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Archive for the ‘contest news’ Category

Good news for freelancers: Healthcare.gov finally seems to be working

Are you sick of hearing about Obamacare yet?  Well yeah….sorry about that.  It’s sort of my fault that we had to go through all this Affordable Care Act stuff.  You see I’m one of 30 million Americans without health insurance.  Actually, I haven’t had insurance (or an official employer) for more than four years now.  I guess you could say I was one of the first people pushed into the “new economy” after the Great Recession.  In the fall of 2008 I was working for an A/V company that kept me stationed at a fancy hotel in the financial district of Chicago.  We’d set up and run huge meetings and parties for a lot of companies that turned out to be major players in the 2008 crash.  I’ll never forget the day when my boss called me and said that my schedule for the next week had been changed from 40 hours to 8 hours.  It turns out one of our biggest clients, Lehman Brothers, had cancelled all their upcoming events because the company had just declared bankruptcy.

After that, things fell apart pretty quickly.  Our new business dried up and my hours were cut in half for the rest of the year.  About a dozen of our biggest clients were seeking government bailouts and I guess most of them realized it wouldn’t look too good if they were caught spending $50,000 on banquets at a luxury hotel.

By the spring of 2009 it was all over.  My company laid me off along with about 50 other local A/V techs.  Since the job market was suddenly flooded by a bunch of guys who had way more experience than I did, I knew my career in A/V was probably over.  Eventually I got back on my feet thanks to video contests.  There was a good stretch of time where my only income came from winning them.  Today I make money in a few different ways but my main source of income comes from freelance editing.  I don’t miss my old job at all and I love the freedom that comes with being my own boss.  But the downside is that I haven’t been able to afford health insurance in more than four years.

Until now.

Staring on January 1 I’ll be covered by Blue Cross thanks to that “train wreck” called Obamacare!  Last week I went to Healthcare.gov and the site worked like a charm.  Once I got into “the marketplace” I was shocked by how good and how affordable the plans actually are.  About a year ago I tried to buy health insurance on my own and the best price I could find was about $300 a month for a plan that was basically a piece of junk.  (It was the kind of plan that’s now illegal to sell thanks to the affordable care act.)  On the government exchange I was able to buy a “silver” plan from Blue Cross at a VERY fair price.  Plus I qualified for a tax credit and that will save me a few hundred bucks a year.  And to my surprise, I was also able to buy dental insurance in the marketplace too.  It blows my mind that so many people think that the Affordable Care Act is going to hurt this country. The insurance industry was out of control and we really needed the government to step in and regulate things.

If you’re a freelancer or a self-employed producer and you don’t have insurance, now’s your chance to go buy a little piece of mind.  Like I said, you might be surprised by the kind of plans you can actually buy on Healthcare.gov.  (I was surprised to learn that 100% of preventative care is covered in all plans, even the cheap “bronze” plans.)  You might want to sign up sooner rather than later because if I’ve learned anything from the Crash the Super Bowl contest, 90% of people are going to wait until the last minute to sign up.  One final tip:  If you tried to sign up for the exchange in October, you should try creating a new account.  I created an account weeks ago but I kept getting an error message when I tried to log in again.  I think the old accounts never got verified so I just started over and I was able to sign up without encountering a single glitch.


Help Kickstart this clever, low-budget camera rig

Some production pals of mine are running a Kickstarter to help fund the production of the cool new camera rig they designed.  They sent me a prototype a few weeks ago and the thing is super handy.  It’s great for shoulder-mounted shooting but there are lots of other tricks you can do with this thing.  I’ll let the  Motion Source team explain the benefits and attributes of the rig:

These guys have set a very achievable kickstarter goal; they want to raise $1,000 so they can buy a machine that will help their manufacturer produce the rigs faster.  The campaign has only been active for a few days but already they’ve raised more than 900 bucks!  You can probably attribute their success to the rewards they’re offering to contributors.  If you kick in $29 they will donate one of the rigs to a the Chicago film school of your choice and if you donate $69 (heh) or more you’ll receive one of the very first finished rigs.  That’s a pretty good deal since these will cost closer to 100 bucks when they officially go on sale.

If you want to contribute, or if you’d like to see more videos of the rig in action, head here:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/motionsource/the-motion-source-shoulder-rig-for-dslr-and-video

The Canon 70D’s new auto-focus feature actually looks pretty good

I recently started shooting a new documentary project for a local burlesque troupe (nice work if you can get it) and while I was filming my first rehearsal I realized that my DSLR just wasn’t going to cut it this time.  The depth of field was just too shallow and the performers were always going in and out of focus as they moved around the stage.  So I’ve started shopping for a new camera that’s good in low light and can auto-focus.  I haven’t made up my mind yet but I’m probably going to go with the Canon XF100.  All the I’ve seen looks really great and all the reviews say it’s perfect for documentaries.

