August 3, 2011

To Start a Film Career, How Important are Contests? Two Interviews with Competition Veterans

When I was 19 I was awarded grand prize in an online video contest put on by a now-defunct site named FirstEye. My music video entry (shot on a Sony VX1000, before HD, 24P, DSLRs, and After Effects made this video look primitive) won me a professional Sony video camera, which I used to shoot several successive projects -- before selling it and buying a newer camera (which I've since done several times). Winning that contest gave me more confidence to keep pursuing film as a bona fide career, and every project I've shot since has been with that camera or its successors -- including The West Side. In my own experience, contests offer a great opportunity to jump start a career. With this in mind, the following is a guest post by David Hinds, from video hosting platform Vzaar. They recently announced this year's video festival winners.

The hurdles that face young creative individuals attempting to break into today’s filmmaking industry, aren’t as daunting as they used to be. There are more opportunities than ever before for driven, smart, opportunists, with lots of ambition.

Opportunities are often found in the form of short film competitions, where budding filmmakers compete to win a nice lump sum of cash, as well as making a name for themselves. Depending on the judges involved, this can provide a chance to network, and could land you some paid work afterwards.

I decided to take the time to talk to two individuals, one whom is currently in the process of entering his first short film competition, and another who has entered a several competitions already, winning several titles along the way.

Through their personal insight and first hand experience, they take you through what it can be like to enter a competition for the first time, what to expect, and what you can do to make the most of the opportunity.

Interview one: Omari Bryan

Name: Omari Bryan
Age: 26
Location: South London
Occupation: Researcher

What made me want to become a filmmaker? I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was about 15 years old. I originally wanted to be a writer because I believed that it was the best way to tell a story. As I grew older, I began to think that making movies was probably the best way to ensure that my stories reached as many people as they could in their purest form, and of course I love movies.

Here's a short film from Omari about a school girl who takes a pregnancy test whilst dealing with conflicting messages from her family:

I can’t really say that any one thing set me on the path to making films. My dad loves movies and that definitely had a big impact on me, I remember going to the cinema paying for one film in the morning and then spending the whole day sneaking from one film into the next so that I could see everything (and I mean everything) in one day. I’d go to see films that I liked maybe two or three times but I never really hated anything. Even ‘bad’ films were entertaining in their own way and I just loved the whole experience of being in the cinema, watching the films and eating popcorn.

I remember a guy sending me a message back after a few months of unsuccessful applications, basically he tore me apart and highlighted all the mistakes on my CV and cover letter. It was embarrassing but I made the changes he suggested and sent it back to him. He ignored this second attempt but I was grateful to him for taking the time to point out what I needed to change, even if it was a bit harsh.

I started applying for unpaid positions and had a decent CV of indie shorts and promos. From there I used them to pad out my CV and that lead to me getting my first ‘proper’ media job as a company runner. I learned a lot while I was there and I met some people who had a huge impact on me. Eventually one of the people I was working with recommended me to someone at a slightly bigger company and I moved over there. I worked as a runner on some bigger budget productions and started doing odd days on weekends and evenings with other companies.

I entered the reed short film competition because I wanted to win. I remember reading the rules and I had the idea for my short film in my head from my temping days. [slight NSFW warning for the following video]

The film was a little different back then (the guy killed himself in the end) but I reworked it to give it a more positive feel-good ending.

One of the things I learned from the competition is to always have a backup plan for your back up plan. It seems obvious but planning is always going to help you when it comes to any video shoot.

I was very lucky in that I have put together a great team and a lot of my friends are willing to pitch in and help. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and surrounding yourself with helpful, knowledgeable people is only going to benefit you and your film.

It's really easy to get your hopes up and believe that THIS is your big shot, but you don't need all that extra weight on your shoulders. I learned that there are much better things I could be doing with my time then wondering about what could have happened if I had won. Things will break, people will let you down, locations will fall through and things will go wrong. Any or all of those things could happen on any shoot you just need to be ready to deal with them.

I don’t think that you should be put off by the competition, you have to put your faith in your film and believe in it because if you don’t then who will? I believe that talented people will always shine through, you may not win your first, second, third, or fourth contest, but that isn’t an indicator of the quality of your work. If you’re always learning and improving then I believe your time will come. I have to believe that or I’d never enter anything.

