams and just are after your entry fee! Do remember, those fest entry organizations charge all the festivals a fee for their services and some charge a membership fee to handle your work. DO IT YOURSELF! – We have discussed this with members of our board, and many agencies and studios. To put it simply, they are not really impressed that you won the audience award at the Bugtussle Video Festival or the Bustleberg Indie Video Festival (Yes, there actually is a Bustleberg in Virginia, but no festival as of yet!), or others like it.

Here is what you should do:
Carefully evaluate your production. Then consider the top ten or so film festivals in the world that might like your film. Start with Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, San Sebastian, Karlovy Vary and then consider Sundance, San Francisco, Seattle, USADallas, Chicago and Houston. Please do not waste your money on some 1st Annual Flim-Flam FilmFest! It does not impress festival directors at all when you tell them that you just won the top award at some new and obscure video festival. It does not help your film! Winning in some of the significant film festivals we just listed is an important accomplishment, winning in a new and unknown festival is not something that will really boost your career, though it may boost your ego! Remember – use FilmFreeway.com or the Intl listing service filmfestivals.com to consider the festivals that you should enter.

WorldFest receives more than 1,500 short film and video entries, so to win here is quite a significant honor. Only about 15% of the entries win in WorldFest. In some of the smaller festivals almost all the entries win something. If they want to charge a ‘Finalist Fee’ or other extra surcharges, be suspicious! We know of some festivals that will give you a gold award if you reserve a table at the awards dinner for a big fee! A Golden Snail from the Tittywompus Indie Video Awards might make you feel good but it is meaningless in the real world. Do remember, not everyone is a Spielberg, Lucas, Ang Lee, Coppola, Randal Kleiser, John Lee Hancock or Atom Egoyan! We do wish you all the best of luck ~ work hard, do your best, enter festivals carefully!

How Our Juries Review Each Entry…
Our International juries carefully review each DVD Entry on Marantz Professional Playback Systems, regular and BluRay – on big 72″ Panasonic digital screens. No little online lap-tops for your entry! There is a different, award-winning jury for each of the ten major categories. The screenplay jury features a different judge for each sub-category. For instance, our judge for the Sci-Fi category is an international award-winning Sci-Fi director that has directed more than 50 episodes of Stargate.

The following criteria are what our judges carefully consider in reviewing each entry:

  1. Concept
  2. Attainment of goal
  3. Storyline/script
  4. Directing
  5. Cinematography
  6. Editing
  7. Technical excellence (in focus, smooth camerawork)
  8. Pacing – story development
  9. Sound / Music
  10. Overall Impression (did they like it)

We give each review category a maximum of 10 points, so a perfect score would be 100. To be nominated for and win a Special Jury Award or a Grand Remi, the entry must score in the 96-100 zone, a Platinum Award requires a 90-95, a Gold Award a 85-89, a Silver Award a 79-74, and a Bronze Award a 75-78 – No awards are made for scores under 75. We do not give Remi Awards in a category if there are no qualifying scores.

We are very happy to be able to share with you what our juries are looking for in a Remi Award-winning film or video. Should you have any questions or comments, we do welcome your input. Please send me an email and we will get back to you. Did this info help you? If so, do let us know. Are there any other thoughts or advice you might have? Please share!