Someone recently posted a film contest to my Facebook page and after reading the fine print in the contest rules I felt it was my duty to blog about it so that unsuspecting filmmakers don't fall into the abyss of giving their films away for free unknowingly.
In my super-secret dayjob I deal quite a bit with sweepstakes and contest rules, so trust me: I know what I'm talking about here.
Keep in mind that when you submit to a contest or sweepstakes you are agreeing to abide by their Official Rules which everyone tends to ignore. Under normal circumstances - if you're trying to win movie tickets or a gift certificate to Bed Bath & Beyond - this wouldn't be a big deal. But this is your film we're talking about here, folks. Which you presumably spent a LONG time working on. You might want to take 30 minutes to read through the rules and see what you're getting yourself into.
A few things to watch out for if you're unfamiliar with legal ease:
Many times contests will post what are referred to as the "abbreviated rules". This is like looking at a kernal of corn and assuming that you're going to eat corn on the cob, when in reality it's one kernal of corn sitting on top of a ten-pound mound of dog crap. Read the Complete Official Rules. It's really the only way of knowing whether or not you're going to get cornholed.
When you see the words "in perpetuity" you should react in the same way that vampires in the 70s and 80s reacted to seeing a cross. It's fancy legal language that means "FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER UNTIL THE END OF TIME". So if a contest says they will have the right to use your film "in perpetuity throughout the universe", you should kiss control of your film bye-bye. And if it's accompanied by the phrase "in its sole discretion", you might still own your film, but someone else has the right to use it however they want forever and ever.
Now, I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. It depends on whether or not the payoff is worth it. Look at the prize. And, especially, read the prize paragraph. The Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest challenges you to create a 30 second commercial for the opportunity to potentially win $2.5 million and have your commercial aired during the Super Bowl. That's probably worth signing over the rights to your work.
The prize for the contest I was recently informed of was:
"The Top Film winner will (a) have his or her film aired on the [network name] television network and (b)receive round trip airfare between a major airport nearest to the Top Film winner's residence and Los Angeles, CA and two (2) nights hotel accommodations in Los Angeles, CA for on-ground screening of his or her film and meeting with an executive or equivalent at [network name] or other entertainment company."
Very vague. This could translate to: (a) Your film will air on the network at 3am and (b) if you live in L.A. you can forget about the airfare and hotel and (c) you'll have a "screening" of your film on an intern's laptop at a coffee shop in Silverlake and a junior junior junior "executive" (aka glorified personal assistant) will stop by to shake your hand and recommend the cheese danish.
Not worth giving up rights to your film, "in perpetuity, throughout the universe" at "our sole discretion".
Now, I may be exaggerating the result - maybe it turns out to be the big break you've been looking for and not the dour situation I described. But are you willing to gamble the rights to your film on it? I'm not. Companies purposefully word their rules vaguely so that they'll have an "out" if you're not happy with the results.
Cash prizes are the way to go. If the contest offers a cash prize, it's right there in black-and-white and there's no dispute. Now, keep in mind that they may be misleading: Doritos I believe advertised $5 million dollars in cash - which is true when you add up ALL the cash. But the MOST you can win, if you read the fine print, is $2.5 million, which is a long shot and requires several steps to accomplish. Not that I'm scoffing at it. It's a pretty big chunk o' change. Even the minimum prize is $25k, which is still - in my opinion - enough to entice me to enter the contest. Just know that the prize advertised may be a little misleading.
[OK, I just realized this is a bigger topic than I can cover in one blog entry, so...TO BE CONTINUED...]