28 August 2017

3 Things That Help Make Award Winning Film

3 Things That Help Make Award Winning Film

One of the best things I have gained from my association with the Aurora Awards has been the opportunity to see the work of so many different creative people from all over the world. One of the main reasons we created the competition was to give ourselves, and those that volunteer to be judges, the chance to see what their peers are doing and benefit from that cross pollination of ideas. Back in the days when DVD was the popular method of distribution, I used to check the records of the winners and see who had received the highest scores and watch their films. As I did I would try to determine what were the qualities that made these the winning films in the eyes of the judges. Over the years, I started seeing patterns that many of them had in common. Here’s some of what I learned. I hope this will help you all with your work.

Winning films are about the idea, not the execution.

While technical expertise is expected in award winning films, what really tips the scales in favor of the production is the idea of how to present the information. In instructional design circles, every film is made up of two parts, the content strategy and the presentation strategy. The content is what is the information that is being shared, and the presentation is how that information is being presented. Is it an info-graphic animation, on-screen narrator in front of a green screen, a story that teaches the content? Is it funny, allegorical, fast paced or nostalgic? Winning films have a creative idea of how the information is presented the key information that works well with the content and appeals to the audience.

Winning films have a look and a style.

Since film is a visual art, winning films have a look and style that supports the message and makes the piece feel unified. Every film has what I call and emotional landscape that all the media must pass over to get to the audience. As creatives, we need to identify what that landscape is, and then point all of our resources in the same direction to support that feel and mood. Is the presentation the bright and energetic world of steel and glass offices, or the reflective soft greens and golds of mother earth? Once you know the mood and feel, you can then light, shoot, pace your editing, and color correct to add to this feeling. Fonts and transitions of the graphics will also support this mood, feel and look. Actors talk and present in the appropriate style. This adds the feeling of professionalism and conciseness to the production that results in a more favorable audience response.

Winning films have consistent messaging.

While creative approaches can really take a production over the top in terms of audience and judges approval, too much creativity can be a problem, and the most common way this is manifest is an inconsistent style during the film. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to choose a visual style and stay with it, but nothing destroys the feeling of quality in a production than sudden changes partway through a production. I remember reviewing a historical series set in England where historical scenes were recreated by having the camera focused on a foreground item, while the action took place, out of focus, in the background. Ostensibly this was for budgetary reasons, since staging 18th century England is pricey and casting look-alike actors even more so, but the style worked. I experimented with it myself while working on an American West story, and even though I knew the style would work, I was constantly nagged with doubts to shoot it in a more traditional approach. I resisted, and the pieced turned out great. Had I changed halfway during the film, it would look more like a Frankenstein than a creative choice.

Have a great week, and great luck with your films!

Written by Quinn Orr.
Quinn is producer, writer, director, creative consultant and lecturer on creative process. He has received may honors for his work including an Academy Award Nomination, Emmy Award, and many others. He has worked in the industry over 30 years, and created hundreds of films, while working in 26 different countries. He is one of the original founders of the Aurora Awards, and lives in Farmington, Utah.

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