Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

A forum for sharing views on the art of film, video and AV sequence making as well as on competitions, judging and festivals.
Jill Lampert
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Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by Jill Lampert » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:29 am

I'd be interested in people's views on the issues I raised in the article in the latest FVM. The only reaction I've had so far is a comment that many clubs put on competitions as an incentive for film makers to finish their films. I know that for me competitions have been a HUGE incentive for finishing films - and even for making particular films at all. For example, I can't imagine that it would have occurred to me to make a one minute film if my club hadn't had a one minute competition. I try to enter every competition as a way of making sure I do make films (and don't just think about it). I like getting feedback from a judge and seeing how my work compares with others. I find I enjoy watching the competitions much more if I have an entry. But I'm one of the lucky ones and I've been quite successful over the years. I wonder what it's like for film makers whose films are never quite in the top three? I worry that competitons might begin to be a disincentive rather than an incentive.

Jill

Michael Slowe
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Michael Slowe » Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:09 am

Jill, I think that you are so right, there's nothing like success in a competition or festival for encouraging further film making!

I read your article with interest but thought that you dissected the judging process a little too precisely. I still maintain that in viewing and judging a film (any viewer is judging, officially or unofficially), it is the initial gut re action that really counts. All the elements that go to making up a film are important and inter related and anything poorly done will affect appreciation of the film but by itself is not all that important. I abhor the idea of awarding points for items individually such as photography, audio, editing etc. Of course it is a lottery but you won't find that a really good film would ever get missed. It's the grading of the vast body of moderate quality entrants that seems to cause the trouble!

Jill Lampert
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Jill Lampert » Wed Jul 01, 2015 3:10 pm

Yes, Michael, I also dislike the idea of awarding points for particular aspects of film making. And I agree with you that gut reaction is the first response. But if I'm judging a competition, I do go back and think about reasons why I liked one film more than another. I do this partly as a check that I'm not just awarding it the prize because I am interested in the subject or I liked the style. I want to know why I liked the film and I want to be able to explain my reason to the film makers. Sometimes when I think about all the elements of a film I realise that I may have had a negative reaction to a film for some relatively trivial reason, and on thinking it over I may realise that there were all sorts of things that on reflection were really very good and perhaps that the film I liked at first wasn't so well made, but engaged me. Judging is hard!

Some judges find a points system helps them. Recently our club had a judge who had never judged a competition before. He had watched other competitions being judged by members of his club, and he felt that there was a tendency for the films which covered a topic they were interested in to do best. So when he judged for our club he invented his own scheme. He had three categories: Technical merit, How difficult it was to make the film, and entertainment value. He pointed out that the third was very subjective. He then awarded up to five points in each category. He found that though he had a clear winner and second, he had three films tying for third place.

One of the things which interests me is why our clubs are so 'competition' focussed? I don't know of any IAC event which is purely for the enjoyment of watching each other's films, with absolutely no competitive element?

Bob Lorrimer
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Bob Lorrimer » Wed Jul 01, 2015 4:07 pm

Jill, I believe we enter competitions to reinforce our perception of where we, as individuals, rank in the hierarchy of our film making peers whether it be Club Level or the more prestigious BIAFF. The RESULT defines our talent which is why we are all so defensive when we believe that our Master Work has been overlooked.

Fine, compelling film making will stand repeated viewing to some extent...vitality and brevity will generally make a film welcome even after many repeats. ( I watched one of my older films quite recently and it was even more dreadful than the films I make now!)

Some of our Club Members who are high achievers in our Club will now not enter their films into BIAFF as the they find the Judging offensive...or more correctly they see themselves as 'undermarked'!

Maybe they are undermarked...maybe not...it is far easier to sit on top of a film entry of 10 Club films than it is with an entry of 250.

I am reminded of the Headboy at my boarding School...he was Latvian and by golly - the Man could RUN as if he was being pursued by a pack of ravenous wolves.
On the Athletics ground he was an unassailable sprinter. He always led the 220 yards or the 100 yards by a measure of 10 or 20 paces..... the rest of us 'apres la guerre' weedlings were left in the far distance.

