With Tropfest 2015 happening this weekend I thought it would be good to share what we learnt from making Tropfest 2014 winner ‘Help’. We made the short in six days from concept to completion, with no money and a lot of passion. So a year later we have had time to reflect on both what we think made the film successful and how some success can ‘help’ propel you forward.
Having a meaningful through line
The biggest strength with ‘Help’ was having a meaningful, relatable through line that ties all the filthiness together. Andy and I have decided this is a strength that needs to be continued, looking at the real world through a filthy lens. This means telling stories or insights that matter and that we care about in an entertaining way. To make a good film there needs to be something for the audience to care about or invest in at least on some level. This is as much true for comedy as it is for any other genre, all you really need to ask is ‘why would they care?’. Do they like the main character? Do they feel sorry for them? Are they intrigued? All you really need to think about is the journey that you are taking your audience on, is it simple enough to understand and does it get the point you want to make across?
Brainstorm multiple jokes
To get the support groups to be the humorous groups that they are we spent a number of hours brainstorming many different ideas (lots of ideas, and by the end they were getting pretty disturbing – use your imagination, what is the dirtiest addiction you can think of?). We filled a large whiteboard and them grouped them into categories i.e. social no-no’s, sexual addictions, silly or strange addictions. We then selected the best ones from the various categories by a process of elimination until we got to the number we needed. We didn’t want anything too similar, and even combined a couple of more specific ideas into broader categories (Issues with Waste). This is definitely a way of working that we continue to use on all our other projects as it allows us to explore lots of different ideas and only work with the best of them instead of just going with the first thing that pops into our head.
Keep it simple
We decided to make a film for Tropfest on a Wednesday night over a few drinks and got together on early that morning Friday prepped with ideas. After brainstorming all of the ideas we had for a couple of hours we realised that everything we were trying to do was too complicated. We didn’t have a lot of time to get the film done and we had to work with what was available to us to make it happen. Through this realisation (and another box of beer) we managed to find a concept that fitted into what we had access too in a good way. This is sometimes a good way to approach things – think about what you have access to and let the story grow from there – the easiest way (but not the only way) to work within a limited budget.
You don’t need heaps of people or flashy gear
We may have had a large cast for ‘Help’ (and bless them all for showing up two days before Christmas) but our crew was limited to the bare necessities. You don’t need every Tom, Dick and Harry to show up to make a good film, and sometimes with a lower budget they can be prohibitive. The idea and the film should always be king and you would be surprised what you can pull off in small numbers. The same with gear and lights, with all of that comes the need for extra people. There is definitely a place for beautifully shot, well lit master pieces, but not every film made needs to be that. If you don’t have access to flashy equipment don’t worry, just focus on telling the story.
Having another project to focus the success on
One of the biggest learnings from winning Tropfest has been that you need another project you are working on to get people involved with while you have buzz. If you seriously want a career in film then you need to have a few good ideas ready to go and even if it feels at times that they are not getting anywhere. The first steps are the hardest and any win is something that you need to back up with another project. We have a few projects in development that we are very excited about and have met a number of people after our win that will help us get to the finish line. Patience is a virtue…
Always have fun
The most important thing of all though is that filmmaking should be fun and I stand by the statement that if it’s not then you are doing something wrong. We loved making ‘Help’, and were incredibly humbled to have won last year. But more than that we are super excited that the original filthy version has found an audience overseas, that we have other projects to challenge us and that a new bunch of finalists will be able to experience the wonder that was Tropfest NZ. Good luck to you all….
Read more about ‘Help’ and why there are two versions here.