But the other day, a photographer friend told me I should check out the new Canon 70D.  He said it was supposed to have a “revolutionary” new auto-focus feature.   I wasn’t expecting much from the camera because my Canon T4i was supposed to have a pretty good auto-focus too.  But I’ve found the feature to be totally worthless.  In Auto-mode the T4i is always loudly zipping in and out of focus and can never make up its mind about what it should concentrate on.

I figured the 70D would feature a slightly improved version of the T4i’s auto-focus.  But based on the camera tests I’ve seen, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Here’s a review from a sorta-kooky camera vlogger named .  He does something great in this video; he first demonstrates the auto-focus features of a few different DSLR before finally showing us how the 70D performs.  The 70D footage starts at 4:50:

Compared to those other cameras, the 70D’s “Dual Pixel” auto-focus really does look revolutionary.  The camera never has to hunt for the primary subject and it also never does wild, blurry focus re-sets.  And the motor is whisper-quiet which is another huge plus.  The auto-focus isn’t 100% perfect but it looks like a skilled camera assistant is pulling the focus as the subject moves around the room.  The image kind of looks like someone stuck a DSLR lens on a regular camcorder.

Here’s another good test video that features some sketchy eminem-looking dude creeping around people’s backyards.

Again, the autofocus wasn’t perfect but it’s certainly good enough for low budget documentaries or video contest entries.  If I were to buy a new DSLR right now, this would be the one.  I think I paid like $900 for my T4i kit last year and the D70 (body only) is currently going for $1,200 on amazon.  That’s a damn fair price.  So if you’re thinking of upgrading (maybe before you shoot your Crash the Super Bowl entry) you may want to check out the 70D.


Hotel’s “dream job” sounds a little like slave labor



Brace yourselves.  Winter is coming.  If you’re not looking forward to a long season of ice and sleet and snow and white walkers you may want to shoot an entry for Hotel Iguanazul’s “Costa Rica Dream Job” video contest.  If you win you’ll get to spend 3 months at the Iguanazul Resort in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica! Here’s how the sponsor describes the contest:

Always wanted to work in the tropics? Here’s your chance!  Are you a dynamic self-motivated and experienced blogger with knowledge/experience of the hospitality industry and a thirst for eco-adventure?  Upload a video showing why you should win this opportunity. You could win 3 months working as a Social Media Marketer at Hotel Iguanazul just south of Tamarindo, Costa Rica communicating what this tropical paradise has to offer.

Three months in paradise sounds pretty sweet!  Of course, there are a few strings attached to this “oppertunity.”  If you look through the contest rules you’ll discover that the “prize’ really is a job….a job that doesn’t actually pay you anything.  Here’s what you’ll receive if you win the resort’s contest:

  1. The opportunity to serve, for three months as a blogger for the Hotel Iguanazul in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica and Eco Tourism in the area and a 3 month trip for one to Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
  2. Round-trip economy air transportation from major airport nearest winner’s residence in the United States (up to a total of $1,500 including all taxes and fees) to Liberia, Costa Rica.
  3. Round trip ground transportation from the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica to Hotel Iguanazul up to a total of $250
  4. Hotel accommodations and three meals per day for ninety days at the Hotel Iguanazul.

During you’re stay you’ll be earning your keep by writing three blog posts a week during your 12 week stay.  $13,750 for 36 blog posts probably sounds pretty enticing.  It just so happens that I’m writing a blog post right now and I can tell you, it ain’t exactly the toughest job in the world.  But if you actually think about the prize that the sponsor is offering, you’ll realize that the winner is going to get a pretty raw deal.

The rules state that the total ARV of these prizes is $13,750. $250 of that is for ground transportation to and from the resort and $1,500 is for a round trip plane ticket.  That leaves $12,000.  But that money doesn’t go to you.  That’s the cost of a 3 month stay (plus 3 squares a day) at the Hotel Iguanazul.

So the sponsor expects the “winner” to basically live on zero dollar a day for three months.  Sure, you’ll be at a fancy resort but you’ll essentially be a prisoner there.  If you want to buy some sunscreen or a souvenir or a Milky Way from the vending machine you’re S.O.L unless you brought some cash with you.  The cost of your stay probably includes tons of activities but what happens when you get sick of snorkeling and lobster and you just want to get some pizza and watch a movie?  Anyone who wins this contest will have to go three months without earning an income of any kind.  What are you supposed to tell you cell phone, credit card or student loan companies?  They’re not going to stop sending you bills just because you took a break from life to go blog in South America for the winter.  And hey, let’s not forget about the IRS.  Even though you’re not going to earn a single dollar during your trip, and even though the hotel isn’t actually going to spend $12,000 (they lose nothing by putting you up in an empty hotel room) you better believe that you’re going to have to pay taxes on the prize the sponsor has valued at $13,750.

