This Superbowl ad was the result of an online contest
“What’s my motivation?” This phrase is a long-running joke referring to what method actors say to their directors. They have to know what is motivating their character in order to produce a “realistic” emotion. The same could be said for filmmaking itself. Without some kind of motivating force, there is a very good chance that nothing will ever get put to tape or film.
If you have ever taken any kind of production class, motivation was easy: your teacher gave you an assignment. It is always a great exercise of your talent to be giving a specific set of parameters to work within. Sometimes they are pretty loose (like just a specific genre) to very narrow (an actual script). Participating in ideas other than your own can be very healthy for an artist, especially if it’s something you would not normally touch.
You’re no longer in school? Turn to the internet. The web has become a great resource for filmmakers to show off their abilities through a plethora of short film contests. Sometimes these are companies asking for commercial spots, bands asking for music videos, or websites looking to give away something cool. New ones emerge on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis, and always have some prize attached to generate interest and web traffic.
For anyone who has ever languished through the festival circuit, these contests are a godsend. Gone are the expensive entry fees. Gone is the cost of duplication and mailing. Gone is the rejection of not even being able to get in. All that is usually required of you is to encode your project in a specific format, fill out an electronic form, upload and wait. Another nicety is that you’ll usually get to see your competition’s work before the deadline, which is unheard of in a festival. Traveling to the fest is also disposed of since any computer with an internet connection is the actual venue!
While winning in and of itself is always a satisfying payoff, victory can really rake in the rewards. The first contest I entered was giving away a shiny new laptop worth $1500 (I didn’t win). Another promised $1000 cash and a trip to New York (I didn’t win). Still another dangled a $5000 gift certificate to a popular online film and video outfitter (I didn’t enter). It’s mind-blowing what you could come away with, and a pity if you don’t at least try.
The trickiest part of this whole scenario is finding the contests. Those with deep pockets will advertise, but others can be trickier to locate. Google can be an effective tool in this quest--simply search for ‘movie contest’ (and its variations), and you’ll get quite a bit to peruse. This blog can also keep you informed, and I am adding a ‘contests’ link in the sidebar that will list online competitions and their due date. The only requirements for this list is that there is no entry fee and some kind of actual prize.
Something else you should be aware of, are contests local to your area. Radio stations do this kind of thing all the time (usually with cash to give away), and can be ripe for the picking. Remember, many folks who enter these things are not filmmakers, giving you a distinct advantage. Just don’t be shocked when an obviously inferior product beats out your masterpiece. You are still at the mercy of one or more judges, who may not share your eye or agree with your perspective. It’s a crap shoot, and all you can do is put forth your best effort and hope someone recognizes it.
Getting out of your comfort zone in this manner is a wonderful step toward developing whatever skills you now possess, and discovering new ones you weren’t even aware of. Your reel will expand, your desire will increase, and you may even be a few bucks richer. Even if you don’t win, you can’t lose.