The purpose of this post is to warn independent filmmakers – particularly the newbies – about the true nature of many film and video competitions, in the hope that you will be in a stronger position to make the best decision for yourself and avoid costly mistakes. In the final analysis, it should not be interpreted as a wholesale rejection of competitions, but there are a couple of things you should be aware of before you give away the short films or videos that you worked so hard to make.
Film and video competitions have nothing to lose and make considerable gains
Film and video competitions are a guaranteed success for the organizers, but the chances of success for an individual filmmaker are very slim indeed. Filmmakers are nothing more than cannon fodder for these guys. You see, most competitions require you to sign a non-exclusive license agreement that allows them to use your film or video in perpetuity, and all you get in return is the promise that maybe you might win something, if the judges are so inclined.
For example, there was a video competition once that invited submissions of spec TV commercials, with a list of topics to choose from. This forced the filmmakers to make a commercial specifically for this competition. The prize was a camcorder, and the organizers had the right to use everyone’s submissions in perpetuity.
Think about it: these guys acquired the rights to thousands of videos, and all they had to do was buy a camcorder and give it to whomever they fancied. Literally thousands of ready-made videos, complete with comprehensive rights clearances, all for the cost of a measly camcorder. Who was the sucker, in this case?
If you want an amazing video at a low cost, simply launch a video competition, promise the winner a camcorder and watch the entries roll in. Pick the one you want and give the camcorder to whomever made your favorite video – and in any case you can use all the videos, because you made them sign an agreement to that effect. This is how they think – do not cooperate with their game, fellow filmmakers!
The best film or video rarely wins; indeed, if you make something that looks truly professional, you are almost guaranteed not to win. I see this in every film and video competition I observe and it displeases me very much. Last year I followed a major online short film competition – many of you can easily guess which one I am referring to – and there was one short film that really stood out: it was nothing short of brilliant, and its maker was clearly someone you can trust with a script and film crew. The user ratings were high but it did not win, presumably because it was deemed to be “intimidatingly good.”
If there is a short film or video that you are making anyway, and you don’t mind giving these guys the non-exclusive right to use it until the end of time, you probably have little to lose by submitting your work to a competition. But if you are going to spend money on a project made specifically for a competition, I would encourage you to give careful consideration to the points I made in this post and think twice about giving your hard work away for free to folks who simply do not care about you.
Caution, my fellow filmmakers; there are many people out there – some of them with a very high profile – who have no qualms about exploiting your talent and hard work, and they do not care about your dreams and wellbeing in the least. In the independent filmmaking world you really must keep your wits about you.
I hope this helps; good luck!