Tropfest: A Study In Innovating On A Tiny Budget

Tropfest: A Study In Innovating On A Tiny Budget

From humble beginnings at a Darlinghurst café in 1993, the Tropfest film festival has grown into a globally recognisable brand and a breeding ground for creative talent. Its entrants are king at innovating on tight budgets in a highly competitive space. Even the stalwarts of our industry reckon there’s a lesson to be learned in this.

Nikki Majewski
Posted by Nikki Majewski

That old adage ‘bigger is better’ doesn’t always ring true. In the case of Tropfest, filmmakers often have poky budgets and limited resources. But this doesn’t stop them from telling compelling stories.

“At the heart of human nature is a profound need to tell and hear stories – and that’s certainly one thing Tropfest contestants are obsessed with, and one thing we in the creative industry should never lose sight of,” says Linda Jukic, creative director at design company Hulsbosch.

Storytelling is integral to short film and advertising and both industries face similar challenges when executing the narrative.

“Telling a story and emotionally connecting with an audience in under seven minutes is an enormous feat. When that is achieved its an incredibly powerful thing. Creative advertisers and brand marketers face this challenge everyday – telling a brand story and connecting with consumers in the shortest possible time frame,” says Michael Laverty, the managing director at Tropfest.

In order for adlanders to tell their clients’ stories, it’s not uncommon for exorbitant amounts of money to tossed at talent, special effects, fancy shooting locations and an art departments the size of an army. But Holly Alexander, who heads up content at Droga5 believes there’s a lesson in going back to basics. She says: “Focus on craft, focus on narrative, focus on performance, focus on casting and where it makes sense, focus on sharper, more succinct dialogue. Budgets are always a challenge and now more than ever, we are accountable for every dollar we spend ‘on screen’ so reminding ourselves of the resourcefulness and grass roots attitude we all had when we started out would be win-win surely.”

Tom Hyde, planning director at DDB Melbourne agrees that the creative industry could learn a lesson from those resourceful Tropfest-ers. He says: “Quality storytelling need not always cost big bucks. There are many kinds of stories to tell and many ways to shoot them. In the new age of content and multi dimensional storytelling, agencies need to learn how to shoot nimble.”

He also argues that low budgets mean low financial risk which affords filmmakers the opportunity to push boundaries in their storytelling. Adlanders, take note. Hyde says: “Marketers on the whole quite rightly tend to be looking for an effective answer not the most interesting one, but often it is the most interesting that packs the biggest commercial punch. In this age of content, lower budget creative experimentation is a great way to feel your way towards ideas that resonate with your audience and can cumulatively result in big brand impact.”

To best execute a creation on a tight budget, creative director at Lowe Profero, Matt Delprado says creatives need to capitalise on “earning favours” just as many shallow-pocketed filmmakers do. “A huge number of Tropfest films are made because people know just who to talk to when they’ve got a great idea. They spend all their time between film festivals earning favours and I think that works exactly the same way in advertising. If you’re not using a favour up, you should be thinking about how to earn favours in the future,” he says.

The Tropfest Brand

Tropfest is a global brand in and of itself and its world-wide success is no coincidence. The short film festival has spent years marketing its offering and cultivating relationships with brands and agencies.

TROPFEST SAYS: “We’re currently working with clients like Qantas, Nikon, mX and Toyota and the NSW government through Destination NSW. For our clients, Tropfest is a really unique property. Our event is free to the public and attracts a national audience of around 150,000 people a year with a primary demographic aged 18-to-30. For a marketer, what could be better than engaging with this kind of audience in a free and relaxed event environment?”

For brands looking to increase brand sentiment and connect with a younger demographic, partnering with an event like Tropfest may very well be an opportunity to achieve just that. “Our major partners have the opportunity to create competition categories, like the hugely popular Nikon DSLR category, to be aligned with our brand in the digital space and to activate onsite and onscreen with our live-event audience. There are tie-ins with our SBS 2 broadcast and stacks of ways to engage on social. We love being able to work with a client to bring their brand campaigns to life,” says Tropfest’s Laverty.

“We’re also really passionate about creating innovative platforms for clients to engage with the Tropfest brand and audience. This year we launched the first official Vine competition in Australia, #TROPVINE, in partnership with Twitter AU. It was hugely successful – achieving an 8,000% increase in engagement with our brand on the platform within the first 24 hours of launch. These are kinds of opportunities we like to create for our partners. So we’re definitely not a ‘tick-box’ kind of partnership opportunity – we focus not on pasting logos everywhere but on creating real avenues for lasting audience engagement,” he adds.

Earlier this year, Tropfest appointed Australian digital creative agency, Lash Creative, for a website overhaul.

“We came up with a bright and bold design, something that catches the eye, with large imagery and large text. Three types of people who use the site; visitors, filmmakers and people who want to watch the films online,” says Victor David, business development manager at Lash Creative.

YouTube also provides a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work and similarly, it’s becoming more common for brands to use the platform to deliver longer-form adverts.

“We’re seeing stacks of brands do this and when it’s done right it can be an incredibly powerful form of brand storytelling. Our major partner, Qantas, launched an incredible short film series at Tropfest last year – which were actually made by a past Tropfest finalist,” explains Laverty.

A Post-Tropfest Adland Career

According to Laverty, many of the talented filmmakers go on to work in agency land. “Qantas has launched the Qantas Film Cadetship in partnership with Tropfest – awarding one of our finalists with a six month paid position within their Inflight Entertainment division.”

This Sunday, 7 December, agencies might want to wander down to Centennial Park in Sydney or tune into the SBS broadcast of Tropfest.

Inspiration awaits and you might find your newest employee.