Worse, his astonishing turn of pace made him an acceptable Rugby player...for once in possession of the ball he could run in any direction he liked until eventually the whole opposition's team were gasping in a line behind him. He was imbued with an arrogance that came with his God like status.

One day the Head Master entered him into an inter County Athletics Championship ... the more Senior boys were permitted to go and see him sprint. Imagine then the shock when the RACE was RUN and our Latvian Sprinter came in LAST. I am not sure that he ever fully recovered from the indignities which he new he must face on returning to the School over whom he had so easily triumphed for so many years.

There is a moral.....We all have a talent....but some are more talented than others!

As film makers we are I am sure over possessed with our own work....we find it very difficult (me included) to accept criticism.....however, probably, we become better film producers (at our level) for the critique we have received. We find ourselves trying to be more precise in our edits or grading or audio because we have learned that if there is a 'mistake' someone somewhere will point it out to us!

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Dave Watterson » Wed Jul 01, 2015 6:29 pm

Busy with house guests so am reluctant to enter into this discussion yet ... but at a recent festival overseas I was amazed that a generally excellent jury could not cope with a modern shock-horror story. It was technically good, well acted and actually had a beginning, middle and end (more than many short films manage). Briefly the story was social workers trying to help homeless down-and-outs, but it transpires the food they give them dopes the desperate people. At night the "social workers" return and brutally murder their victims. So far it seems like rogue social workers finding an unorthodox solution to a problem ... then the final section showed that they worked for a new burger bar store which had oddly cheap meat !

What seemed to throw the jury was the sick, black humour of the story and some scenes of a woman apparently bludgeoning a man to death with a hammer.

At other times some of the jury got hung up on whether or not a film was a documentary, especially if some sequences were dramatic recreations. I found myself with several others arguing that the point was whether the message of the film was conveyed with reasonable honesty. There are some situations where for practical reasons or confidentiality you cannot show actual events but can show careful re-enactments.

I guess my point is that any judging system can have prejudices within it, because it depends on people. And people are not always 100% consistent or sensible.

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John Roberts
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by John Roberts » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:14 pm

Hi Jill, I echo the majority of the sentiments expressed above!

Personally, competition deadlines are a huge incentive for me to finish a particular film and I often plan my filmmaking activities around IAC club, regional or national competitions or festivals. To a certain extent I adjust my lifestyle too, such as telling my band they will have to go on world tour without me because it clashes with BIAFF!

I enter competitions because I love what I do and primarily I want to learn how to be a better filmmaker. I want to watch a competition winner under the same conditions as my own effort is being shown, and try and work out why a particular film succeeds or fails. If the judge is there to explain why, then all the better. I might not agree with his/her deliberations or result, but everything I see, everything I hear, goes in the melting pot for 'next time,' even if I choose to ignore it. I have had some reasonable successes with some of my films (I've also made some dreadful ones, some might argue I still do) and I've had my fair share of criticism over the years.

However, 'being there' for fellow filmmakers is a big part of it for me too. Doing this helps everyone, whether it's in your local clubroom or remotely via email or this forum, bouncing fresh ideas off other people or discussing a certain film's success or failure - this is all vital to the learning process, whether it's to identify where your own film went wrong or chatting to someone else about theirs. I'm always happy to help other people with any questions I can answer, in the same way I have been unendingly helped by far more experienced and successful filmmakers, from other regions and my own, without any prejudice whatsoever.

This is the key to stopping filmmakers walking out of the clubroom's door because they feel their films either aren't good enough or the judge was unfair or no-one is listening to them or worse still no-one seems to care. If a filmmaker wants to listen then they should listen, and more experienced fillmmakers should chat with them. If any one of these three elements is missing, the budding filmmaker is lost. Help can come in the form of online discussions, constructive clubroom chats about results and 'practical nights' - another source of invaluable information; either through a presentation from a more experienced filmmaker or simply a 'suck it and see' evening involving club members trying something out of their comfort zone. Every experiment is a success, even if it's a failure, because you learn for next time.

