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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 .

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3 Responses to “Know your Tropes: ZOMBIES!”

  1. Excellent post.

    Also, I would say that the whole “food fake out” in general is a trope you could do. I have seen so many entries where someone is making sounds like they’re having sex only to reveal, OH MY GOD! They’re just eating the food!

  2. jake says:

    If you’re talking crash the superbowl you have to do ninjas. Last year there were a million ninja videos and they were all lame.

  3. Beardy says:

    Ha! I was planning to do a post on ninjas! The twist though is that last year, a Crash the Superbowl ninja entry actually made it to the finals and aired on TV!

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