Recently, in a thread of email exchanges with a successful video contest participant who won numerous contests for many prestigious brands, I was struck by this person’s response to my “how are things going?” question. That person replied: “Unfortunately while I wish I had gotten some ‘real’ work all these contests haven’t had any effect on my professional career and I’m still struggling to get work!”
This bugged me, because professional advancement and career opportunities are a big part of the promises of crowdsourcing. My experience and research confirms that many crowd members participate with this in mind (some call it hope labor), so I wanted to know more. “I’m a little bugged by [the fact that he was still looking after all these wins, does it mean that crowdsourcing doesn’t deliver on its promise?” I asked. Here’s the response from the filmmaker, and a call for discussion.
Being a filmmaker is already a hard career path to forge, and I knew that going into it. I would say it’s gotten even more competitive for my generation since a lot more of us are pursuing creative professions and the entry barriers are lower. I always wanted to direct commercials professionally, and I thought that by making videos for brands through these contests, that would be a surefire way to get experience directing commercials and prove myself.
In the end, it didn’t matter if it was a commercial or music video or short film, it still comes down to luck (in fact, the latter two are considered by many in the industry to be creatively ‘purer’). You just need one big break – to do one amazing job on one piece of work that will lead to many others. But before that can happen, this one piece of work needs to generate some buzz and get seen by professionals.
Crowdsourcing companies often say things like ‘get exposure as a filmmaker’ but they stop short of saying how you will get this. I would argue it’s in their interests to be seen by the industry as a source of emerging talent, not just by marketers, but by agencies and production houses as well, so the cycle will perpetuate. It seems a lot of promoting is done to clients and potential clients, but not to the wider creative industry. Perhaps this is because traditional-model creative businesses still see crowdsourcers as a threat? The position of the crowdsourcer in the market doesn’t seem to be well-defined or established yet. […]
Maybe my expectations were misguided – I think what shattered the illusion for me was having my [winning commercial] play around the world last year [on TV]. Tens of millions of people saw it, and I thought that being a then-23 year old aspiring filmmaker would see me taken under someone’s wing – but it was just radio silence, it wasn’t the ‘big break’ I was hoping for. I’ve since learned that a big part of this industry is marketing yourself and networking. There are hundreds of people just as skilled as you, if not better, so you really have to hustle.
So now I’m just back on the hunt for that break, and [production grants from crowdsourcing companies] mean I can afford to do things I previously couldn’t. That helps build my reel at little or no cost to me other than time (and the time of those who help), but now of course I’m getting picky since I no longer care so much about the prizes – I just want a good creative opportunity that might get some exposure.
What do you think about the above? Have you been through that as a creative? Are you in the crowdsourcing business and do you feel there could be some room for improvement to make crowdsourcing a (better) win-win? Are you a researcher who could bring in some insights? I’d welcome your comments below.