I’m the king of the Stikbots!!

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I got my first video camera when I was about 14 years old.  And as soon as I figured out how to use it I was trying to make stop-motion videos.  But clunky old VHS camcorders weren’t made to do stop motion so of course my experiments never worked out.  Ever since then I harbored a secret desire to create a successful and GOOD stop motion video.  So when I heard that Zing Toys was running a Stikbot-themed video contest for stop-motion animators I decided to go all in and create the biggest, craziest, most epic entry I could.  (Stikbots are these amazing little robot guys that kids use to make stop-motion videos on their cell phones.)  I was hoping that maybe I’d place in the top three but I actually wound up winning the $15,000 grand prize!!  Here’s my submission:

I’m very proud of this win and I’m extremely proud of my entry.  There was no public voting so a panel of judges picked all the winners.  And as a nice little bonus, it seems like Stikbot fans really liked the entry too.  The view count for this video just kept going up and up and up and it’s currently at 147,000 views.

I probably put at least 60 hours of work into this project since I was basically learning stop motion by trial and error.  I figured out a lot of helpful tricks during this shoot and by the end, things were moving really quickly.  So I think I might try and do more stop motion videos in the future. For anyone who may be interested, I shot this video with my Canon T4i.  To eliminate camera shake, I used a 2 second timer to take each photo.  I wanted the lighting to look as natural as possible so I used a very fast lens.  But that gave me a really narrow depth of field sometimes.  So in close-ups, one stikbot would be in focus and the one behind it would be soft.

The entire process was kind of grueling but I did have fun.   It was definitely the most creatively challenging video contest entry that I’ve ever done.  Here are some behind the scene pics:

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My stikbot set. I only made one small section of the cave and I used photoshop to make it seem bigger.
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Here’s the wideshot I used in the video.
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And here’s what the shot look like before I photoshopped it.
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I’m not sure if many people actually noticed this but I put a working LED light inside a toy lantern.
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This set was pretty much dirt, sticks, lease and some fake Halloween moss.
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I found that Sticky-Tack was the secret to getting a Stikbot to hold things. You can see some on this guy’s left hand.
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Here’s a shot of the bots falling into the cave.
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And here’s that same shot before I erased the rig I used to drop them.

Zing is actually planning to do another big Stikbot contest this fall so if you’re interested in entering you should watch their facebook page for updates.

@Midnight surreptitiously changed the entry that won their #HowIGetAround video contest

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@Midnight’s #HowIGetAround winner checks out her new Jag.

@Midnight is one of Comedy Central’s biggest hits.  It does incredibly well for a show that starts at 11:59:59PM.  So it’s not all that surprising that @Midnight’s “How I Get Around” contest wound up being a huge success.  Back in May, host Chris Hardwick announced that one lucky viewer would win a brand new Jaguar XE plus enough cash to cover the taxes on the car.  To enter, participants had to post a photo or video to Twitter, Instagram or Vine that showed how they currently got around and use the hashtag #HowIGetAroundContest.

After the deadline passed I searched Twitter, Vine and Instagram for posts that included the relevant hashtag.  I was amazed by how many entries came up.  My plan was to look at them all but I gave up after about 200 submissions.  With hundreds of entries spread over three social networks, I figured judging this contest would be a nightmare.  But in the end, the producers were able to settle on a winner.  On May 27th, Chris Hardwick gave a brand new Jaguar to a a young woman who entered using the twitter handle @Asheriee_.

@Asheriee_ was brought up on stage and Hardwick talked to her for a while.  But for some reason, they didn’t show her entry until the commercial break.  And when they did show it, it was framed by a bizarre graphic:
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Screnshot from the 5/27/16 episode of @Midnight

To see exactly what Comedy Central aired that night, follow this link and skip ahead to the 19:30 mark.  For now, I’ll summarize the version of @Asheriee_’s entry that aired during the show: @Asheriee_ and her brother play rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets to use the family car and who gets to use the family bicycle.  @Asheriee wins and she picks the bike because the car is a piece of junk that smells moldy.  Cut to the brother as he gets in the car and puts on a face mask.  The end.

It felt like a pretty complete entry so the “see the entire winning video” graphic was a big red flag.  The rules said that entries were only supposed to be 30 seconds long.  The version that aired on @Midnight was about 18 seconds long.  Why would the producers bother cutting 12 seconds from the video?  I mean, this entry was good enough to win almost $50,000 in prizes.  So why not show us the whole thing?  Hundreds of people entered this contest.  Didn’t they deserve to see the actual video that beat them?

I jumped on twitter and discovered that @Midnight hadn’t even posted the full entry yet.  But I did find @Asheriee_’s original submission:
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So the missing 12 seconds just happened to include a very un-funny joke about gun violence.  (I live in the south suburbs of Chicago and unfortunately around here “They Shootin’!” is a common joke-response to fireworks or other loud popping noises.)  The missing joke presented me with a mystery; did Comedy Central cut it for time or did they intentionally remove the joke because it was offensive?

