This is an interview of Selim Mete, a talented filmmaker who spends 50% of his time – he says it – participating in video contests. He has been active (and winning) on various platforms such as eYeka, Mofilm, Poptent or Tongal (listed in alphabetical order) and was nice enough to sit down with me for a Skype chat.
Selim talked about the increasingly tough competition among worldwide filmmakers, about companies not always using the videos that they purchase through crowdsourcing, and compared the different platforms. His experience in contest participation is worth a lot for a PhD student like me, hoping to better understand the creative crowdsourcing phenomenon. Here are some excerpts of our chat.
Hello Selim, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Well, I’m originally from Turkey but I got my B.A. in Film from Boston University, and from there I went to Los Angeles to work in outdoor advertising. Then I came to Vancouver and started freelancing as a cinematographer.
One of the projects I was working on was being directed by Lloyd Choi, a Mofilm superstar I know here in Vancouver, and he asked me to work on it as a cinematographer, and it was a Mofilm Pro project, it wasn’t a contest, it was something that was commissioned by Mofilm to a particular person to just shoot it for a client. That was my introduction to crowdsourcing, and I thought “This looks interesting” and started participating on my own in projects. I participated in Mofilm’s Renaissance Hotels contest, which was my first contest, and I won the first prize.
Does the brand or the product matter for you to participate?
Well, definitely the brand plays a role, you need to believe in the brand and the product that you are advertising. Especially since on the more creative end of things, where we need to write our own scripts and create a video spot almost from scratch. It’s not something coming through an agency already written, storyboarded, talent chosen and finally I’m the director just basically putting together the last bits. When they choose those directors, they do it because they had work that is similar to what they want, and at that point you’re just assembling the final product.
But in our case, in such contests, there is a lot of room to in all kind of directions and shake things up, early on.
What part of your life does contest participation take today?
It’s not a hobby, I’d say 50-50 to give you a rough estimate, even if it depends on the season and what’s going on. But because I have won on Tongal, Poptent and Mofilm, I receive the private invitations for contests, which makes it harder to turn down. Especially for Poptent, whenever they send a private invite, you get the number of people whot are going in, that can be 5 or 15, and then you have a better idea of what you’re up against. It makes a difference whether it’s the entire world, hundreds of people, or just 20 people.
In completely open contests, there is a lot of uncertainty. I go into them if I have personal reasons to get into that: a brand or a subject that I really think I can do much better than the average person. A good example is eYeka’s contest for the Turkish Tourism Board, Turkey Fascinates. Since I planned to travel to Turkey, and since I’m Turkish and I know where to go, and I also know like a tourist because I spend very little time in Turkey. I definitely had a reason because not only was it something that I was personally passionate about, but I also had a competitive advantage.
To be honest with you, without going to Turkey, that is a tough contest. I’ve been impressed by some of the others’ entries, because it’s interesting to see what some people who obviously haven’t been to Turkey can put together using motion graphics and photos. And it’s nice.
Can it be something else than a country, or a topic?
Yeah, sometimes there is a visual style or a concept that I already want to try, if I read the brief and I say “Oh there is this thing, that I wanted to do, now I can do it with this contest.” For example I’ve worked on – I didn’t win at that one – a perfume contest, and another one I won on eYeka, it was Garnier Men, quite some time ago. In that one, I wanted to do something like that already, and I saw it, and I jumped on board, and I won the second or third prize, I don’t remember exactly.
What was the thing you wanted to try?
It was a visual technique. I had done a fashion video using that technique, some people call it “freelensing” because you detach the lens from the camera and you shoot, holding the lens in your hand, it sounds weird but… It creates light effects in cameraand stuff like that, you can see the light coming in from the different angles. After I used that technique in the fashion/lingerie video, I wanted to use it in another sport, energy, high-energy kind of thing, that’s what the Garnier Men face wash was. They were looking for people who are active, who get things done, who have a routine and so on, so…
What was the best contest you’ve ever entered?
There was a Chevrolet contest on Mofilm, and it was Chevrolet that wanted a minute-long spot. Personally I like it, but it’s hard to explain. They had an original TV spot, and this spot introduced the warehouse of missed opportunities. So the main character goes into this warehouse, where there are other peoples’ missed opportunities: a guy with an astronaut suit, a ballerina… peoples’ aspirations and so on (watch it here). These are very visual concepts, so they asked to picked one of these missed opportunities, or aspirations, or whatever you want to call them, and build on them. It was basically for Chevrolet without showing a single car, but if you look at the general campaign it made a lot of sense, and that’s why I thought it was cool.
In terms of my most successful entry, my San Diego Zoo PSA was definitely the one since it was aired nationally in the US both on TV and airports as part of a 4 million dollars media buy. My video was the highlight of their campaign and I am very grateful to them for taking the spot to such heights.
How do you see the general trend of contests online?
There is definitely an increased use of content contests by brands. More and more people are using it, there are more contests and so on. As a creator, on my end my experience I have seen some kind of averaging effect. For example, when I first started, the first year I was working on these things, I had a much higher rate of success, and then the second year I had a much lower rate of success, although some of the productions went higher in quality. Sometimes it seems that the brands choose the most average entries, I don’t really know why. But that’s also my personal experience, it might not reflect everyone’s opinion.
When I first started, the contest winners were mostly exceptional and creatively inspiring videos.
Now, it seems like the videos that are less original but rely on these cookie cutter formulas win. There is a guy for example who does the exact same thing for every brand, regardless of the brief and product, a mock rap music video where the character sings with an auto tuned voice and I’ve seen him win a bunch of contest. The guy doesn’t even have to read the brief, but it works for him and the brands do go for it.