Two years ago today, Video Contest News, A.K.A. the greatest blog about video contests ever to grace the internetz, emerged from the murky ethers of my brain and forever changed the lives of every man, woman and child (that happen to care about video contests) on the face of the earth. To commemorate this momentous day, I thought I’d share the epic tale of how this website came to be….
In late 2008 I was a filmmaker without any film equipment. I didn’t own a camera or a mic or a single light. I didn’t even have a decent computer that I could use to edit. All I had was a sluggish PC with an ancient (and maybe not so legal) copy of premiere on it. At the time, I was working in downtown Chicago and every day I’d pass by a bunch of park benches and bus stops that were promoting something called the “2016: Why Chicago?” video contest. It was the first time I had ever seen a video contest publicly advertised before. I had actually entered and won two video contests by that point but they were two contests that I happened to randomly stumble across. By November of 2008 I was still ignorant to the huge number of video contests that were happening online.
So when I saw those “Why Chicago” ads, I got pretty excited and thought, “it would be amazing if I could actually win three video contests in 2 years!” I checked out the contest and basically all you had to do to enter was shoot a video explaining Why Chicago should host the 2016 summer Olympics. First prize was a trip for 2 to Vancouver. However, it wasn’t a trip to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was just a trip to Vancouver to observe the “preparations” for the olympics! Yeah, it was a lame prize and the rules said its “actual retail value” was only $2,500. But second prize…oh my God, second prize was a $5,000 gift certificate to spend on video production equipment!
I don’t know why second prize was way better than first prize but let me tell you, I really wanted that gift certificate. So I had to shoot an entry. One problem, I didn’t have a camera. So I did what any desperate, no-budget filmmaker would do. I went to Walmart and purchased a tiny, little Mini-DV camera for 250 bucks. I spent two weeks shooting my entry and when it was done, I returned the camera and got a full refund. Heh. Here’s the entry I submitted:
The Why Chicago contest got tons of entries but all humility aside, I think mine was the best, hands down. Most of the other submissions were super-serious and kind of dull. Mine was one of the only funny entries. And even though it doesn’t look too great, I still think it’s one of the best contest entries I’ve ever done.
I made the finals but the winners would be determined by online voting. I absolutely crushed the vote. I shot right to the top of the rankings. It blew my mind how eager all my friends and family were to help me win. Plus I seemed to actually be getting a lot of votes from the general public. The contest was a bug deal in Chicago and my entry even made the local news. So I was doing great…a little too great. I was getting TOO MANY votes! I wanted to win second place, not first place!
By the last few days of voting I was neck and neck with some filmmaker from Northwestern who really seemed to want to win. Both of our videos kept switching from first to second place and then back again. The voting system for this contest was strange. You could vote for as many videos as you wanted by ranking them on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. And even stranger, you could change your vote at any time. So…I hatched a plan. Since this was going to be such a tight race, I figured a few dozen votes would wind up determining the winner. So I contacted about 20 friends and family members and told them to vote for my main competitor on the last day of voting. They thought I was an idiot but they did it. But I was still in first as the deadline approached. So I started calling people and asked them to change their votes and rank my video 1 star.
And the plan worked. Just before the deadline, my video slipped into second place. The next day I got a call from the Chicago Olympic committee congratulating me on my 2nd place win. They even said I could pick the store where I’d get to spend the $5,000 prize. I requested Amazon since I knew it was pretty much the only place I could order a bunch of new pro and semi-pro gear.
About a week later, the two Northwestern students that came in first were on the news and they talked about how excited they were to have won. Apparently they did try and work really hard to win first place and on the last day of voting, Northwestern even sent out an e-mail asking students to vote. If it hadn’t been for that e-mail, I would have stayed in first place for sure. But as the two students talked about how happy they were to be going to Vancouver, I got the feeling that maybe they had realized that winning second place would have been a whole lot sweeter. Sure enough, about two days later, I recived a youtube message from one of the guys who won the trip. He asked me for my e-mail address. Here’s the e-mail he sent me:
Hey Dan, thanks for emailing me back. I have a question, and i’m not sure that we’re going about it the right way but we are not sure we’ll be able to take advantage of our trip to Vancouver. We’re college students and have a pretty irregular schedule and have no idea what we’ll be doing in the next few months, but we do know that J**** leaves to study abroad in New Zealand in early February and will be gone til June. And after that I plan to leave in July for New Zealand and won’t be back til November, so we’ll pretty much be gone for a year.
I wanted to get in contact with you to ask if you would be at all interested in trying to switch prizes, so that you get the trip for 2 to Vancouver and we would take second prize. If you would be willing i’ll get in contact with the appropriate people from the contest and figure out the details.
Man I was pissed by that. Not only did these guys want to trade their $2,500 prize for my $5,000 prize, they waited until after they got all the public accolades and press attention that came with winning to suggest the switch. And their reason for suggesting the trade was that they had to endure several months in New Zealand? As you can guess, I turned down their generous offer.
A few weeks later I walked into the massive (and extremely expensive looking) offices of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic Bid commite and picked up a manila envelope with a $5,000 Amazon gift certificate in it. Spending that money was one of the funnest experiences of my life. I bought the DVX-100B camera I had always wanted, a refurbished G5 Mac for editing, some audio equiptment and a big light kit. I even had enough money left over to buy presents for some of the people who really helped get thge word out during the voting.
I spent the next few months trying to launch a blog and web series about Chicago but it didn’t really go anywhere. So by the summer of 2008 I figured I should try and make some money with my new camera gear so I started looking for more video contests to enter. Sure enough, I found a ton of them and I started winning small contests like crazy. Every few weeks I’d get an e-mail congratulating me on my $500 or $1,000 or $2,500 or $5,000 win. I was hooked. I spent so much time researching video contests it hit me that maybe I should start posting info about contests online somewhere. It wouldn’t be too tough since I had just taught my self how to build and manage a wordpress blog when I was trying to get my web series going. So by September 2008 I decided I’d give blogging another shot and Video Contest News was born!
So Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid might have been a bust, but if it wasn’t for the “Why Chicago” contest I never would have gotten into video contests or started this site. So to the anonymous folks on Chicago’s Bid Committee, I say thanks. And thanks also to all of you out there that read VCN, leave comments and send tips. Please keep it up! Remember, if you ever want to talk about something video contest-related, just drop me a line at VideoContestNews@gmail.com.