Believe it or not, I actually figured out the answer.  It looks like the joke was intentionally censored.  When @Midnight finally posted the winning entry to Twitter, the missing 12 seconds were back.  But this time something else was missing….
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The bang, bang, bang of the car door was still there but an editor removed the line “They shootin!”  In fact, the line wasn’t just removed; it was carefully covered with audio from a different part of the video.  So an editor cut the line and then selected, copied and pasted a section of background noise to fill in the hole.

I’ve been running this website for 7 years now and I’ve never seen anything like this before.  The judges in this contest picked a video that included a joke about gun violence and then multiple people worked together to sanitize that entry for public consumption.  And to make things worse, the producers went out of their way to hide this act of censorship.  If  @Asheriee_ had deleted her original entry, no one would have seen the “real” video that won one of the year’s biggest video contests.

I can understand why the producers (and presumably the sponsors) wanted to remove the “They Shootin!” joke.  Even though the this episode aired a few weeks before the tragedy in Orlando, it was still offensive and stupid.  It mocks gun violence, it mocks fears of gun violence and it perpetuates negative stereotypes about African Americans and African American neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why the judges would pick an entry that needed to be censored.  Like I said, hundreds of people entered this contest.  A lot of contestants broke the rules by including copyrighted music or images but there were easily 50 decent, eligible submissions that could have won.  So why did the judges pick a video that they couldn’t even air on TV?  Unfortunately that question is rhetorical because I’ve yet to figure out how or why this particular video was selected as the winner.

 

Vegan Smart’s video contest winner vows to use his $10,000 prize to promote “Environmental Conservation & Veganism”

When I read that a company named Vegan Smart was running a video contest with a $10,000 grand prize I briefly considered pretending to be vegan just so I could enter.  But I’m not enough of a sociopath to do something so weirdly unethical so I didn’t participate.  And now that the contest is over I’m actually glad I didn’t shoot an entry because the competition here was tough.  The winners were determined by votes alone and those types of contests can be brutal.  I followed the voting for a while and a few entries bounced in and out of the top slot. But in the end, the winner was a filmmaker named Josh Garcia.



Josh creates youtube videos about related to the environment and conservation.  When he was lobbying for votes in the Vegan Smart Contest, Josh promised his fans that all his winnings would go towards veganism and the “conservation of our beautiful planet.”

Now that he’s the official winner, I checked with Josh and asked what he was going to do with the ten grand he won.  He said he plans to use the money to create a new video that explains the importance of “low impact plant based nutrition.”  If you’d like to see the video that Josh makes with his winnings you can subscribe to his youtube channel.

Blue Apron creates a crowdsourced cooking show

My girlfriend (like all girlfriends everywhere) loves Blue Apron.  If you’re not familiar with that company, BA sends you recipes and the exact ingredients you will need to prepare those meals.  It’s a weird service.  Like, if the recipe calls for 2 sprigs of fennel they will ship you exactly two sprigs of fennel.  I’m not a big fan of BA because they pretty much put fuggin’ mushrooms on everything and glob dammit I hate mushrooms.  (When I was a kid I at some mushrooms I found in the woods because I thought they’d make me bigger like Super Mario. I tripped balls for three days straight and eventually the cops had to fish me out of a green drain pipe.)  But mushrooms aside, I guess I can see why people love Blue Apron so much.  And I’m not surprised that their first video contest was such a big hit.  The company asked people to film themselves cooking a specific recipe for a chance to win a trip to New York.  About 200 people entered and Blue Apron used some of their favorite entries to create a crowdsourced cooking show.  It’s a brilliant idea and the final product is very watchable:



The sponsor wound up picking two winners.  Both are dog-themed.  So eventually Blue Apron is going to get sued by some dummy who’s dog got burned while helping him make crispy chicken in orange sauce.




How to Clean Up in Clean Water contests

I have a really dumb video contest tip for you today.  Are you ready for it?  Ok, here it is: Start writing down ideas for funny videos about clean water.  Once you have a few good ones, flesh them out into really strong scripts.  Then head to google and set a news alert for the terms “Water” and “Video Contest.”  At some point during the next few months I guarantee that you’ll hear about at least one new Clean Water-themed video contest.  How do I know this will happen?  Because it happens all the time!  “Clean Water” might be one of the most popular contest themes of all time.  So if you have some decent water scripts chillin’ on your hard drive, eventually you’ll be able to pick one and shoot it.

Unfortunately, water-themed contests are usually run by non-profit groups so the prize pools tend to be on the small side.  But contests run by non-profits usually don’t get a ton of entries so at least the competition will be light.

If you need some watery inspiration, check out the $2,000 grand prize winner American University’s “Eco-Comedy Video Competition.”



This video is kind of cute but it also would have been easy to beat.  (A panel of judges picked the winners).  You can see all the runner-up entries here but trust me, I know you could write and shoot something better than all of them.

Actually no, wait…WTF am I doing.  Now I want to write some scripts and enter Clean Water-themed video contests.  Forget everything I said in this post.  I am as dumb as this tip was.