But now that I think about it, 3 months without pay isn’t even the worst thing about this prize.  The worst thing is that you’re essentially going to be all alone during your stay.  Unless you have a friend that’s willing to visit you, you’re going to be living in a hotel room all by yourself.  Three, free meals a day at a resort sounds pretty amazing….until you imagine yourself eating those meals alone at a table for one in the same restaurant day after day after day.  Maybe you’ll meet some cool tourists once in a while but retirees and couples on their honeymoon probably won’t want to spend their vacations hanging out with the hotel’s official blogger.  I suppose maybe you could become buddies with some of the people that work at the resort.  But I just checked and it looks like most of the staff is from Costa Rica.  I’m sure they’re all nice people but let’s be honest, few people on the staff will want to fraternize with someone who is technically a guest.

I googled the Iguanazul and the resort was once featured on the Travel Channel show “Hotel Impossible.”  I’ve never seen that show before but I guess a travel expert goes to failing hotels and points out problems and berates the owners.  You can see some clips of the Iguanazul episode here.  Maybe the host was exaggerating a bit but it sounds like the place kind of sucks and the owner just doesn’t care about his business anymore.  The show made the hotel look really bad (there were millions of termites, everything was moldy and dirty and coconuts were left hanging in trees that could fall and kill somebody) and that episode has become of of the top google results for the term “Hotel Iguanazul.”  So maybe this video contest is the manager’s half-hearted attempt to fix their google problem  He probably figures that if he can generate a ton of blog posts about the resort during the busy season, they might bury the Travel Channel clips.

So this whole deal sounds weird and shady and I recommend that you skip this contest.  But if you love adventure and dining alone and if you don’t have any debts or personal obligations tying you down, maybe you should go ahead and submit an entry.  If you win, be sure to watch out for falling coconuts! 


QUICK! Hurry and do this thing before midnight!

A longtime pal of VCN named Joe B, sent me an e-mail on friday asking me to help get him some votes in the “Camp Gladiator” video contest.  I was filming all weekend which means I wasn’t able to post his request until now.  Turns out Joe is ahead by only 4 votes and voting ends at midnight tonight.  If even a dozen people see this post and vote for him that might put him over the top.  The grand prize is $5,000 and Joe deserves it.  His entry is awesome and the video in 2nd ain’t so great.  So go vote for Joe!

Follow this link:  http://bit.ly/15y5FRV

Then “like” the page when you are prompted to do so.  Then click the VOTE button when it appears.  That’s it!


John Boehner, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, apparently does not understand what a “video contest” is

On August 19th, The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius announced the “Healthy Young America Video Contest.”  The contest is being run by a group named “Young Invincibles” and its goals are to promote the positive aspects of the Affordable Care act and to encourage young Americans to sign up for health insurance.  The contest is small and harmless (only $30,000 in prizes are at stake) but conservatives started tearing the project apart as soon as it was launched.  One of the very first “entries” came from the office of the Speaker of House, John Boehner.  On August 22nd, his team posted this “entry” for the Affordable Care Act video contest on Boehner’s official, government-funded, blog:


According to CNN.com, “Those seven million are expected to come specifically from employment-based coverage and many of them, the CBO anticipates, will be joining the insurance exchanges that the ACA setup instead.”  But I guess that little detail got left off the poster because it’s funnier to scare people into thinking that they might not have health insurance because of the ACA.

Apparently John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Republican in the United States of America does not understand that you can’t submit a POSTER to a VIDEO contest.  And what’s really disturbing is that even though the media has pointed out the fact that photoshopped posters are not videos, Boehner has gone on to sarcastically “submit” two more posters to the contest.  Now obviously, John Boehner isn’t sitting at his computer, designing these images himself.  (The man doesn’t even understand how to properly operate a spray-tanning booth so we can assume that Photoshop is probably way over his head.)  It looks like the entries are being designed and posted by Boehner’s Digital Communications Director, Caleb Smith. But Boehner has been proudly promoting the posters on Twitter.



