Five ways to win Tropfest

Want to win Tropfest next year? Here's how, based on an entirely unscientific analysis of recent award winners.

Ella Morton
Ella was an Associate Editor at CNET Australia.
Ella Morton
3 min read
Images from some finalist films over the years.

Want to win Tropfest next year? Here's how, based on an entirely unscientific analysis of recent award winners.

It's a December tradition for Australia's celluloid types: upon realising that Tropfest entries close within weeks, amateur directors scramble to assemble a motley cast and crew with the aim of creating a seven-minute masterpiece in a matter of days.

Nerves are frayed, equipment is begged, borrowed or stolen, and faces take on a ghostly pallor following 14-hour stints in the editing suite.

It doesn't have to be that way. On the eve of Tropfest 2008, CNET.com.au gives you the Tropfest cheat sheet. We've painstakingly analysed six years worth of shortlisted films to provide you with the definitive guide to taking out the top prize. Here are five ways to win Tropfest.

1. Teeter on the brink of good taste
At last year's festival, Jayce White's Between the Flags took out the Best Male Actor and Best Comedy awards. The subject of his hilarious yarn? Racially motivated gang violence.

The spoof of Sydney's real-life Cronulla riots is just one of a heap of Tropfest films that delve into distasteful subjects yet leave the crowd laughing. Joining Between the Flags in 2007 was Shaun Beagley's Tropicana Award-winning Bad Yoghurt, which consists entirely of a bikini-clad woman projectile vomiting into a swimming pool after consuming spoiled dairy. We'll spare a description of the film's climax, but let's just say she was firing on all cylinders.

2. Can't rope in mates? Animate!
Animated films are a regular feature in the Tropfest line-up. With no pesky actors to deal with, the format offers a way for Flash geeks and plasticine peddlers to claim sole credit for their creation.

2004 was a particularly fruitful year for animators, with cartoon creations taking out second and third prizes. Steve Baker's Confessions of an Animation just edged out Costa Avgoustinos' Yin, which was made using Flash software.

A word of warning though: make sure your narrative and characters aren't influenced by other people's. Last year's overall winner, An Imaginary Life -- also the work of Steve Baker -- attracted attention of all the wrong kinds when similarities to an American TV series emerged.

3. Do a doco, but make it quirky and fully Oz
Tropfest crowds aren't looking for Foreign Correspondent. Most of the punters at the festival's main site will have been sitting in the park for several hours knocking back cask wine and lolling about on picnic rugs, so attention spans are short by the time darkness falls.

Successful Tropfest docos tend to centre on particularly Australian subjects. A prime example is Gary Doust's Murbah Swamp Beer, which took out the Tropicana Award in 2002. The film features a bunch of true-blue fellas discussing what happened when a truck full of beer crashed into a nearby river. (Clue: free-for-all boozefest.)

Then there are the searingly raw beach-themed exposes, such as 2000's How Far Can You Wear Your Underpants from the Beach? and 2003 runner-up Effective Towel Flicking - Introductory Techniques.

4. Ship in a celeb
Recruiting a decent Aussie character actor like Bruce Spence will do wonders -- in 2005 he appeared in the overall winner, Australian Summer, and also shared the Best Actor prize with co-star Arky Michael.

If you can't convince the likes of Hugo Weaving or Charles "Bud" Tingwell to sign on, an ex-Home and Away stalwart should add enough cachet. Kate Ritchie made a cameo in 2007's Mere Oblivion. The film received the Best Female Actor award -- though she wasn't the recipient.

5. Get serious
Sure, your typical Tropfest crowd will largely be tanked and primed for laughs by the time your film appears onscreen, but the masses aren't the ones with the prize-giving power. Winners are determined by a small group of celebrity judges -- Nicole Kidman, Samuel L Jackson, Baz Luhrmann and Ewan McGregor to name but a few. In previous years these industry veterans have often doled out gongs to the more thought-provoking fare over the fart-joke stuff.

2002 winner Lamb explored the effects of the drought on rural Australia, while the solemn Burst was awarded runner-up in 2006 despite garnering a collective "Huh?" from confused sections of the audience when the credits rolled.

So there you have it: a primer for taking out next year's prize. Just remember to thank us when you accept the award for your funny-yet-serious celebrity-infested animated documentary.