Clubs shouldn't solely be about competitions, they also need to encompass all the elements required to assemble a creditable competition entry. And the most valuable resource we have as filmmakers is each other.

John

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Dave Watterson » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:19 am

'being there' for fellow filmmakers is a big part of it for me too.
John has put his finger on a vital element in festivals that I feel, but have never formally recognised until he said it.

ned c
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by ned c » Thu Jul 02, 2015 3:30 pm

Yes; all film competitions are a lottery. The same film can be judged as many ways as there are judges available; we just have to get used to it and accept that complaining is a waste of time. We make films to be seen by an audience and the ideal situation is to be present with the audience and then discuss the film with them and get their reactions. It is interesting that the Audience Selection/Choice/Favorite at Festivals is often completely different from the judge's selection (see below).

Deadlines! An essential part of my life; without them I can expand anything to fill the endless time available. The old saying that "editing is never completed; just abandoned in the face of a deadline" is absolutely true. We have just completed the Summer Guerilla Festival here; three weeks to deliver a 5 minute film made to a specified title. At the showing an interesting result; there were top two awards neither of which we won but we did win the audience choice award by a landslide. See the result here!


ned c

ps a huge thank-you to the many film makers who made us so welcome at BIAFF; next year we will come over earlier so that we are not jet lagged zombies.

Bob Lorrimer
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Re: Are Film Competitons a Lottery?

Post by Bob Lorrimer » Thu Jul 02, 2015 4:02 pm

Ned,

Your link is not a link..you might want to try again or copy and paste ?
Ed: I have made it a link now.
Not sure where to explain the details, but to put Vimeo into a post on this forum...
Click the "Vimeo" button above the message area which puts [vimeo][/vimeo] onto the page.
Between the two sets of brackets put the vimeo number [vimeo]number[/vimeo].
That number is the one which appears on the Vimeo address https://vimeo.com/number]


*****

Are film Competitions a lottery?

Well NO - they are not.....the good films will rise like bubbles to the surface. However the final selection of the winning films will always give rise to dispute or question because of the subjective nature of the material.....and the human beings who pass judgement upon that material.

A "Lottery" implies that any one individual 'entry' might win. In a film competition that is not going to happen. An 'indifferently' made film can nevertheless 'engage' and a 'good' well made production can still be dull. ' Engaging or connecting emotionally ' with an audience (or Judge) is the essence of film production.

Make an audience, laugh, cry or think and you are half way to the Winner's Podium!

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by Dave Watterson » Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:36 pm

I spent last Tuesday in a meeting with an officer of the Eurofilmers. They are an association of clubs and individuals in several central European nations. Until recently they have been mainly a German-speaking organisation, but are now making real efforts to reach the English-speaking lands.

Their expressed purpose is to keep it all friendly. They have competitions, called Forums, in three separate areas. The best films from those go forward to an annual weekend festival. They aim squarely at amateur film makers, not film students or young-professionals. They recently revised their rules for judges. If I grasped the system correctly:

The jury members are required to score several qualities of each film.
Each film begins with 7 points for each quality.
They judges can award up to 3 extra points, or remove as much as 4 points from the score for each quality.

The qualities are (roughly speaking):
Ideas
Research
Dramaturgy
Sound - aesthetics
Sound - technical quality
Camera work - technical quality
Camera work - aesthetics
Editing
Other qualities

Jury members get detailed notes on what sort of things to look for in each of those.

The jury members remain anonymous, but scores are averaged and 76-90 points wins gold, 68-75 wins silver, 58-67 wins bronze.

The judging is done in advance but results are not announced until the end of the festival. The jury leader will say a few carefully chosen words about each film, trying to be positive and encouraging. Film makers can get a copy of the score sheet for their film so that they can see which aspects of their work went down well and which did not.

