I believe part of the popularity of film festivals such as Tropfest is that short films intrigue us, particularly as they can be so difficult to do well. They can be a format to experiment and learn in, to better find your film voice.
There are so many elements to a short film: devising a strong idea, crafting the story, choosing locations, finding the money, casting, meeting deadlines and relying on the support that your friends and family provide to help you through. One of my favourite pieces of advice on the Tropfest website was from Kevin Lim, the director of The Pledge for Mr Bunny (2013) who assures us that, ‘Everyone has 10 bad films in them. The sooner you get them out, the better. So stop procrastinating and start now.’
Once the film is shot, there still remains much to do. At one Q&A session I attended, a co-director declared that they would never choose to edit their film again. They felt they were just too close to the material and editing probably took at least twice as long as it would have if they had used the services of an editor.
Each year those who succeed in submitting their films to Tropfest know that it holds the promise of building a career that you are passionate about. For some finalists it can be a stepping stone into the world of filmmaking, but what does this really mean? Particularly as not all directors of short films are aspiring to make a Hollywood feature.
Here are some of the Tropfest ‘graduates’ in the NFSA collection; directors who have entered Tropfest and are continuing to create audiovisual works, a number of which are held by the NFSA, along with corresponding supporting materials such as scripts, posters and stills. The YouTube playlist below includes their Tropfest entries.
- Emma Freeman has worked steadily in television since winning in 2002 with Lamb (NFSA title: 526997). She has directed episodes of Love My Way, Offspring, Puberty Blues, The Secret Life of Us and, most recently, Glitch.
- Before Wilfred was adapted into a television series in both Australia and the US, it began life at Tropfest in 2002 (NFSA title: 526998), winning the prize for Best Comedy and Best Actor – Male.
- Damon Gameau won Tropfest 2011 for Animal Beatbox. His recent documentary film That Sugar Film (NFSA title: 1291693) became the highest grossing Australian feature-length documentary in the local market.
- Peter Carstairs, 2006 finalist with Pacific, directed his first feature September (NFSA title: 740987) in 2007, funded through the production company Tropfest Feature Program. September also gave Xavier Samuel his first lead role in a feature film.
- Director Matt Bird has been a three-time Tropfest finalist with 2011’s A Desperate Deed (NFSA title: 1461636), 2012’s Min Min (NFSA title: 1461640) and 2013’s Taser (NFSA title: 1461642). Matt also directed The Exchange (NFSA title: 1461644) in 2012, commissioned by Tropfest and APRA AMCOS for the 2013 Tropscore competition. He established Chesterfilm, a creative collective specialising in film and video production for television, cinema, DVD and the web.