7 LESSONS LEARNED FROM JUDGING A SHORTFILM COMPETITION BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

As a jury member at this year’s Alliance Francaise Smartphone Film competition, I picked up a couple of things from watching close to a hundred submissions.

First, it takes courage to submit work out in the world because it will always be judged, if not by a jury, then it will be judged by the fans, whether they were the Target audience or not. So kudos to everyone who submitted their work and kudos to everyone else who keeps submitting their work to the various competitions or grants, plus most importantly, those who put their work out there in paid projects.

I’ve learnt that one of the most important ways to grow and develop thick skin as a creative is to constantly put your work out into the world, overtime you’re able to handle criticism better, able to take notes better, leading to growth in your art and craft. Below I share a few of my observations from judging this short film competition. I hope you’ll take them as lessons learned and do a check list for your work as you consider submitting to the world.

  1. Emotional Delivery: Just because a film is a 4-minute short film doesn’t mean you don’t move us emotionally. Emotions are crucial to any form of storytelling, make us laugh, make us cry, make us contemplate, make us analyze…make us care! If you don’t make us feel something, then the only response you’ll get from us is indifference.
  2. If there’s a theme to the competition, stick to it: If your film doesn’t suit the theme of the competition, then the first item in judging is to eliminate it. You might have a great short film, but if not in line with the theme then it’s out. Why is this?  It would be truly unfair to allow a film that was out of the theme to win. So always make sure your film is in line with the theme.
  3. You don’t have to exhaust the time allocated: If they say maximum 4 minutes, imagine you can do a film in 2 minutes and that is totally okay, you don’t have to drag your story to try and reach the 4 minutes. 4 minutes is the maximum, meaning minimum can be anything. We watched a really interesting short film that was under a minute long. So don’t feel the need to max out on the allocated time of the short film.
  4. What’s the genre of your film: Understanding the genre you’re working on helps you know which notes to hit.  If it’s comedy we need to laugh, if thriller we need to feel some chills, and so forth. So as you’re thinking through your story concept, consider genre, as it will guide you on how best to deliver the much needed emotions and stakes in your short film.
  5. Even a short story needs some form of conflict: Whether comedy or Drama, story is made interesting through conflict. It doesn’t have to be over the top ‘Alexandro I am your father’ kind of conflict, but you need to present some conflict to us. Whether through the topic you pick, that gets us, the audience, conflicted about the topic itself, whether through the characters in your story world. Conflict holds our interest. You will be surprised how long 4 minutes is, I discovered that while watching the short films, and for some films I waited for the four minutes to be over and it felt like it was taking eternity.
  6. Write for an audience: Remember that when you’re working on something like film, you’re working on it for an audience to partake. Keeping this at the back of your mind will help you as you create and execute your short film.
  7. Story is King: If you forget anything else I’ve said. Remember this. Story is King. You might have great camera work, great art etc. But if Story isn’t KING, it will most likely fail. You might have ish ish Cinematography etc but with great STORY the judges will remember and it will show in the grading.  So please work on your craft.

I’m truly passionate about the craft of writing, I love story and I love helping other writers unleash their fullest potential in writing.

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