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As Poptent winds down operations, dozens of anxious filmmakers are still waiting to get paid

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Two months ago Poptent and Userfarm announced that in April they’re going to join forces and launch a new crowdsourced video company named Vizy.  While the architects of this plan are quick to call this move a “merger” it feels more like Userfarm (which seems to be in great shape) is absorbing Poptent (which seems to be in terrible shape).  Over the last few years, a string of unfair and ill-conceived strategies managed to chase away many of Poptent’s most talented filmmakers.  The brain-drain caused a drop in the quality and quantity of Poptent submissions and the drop in quality turned off potential clients.  Poptent’s decline was so precipitous that today the company’s most valuable asset isn’t a physical asset at all; it’s data.  The site claims to have a “community” of more than 70,000 members.  So if Poptent and Userfarm merge their user data, they can claim to be the “largest community of video professionals in the world.”  But of course that statement won’t exactly be accurate.  What Poptent has are 70,000 accounts, not members. The vast majority of those accounts were created by spammers or by people who logged in once or twice and then never returned to the site.  Based on Poptent’s public activity feed, I would estimate that the site has less than 1,000 real, active users.

But this is the 21st century and even crappy data has value.  Thanks to Poptent’s massive collection of usernames and e-mail addresses, the struggling company (and a select group of employees) will get to carry on inside of this new thing called Vizy.  But make no mistake; Poptent is going out of business.  The company won’t exist anymore and the website will probably be deactivated.  And these changes are already well underway.  Userfarm is still going strong and currently has NINE public assignments up and running.  But Poptent hasn’t launched a new public contest since October 2014.  On top of that, Poptent’s staff members have stopped responding to posts in the website’s public forum and all of the company’s social media pages have been turned into Vizy accounts.

But here is the most disturbing sign of Poptent’s impending demise; the company has almost completely stopped paying filmmakers their prize money.  Right now, dozens of members are waiting on tens of thousands of dollars (and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars) in checks from Poptent.  Take for example the case of the Poptent team Indian Head Pictures.  On October 29th, 2014, Poptent announced that their entry had won a $3,000 Brand Award in the Go Go Squeeze applesauce assignment:
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Poptent used to send payments out within a few weeks but the guys from Indian Head Pictures have been waiting for their $3,000 for 146 days.  But those filmmakers should consider themselves lucky because other Poptent members are claiming that the company owes them well over $10,000.

As you can imagine, these folks are starting to get a little nervous.  The Poptent team is busy scrubbing the company’s name from every corner of the web and the site might be shut down at any moment.  I’ve talked to a few people who are still waiting on some pretty big payouts and the staff has either been ignoring them or stonewalling them.  These tactics are obviously unprofessional but they’re even more outrageous when you consider that the brands behind these contests have probably already paid Poptent the prize money.  The brand usually pays up front so for example, Go Go Squeeze has probably already given Poptent the $3,000 that is supposed to go to the guys at Indian Head Pictures.

So why would Poptent hold on to money that belongs to other people?  One Poptent member actually managed to get a response from a staff member and shared the info in the community forum.   The rep said that some payments have been delayed because of the merger but after the major players meet with the investors, the company will start sending out payments later this week.

I’m sorry to say this but I’m not sure I believe that.  The story just doesn’t make sense.  I suspect that Poptent might be holding on to payments because they’re worried that the merger might fall apart.  If that happened, Poptent would almost certainly have to shut down and declare bankruptcy.  In that scenario, filmmakers would be lucky to recover a fraction of what the company owes them.

So, what should you do if Poptent still owes you money?  Well, the first thing you should do is log into your “payment register” and take a screenshot. Like this:
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Yes, Poptent owes me all of $250.

Yes, Poptent owes me all of $250.

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You need to do this ASAP because if Poptent.net disappears tomorrow, your payment register will be gone for good.  After you get your screenshot, start e-mailing staff members and ask where the heck your money is.  SOme day you might need to prove that you actually tried to get your money.  If no one writes back, call the main office and ask someone to guarantee that you’re going to get paid by a certain date.  The company’s contact info is right here:  http://www.poptent.com/company/contact/

Good luck everybody.  Hope we all get what we’re owed.  I feel like I should mention that I did try to contact several Poptent staff members before I wrote this article but no one responded to my message.  I’ll post an update if I get a response or if I hear that payments are starting to go out.

