Video contests: Should you really bother?

As a filmmaker, you’ll face dozens of decisions each week about which projects to pursue and where the best use of your resources might be. So, how do you decide? When weighing the costs and benefits of pouring your time into production, editing, networking and marketing, perhaps you should consider one more thing: video contests.

What are video contests and why do they exist?

Video contests have been around as long as video itself. Although video production and quality has come a long way since its inception, the how and why of video contests has remained much the same over the years.

Basically, you create a video, submit it to the contest in the ascribed method and cross your fingers — but it’s a lot more than that. The requirements for submission vary wildly, so you may not be allowed to enter every contest out there. It might be open to a limited age range, region or skill level and there could be entry fees. Many video contests will also stipulate the length, formatting and theme permitted. A quick online search will give you dozens of current contests any time of year.

This is a great way for companies to create buzz around their brand and gain some cheap or free advertising. They use it as a tool to create active engagement with their audience on social media. Video contests also bring traffic to their websites, keep their blogs interesting and even help them scout for fresh talent. When people actively participate with their brand, it can build loyalty and familiarity, which is so critical in the fast-paced digital world.

What’s in it for you?

Cash and prizes, obviously.

We’ve seen prizes ranging from free camera gear to $100,000 to priceless experiences and distribution on small or large scales. Still, the odds will depend on the number of entries (and probably the number of judges). It’s a lot of work, so the odds are usually in the hundreds or low thousands. Your chances of winning a lottery jackpot is roughly 175,000 to 1, and that’s quite a bit better than your odds of getting struck by lightning — neither of which even utilize your creative talents.

Spending time and possibly money on projects for a video contest with no guarantees might seem like a gamble.

Spending time and possibly money on projects for a video contest with no guarantees might seem like a gamble. Plus, in some cases, your winning entry becomes the asset of the sponsor company. For example, some companies like Chevrolet, Staples, and Doritos have hosted video contests where the entrants actually create an advertisement for their products. If your video wins, it might even become a commercial during major sporting events. This is the kind of work that deserves compensation.

There are some really practical reasons to submit your work to video contests

Still, there are some major benefits to entering a video contest. It might just make you a better creator. If you’re at a creative impasse and need something to get you headed in the right direction, you could create something specifically for a contest to get your wheels turning. Look at it as an assignment and break out your pre-production process.

Likewise, sometimes when you’re feeling creative, the next phone call you get sounds like an uninspiring project. Having a background in contests might help you get through it. Video contests often have themes. So, practicing making videos about topics you might not normally do will keep your skills honed. You might find yourself immersed in brands, storytelling, new perspectives or compelling visuals that ordinary days don’t bring. The more experience you have making content to meet someone else’s vision, the thicker your portfolio gets.

Entering a video contest not only challenges and reinforces your current skill set. It also gives you a chance to learn and grow in unexpected ways. Practice is necessary for improvement.

We all know that pretty much every time we wrap up another project, we’ve learned something new. Whether it’s a handy tip for difficult lighting, a nuance of working with talent or an editing shortcut you didn’t know before, making more videos is exactly how to finesse your craft and launch yourself to the next level sooner. Entering contests for shorts can allow you to experiment with emotions, genres or angles without putting a client’s project on the line.

Learn to work within limits

Another crucial skill in filmmaking that can make or break your career is the dreaded deadline (imagine crazy sci-fi music here). When you’re trying to craft a masterpiece, it can be hard to ever say it’s done or even good enough. There’s always room for improvement, they say. Finding ways to get better at marking a video as complete within a deadline is really good for business. Contests will have firm deadlines. Working under that pressure can give you the practice you need to seamlessly fulfill your client deadlines without breaking a sweat.

It’s hard to cut from a film you love if there’s no one above you pacing around telling you to cut it. However, if you’ve seen a few amateur videos you might have noticed that a common pitfall is letting the story drag on too long in places where it doesn’t add anything necessary or even interesting.

Since video contests usually have a limit on the duration, take this challenge. Use a few of your favorite existing creations and pare them down to meet a contest limit of half or less its original length. Turn your 45-minute feature into a 15 minute short or turn your 9-minute short into 4-minute spot. Do you keep the intentionally slow music scene for dramatic effect? Does the scene with the girl in the kitchen add something compelling? How short can you make it without losing the plot? This skill of trimming and streamlining is one of those intangible things that makes the pros stand out.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right

Before jumping in, we have a few tips about how to get the most success from your video contest entry. Following these steps will prevent you from being disqualified before judging even begins.

  • Read and follow all of the rules. They may require a certain format, proof of permissions for music, talent release forms, or a bundle of other things.
  • If it’s an International contest, be sure that you pay your entry fees in the correct currency.
  • Ensure your video has good pacing and a complete storyline.
  • After you’re finished editing and feel like it’s ready to go, grab a few friends and make some popcorn for a preliminary screening to enjoy it from an audience perspective.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to send it in, just in case there’s any trouble with the delivery or time zones. Trust us on this one. Send it early.

When it comes to video contests, there are some drawbacks. Not every creator will like to roll the dice. Some definitely should, though. If you’re new to filmmaking, it’s a great way to learn. If you’re feeling a little rusty, it’s a great way to sharpen your tools. Winning prizes is cool. Adding that to your resume is even better. Becoming a progressively better producer is really what we all strive for. If entering a few video contests helps you get there, we’ll cheer you on.

You can find some of the current video contests curated on these websites:

Tiffany Harness
Tiffany Harness
Tiffany is a professional writer and B2B relations specialist. She has a background in procurement, sales, marketing and management.

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