So you say you want to create a fan film awards competition! Actually, unless you want to work really, really hard, you probably DON’T want to create one…at least, if you want to do it right. And when I say “do it right,” there isn’t only one correct way to organize and run a film contest. In fact, there’s several different approaches, all of them totally valid.
The challenge is to set everything up so that the process runs smoothly and inspires confidence in both the process and the results. That’s what I mean by “do it right,” and it takes a surprisingly sizable amount of work. DAN REYNOLDS, who along with GLEN WOLFE, ran the recently-completed DIRECTORS CHOICE AWARDS, said, “The sheer enormity of organizing was difficult. There was a lot of checking, double checking and triple checking. I don’t think we knew just how much work it really would be to pull something like this off.” Glen said that he mostly concentrated on “…getting ballots returned in a timely manner, getting the presenters to turn their videos in in a timely manner, and then getting the whole award ceremony edited while juggling real life.”
ERIC L. WATTS lists off an even longer “to do” list for the annual BJO AWARDS, including…
- Recruiting top-level, high-calibre judges;
- Finding eligible fan films for consideration (filmmakers don’t actively enter the Bjo Awars—Eric includes all qualifying Star Trek fan films released in a calendar year);
- Researching release dates, runtimes, cast and crew credits, and creating a spreadsheet that sorts and organizes that data; and
- Spending hours and hours and hours creating the actual ballot.
And of course, none of this includes marketing the awards show and announcing its winners, answering questions from the fan community, and of course, nagging the judges to get their ballots in on time! Plus, there’s a whole host of other efforts involved.
One of the biggest challenges is logistics. And like the duck gliding gently across the smooth surface of the lake, most fans never get to see all of the intense paddling that goes on just beneath the surface to make these fan film competitions run like well-oiled machines.
So if you’re interested in “peeking under the hood,” today’s blog is for YOU…
Unless your contest is being judged by only one person—which is fine—you first need to find yourself a reliable panel of judges. This can, very often, be a huge challenge. One of the reasons for this is that you’d like to, optimally, have judges who KNOW what they’re judging and have the skills and experience necessary to make an informed decision about each category. I mean, it’s easy to determine what you think is a better (or the best) fan film overall. And best CGI or best music, while subjective, can certainly be determined by most lay people.
But what qualifies something for best direction or best editing, best cinematography or best sound design, etc? Some of these categories benefit from having judges with real world experience in producing films to understand the nuances—major or minor—that indicate a more deserving winner. Otherwise, you might end up with nominees and winners that leave the more serious fan filmmakers scratching their heads wondering, “Why that one?”
For example, compare the recent release THE LONG ROAD from STAR TREK: EAGLE to AGENTS OF NEW WORLDS from AVALON UNIVERSE. They are similar in some ways—like lots of scenes on the surface of a planet then they end up back on a starship. But it’s clear that one is a stronger film overall and more worthy of a best director nomination. But can you tell me why? In terms of direction and nothing else, what makes the difference? You want judges who can answer that question intelligently and confidently.
In the case of the Directors Choice Awards, as the name implies, the judges were the directors of the submitted fan films. Obviously, directors know how to direct, along with understanding what constitutes strong editing, cinematography, sound design, hair & make-up, etc. So for their contest, Dan and Glen simply made it a requirement that in order to have your film count in the competition, the director HAD to cast a ballot or else their film would be disqualified. And of course, a director was NOT allowed to vote for their own film in any category.
Eric takes a different approach. Because he chooses which films get into the Bjos, he can’t rely on the fan filmmakers being his judges. In fact, sometimes they aren’t even aware they’re in the contest until they become a finalist and are contacted by him. Instead, Eric assembles a panel of judges “…who have a professional credit in the Star Trek franchise or are Star Trek fans working in the television and film industry, are not in any way personally associated with any past or present Star Trek fan film, and are willing to serve on the panel, watch hours and hours of fan films and competently score them in the approximately one dozen different categories before a set deadline… FOR LITTLE MORE THAN A HEARTY THANK YOU FOR YOUR WORK.” (That was a quote from Eric himself, by the way.) For this reason, Eric Watts wins the award for “Most Time and Effort Spent Recruiting Judges”!!!