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Did CBS just kill the 2016 Crash the Super Bowl contest?

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Above: A small business owner buys a 30-second super bowl ad for his car wash

It’s only been about 6 weeks since Doritos announced the grand prize winner of the 2015 Crash the Super Bowl contest but filmmakers are already contacting me and asking for information about the 2016 competition.  I always tell people that it’s a bad idea to shoot an entry in the spring because there’s always a chance that FritoLay could change the rules or decide to retire the promotion.

And at this point, I would say that the odds that Doritos will run the Crash again this year are only about 50-50.  The quality of the entries has gone down and the concept doesn’t really feel fresh any more.  And neither one of this year’s Doritos commercials were especially popular.  Middle Seat got some buzz because it won the Million Dollar Grand Prize but the runner-up ad, When Pigs Fly was immediately forgotten by the public.  On top of that, FritoLay has started to produce their own Doritos commercials again.  I think that’s a sign that we may be moving into a post-CTSB era because for years Doritos would only air ads that won their annual commercial contest.

So I think the Crash’s days are numbered.  I figured FritoLay would probably run it one more time since 2016 marks the 10 year anniversary of the first installment of the contest.  But the President and CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, may have recently killed the contest for good.  CBS will be airing the big game next year and according to The Daily Mail, the network plans to raise the price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad from $4.5 Million to $5 to 6 Million.

Six Million dollars would be a 30% increase and ad exes are already complaining that the price tag is way too high.  If CBS sticks with these numbers, major brands will probably have to skip the Super Bowl or at least cut back on the number of ads they buy.  That means the folks over at FritoLay will have to decide if the Crash the Super Bowl contest is still worth the money.  When they first launched the contest, a 30-second super bowl ad only cost $2.5 Million dollars.  But this year, ad slots were selling for $4.5 Million a piece.  I’m going to guess that big companies like FritoLay get a healthy discount for buying multiple ad slots but still, it does seem kinda crazy to spend ten to twelve million bucks to air two mediocre commercials that each cost less than $1,000 to produce.

So do I really think the Crash the Super Bowl contest is going to be cancelled this year?  Eh…probably not.  But I have a feeling the sponsor will have to scale things back for 2016.  Instead of running the Grand Prize winner and the runner-up, they’ll probably only show the commercial that wins the online vote.

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PaintCare’s $10,000 video contest winner

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never recycled a can of paint in my life.  I usually just pour old paint into milkshake glasses and leave them in weird places like on bus benches and in public restrooms.  Sometimes I’ll even slide in a straw or put a cherry on top.  It’s like an experimental art piece.  People walk by and they’re like WTF, why is there a strawberry milkshake just sitting on top of this mail box?  But the real payoff comes when someone tries to drink one of the fake shakes.  That happens way more often than you’d think.

But I guess I need to find a new hobby because apparently throwing out paint is bad for the environment (and also people who try and drink it.)  I learned this important lesson after watching the video that won the $10,000 grand prize in PaintCare‘s video contest:
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So take heed fellow artists, if you have old paint, don’t use it to try and poison strangers express yourself, recycle it.

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The Masters of the Tongal-verse converge in LA for the 2nd annual Tongie awards

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That’s me flanked by my video contest buddies HappyJoel Levinson and Joe “Bisbinetts” Binetti

For the second year in a row I was lucky enough to get an invitation to the Video Contest Prom, AKA the 2015 Tongie awards in Los Angeles, California.  The main event took place on Thursday night but I’m still recuperating after 2 straight days of sunshine and cocktails and tuxedos and hugs.  I think it goes without saying that the folks at Tongal know how to throw an amazing party.  But the thing that makes the Tongies so special are the people.  I gotta say, it’s kinda trippy to walk into a party and recognize dozens of people from the Internet.  And it’s even weirder when they start recognizing you too.  On Wednesday night, Tongal treated their staff, the Tongie nominees, their clients and various FOTs (friends of Tongal) to a Welcome Reception at a great spot across from the Santa Monica Pier.  This photo should give you an idea of just how many people were invited to this thing….

