Your firstborn for a chance at $100k
I've been working on an internet video serial for the better part of the past year (yes, despite avoiding writing about "starting a film career," I am actually, actively trying). My once-a-month-at-best posting schedule on this site is likely due to the amount of time I've been putting into this project (at least, I'd like to think it is--in reality it's due to any number of reasons, possibly 46).
A few weeks ago a contest came to my attention which seemed to be the perfect opportunity for our work-in-progress. The New York Television Festival and Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace (the best hi-def movie download service, from what I'm told) are running a contest wherein would-be filmmakers submit a 5 to 15-minute TV pilot, and the winner receives $100,000. In addition to the sizable paycheck, said winner goes on to produce a six-episode TV series, he or she undoubtedly receives a good amount of exposure, potentially launches a film career in the process, and enters into unilateral negotiations with Iran.
My co-creator and I were understandably excited about this prospect. So it was with an elevated blood pressure that I combed over the submission guidelines, liking our chances more and more as I read on: the contest is open to all genres (good) and it's judged by a panel on merit and originality rather than a populist (and potentially sophomoric) voting system (great). However, the final page of the agreement put forth the most draconian legalese I've seen in any submission guidelines:
NYTVF and the Designated Entities shall have the perpetual and exclusive right to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast each entry (and any portion(s) or element(s) thereof) in any manner, media or format now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe. Each entrant agrees not to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast, or authorize any third party to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast, in any manner, media, or format, his or her entry (or portions thereof) and, by entering the Competition, each entrant irrevocably and perpetually waives any copyright and intellectual property rights in and to the entry, including, without limitation, rights of droit moral or similar rights which entrant may now have or may hereinafter become entitled to.
Basically: you can never show your entry anywhere else, even if you don't win. As someone who's participated in (and won, I should--or perhaps should not--note) some of these contests in the past, I'd never seen anything like it. You're asking someone to enter their original work into a contest where it's overwhelmingly likely that they'll walk away with nothing, and even then you refuse them the right to try their hand at building an audience elsewhere? It's like submitting a film to a festival under the agreement that even if your film doesn't get in, you can't show it at any other festivals. It's patently absurd.
I called the festival to confirm this deal-breaking rule, and afterwards considered submitting a pilot anyway, guessing that they'd be unlikely to sue us if we later premiered a modified episode elsewhere (assuming we didn't win, of course--for that kind of money it's understandable that the winner would enter into an exclusive agreement). On the money side, $100,000 would be approximately $100,000 more than our current budget. On the legal side, I briefly considered consulting an IP lawyer. But on the content side, I realized that our first episode was already shot and was not meant to be an end-all-be-all pilot, but rather the first ten minutes of a serialized feature--not exactly ideal for this contest. So after some long discussion with my co-creator/writer/director Zack, we realized that our dream all along was to build an audience purely through word-of-mouth with a do-it-yourself approach to everything--the content, the website, the production blog, and whatever else there may be.
One thing's for sure: because of digital video and the internet, there's never been a better time to try your hand at truly independent filmmaking. It's why I started this site two (long? short?) years ago. Stay tuned, because within a few weeks, Episode 1 of The West Side will finally be up (you can bet I'll let you know the minute it premieres).