So, earlier this month I found myself in the mountains of Northern Vietnam, in a remote cabin, filming a naked man get into a barrel filled with medicinal water. I can finally tick that one off the bucket list!
This was all courtesy of World Nomads Travel Film Scholarship, a competition I won to travel to Vietnam to make a documentary with a professional filmmaking mentor. It was an incredible experience, and it all came from entering their competition last year.
Here are a few pointers how you could win that cool competition you’ve had your eye on.
Step One: Know the Brief
If the competition you’re entering have a clear brief, read this thoroughly, and several times. Clarify in your mind what it is they want, and then go out and make a product that tailors to that brief.
Step Two: Once you Know your Brief – Stick to it!
World Nomads received 53 hours of entries for this year’s scholarship. That’s a couple of employee’s full-time job for weeks! The last thing they’ll want when sifting through this amount of work is to consider entries which are OFF-BRIEF or TOO LONG.
World Nomads asked for a 3-minute film. Any guess how long my submission was? Three minutes and zero seconds! This rings true for any kind of competition, such as “write a 3000-word story” – not 3500, definitely not 4000. Be ruthless. You’re doing more harm than good by submitting more than is asked for. The first cut of my film ran to 7 mins 30, and I saw no way to bring it down to 3, but I did – and most importantly, it’s stronger for it.
Step Three: Know Your Message and Your Audience
Although you might have a great subject, if you’re not conveying a message to the audience, they have nothing to take away from your work. Put yourself in the shoes of the judging panel– how are you going to connect with them? What is it that makes your design/story/photos/film/art worthy of a second look?
Step Four: Just Frickin’ Enter!
My Dad always says “If you don’t buy a ticket, you won’t win the raffle!” He also said “Son, never quote your parents”, but that’s not important right now.
The point is – Just enter. Even if you’re not ready, even if you’ve never made work like the kind you’ve been asked to produce, even if you hate the work your submitting – the worst that can happen is you don’t win!
Step Five: Get Lucky or Learn
I still had to get lucky. Like, really lucky. I didn’t think I stood a chance at all! I did all I could by using the previous four steps to improve my chances, but the rest was down to the mercy of the judges. My film just turned out to be what they were looking for!
And you could win too, but if you don’t– who cares? My outlook was: If I don’t win the competition, I’ve still made a film. These kind of creative briefs are a win-win. You’ve made another film, or a story, or a photo essay, or whatever it is that’s your jam.
These comps are a great way to practise making content for an audience and to a brief, and while the odds are stacked against you, you just never know!