The shortlist for the Reed competition has already passed and my short film Sweet Monday wasn’t short-listed. I was disappointed, anyone who says that it’s the taking part that really counts is either lying to themselves or preparing for a life of mediocrity.

I think that one of the things that helped me was that by the time they did announce the shortlist, I had already moved on to my next short film project which was for the annual Sci-Fi London Short Film Competition. I was so busy preparing for that competition that when I found out I wasn’t shortlisted I was too busy to dwell on it.

I think more than anything, these competitions provide people with the motivation to get out there and make something and also the knowledge that they aren’t firing it off to become just another short film with the billions of others online. Their video will be seen by judges, the other people taking part, people interested in the competition, plus there is a real possibility that they might win.

A friend/mentor of mine who passed away a few years ago read one of my scripts. She got me to look at it from a realistic point of view and work out what could and couldn’t be done. She showed me the importance of re-writing and really taught me a lot about script and structure. The advice she gave me was the same advice I received years later from a friend who was in the process of making his second feature.

They both told me to stop making excuses and just get out there. Even if you make something bad, you will have learned something (hopefully) and next time you’ll only be able to improve.

My advice to anyone else who is just getting started would be to just go and make films. It sounds like a cliché but there has never been a time in human history when knowledge was more readily available. All we have to do is think of it and someone has already answered our question and will link you to the online video where they have a detailed ‘how to’ guide.

There are thousands of people out there who want to make films and hundred of websites dedicated to putting you in touch with them. You can find the help you need and your film can get made but YOU need to be the driving force behind it. I’m not there yet but I’m on the path. I think it takes a very long time before it ever really gets any easier (if ever) and you have to be hard headed enough to take the criticism and rejection and keep pushing forward.

Right now I’m slowly moving up the ladder, I like shooting so I try and get work where I get paid to do that. Currently I’m working in TV as a researcher, it’s not really where I want to be but I meet so many creative and talented people that it’s really inspiring.

Interview two: Ed Beck

Name: Ed Beck
Age: 29
Location: South-West London
Occupation: Freelance Cameraman/Film Maker


The first competition I entered was back in 2003. We won best overall commercial and best in brief at the Kodak Student Commercial awards:

It was a great experience for us winning the award. We had tough competition from the NFTS (National Film and Television School) who always produce outstanding work for this particular award. We made some industry contacts at the event, and followed them up with meetings the next month.


I would recommend entering film competitions generally. If you manage to go far you'll have the opportunity to network and make new contacts. For me though it’s always important that you enjoy making the film, and learn something from it. In a way that's more important than actually winning anything.

 We also won best overall commercial at the Kodak Student Commercial awards. The award gave us 10 rolls of 16mm colour film stock and a voucher to hire film equipment from Arri Media.



I wouldn't say it changed my career, but it did lead me in a certain direction. Because we had such a great time making the film, I wanted to continue working with the same team. And luckily we've been making films and promos together for almost 8 years.

 I'm currently working as a freelance camera man and filmmaker. I work mostly in the corporate sector but I also do TV, film and promos.
:


Word of mouth gets me most of my work, so if you work hard, and enjoy what you do, that will get you pretty far.


Hopefully these two hardworking individuals will have left you feeling motivated and inspired. If you want to follow in their footsteps, then why not check out vzaar? We've designed our platform and features to take all the stress out of putting video online. There simply is no better way to manage and deliver your videos. Thousands of businesses already love us and we're sure you will too.

Your Comment

7 Comments

Just started recording my first television series. Reading your notes and watching these useful materials is relative to getting a worthy education from a virtual Film College. I am really thankful and looking forward to receiving any support this service will make available to new film makers like myself. Thank you guys so, so very much.

August 3, 2011

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Bernard Mawuli ...

Interesting article as ever. Here's why I think competitions are good for you.