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That’s a lot of name tags!  And I showed up a little late so about half the crowd had already picked up their tags by the time I got there.  If I had to guess, I’d say that Tongal flew in at least 150 people this year.  Mingling at the cocktail party was lots of fun because I basically just walked up and said hello to anyone I recognized from the web.  Like these guys….

"Mr. Tongal" and the Rez FX team

“Mr. Tongal” and the REZ FX team

And it was also great to see all the Tongal staff members that I usually only get to converse with via e-mail….

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Tongal employees Ingrid and Romi try and eject a random bum that wandered in from the pier

The bar was serving special Tongal-themed cocktails that night.  It was my intention to try all three but I only sampled the Pitch and the Idea.  The idea was so tasty that I had to stick with it for the rest of the night.  After a few of those, I realized that I was genuinely buzzed so I ghosted early and walked back to our super swanky hotel.

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The next day I jumped in my rental car to knock two important items off my So-Cal bucket list.  I had chicken and waffles and the original Roscoe’s in Hollywood and then I went to the La Brea Tar pits.  I highly recommend both activities if you’re in LA and love chicken and/or waffles and/or wooly mammoth skeletons.  After that I had to head back to the hotel and put on my tux for the Tongies!

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Inside the Avalon Theater

This year the staff wanted to give everyone lots of time to meet and mingle.  So once I got to the Avalon Theater there were more cocktails and more people I recognized from the Internet.  Plus as a nice little bonus, there were plenty of photo opportunities….

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Hey, here are two more people I recognized from the Interwebz.  That’s Marrissa and Justin from OnlineVideoContests.com!

That's Marrissa from OnlineVideoContests.com!

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I’m a sucker for a nice Stand and Repeat wall so I had to get in on the action just before the ceremony started.

I think the vest was the right call.

#AfterSix  #NotAFarmer

And then it was show time!  Here’s Ideator of the Year (and my new Argentine pal) Federico accepting his Tongie.

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Later in the evening I got Federico to show off his new hardware.

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I forgot to take a pic of my program before dinner so here it is covered in coffee and cake crumbs.

I managed to get coffee and some of my churros y chocolate on my program.

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The ceremony flew by and before we knew it, Tongal president and co-founder, James DeJulio was announcing the Tongalers of the Year, Extraneous Noise.

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After that, it was time for more partying.  I switched from cocktails to beer and churros and rocker Chuck Prophet performed a mini-concert while Tongalers in tuxedos and fancy dresses danced in front of the stage.  I went towards the front of the house to catch some air and there I found one of the masterminds behind the Tongies, Caleb Light-Wills still hard at work.

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Here’s a relived-looking Caleb about 15 seconds after he completed his final official task of the evening.

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I slipped out before midnight and when I walked outside I looked down and realized I was standing right on top of Cecil B. Demille’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

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It felt like a fitting discovery since De Mille was one of the world’s first truly great filmmakers.  He directed his first movie in 1914.  He was there for the birth of a brand new medium.  And here we were, 101 years later, celebrating the birth of another new form of media.  Can you imagine what old Cecil would think if someone tried to explain to him what the heck Tongal is and how it works?  If his brain didn’t implode on the spot, he probably would have fallen to his knees in wonder as he watched just one of the wild, weird, sweet, slick or delightful ads that actually won Tongies this year.

And speaking of those ads, I wish I could post some of the winning videos but I can’t embed them here.  So if you’d like to see who was inducted into the Tongal Hall of Fame and watch the Video of the Year, the Best Broadcast Spot, the Best Comedy Video, The best Animation (that one would really make Cecil lose his mind), the Best Short Form Video, the Best Long Form Video, the Best Original Song, the Best Wildcard Video and best Gig video, head here: https://tongal.com/tongies

On a personal note, I just want to say Thank You to all the great folks at Tongal for inviting me and putting on a great slate of events.  I’ve already heard some buzzing about the 2016 Tongies so hopefully we’ll get to do it all again next year!

