Creating a short or a feature that has award-winning potential at any film festival is no easy task. When writing and/or directing a short, the key is finding a thought-provoking life moment that will intrigue and connect your audience in a short amount of time. You have to enter the story at the right point to make it a success. With a feature, it’s about telling a unique, strong and emotional story that moves your audience while entertaining them.

I thought a lot about these key-winning ingredients at the 8th Annual Big Island Film Festival this past Memorial Day weekend. The festival takes place at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii, and is organized by Leo and Jan Sears. This is the second year that I was invited to be a part of it.Experiencing the beauty of Hawaii while celebrating your accomplishments as a filmmaker and sharing your passion with other filmmakers is a phenomenal life experience. It gives all filmmakers an achievement worth pursuing in their careers. Making it as a finalist into this festival is a reward like no other. So, what do you need to do to qualify as a finalist in this film festival? For starters, you need to write a great short or feature. In the feature arena, there is a strong need for the family drama. In the short film arena, I’m going to share with you a few of the key story elements that I took note of.

Here are some pointers of how to create a finalist worthy submission:

·      Enter your story at the right moment

·      Create an intriguing dilemma

·      Establish strong stakes

·      Have a powerful message and theme

·      Have an active protagonist

·      Your ending should loop back to the beginning and answer the thematic question

Here are some of the highlights from the shorts that won.

The film, “A Perfect Day,” written and directed by Adam Rubin, won for Best Short and has all of the story elements that I mentioned. The film’s brief reads, “A teenager on the morning of ‘going Columbine” is confronted by an unlikely stranger, the only person who can stop him. This is a tale of angst, of irony, and ultimately of hope.” I love the film’s protagonist, the postman. The postman is able to interrupt the plan of action of an angst-ridden kid with a conversation that makes a difference and changes the outcome. This film is very memorable and has a strong message that really resonates with its audience.

Don Sniffen’s film, “Good Dog,” was awarded the Audience Choice for Best Short. The beauty of the film comes from the strength of the starting dilemma and how the protagonist, the dog, is able to use his vision to change what could be a tragic accident. The film’s log line reads, “Dog lives with the Person family. Dog has a vision of the future. Dog must change the future. Good Dog!” I’m captivated by the concept of an intuitive dog. I love that the starting dilemma is the dog’s vision that something bad is about to happen. I love the action that the dog takes to stop this from happening. The ending loops back around to the beginning.

The German film, “Spaghetti For Two,” written by Betina Dubler and directed by Federica Kitamura-De Cesco, won Best Foreign Short. It tells the story of “how a seemingly ordinary day becomes a significant turning point for an unremarkable man, thanks to a minimal shift of fate.” I love the twist of fate that takes place in the story. The message that stems from the strength of the twist in this film really resonates with me. It shows how one act of kindness can totally change the outcome.

The beauty of being a part of a film festival is the chance to create a community with other artists who share your passion. I wanted to give you some noteworthy things I saw at Big Island Film Festival and a small peek into some of the winning stories in hopes that it will help you to create a short or a feature that will make you a finalist in a successful film festival. It’s all up to you. You can do it!

I am giving tremendous gratitude to Leo and Jan Sears and Chris Leudi, Vice President and GM of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel for making this event a memory of a lifetime.