A look at Poptent’s new Creator Code of Conduct

Out of all the video contest/spec assignment-type sites on the web, Poptent.net has managed to set themselves apart from the crowd by establishing an elaborate and well designed online community where members can easily interact and communicate with each other.  I always describe Poptent as being the Facebook of video contest sites.  Every member has a profile page where they can post information about themselves and they also have a “wall” where other members can see what they’ve been up to and leave comments.  There’s a messaging system in place so members can talk to each other and there’s a pretty active forum where users can talk about filmmaking or even other contests.  But what really brings people together on Poptent are the site’s “social” functions.  Everyone can see everyone else’s videos and members can “like” or comment on each other’s submissions.  And if you think someone is doing especially good work, you can even “follow” them to keep track of their on-site activities.

All of these opportunities for interaction yield a fun, social experience for the user.  Even if your submission isn’t purchased by the brand, it’s still kind of nice when a bunch of people “like” your work and leave supportive comments.

However….there is simply is no such thing as a “drama free” online community.  That’s just the reality of the Internet.  And Poptent is no exception to that rule.  After all, filmmakers tend to be a pretty passionate bunch.  And when you stir the pot by tossing money and competition into the mix, things can get pretty gruesome.  Most Poptent users are pretty cool people who understand that if they cause trouble they’ll be wrecking their on-site reputation.  But Poptent now boasts more than 36,000 members.  Statistically speaking, there are inevitably going to be some major league jerks in that bunch.  And a few random jerks can have a significant impact on the tranquility of an online community.

The number of random jerks who are gleefully and intentionally trying to wreck the Poptent experience for the rest of the people who use the site is still pretty small.  But a few motivated and angry people can do a lot of damage.  Because Poptent doesn’t have any blocking software, there is no way for one member to block unwanted and harassing messages, comments or wall posts from another.  And because the staff doesn’t really moderate the forum, trolls are free to pick fights and high-jack otherwise bland discussions.

But the number one way members abuse the site is by creating fake accounts.  Some desperate filmmakers create multiple fake accounts to “like” and compliment their own work.  I guess they do it because they think the brand managers will see how “popular” their video is and want to purchase it.  If a video has a ton of “likes” that came from accounts that were all created on the same day and have generic profile photos, you can bet they were all created by one person.  These fake accounts are so easy to spot I’ve always wondered why Poptent allowed people to create and use them.  I’ve even seen cases where Poptent actually awarded “Most Popular” medals to submissions that were clearly only “popular” because the creator “liked” their own video a bunch of times.

While that type of behavior is kind of harmless,  other members create fake accounts for more nefarious reasons.  If someone is too much of a coward to say something under their real name, they create a fake “person” to do their talking for them.  For example, earlier this year Trident ran a commercial assignment on Poptent and one filmmaker who co-produced a submission created a fake account to bash his competition.  Motivated by pure greed, this person posed as an impartial observer and left scathing reviews on all of the best videos in the assignment.  He listed every “flaw” he could find and explained why it would be a bad idea for Trident to purchase those particular spots.  That was pretty low, but he didn’t stop there.  This person just couldn’t resit the urge to use his fake account to lavish praise on his own entry.  The flaw that he found in his own work was that it was too slick and too professional.  And guess what?  That person’s despicable tactics may have actually worked.  His video was purchased for $7,500!  Did the Trident judges see those “impartial” comments?  Probably, yes.  Did he make the sale because of what he did?  There’s no way to know.  Either way, it’s really unfortunate that Poptent allowed a member to pull such an under-handed scam.

But Poptent is finally, thankfully putting their foot down.  Though the website’s Terms of Service have always said they could suspend the account of someone who was causing problems, the site was lacking a hard, enforceable set of rules regarding on-site behavior.  So a few weeks ago, Poptent debuted their new “Creator Code of Conduct.”  The Code outlines what is expected of members and explains what type of behavior is forbidden.  Most importantly, it defines what will happen to a member that breaks the code:

“Anyone who repeatedly ignores the principles of this code will be subject to permanent removal from the Poptent community.”

I think that kind of statement is awesome and long overdue.  Here are a few of the most important points of the new code:

Be Positive:  Positive feedback is highly encouraged.  Please be conscientious in your comments. Don’t spam, troll, taunt, flame, belittle, bully, attack, sabotage, embarrass, threaten, harass, intimidate, demean, or insult other creators or their work.  Not in town halls; not in media comments; not in public or private messages or emails.  Not on Poptent.  Keep outside beefs out of Poptent.  This is a professional community and there is no need for friction or animosity.

Be Honest:  Be yourself. The creation or utilization of false accounts, either to bolster one’s likes, karma, or general community standing or used to negatively affect another creator’s profile or media will not be condoned.

Be Constructive:  Keep all criticism or feedback constructive and respectful.  If you wouldn’t say it at the family dinner table, don’t say it here.  Remember, some people want feedback while others may not.

All I can say to that is “Hell yes, it’s about damn time.”  Being a filmmaker that works on spec is hard enough as it is.  There is simply mo reasons that the people who use Poptent should be forced to put up with liars, bullies and trolls.  The company has a moral obligation to provide an artistically “safe” place where filmmakers can feel free to express themselves and share their work in a “hater-free” environment.  So I’m very happy to see that Poptent finally stepped up and created measures that protect their members from the few bad apples that are our there.  If you want to read the entire Code of Conduct for yourself, follow this link.  You really should take a look at it.  It’s short, well-written and even has some pretty colors in it:  http://www.poptent.net/code-of-conduct

Know your Tropes: ZOMBIES!