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It’s party time, you nerds! Net Neutrality is a big win for crowdsourcers

Last fall I decided to shoot a last minute entry for a Bud Light contest on Tongal.  And when I say “last minute” I mean I was still editing my submission about an hour before the deadline.  As time ticked away, I exported a final version of my video, logged into my Tongal account and started filing in the submission form.  I uploaded my video and clicked the submit button with maybe 20 or 30 seconds to spare.

I didn’t win the grand prize in that contest but I did win a $2,000 runner-up award.  I’ve submitted a lot of entries at the very last minute but I’ve never had such a close call before.  I’ve been thinking about this incident a lot lately as the United States has inched closer and closer to securing “Net Neutrality.”  My 100MB file made it to Tongal in just a few seconds.  That type of lighting fast transaction is the reason this country needs Net Neutrality.  Right now, all content on the web is created equally.  And now that the government has declared that the Internet is a public utility, it’s going to stay that way.  No one is going to be able to pay for faster service.  Fast service does sound great but the ugly reality is that on the Internet, there is a finite amount of speed.  If Comcast wants to deliver their data packets first, it means that small companies….like Tongal….are going to have to wait in line.  So in a world without net neutrality, my last minute Bud Light submission probably would have been placed in a Transfer Queue.  That means the video wouldn’t have reached Tongal until after the deadline had already passed.

I know this is kind of a goofy example but it’s a real-world case that shows how throttled Internet speeds can cost people money.  If you’re still kind of unsure what Net Neutrality is, here’s a quick and simple video from the New York Times that will explain the issue.

I gotta be honest, I’m sorta shocked that Net Neutrality supporters were actually able to get the Internet reclassified as a public utility.  It’s a stunning victory for The People over corporations.  And those types of victories are just few and far between these days.  ALL OF US will be better off now that Comcast and Verizon and AT&T will be prohibited from choosing which websites will run fast and which ones will run slow.  But crowdsourcers are especially lucky that the web is going to remain an “even playing field.  That’s because websites like Youtube and Tongal and Mofilm and Zooppa and even the Crash the Super Bowl site frequently transfer big globs of data.  So all of them would have been perfect targets for the Internet Service Providers out there.  I’m glad we don’t need to wait and find out how these sites would manage to survive in a pay-to-play system.  In a best case scenario, filmmakers might have to wait a few minutes for even the smallest videos to get uploaded.  And in a worst case scenario, some contest companies would have been driven out of business by high fees and the ISPs suffocating regulations.

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Mofilm’s 2015 “Las Vegas” winners

Let me tell you something, I love Last Vegas.  I love it.  I hate to gamble but I love the city.  I even lived there for a while after college.  I love it there because there’s always a million things to do, food and entertainment are cheap (because casinos are trying to lure in gamblers), everyone on the strip is in a good mood and the weather is always amazing.  I used to hawk timeshares and I’d spend my days standing in front of rinky-dink joints like The Frontier or The Casino Royal.  But even when it was 110 degrees I liked being outside because the sun and the dry desert air were invigorating.  And one of the greatest sensations in the world has got to be standing on Las Vegas Boulevard in July and then walking into an ice cold casino.  A lot of places will just have huge open lobbies and they keep the hot air out by blasting  a curtain of air conditioning down from the ceiling.  It’s like a force field.  At the end of the day I’d get back to my apartment and I’d dive right into the pool.  Man, I should really try and go to Vegas this year.  Hey, I know….maybe I’ll enter Mofilm’s “Las Vegas” competition in the fall!  If I win one of the top prizes, I’ll get a free trip!  And that free trip would look a little something like this….
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Damn, that looked like a lot of fun.  The 1st place brand winners from this competition were pretty impressive.  Here’s one of them:
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You can watch the other big winners here, here and here.  All of the grand prize winners received $8,000 plus a trip for two to Las Vegas.  Mofilm’s 2016 Vegas competition is still a long ways away, but they just launched their annual Cannes Lions competition.  Everyone knows that Cannes is the Vegas of France so I guess winning a trip there wouldn’t be so bad.  For details, head here: http://mofilm.com/competitions/event/Cannes-2015

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