What Makes a Great Film

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What makes a great film?

Is it the dialogue? The mad epic lighting? Visual effects? Actors?

In the age of social media and smartphones, billboards and blockbusters, art and storytelling have become more important than ever before. Everyone has the ability to make films. To sweep the nation with a story.

What does it take? What is it about some low res camcorder content that makes it go viral, and some high-budget, high resolution films go relatively unnoticed?

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months studying, brainstorming, and researching branding and media because I believe that what people think they want when they hire a professional, and what they truly need are very, very different.

It used to be enough to have a camera. But now everyone has the ability to capture video with their phones. So what makes the difference?

I think it starts with understanding that all artists are in the business of sales. And I don’t mean selling your film or selling your service. I’m talking about selling an idea.

Photo Credit: Patience Pennington

If you’re a wedding photographer, you’re selling an idea with the images you create. If you’re a film producer, you’re selling feelings and messages. An artist’s entire goal in creativity should be to get people to buy the ideas they believe in. Sales. Storytelling. When done well, these are essentially synonymous.

Camera is important. Sound is important. VFX and lighting. These are the building blocks of film. But they only matter so far as they help communicate the authentic, honest message that you’re trying to share. Believing that great equipment is the heart of great filmmaking is as incorrect as believing that grammar is at the heart of great writing.

Punctuation. Sentence structure. These are good things. But what makes a riveting page turner? Authenticity. Emotion. Great story.

Seth Godin, branding and marketing genius said it this way, “A great story is true, not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic.”

The one most important element of any great story – the one thing that will set your work and your films apart – is something you can’t buy. Something you can never lose, but it’s up to you whether or not you’ll use it in your filmmaking. The best lenses in the universe are your mind and your heart.


Never forget that YOU are the storyteller. Not your camera. Not your script. Not your rad Mac.

Great art is as simple as being brave enough to put yourself into your work and tell an authentic story. To allow the people who are watching to see the truth – those who secretly want to believe what you have to say and have just been waiting for someone to step out and speak it. They latch onto your story because it feels real and true.

Learn your craft. Invest in great gear. But only to enhance the truthfulness and authenticity of your films. Infuse yourself into everything you do. And who knows? Maybe your story will be the next one to sweep the nation.

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Follow Patience Pennington:

My name is Patience. I’m an optimist. I tell real life stories as I see them. I also run a lot, write songs about random things, and I love, love, love Jesus. http://thebrightnessproject.com/

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