Content Competitions – a gift or a curse for emerging content creators

By June 25, 2015 Blog

To enter or not to enter – a filmmakers guide to entering video competitions for the commercial world

As an emerging filmmaker, it can be challenging to get paid for your work. Often you are working away at day jobs whilst developing your film, web-series and documentary projects, which can take years to develop, finance and produce through to distribution.

Online content is a rapidly growing area, fast replacing television commercials as many companies shift their advertising spend into the more cost effective and far reaching area of online and social media. This will only be exacerbated by the increase in streaming television services like Netflix and Stan, that are advertising free.

The time for cheaper and more innovative content creation is upon us. Often this content is more story based, moving further away from traditional notions of hard sell advertising.

So the appeal of creating this kind of work – be it commercials, music videos or documentary style videos is a no brainer for many emerging filmmakers eager to showcase their storytelling skills, visual style, and getting paid to do the thing that they love.

However, breaking into the commercial industry and making connections with production companies, or directly with brands, can be difficult without an existing portfolio of commercial work, which can be difficult to amass on your own coin, without crew and resources.

Enter the commercial video competition. In the past few years, we have seen a proliferation of these competitions – from companies such as Qantas, Hewett Packard, Coke, Shell, Google and SBS. Companies big and small, some with massive advertising budgets.

A brief is provided, as it would be to production companies to pitch on for a paid campaign, a deadline is set, and filmmakers are asked to use their creative minds, time and energy, to produce content for the campaign.

Generally no budget is offered to filmmakers – they have to conceptualise, write, crew and post produce the videos on their own coin. There are prizes for the winners, from cash to trips overseas, or simply the prestige of your work being distributed as official content for the commissioning organisation.

Is this opportunity or pure exploitation of filmmakers time and talent? Are a generation of filmmakers having the previously sealed door partially opened for them? Or are companies with large advertising budgets trying to circumvent established production companies and reduce their advertising spend, whilst getting additional free publicity through the promotion of the competition itself?

Or is it both?

I spoke to some emerging filmmakers who have been chasing the dream by entering these competitions, with varying degrees of success, to find out how and why filmmakers enter these competitions, and whether the payoff is worth it.

Filmmaker Aidan Corrigan has found industry recognition through these competitions, coming in as a top 3 finalist in the Create STUDIO campaign for SBS, and winner of the MOFILM UTS competition, where he received an award at SXSW, Texas.

“The briefs that are posted are a great opportunity to have your work viewed by some of the worlds biggest brands. They help you develop your craft and if successful, there’s a prize. Money isn’t a driver, as there’s no guarantee you’ll win, so the opportunity to add some branded content to your reel would be the principal (to enter). It was definitely worthwhile. With MOFILM in particular, they help build up a network of international filmmakers and connect them with brands looking for varied content and we’ve become part of that community. The career benefits were having our work selected by a brand to be used for their marketing all around Australia and the various networking opportunities organised for us at SXSW”.

Filmmaker Anita Lee has also entered several of these competitions, including SBS, Qantas and Triple J, and whilst she has not won any of them, has found them instrumental in securing paid commercial work and expanding her showreel to include this type of sought after content.

“I would recommend filmmakers to do them, if the brand aligns to their own values. It is always good to have a deadline to complete work and if you are trying to build a portfolio, competitions are good incentives. I think they are helpful when you are first starting out, but you shouldn’t keep doing them forever. We will be using the two films to get paid work and they are pieces we are very proud of in terms of production value. We knew that if we didn’t win that we would get good films out of it for our own portfolio.”

Corrigan echoes this sentiment about the main goal being to build up your portfolio of work.

“It’s up to the filmmaker on how much time and effort they put into these competitions. There’s no guarantee of any award at the end of all the hard work, so if they’re aware of that and use it as an opportunity to develop their craft and build up their showreels, anything they might win after that is a bonus.”

Both of these filmmakers worked with tiny crews who pooled together their own equipment to make these videos, with little to no budget. And regardless of the outcomes of the competitions themselves, this content has helped the filmmakers on their path to getting paid for what they love to do. Which is to tell stories.

So despite the somewhat exploitative nature of some of these competitions, there are real opportunities, and in the end, its up to the filmmaker to select competitions for brands that align with their values, and for which they can be inspired to tell stories.

Personally I have avoided these types of competitions because I’ve been reticent to dedicate my time and the time of crews working for no money, to create advertising that may never actually be seen for companies who should be paying people to make content.

But like most of us, I’ve worked ‘for free’ on my own projects and spent the time building up my reel. Luckily, by slowly building up experience on my own short films and recently, music videos, I have had the opportunity to produce some high level content for socially-minded brands through production collectives with fellow filmmakers in an inspiring and creative environment.

However, there is no one path, and if you chose brands that you can feel passionate about, and create work in your own style showcasing what you can do, then regardless of whether you win a competition or not, the real win is building up your showreel and using that to secure paid work on future campaigns that align with your style and vision as a filmmaker.

Also, there are some organisations, like Genero TV that actually allow filmmakers to pitch for a production budget, much in the way that a production company would, so there are some amazing opportunities out there for filmmakers looking to monetise their ideas and skills.


Melissa Anastasi is our Guest Writer. Melissa is an independent filmmaker who works across drama, documentary, music videos and online content. Melissa is currently making a short film as part of her AFTRS Creative Fellowship, and developing a number of long form projects. She was recently selected for the International Binger Film Lab.