We see lots of videos of every kind at Videomaker, good, bad and ugly. Personally, I have numerous awards under my belt and have learned a few things about how to enter, how to get my videos noticed, how to avoid disqualification and how to have an entry rise to the top.
Why enter? It's fun, gives you a sense of satisfaction and heightens your skills–and if you win, you might win prizes and you have something cool to add to your resume.
Remember, at the contest entry point, no one has even seen your video yet; they can unceremoniously dump your video from their massively expanding entry collection without ever giving it a chance.
Here are some dos and don'ts tol help you stand out from the crowd and win in the Video Contest arena.
- Do read the contest rules clearly; the rules and decisions are theirs, not yours, so follow them to the letter to pass that first hurdle.
- Do include the entry fee for each and every entry. Be aware of how they want the fee included. Some contests allow one check to cover all entries, other want separate checks for every entry. Clearly identify which video and category you are paying for.
- If you are entering a foreign film festival, check to see what currency they require, and check to be sure that you're actually applying to a legitimate contest.
- Do fill out your entry forms legibly, preferably with block letters or typed text. If they can't read your entry form, they might not give you a chance.
- Do include proof of copyright for all music, even if it's your own and you might need proof of ownership on copyright video, too.
- They might not require it, but get releases of all talent you use during the shoot, just in case.
- Do pay careful attention to proper production qualities like audio, lighting, focus, etc.
- Do stay aware of the "safe action" and "safe title" areas. If your titles bleed beyond the safe frame, you may lose points.
- Do listen to your audio. Music videos with muddy, unintelligible vocals are just downright annoying. Poor lip-sync will lose points. Audio mixes may sound different on other systems so test your video on several DVD players and TVs.
- Do get to the point! A good video will always have a strong storyline with beginning, middle and ending well defined.
- Do be sure to follow standard shooting and editing techniques. Experimental may lose you points, so know your category well.
- Do pay attention to subject matter. If your entry is clearly a drama documentary, don't enter it in the comedy category. Narrow down your focus so that the judges don't have to.
- Do open your video on a strong note, to keep the viewer's attention focused.
- Don't send a submission on an unspecified format. If you only have DVD, and they request VHS, then it's your responsibility to convert it, don't expect them to. Always keep in mind that they may receive thousands of entries per contest; if you make it too difficult for them to convert media, decipher handwriting, or otherwise move the process along easily, they're gonna dump you by the wayside.
- Don't wait until the last minute to send your submission. Carefully note whether the entry must arrive at contest central on the deadline date, or whether postmark dates are acceptable. Saturday delivery might not be possible, your package might go to the wrong department, delaying it by a day, the person checking in entries might call in sick, anything could happen that could risk a missed deadline.
- Don't use menus if your submission is on DVD, just program the piece to play when started. (Judges aren't interested in outtakes, director's cuts, or resumes.)
- Don't send a video longer than the maximum length specified. A 15-minute video that is entered in a 5-minute contest will most likely be disqualified.
- Don't use storylines that are violent, sexually graphic, distasteful or otherwise considered annoying by the general public, unless it fits with your story. If you alienate the judges, it doesn't matter how well shot, composed, lit or edited it was.
- If you use opening or closing credits, factor them into the total running time.
- If entering a commercial or PSA category, submit the exact length that traditional commercials or PSAs run, as if your entry was going to be aired. If contest rules state :30 or :60 runs, don't "compromise" with a 45-second spot.
- Don't include personal messages to the judges. However, some contests request a written note on the details of When, Where, How, etc., and if so, then make your explanation brief. (I once won a Best Live Shot award with a poorly lit handheld shot, but explained that my crew and I were first on the scene, moments before airtime, and that we weren't able to use lights or tripods.)
- Don't overdo the effects! A plethora of cheesy effects will lose you points. Whether it's colorizing, posterizing, whatever, it needs to have a purpose, and needs to follow throughout the story.
And the Winner is…
So there you have it… some tips to getting your entry accepted, and a glimpse at what the judges are looking for. Foremost to any contest entry, try to put yourself in the judges' shoes, and think how they might view your precious work of art.
In next month's issue of Videomaker, we'll release the results of this year's short video contest. Hopefully, our winners will inspire you and these tips will help encourage you to enter our next video contest.
Good luck and happy contesting!
Jennifer O'Rourke is an Emmy™award-winning videographer & editor and Videomaker's Managing Editor.
5 Things Judges Love
1. Quick precise editing
2. Good pacing
3. An opening that grabs their attention immediately
4. An obvious conclusion
5. A good story