Most common mistakes made by adventure film makers when submitting to festivals.
I watch a lot of films. It’s part of my job. I run the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival and also programme for the Kendal Mountain Festival Film Competition. In the last year I reckon I’ve watched 300 adventure films so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on which ones are the better ones, and which ones don’t make the cut. I figured it might be useful to put down a few of the more common characteristics, mistakes and traps that film makers make that result in their films not making the cut. This is, of course, my own opinion, and based on choosing films for a festival audience. That last point is an important one, and brings me on to the first of the issues:
1. Film length. Festival audiences tend to expect a varied compilation of films. Compilations may be themed or mixed, but they usually comprise a number of films. As such feature length films are difficult to programme into compilations and often get left out. This is a headache for festivals as many feature films are feature length for good reason and deserve a wide audience. That said, many films are generally on the long side and could easily be edited down. It is quite common for film makers to produce a lengthy film, and to then produce a shorter edit specifically for festivals. This is the perfect situation as a 20 minute film should be plenty long enough to put together an effective trailer for the main feature.
2. The second most common, and highly frustrating, issue is narration. Employing a decent narrator to give a voice-over to a film is of paramount importance and so often under-appreciated. Unintelligible accents, over-enthusiasm and dumbing down of the story are all common traps. Once a decent narrator has been found, who doesn’t irritate or offend, it’s essential that what he or she says is aimed at the relevant audience. Language is a major issue in the international world of film festivals. It’s no good submitting a German film to an English speaking festival, so narrators are often used to translate a film. This translation often renders the translated version of the film laughable when it is clear that the end product has not been proofed by somebody native to the language of translation!
3. In most cases films work best if the original narration is left alone and decent subtitles are added. Of course, if the original narrator has an irritating voice this can still render the film unwatchable! With regard to subtitles it’s surprising how many film makers pay scant attention to the placement and colour of them, meaning that white lettering disappears on snowy mountains! White lettering with a black border works well. It’s also essential to make sure that the captions are on screen long enough to be read – this is particularly true when subtitling into a language that is spoken at a slower pace than the original!
4. Exaggeration. The very nature of most adventure films dictates that the narration points out the level of difficulty, the grandness of scale, or the degree of hardship. Festival audiences see through exaggerated claims and tire of repetition of such claims. Many of the best films underplay the illustration of how hard-core things are through narration, and let the pictures speak for themselves.
5. Music. A very difficult one this. Getting the music right for a film can be a costly and very time-consuming project. That said, it’s a shame when an otherwise good film is let down by irritating, cheesy, or plain bad music. Including un-licenced music in a film is a no-no and will automatically mean that a film is not eligible for festivals.
6. Lingering on personal moments. If a film is made largely for the protagonists of the expedition / trip then these are excusable, but if it is to be entered into festivals and thereby the public domain these private jokes and moments can become tiresome very quickly. Incidental shots are an essential part of most films, but linger on them for too long and they can appear egotistical on the part of the film maker and also cause the film to drag (see point 1).