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188. How to score at underwater film festivals?

Ten things to consider when participating in marine wildlife film competitions

As a multiple award-winning underwater filmmaker and a member of the jury in different underwater film competitions, I will share my insights on how to excel in underwater film festivals. Although what I will discuss is not set in stone, it reflects my personal perception of what is necessary to succeed in these competitions. These ten points are based on my experiences in various underwater festivals around the world, where I have had both successes and failures. They say you learn more from your losses than your wins. It's crucial to pay attention to what your competitors are bringing to the big screen as it provides valuable learning opportunities.

1. If you do not have all the images yet then prepare yourself adequately to find what you want to show

If you don't have all the required footage, prepare yourself to find what you need. Before embarking on your film project, thoroughly study your subjects. Collect the appropriate images that align with your intended story and resonate with your audience. You can't effectively convey a narrative without the accompanying visuals. It may take extra time and effort to gather all the necessary underwater footage, so consider reaching out to fellow underwater videographers for assistance or explore the option of purchasing stock footage.

2. Be original

Be original and think outside the box. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the entire project. Avoid creating another version of your previous films or replicating someone else's work from the previous year. Presenting a film that invokes a sense of "déjà vu" will not capture the interest of the audience or the jury. To stand out, strive to bring something different and unique to the table.

3. Use only good images

Use only high-quality footage. Ensure that your underwater film showcases only top-notch visuals. If your images are out of focus, shaky, or have dull colours, it will be challenging to compete with underwater videographers and filmmakers who employ high-quality footage. Achieving this requires applying proper filming techniques. As a novice or even an amateur underwater videographer or filmmaker you might consider taking an underwater videography course so you can become familiar with how to master proper underwater filming techniques.

4. Tell a story

Tell a compelling story. A collection of random images from your recent dive trip to the Maldives may impress friends, family, and diving enthusiasts, but it may not be enough to secure a place on the podium in most festivals. Instead, focus on crafting a narrative centred around a specific place (such as a reef or a wreck), a particular animal, or behavioural topics like migration, reproduction, symbiosis, and predation to name a few. Ensure that the story you tell is accurate, as jury members often have expertise in marine biology, wildlife filmmaking, and marine exploration, and can easily spot fabricated or exaggerated tales.

5. Use at least a HD 1080 resolution and horizontal filmed footage

Use high-definition (HD) 1080 and horizontally filmed footage. Film festivals are not platforms for social media content. To make an impact, your footage should be suitable for the big screen rather than a small phone display. Make sure all your footage is at least in full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) since it will likely be projected on a large screen. Submitting a lower-resolution video may result in it appearing blurry or out of focus on the big screen. While lower resolutions are acceptable for social media platforms, they lack the necessary quality when enlarged in a movie theatre or film festival setting. Additionally, vertical footage is not suitable for film festival participation, as it disregards composition and framing rules vital to underwater film making and wildlife cinematography in general.

6. Use quality royalty free music

Use high-quality royalty-free music. If you have the financial means, consider having music specially composed for your film. An experienced composer can add significant value to your production by creating a single tune that can be slightly modified to match different scenes and moods. Alternatively, if you opt for royalty-free music, you'll need to carefully select and match various works by different artists for your film. While not impossible, this can be more challenging and time-consuming.

7. Keep yourself to the requirements

Adhere to the festival's requirements. It may seem obvious, but it's crucial to thoroughly read and follow the festival's rules and requirements. It would be disheartening to have your film disqualified for being two seconds too long or featuring prohibited imagery, such as wildlife harassment. For instance, an ink-squirting octopus might be viewed differently by the film selection committee than you do, even if you are not directly responsible for the octopus's defensive behaviour. Familiarise yourself with all the participation rules to avoid any potential disappointments.

8. Impress!

Impress your audience. Capture and showcase images that astonish and surprise your viewers. Filming fish swimming by is not particularly original since that's what fish naturally do. Instead, focus on capturing intriguing marine wildlife behaviours such as cleaning, mating, egg-laying, hunting, feeding, stalking, or even peculiar actions like yawning. During a boat ride to a dive site, a fellow scuba diver once asked me what I intended to film that day. My response was that I wasn't seeking a specific animal; rather, I aimed to capture wildlife behaviour—for most underwater videographers being opportunistic is essential when filming underwater.

9. Use good narration

Utilise effective narration. If possible, consider hiring a professional narrator for your film. Narrating a film is challenging, and not everyone possesses a warm, calm, captivating and charismatic voice like David Attenborough. Seek assistance from friends or acquaintances who may have suitable voices. An excellent tip I received in the past is to record the narration in a dressing room. All those hanging clothes help muffle the sound in a positive way, like a foam patched wall of a recording studio, making it more pleasant to listen to. While narrating in your native tongue is generally acceptable, ensure that you provide accurate subtitles for non-native speakers.

10. Participate in multiple underwater film festivals

Participate in multiple festivals. Increasing your chances of success involves submitting your film to various festivals. Winning a gold medal at one festival does not guarantee success at all others, nor does performing poorly at one festival mean you won't triumph elsewhere. Success is often determined by the competition. Sometimes, you may have the best film in one festival but face stronger competitors in another. Therefore, participating in multiple festivals with the same video is essential for maximising your opportunities for recognition and accolades.

Remember, these points are based on my personal experience, and there may be other factors that contribute to success in film festivals. Adapt and refine your approach as you gain more experience, and always stay true to your artistic vision. Good luck!

Join us on a journey of discovery and entertainment as we explore fascinating marine wildlife topics and explore the many exciting underwater adventures on our YouTube channel and our Facebook page!

Do you need help with the editing of your underwater film to participate in an underwater film festival? We can help you with our professional editing service.


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