I get what these guys are trying to do with these posters but their execution is just lazy and embarrassing.  If Team Boehner had actually made an effort to create a sarcastic video for the Young Invincibles contest, it could have been a really clever burn on the President.  even refers to himself as a “Video Storyteller” on twitter.  I’m sure the guy knows Final Cut Pro or iMove.  All he had to do was animate the layers of the posters he made and add some condescending voice over and boom, Speaker Boehner’s got a legitimate entry that they contest organizers would actually have to accept or reject.

But I think what really bothers me here is the fact that Speaker’s Communications Department clearly understands that they have been pretending to submit goofy posters to a contest that only accepts video submissions.  But to paraphrase Adam Savage Dr. Who, they have decided to reject reality and substitute their own.  Here’s a quote from the Speaker’s blog that explains their motivations.

“Young Americans know the least about” ObamaCare, and we’re fixing to do something about that. Not only that, we’re doing it in style by joining the Obama administration’s health ad contest, in which citizens are encouraged to create a song, or a graphic or a video” about this ‘wonderful’ law.

The “Young Invicibles” contest has three categories.  Contestants can submit a video of themselves performing a song, an animation or a video about how young people are “not invincible.”   But it turns out that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a little slip-up when she first announced the contest.  In the middle of her speech about the video contest she misspoke and used the word “graphic” instead of “animation.”  Any reasonable, thoughtful human being who watched or who read about the announcement in the paper or who checked out the contest’s website or who read the official rules would understand what she meant.  But I guess the folks who work in John Boehner’s Communications Department are not reasonable, thoughtful people.  They pounced on Sebelius’ quote and then distorted the facts of the contest to fit their own goals.  They wanted to mock “Obamacare” but they didn’t want to spend a whole afternoon making a video.  So they just ignored the fact that this is unquestionably a video contest and present one, misspoken word as the truth.  The Speaker’s blog doesn’t even mention the competition’s real name since that would make their joke-posters look pretty stupid.  Instead they refer to the Young Invicibles’ “Healthy Young America Video Contest” as the “Obama administration’s health care ad contest.”

This whole dumb story is actually a perfect example of one of the things that’s wrong with the modern republican party.  If the right can’t back up their beliefs with facts, they have to twist and distort the truth so it appears to support their claims.  Remember this motto from the 2nd day of the 2012 Republican National Convention?

Fun Fact: The 2012 convention was held in a convention center built with public funds

Fun Fact: The 2012 RNC convention was held in a convention center built with public funds

For a whole day, a litany of right-wing speakers bashed President Obama because he said that if you have a small business in America, “You didn’t build that.”  Though President Obama really did use the exact phrase “you didn’t build that” it was clear to anyone who read the full quote that he meant that individuals didn’t build public roads or the Internet.  And hardcore political junkies even recognized that President Obama was just delivering a clunkier version of an impromptu remark from Elizabeth Warren that went viral in 2011.

So here’s what the President actually said:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Someone at FOX & Friends realized that if they took the quote out of context and only played the line “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” they could distort what the president meant without technically misquoting him.  So FOX ran the part of the line that made President Obama look bad and they cut out the part that explained what he meant.  According to Media Matters, “In the two days that followed Fox’s initial misrepresentation of Obama’s remarks, the network devoted 42 segments and more than two hours of airtime to misrepresenting Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks.”  And so, the “you didn’t build that” myth was born and eventually a giant “We did build that!” sign was erected above the stage of the 2012 Republican national Convention.  Even though independent fact-checkers excoriated FOX news, and even though every person who spoke at the RNC Convention probably understood what President Obama actually mean, they all decided that they were going to stick with the lie they had concocted because it was politically convenient.

And that’s why this story about John Boehner’s posters is worth talking about.  It’s not just some random joke. We now live in a country where one of the two major parties has decided that the truth is open to interpretation and that it can be twisted whenever a gimmick needs a little support.  The president makes an awkward statement and that quote gets warped and misrepresented and eventually it becomes one of the main themes of the 2012 RNC convention.  And if the Secretary of Health and Human Services has a slip of the tongue and says one wrong word then the Speaker of the House of the United States of America can flat out misrepresent reality just so he can make a cheap, intellectually dishonest joke on his blog.

Video Contest News turns 4 years old!?


More candle than cake

If you work for the NSA you probably already know this but yesterday I got an e-mail from Godaddy that said my registration for the domain VideoContestNews.com had just auto-renewed for another year.  I’m tempted to say “it’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since I started VCN” but you know what?  I totally believe that it’s been four years.  It feels like I’ve been running this site for half my life.  (It’s only been 1/3rd of my life.  I’m actually 12.)  I probably spend about 5 hours a week working on VCN so that would mean I’ve sunk about 1,000 hours into this blog.  I just checked and according to my WordPress dashboard, I’ve published 460 blog posts since I launched Video Contest News in September, 2009.  That’s sort of an absurd amount.  Some of my posts can be really, freaking long.  Man….instead of blogging, I could have spent the last four years writing a book about video contests that no one would ever want to publish or read.