The Eurofilmers believe this keeps the element of excitement about competitions but reduces the depression/anger that can be felt at festivals where the jury speaks about each film.

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TimStannard
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by TimStannard » Sat Jul 11, 2015 9:17 pm

That's an interesting concept, Dave, which has the merit of trying to standardise a system (and rather more so than the BIAFF model), but like any such system it is open to criticism. Something that would immediately jump out at me from this is that editing can take as long to learn as camera skills, but on any given film far more time will be spent on that than on any other aspect of production. Indeed edting affects (for better or worse) every aspect of the film, from the plot to the drama to the look and the sound. Yet here it can only affect the score half as much as camera work.
(I tend to subscribe to Kuleshov school of thought: "The raw material for a director was the pieces of celluloid (and shooting the scene is merely “preparing the materials”), which are entirely subject to the will of the director who assembles them. " and that of Pudovkin



And I realise I haven't responded to Jill. I refer specifically to BIAFF and similar festivals where panels are assembled for judging.

I'd suggest the general rankings (star ratings) are certainly not a lottery, but there is an element of luck, good and bad, for a few films. These would be the films where a large number of judges would have scored a film higher or lower than the panel awarded. The panel may have missed or failed to appreciate something. It happens. Get over it :)

Having shortlisted the candidates for top awards, however, this is a bit more of a lottery. The nature of a "best" award is such that any one of several candidates could win it. What's perhaps more galling is that your film might be considerably "better" than the winner last year, but this year there are seven others that re also considerably "better" than last years winner.

Does it matter? I don't know, I've only won at a club and only achieved 4 stars (and certainly don't believe I've deserved better), but if I ever reach the dizzy heights of five or diamond awards, I'll let you know if my current view of "it's the taking part that counts" still stands.

But truthfully for now the value lies in the judges comments (whilst I can generally accurately predict most comments I receive, there are always one or two things than make me think again) and for me the big "competition" is to get my films selected for screening. Having had two films in previous BIAFFs selected for Sunday screening in previous years I was surprised at how disappointed I felt upon learning that my films had "only" been selected for a Saturday screening this year. See? A taste of success, however minor, begins to breed a feeling of deserving more of the same.

The other thing to note that can give one an over-inflated opinion of their own work is that people generally like to be liked (or failing that, at least tend to be polite), so they will come up and praise your films if they feel they deserve praise, but will avoid mentioning it if they think it sucks.

One of my films was shown at the Mermaid, last year and a surprising number of people came up and said how much they enjoyed it. Martine (my wife who wrote the lyrics) was consequently surprised when, out of eight films, it didn't feature in the top three as voted for by the audience. I had to point out to her that a hell of a lot more people didn't compliment us on it and just may have hated it and also just because someone likes a film, it doesn't mean they don't like others better. For me, the honour was in having had the film selected by North Thames to represent them and sitting at a screening where 100? 200? people were watching it.

You can't get that feeling on the internet!
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it

ned c
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by ned c » Mon Jul 13, 2015 3:23 pm

The problem with the "numerical" approach is that it breaks a film down into discreet components that are assessed and given values. But, in my view a film is all "of a piece" it is a total effect on the viewer and examining the details is like looking at a painting and working out what paints, brushes,base color, direction of the light and the painter's mental condition were at the time. Interesting to some and contributing elements to the whole but having no real individual effect on the viewer; it is the sum of the parts that matters not the parts. This is the problem of having film makers assess films, they (we) tend to be obsessed with "how it was done" and tend to see past the story to the materials and structure. Wouldn't it be interesting to have BIAFF/AMPS judged by a panel of film watchers with absolutely no interest in the technology of film making; some surprising results I am sure.

I realize that the numerical value approach is an attempt to distance the judge's personal bias from the evaluation but it does depend on an agreed set of "rules" for the various elements. Can I put away my dislike of the heavy use of flashbacks but my love of disjointed timelines? I know we have been here many times before but remember that film making is a potential art form (I say potential because many commercial films are made with only a financial objective and a specific audience) and in the amateur world free from the financial constraints then art should rule. We invite ourselves to be judged but must accept that judging art is a personal journey and more fool us if we take the results too seriously.

