Filmmaking best practices

Every year, the AIA Film Challenge receives an impressive roster of submissions—films that inspire us about stories that need to be told. We’ve compiled a list of tips and best practices from the last few years of the challenge to help with your submission.

Finding inspiration

“Pre-production (preparation) is key, as is finding people to work with who are as excited about, and as committed to creating a compelling story, as you are.” Sarah Barker, Producer/Co-Owner, Creative Media Hub, and 2017 Film Challenge participant with the submission “Brazen Conversations”

Check out our website for dozens of films by past AIA Film Challenge finalists, plus the story that launched this year’s AIA Film Challenge: Designed to Last, featuring homeowner Diane Hellriegel, architect Illya Azaroff, AIA, and Jainey Bavashi, Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Resiliency.

If you’re looking for existing projects that will make an impactful film, visit the AIA website.

Selecting your story

As artists with a prompt, we can’t think about textbook responses….we’re asked to put our very human perspective into everything we do.”  Esteban Gast, Filmmaker and 2016 Film Challenge finalist for “Experiments in Town Building” 

  • Focus on community impact first and tell a story of the positive change that architects and their work have had in a community. Ground your story with the perspective and anecdotes of community members and relate it to the human experience.
  • Introduce architects as part of a solution. Make the role of architects clear in creating a Blueprint for Better. Rather than portraying architects as solo contributors, think about them as thought and action leaders who are a vital part of creating solutions.
  • Support your story with civic/community leaders. This year’s campaign aims to highlight the partnership between architects and civic leaders to build resilient and sustainable communities, and we want to hear from those civic and community leaders as much as possible.
  • Go beyond the building and connect with the people and communities they serve. Don’t be afraid of the everyday stories. There is real power and purpose in small but mighty moments.
  • Highlight diverse voices surrounding your story. A strong film should capture the various people and perspectives involved in bringing projects to life.

Creating your film

“The key to performing well and putting together a solid final product was the partnership with our filmmaker. We knew the project intimately, had the passion and knew what we wanted to see, but once we started working with someone who was very experienced in running through the production process as well as the technical aspects of filmmaking, we realized we couldn’t have told the story without them.”  Sharon M. Samuels, Designer, Architect, Artist, and 2017 Film Challenge finalist for “Inside the Box – The Story of Boxville”

Tips on concepting 

Develop three to five potential stories to tell and run them by your team. If you have a filmmaker partner identified, run the ideas by them so they can offer a perspective on storyline and visual approach.

Filmmakers may want to become familiar with other inspiring projects and of course previous films to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. And, storyboarding the film before the filming begins can help ensure that the story line is clear and concise and can save time in the long run.

Tips on filming 

Film during the day. Capture a variety of angles: Close, wide, and even drone shots. Capture footage of people engaging with the architecture. Leverage old video footage and photography that might add context to your story. Virtual renderings and graphics can also add a nice touch and help tell the story in a more dynamic fashion.

Tips on interviewing 

Stay relaxed whether you’re in front of or behind the camera. If you’re being interviewed, repeat the question in a sentence when answering. Share colorful details and anecdotes to enrich your story and make editing easier.

If you’re the interviewer, allow the interviewee a bit of silence to formulate and complete their thoughts. If you notice the interviewee has an important point to make or capture, allow them to repeat it a few times so that you get the perfect take.

Tips on editing 

Organize footage by date and subjects. Reference the story line developed during the concepting phase so you can sort through what to keep and what to cut. Remember that with such compelling content, you can create shorter cuts that can support your longer film.


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Free/inexpensive editing software: Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Final Cut Pro.

Visit No Film School for more information and filmmaking tips.

Amplify your reach

After you’ve submitted, your film, create a community engagement plan to promote your film and leverage your audience on social media during the public voting period. Here are some ideas to get started.

  • Share your film across social media channels using the hashtag #blueprintforbetter and #aiafilmchallenge, and encourage people to vote for it!
  • Submit your film to local publications for them to share your story. This will be particularly important during the public voting phase of the film challenge, but more importantly, it’s a chance for your community and network to learn about and support your work.
  • Submit your film to film festivals for additional exposure.