But Fortunately (and still to my surprise) people do like to visit and read VCN.  I used to see a relatively huge spike in traffic every year during the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  But for the last two years, VCN’s “off season” numbers have been climbing steadily.  June, July and August are usually pretty slow (all web traffic dips in the summer) but this year we managed to pull in at least 6,000 unique visits a month.  But like I said, things get really crazy in the fall and early winter thanks to our Crash the Super Bowl coverage.  Back in January, VCN had its busiest month ever; more than 33,000 people visited the site after the Crash the Super Bowl finalists were announced.

If you’re a new reader or a long-time fan, I’d like to thank you for visiting VCN and reading my dork-tastic ramblings.  I’d also like to give a special shout out to Video Contest News’ two primary sponsors; Tongal and Mofilm.  Their support is what helps keep this site up and running.  To demonstrate my gratitude, I will eat a cupcake in honor of both companies tonight.  Ah, what the hell…I will eat a cupcake in honor of all of you tonight.  You deserve a little recognition for a change and I deserve to eat thousands and thousands of cupcakes!


Facebook is going to start shoving commercials into your (already spam-filled) newsfeed

Glob help us.  According to Bloomberg, Facebook is about to get a hell of a lot more annoying.  An unnamed source from inside the company claims that Facebook will soon start selling 15-second long “TV-style ads” for as much as 2.5 Million dollars a day.  Where would those commercials go?  Right in your newsfeed of course.  This is from Bloomberg:

While the social network already allows advertisers to upload videos to their Facebook page and then broadcast them to a user’s news feed, the new service would let marketers buy their way directly into a person’s feed with a 15-second pitch, according to the people. That’s typically the minimum length of a television commercial.

It’s still not clear how exactly this is going to work.  But to me it sounds like these commercials are going to be set to (ugh) auto-play.  It’s the only way this plan would make sense.  Right now, a company can make a video and post it to facebook and everyone lots of people who like the company’s page will see the video in their news feed.  This new plan would get ads in front of users even if they don’t like the sponsors page but that fact alone doesn’t really warrant the 2.5 million dollar price tag.  And it also doesn’t fit with Facebook’s desire to compete with TV networks for advertisers.  Again, this is from Bloomberg:

With Facebook, the idea would be to capitalize on the millions of users who actively check the site on a daily basis, including during the prime-time hours coveted by television advertisers. As of last quarter, 61 percent of Facebook members were using the site daily — a number that has risen despite management predictions that it would decline.

“Every night, 88 million to 100 million people are actively using Facebook during prime-time TV hours in the United States alone,” Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said last week on a conference call about second-quarter results.

It looks like Ad Age has actually been on this story for a while and their sources have been talking about auto-play ads since last year.  This is from an Ad Age article from December:

In what’s sure to be a controversial move, the visual component of the Facebook video ads will start playing automatically — a dynamic known as “autoplay” — according to two of the executives. Facebook is still debating whether to have the audio component of the ads activated automatically as well, one of these people said.

And here’s a new Ad Age story from April:

While the format of the units isn’t totally nailed down, it’s widely assumed that they’ll be autoplay and presented in a video player that expands beyond the main news-feed real estate to cover the right- and left-hand rails of users’ screens on the desktop version of Facebook, which Ad Age reported in December. (Facebook has also been at work on a way to make video ads stand out on mobile apps, though it’s still unclear how it intends to accomplish this.)

So….isn’t that exciting!  Now we all get to sit and watch a 15-second commercial before we’re allowed to start using facebook.  I’m sure that everyone will love this new feature and no one one, anywhere will complain.  Ok but seriously people are going to lose their shit the first time an autoplay ad pops up in their newsfeed.  I think a lot of users will just start clicking away from Facebook rather than sit through the same commercial over and over and over.   And yes, you will see the same videos many, many times because apparently the ads will be targeted.  So heavy users can expect to see the same commercials up to 3 times a day.

But there is a little bit of good news here.  A lot of companies are already using video contests and open spec assignments to get video content for their facebook pages.  So I think we’re going to see a lot of big commercial contests where the goal will be to find new auto-play ads for facebook.  These commercials are going to have to be entertaining as hell to ensure that people don’t leave facebook whenever a commercial pops up.  Creating funny, unique, compelling videos ain’t easy and I think a lot of companies will get frustrated and eventually turn to “the crowd” for wacky, outside-the-box style content.


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