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Wisdom from the Judges: Film Fest 2013

Adrian Patenaude

Every year, Abilene Christian University hosts a film festival, inviting filmmakers from around the US to judge student films. For a school without a film degree, this event is an incredible resource. The real reason you enter Film Fest is for the personal feedback session with the experts after the awards ceremony. When Film Fest rolls around, my brother, Lucius, and I spontaneously morph into sponges and start soaking up the wisdom of these hardworking filmmakers.

Here are a few nuggets I got out of the feedback session:

Storytelling is more important than technology. Technology will always be changing, but story is eternal. Focus on learning how to tell a good story.

"Hollywood style is invisible style." Make the technical aspects of the film invisible so you don't distract the audience from the story.

It's cheaper to fail on paper. Get feedback. Take your script to people who are willing to give constructive criticism. Even better, take it to people who are creative critics: "This scene doesn't work. What if you did this instead?" If you hone your script first, you'll avoid a lot of issues later in the process.

Cast your movie. Don't just use your friends. Your 19 year old roommate can't pull off the 47 year old character you wrote! Finding the perfect cast will strengthen your film, making it look more professional and less like a student film.

Every movie asks a question. For example, Will Nemo be found? At the beginning of your film, build anticipation by asking the question. At the end, make sure there's a payoff.

Write what you know. For your story to ring true, you have to have a personal connection to the material. That's the magic. And remember, "whatever is most personal is most universal." (Dr. Phil Vardiman, ACU professor)

That's what I have for now! Perhaps I'll do a follow-up on storytelling in the near future. Until then, check out a few of the submissions:

Umbrella (Best Picture)

The Mover

Red Rubber Ball (My brother's submission)

Nerf Wars: A Mocumentary

RIP: Recovery Is Possible

Hope on Fire (My submission)

Were any of these nuggets particularly striking to you? What can you apply in your next project?