Yes Jill, Film Competitions are a Lottery because judges are human!

ned c

A.K. Williams
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by A.K. Williams » Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:37 pm

There are many ways in which anyone might comment on the value of competition and its' usefulness, but it is only through personal experience that any one might be affected and if the 'result' is good for us then competition is good for us.

I agree with ned cs' final comment pretty much, but in my view and in my own words, the real 'lottery' lies with the judge(s) preferences and nothing else, the human element and the difficulties it faces will always present the weakest link.

Tony Williams.

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Willy
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by Willy » Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:53 pm

Many thanks for your interesting thread, Jill! I only feel that I must be careful to say some things. They may be interpreted in a wrong way, also because Dutch is my mother-tongue. But it is a discussion forum, so ...

Yes, John. Good films always rise like bubbles to the surface. Just like Jill I have been successful over the years. In the beginning my bubbles were very big. Maybe they were too big. Diamond awards in 2001 and 2002. At that time called "international medallions". I was in my mid-fifties and unknown. Now I am soixante-neuf. My bubbles are still relatively big, and I am happy with them, but I feel they are (getting) smaller. That's life. But I have always wondered if my documentaries in 2005 and 2007 were not so good anymore. There is a time of coming. There is a time of going. Of course there are always exceptions like Michael.

And as Dave and other forum-friends say every judging system depends on people. They are not always 100% consistent and sensible.

Everybody knows that I appreciate the judges' comments at BIAFF. At other international film festivals you don't receive any judges' comments. Even the results are not forthcoming. Very frustrating! I think there are competitions with almost 1,000 entries. I am sure they are lotteries for more than one reason.

The value lies in the judges' comments, says Tim. There are always one or two things that make him think again. Me too, Tim, but... why not saying it ? ... I have the feeling that there is more hair splitting in the criticism than 10-15 years ago. That's a pity. Some judges can even detect the tiniest mosquitoes. In my opinion they use magnifying glasses to watch certain films. Others can hear ants running up and down.

Ned is right. We tend to be obsessed with how a film was made and tend to see past the story to materials and structure...

Just like Jill I like getting feedback from a judge and seeing how my work compares with others. Everybody is more or less competitive. But feedback does not always mean that your films are getting better and better. That is an ilusion and after some time you may lose your illusions and become disillusioned. Please, it does not mean that I am disillusioned at the moment. I think I am more realistic than a decade ago. One young friend said to me that his next film will be more 'challenging'. "But whether it is better will be seen", he added. That's a good thought because a competition can be a lottery.

Tim felt that upon learning that his films had only be selected for Saturday screenings this year... Me too, Tim. You are not the only one. And I was surprised to experience again that even on Sunday not all winners were present to receive their awards.

This year most films on Sunday were fantastic and everything was well-organized. The winning films were the best! That is beyond any dispute. There were "Nothing Girls" this time. I enjoyed all movies. They were all "blockbusters". Bubbles risen to the surface!

But what a disillusion on Saturday ! I think there were too many mini-cinemas. Vom Guten zu viel. Better 2 cinemas than 5. "My cinema" was almost empty. And there were films with no bubbles at all. Not made for a wide audience. To be honest I wonder why I have made an English version of my "Master of Time". Translating/subtitling films takes some time.

Now I also wonder: will it be worth translating my next film called "From Bach to The Beatles"? Theme: a male choir. Not all films are for festivals and competitions. But I am almost sure that the 50 singers and their members of family will enjoy my documentary. I am looking forward to showing "From Bach to The Beatles" at the première in my village.
Willy Van der Linden

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Are Film Competitions a Lottery?

Post by Dave Watterson » Wed Jul 15, 2015 11:16 am

I suspect Willy means "there were no 'Nothing Girls' ..." referring to a film from BIAFF 2006 which split the audience into two arguing groups. Some loved it. Some hated it.

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