How to Improve Your Films

“How do I win?”

It’s the most common question we get at Zooppa HQ. We know video production takes a lot of work: scouting talent and locations, hiring crew, editing footage and more. That’s not to mention all the price of good editing rigs, software and equipment rentals. It’s only fair that you want to win something for all the effort you put in.

So, how do you win? We don’t have a secret formula for securing first place in every client project. If we did, we’d have published our very own self-help book: Profit with Zooppa (corny cover photo included). While we can’t tell you specifically what every client is looking for, here are a few tips we’ve observed from videos of repeat winners.

Good Lighting

lighting setup for videoIt sounds obvious, but this is one of the biggest differentiators we see for winners—the set is well-illuminated from actor, to backdrop down to the product. In film there’s a hyperfocus on cameras—2k vs. 4k, lenses, endless debates over stabilizers and rigs. But none of that matters if we can’t see your subjects! Investing in good lighting can drastically up your production value without sinking money into that shiny new camera.

Z-Picks: For solid all-around lighting with quick setup and takedown, we recommend starting out simple with this Emart 600W kit from Amazon. While it’s no Arri Softbank IV Plus Kit, this simple setup gives you the basics to get started. Plus it’s customizable whenever you do decide to upgrade.

Feeling crafty? Check out this DIY Kit from DSLR Film Shooter. The total build is priced around $250, and you get three adjustable LED panels. The best part? If something goes wrong on set you know exactly how to troubleshoot it!


Thoughtful Shots

Well-framed shots can take a video from a 4 to an 8. We’re talking composition—where the product’s placed, whether the subject is front and center, if we can see your dog or dirty laundry in the background. It matters, especially when you’re completing a story or artistic-based project. All the fancy camerawork and top-tier editing in the world can’t save you from an imbalanced shot.

Need a starting point for learning how to better compose your shots? First, start with storyboarding. It may only be a 60 second video, but if you’re communicating a set of ideas (especially for a client), it’ll help you keep everything organized.

Z-Picks: Try out our this storyboard template. Next, check out this guide on shot composition by DSLRGuide.

Casting is Key

So you’ve mastered the art of lighting your shot and you’ve got composition down to a science. Now it’s time to make sure you’ve got the right cast for your video. We often see videos with killer concepts and solid technicals that fall short on the casting aspect. Clients are often looking for the whole package when it comes to video casting

Though they don’t expect a Winslet-DiCaprio level performance, your talent should be relatable, well-coached and easy to watch. For documentary films, this might mean running your talent through your questions to help prepare them for your live takes.x

Need help understanding how to prep talent, set up interview videos, and get true value from your talent? Check out this course from LinkedIn’s learning service, Lynda.

Story Rules All

Writing a story for your video

Lighting and shot composition can elevate a video’s production value, but the concept is what carries it through. Again, we’re looking for Inception level twists, but story is a vital component of all winning videos. Whether it’s a documentary, a short food film or a product piece, show us a complete, well-thought-out story. That means avoiding cliffhangers or “trailer” type pieces, or submissions that exist simply for the sake of “art film.”

That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. We’ve seen some amazing off-the-wall pieces on our Alamo, T-Mobile, and Melitta projects. But in general, we suggest sticking with a clear beginning-middle-end structure.

While we’d love to watch your neon experimental art film, most clients are looking for something simpler.

Z-Picks: Want to learn how to put together a killer story? Check out this tutorial from YouTuber D4Darious on Three Act Story structure. Our projects usually don’t require all the complex components he discusses, but it’s great for getting a holistic view of storytelling.


Editing setup for videoOur top tip for winning projects is…research. A pretty mundane element compared to the others, but this is the thing that can win you first prize. Clients are looking for submissions that demonstrate an understanding of not only the brief but the company itself. Take a second to think about the following when you’re putting together a plan for your submission.

  • What’s the brand’s story? What values, visuals, and demographics are important to them?
  • Does my video align with the brief provided on the Zooppa project page?
  • How does this product/idea fit their image? How can my submission strengthen that existing image?
  • How can I bring them something unique that still fits within their brand?

If you can master all those elements, you’re well on your way to creating an all-star submission. Don’t worry about getting everything at once—improving is a work in progress. We have several repeat clients who come to us for projects every year, so if you’re looking to improve on a previous year’s submission or test out a new approach, that’s the place to do it.

Above all, keep submitting! It might take a few tries, but following the tips above will get you noticed and one step closer to awards.

Want more tips? Check out our filmmaker resources section.

Jasmine Moore

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