For me, the judging panel is made up of showrunners of past and current Star Trek fan films and series. To find them, I reached out to dozens of people whom I’ve personally interviewed over the past few years to ask if they wanted to judge a fan film awards show. Almost everyone responded, but many either weren’t interested or felt that they wouldn’t have enough time to commit to the project. Fortunately, however, eleven said “yes.” And that’s definitely enough for a solid and reliable judging panel. If you have too few judges, there’s greater likelihood of odd or inexplicable choices of winners.
COLLECTING AND ORGANIZING THE INFORMATION
Ay, there’s the rub! With so many fan films and so many categories, collecting and organizing all of the data is one of the biggest challenges. Eric probably has it the worst, as he’s the one finding the fan films and entering them…so he’s the one looking for and typing in all of the information…either from IMDB or from the credits to the fan films themselves. With an average of 40-or-so fan films entered in the Bjos in any given recent year, that is a LOT of work for Eric!
Dan and Glen kept things a little more manageable for the Directors Choice Awards. Using this entry form, they limited each director to a maximum of three submitted films, and each film could only include a maximum of five category entries. At the end of the form, submitters could pay the $10 entrance fee via credit card, debit card, or Paypal.
The Showrunner Awards had no such limits. A fan filmmaker could enter as many productions as he/she/they wanted for best fan film and select any or all of the 17 additional categories. To keep the competition from being flooded with submissions, though, the entrance fee was $10 per film (just like Dan and Glen’s contest), and each additional category was $1 extra. So fan filmmakers couldn’t go too crazy entering everything in every category unless they wanted to spend lotsa money!
My challenge, however, was finding a WAY for them to enter! Eric avoided that problem altogether by entering everything himself, and Glen and Dan had a fairly streamlined form. I, on the other hand, had to create something that would not only provide check boxes and text entry boxes for all of the categories but also would ALSO keep a running tally of the $10 entry plus $1 for each category chosen and then allowed the submitter to pay the fee at the end. And I’m definitely not a programmer!
Fortunately, thanks to a recommendation from Eric, I found out about Cognito Forms, which allows a non-programmer to create a fairly robust entry form and collect payment fees but is also free if you keep it basic. A little challenging to figure out and master, Cognito was still MUCH easier than learning to code! Over the course of a few weeks, I was able to create just what I wanted…
I can’t link to the form itself, as I deactivated it once the submission deadline passed. But as you can see from the image above, the check box for each category spawned a text entry for the nominee’s name while also keeping a running tally for the final charge at the end. Cognito partners with Stripe to process payments securely, so I never see a credit card number. The only drawback is that PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, and other forms of payment are not supported. Two fan filmmakers needed to e-mail me their entries and submit their entrance fees via Paypal instead of using the official form.
Of course, once you’ve collected all of the information, you need to organize it. Thank the gods for giving humanity spreadsheets! Eric, Dan and Glen, and I all rely on Excel spreadsheets as a lifeline for running these contests. Eric, of course, entered all of the information himself, as he collected it all. Glen did likewise, as it turns out. “It made everything much smoother,” he told me.
I wasn’t looking forward to doing all of that copy-pasting, though, especially with 18 total categories and 38 fan film submissions! Fortunately for me, Cognito Forms can export all of the collected data as an Excel file, so all I needed to enter in by hand were the submissions from the two fan filmmakers paying via Paypal. Ultimately, I wound up with a spreadsheet that looked like this (if you click to download the file, you’ll need a copy of Microsoft Excel to view it).
Next time in the conclusion – What’s the best way to present a ballot for your judge(s) to fill out? Also, what are the pros and cons of physical awards versus certificates versus concentrated yeast extract spread? And how long should you give your judges to make their selections?