If you’re a filmmaker who wants to come off as someone who knows what they’re talking about, I recommend throwing the word “trope” around every so often. It’s a very handy term but use it sparingly.  Over-use it and you’ll just sound like a pretentious jerk talking out of his ass.  I found a lot of dry definitions of “trope” online but I like this explanation from tvtropes.org:

Merriam-Webster gives a definition of “trope” as a “figure of speech.” In storytelling, a trope is just that — a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly.

Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… you know it when you see it.

You know in a horror movie when a person is in the bathroom looking into the half-open mirror on a medicine cabinet and then they close it and the new angle reveals a ghost-girl or something behind them? That’s a trope. The goatee as a tip-off that a character is evil? That’s a trope too. Alcoholic cowboys with troubled pasts, hookers with hearts of gold, babies that act like grown ups, grannies that rap, dogs that talk; all these clichés are story-telling tropes. The audience understands what they are as soon as they see them, no back-story needed.

Understanding tropes is especially important for video contest filmmakers because video contest entries are usually just 30 to 60 seconds long. There’s little room for depth or rich characters so tropes are sometimes a handy short cut. Using a ubiquitous character-type or idea can work for smaller contests but relying on tropes in big contests will normally land you right in loser-town.  When a company like Doritos or Godaddy or Butterfinger goes looking for “user-generated content” they are hoping to find something totally new and off the wall. If they wanted the same old ideas they’d just save themselves the trouble of holding a commercial contest and hire an ad firm.

So tropes, especially character tropes, should be avoided lest your contest entry be seen as amateur, unexciting and unoriginal by the contest judges. Even if your video is exceptionally well made it will suffer because in large contests, more than one filmmaker will probably use the same trope you did.  To help you avoid falling into a trope-trap, we’re starting a new feature here at Video Contest News; Know Your Trope! Every so often we’ll dedicate a post to identifying and dissecting tropes that are popular among video contest entrants.

This time we’re going to start right at the top with the trope that I probably see more often than any other; ZOMBIES! Every video contest I see that has more than say, 40 entries will probably wind up with at least one or two zombie-themed submissions. Why? Well there are lots of reasons but I think the biggest are that zombie videos are cheap, easy and even fun to make. It’s also an incredibly obvious idea so you see a lot of new filmmakers and young filmmakers sticking zombies in their entries.

Doritos’ annual Crash the Super Bowl contest is absolutely plagued by zombies; presumably because it’s run during October and contestants have horror movies and haunted houses on the brain. Plus it’s the only time of year where you can walk into walmart and buy fake blood and zombie make up. So it seems like every 10th video in the Crash the Superbowl gallery features a 20 year old guy, covered in blood, acting like a reanimated corpse. (side tip: no video contest sponsor will ever pick a winner where the actors are covered in fake blood. If you must feature zombies don’t make them the bloody, 28 Days Later kind.)

So let’s look at some samples of the Zombie trope in action. A quick search on youtube turned up tons of really not-so-great zombie-themed video contests entries. But let’s start off by looking at two pretty cool ones:

Godaddy contest entry:

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry:

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry:

Those are the cream of the crop when it comes to zombie entries. But no matter how slick or funny or professional a zombie entry might be, it just won’t feel super-original because the zombie concept is pretty much played out.

Now I could list about 40 more zombie-themed contest entries (and most of them would just be from last year’s Crash the Superbowl contest) but instead I want to hit you with a two-fer. Check out these zombie videos and you’ll see that they don’t just share a common trope, but a common plot! Let’s call this idea the “Hungry Zombie Fake out.” Whenever you see a contest about a food item you’ll probably see an example or two of the Hungry Zombie Fake Out. I wanted to specifically point out this common concept because right now, dozens of filmmakers across the county are probably having a conversation like this in preparation for the Crash the Superbowl contest:

Filmmaker 1: Ok so picture a guy walking down a dark street, eating a bag of Doritos. Suddenly, he sees a horde of hungry zombies so he runs. The zombies chase him down and trap him in a corner…

Filmmaker 2: Oh no! He’ll be killed!

Filmmaker 1: But that’s our twist! The zombie pounce on him but not to eat his brains…what they really wanted was his bag of Doritos!

Filmmaker 2: Awesome! You call everyone we know to be zombies and I’ll go to Party City and buy one of those Gallon jugs of fake blood.

And now, a few examples of the Hungry Zombie Fake Out:

Snickers contest entry:

Hienz Ketchup contest entry:

Doritos (Canada) Viralocity entry:

Home Run Inn contest entry:

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry:

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry:

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl entry:

And if all those entries aren’t enough to convince you not to do your own zombie-themed entry for the Crash the Superbowl contest, maybe this will. It’s an actual Doritos commercial that aired in Mexico that features a Hungry Zombie Fake Out!

Doritos Commercial (Mexico only)

Because the Crash the Superbowl contest receives so many entries using the same tropes, we’re going to try and run this feature a few more times before the contest closes in November.  Have you seen a popular idea that you think we should cover?  Send your suggestions to Videocontestnews@gmail.com.