I entered the 24hr film challenge in 2004 a few months after graduating (I think I was 21) and it was a great experience, the challenge itself, working with the 5 actors and producing something in such an accelerated timescale was brilliantly liberating in a way. As for the film, we didn't win but came 5th out of 170 odd films. Our film was screened in a cinema (still my greatest achievement to date) and it was an amazing experience. This sort of guerrilla challenge I think is the most valuable. I've entered the Reed challenge, the Virgin Media shorts one and to be honest they didn't do a lot for me, I find sometimes the restrictive timescales and online popularity contests that these things often become are quite tedious and not great for learning about film making. They are of course great for learning about utilising social networking and online distribution so if you're into that then that's great for you.

Some really good things have come out of competition films, the make you make a film, that's a good thing, even with all the equipment that most of us have there often isn't the motivation to actually produce your own film, because of work or the pressures of earning a living and not wanting to do your day-job as a hobby. So I think for actually making you go and make a film they're brilliant. I'm really pleased with both the Sci-fi film I made this year /www.vimeo.com/22362092 and the short I made for Reed www.ljsitcom.com/Lucy_and_James/VIDEOS.html (which has now led to a sitcom mini series that I'm finishing editing). The 2004 24hr film I made led to a sitcom series I wrote (that hasn't gone anywhere but was a great experience).

There's not many films I've made that haven't been for competitions actually when I think about it. So for that I think they are great. I think what you have to do is forget about the competition and use it as an excuse to make a great film for yourself. Forget about winning, if you win that's a bonus. But the most important thing is what you do next. How you learn from the film you've made and what you do with it afterwards. Does it lead to a series you write, or a pilot, or a bigger idea or a series of shorts, a webseries, a feature, a tv pilot? If you are making a short film to be quirky and weird (to try and win a competition) then I don't know that that is the best use of your talents. Making a film for the sake of a competition and then not doing anything afterwards seems a bit of a waste of time and money. But making something as a basis for something else, something bigger that'll develop you as a director / writer / whatever then that is a really good reason to make it.

What you learn from making the film and do with that knowledge is I think more important than the film you make for the contest in the first place.

August 4, 2011

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Do these guys have links to their websites. I would definitely like to see more of their stuff.

August 4, 2011

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Updated with links!

August 5, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Great article,
it's really good to hear peoples thoughts on competitions.

I think competitions are great for all of the above mentioned reasons.
I won't bother repeating them but here's my devils advocate.

They are really great if you lack the motivation to get out there and make film.
That being said if your are motivated, competitions can be a poor use of your time.

Nobody mentions how to tell the difference between a competition that is worth your time and one that is a big waste of time. I've participated in several that felt like a waste of my time. You can sometimes do amazing things with unusual restrictions (like only 24hrs to make it) but you can also make something that would have been a lot better if you had done things your own way (a competition where you make a short with a camera phone for instance).

The other thing I've noticed is many of these competitions cost money to enter. Money that could be spent on gear, food or paying people an honorarium.

Still some competitions tempts me, I just think you shouldn't assume because your paying something and working hard , that your going to get anything more out of it then if you had done it outside a contest.

August 4, 2011

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Rob

Couldn't agree with these guys more on the DIY being everything in this digital world.
Until the studios buy you out and you're rolling in the bucks and have sudden amnesia
about what you went through before the buy out. I'm being a smart ass and realist at the same time.
Both based on too much experience. Except for the buy out for now.

Doing my first indie feature -- an action suspense thriller with supernatural overtones; one main interior locale; more non pro actors and extras, would seem like a huge issue.

But, I re wrote what would be an easy 20 to 50 mil. genre studio project to be done as a genre indie project...by mostly making it more image-shot driven narrative than having more dialogue.
And going to one major, main locale...mostly inside,
No big production designs, etc. There's just no money.

The use of low level light and a lot of shadows in this, corresponds to the emotional journey and the story world environment -- dark, foreboding, the unknown. In making many characters as extras themselves -- they have no lines. But story wise, that's part of who they are.
And again...there's just no money.

It's taking me longer than I want, but it's slowly taking shape. And at the end of it all...I'll have a very marketable product, done on my terms. because in the digital age...I'm making a movie I'd really like to see on an audience level. -- which is growing more and more global and diversified, and not really needing Hollywood style english dialgoue driven movies.

And, having all the digital tools necessary. And more than anything else...it's about my work ethic. My drive. And my absolute faith in what I can do...and not what people tell me I can't.

August 5, 2011

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MARK GEORGEFF

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May 10, 2014

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