What I Learned from Losing YBBNZ

January 22, 2010 · 12 Comments

Yesterday, the producers of the Your Big Break New Zealand contest announced their five finalists.  Sadly for me, my entry was not chosen.

But happily, I am a learner, and the whole process taught me so much – about writing, about pitching, about storyboarding, about pre-production planning, and about how easy it is to work hard when you're passionate and hungry for experience.

That's what I learned from developing my project.  Now, on to the meat!  What I learned from losing:

"Losing" vs. Not Being Chosen

Just because my entry wasn't chosen doesn't mean I "lost" anything.  Quite the opposite!  I gained a ton of practical, hands-on experience.

You could argue that I lost time – well, any learning takes time.

I lost an opportunity?  Nope – opportunities come and go.  This was one, others are coming.

I lost face?  Nah – most of the people I begged to vote for me were impressed that I had the ballsiness to a) put my fledgling project on display for the whole world to judge, and b) wear my heart on my sleeve, admit I couldn't do it alone, and ask for help.

Which reminds me – I gained a new appreciation for my friends and colleagues.

As individuals, we're amazing; team us up, and we're profoundly powerful.

Ten percent of my address book voted for me.  Not much, you say?  I have almost 900 people in my address book.

A month ago, if you had asked me, I'd have told you I had no idea how to get 90 people I know to do anything.  Sure, I'm trained in public speaking and persuasive writing, but with this project, I had to get my message out quickly.  I learned a lot about leveraging the power of social media – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were crucial to getting the word out.  Even direct email played a strong part in gaining eyeballs.

So, did I lose?  Heck, no.

I clearly gained experience, process and strategy know-how, and new appreciation for people and technology.

I came out ahead.

Safe/Commercial vs. Funny/Viral

I may have doomed my effort from the start by missing the importance of one sentence in the project brief: "This is not about making a commercial for New Zealand – you can take any angle on this you wish."

Now clearly, if you read my script, you can see I wrote a commercial.  This was a "safe" choice.  I thought that, since the contest was sponsored by Tourism New Zealand, they would ultimately "go for" whatever projects were most likely to drum up tourism for the islands.

Not so.

Of the five finalists, four were comedies set in New Zealand.  Color me surprised!  Until, that is, I go back to the brief, and read: "It might be funny, sad, evocative, exciting, shocking or simply beautiful."

In my zeal to please the judges I'd imagined, I missed out on the significance of this one word.  Is it significant that "funny" is mentioned first?  Were they hoping for funny all along?

I could run this 'round and 'round in my head until I'm blue in the face.  What it comes down to is, had I only thought of this theory, I would have written a very different script:

Judges ultimately want short videos that are entertaining enough to go viral, and when they do go viral, they will get so many people thinking about X, that they will eventually Y.

Viral is the trend, isn't it?  Why?  ROI.  Entertaining videos that spread themselves must have a higher ROI than predictable videos that bribe their way onto the airwaves, only to be shown once and never seen again.

Viral video is word-of-mouth advertising.  And word-of-mouth advertising sells more cost-effectively than TV, print, and online advertising.  And what goes viral better than comedy?

Who doesn't need a laugh?  Check the Most Viewed page on YouTube and it's easy to see.  Comedy gets eyeballs.  Comedy goes viral.

You can be sure I'll be testing out this theory on my next project.  Oh, yes.

(See, this is what I mean by learning.  And it's why I'm in love with failure: failure teaches me so much.  If I'm afraid to fail, I'm afraid to learn.  And I'm not about to stop learning, so – welcome, Failure, do come in, let's chat over tea, let's talk about what just happened, let's figure out what we can do better next time.)

Rules vs. "Squishy" Rules

Logical types obey rules.  Artsy types break rules.

The downloadable brief mentioned that submitters should provide a "60 second video pitch".  Rule?  People pitching over this time limit will be automatically disqualified?

Well… not so.

Four of the five finalists' pitch videos were over 1:30.

Some folks cried foul (you can search for @YourBigBreakNZ on Twitter) – but should a desirable entry be disqualified on a technicality?

No.  But it's worth discussing.

The rules-lawyer in me says "yes" – you ignore a basic rule, you get penalized.

But that only sees things from a contestant's perspective: "I'm a contestant, I played by the rules, I should have an advantage over people who broke the rules."

What about the judges' perspective?  Does it make sense to disqualify an entry that is entertaining and could easily go viral?

No.  No, it really doesn't.

So as much as we planner-types like to play by stated rules, when it comes down to it:

If a judge falls in love with your entry, then it doesn't matter if your pitch video is twice as long as the rules say it can be.

Knowing this, you can bet that my next pitch video will take all the time it needs for me to sell my story.

(Though I'm guessing that blathering on for a full two minutes would be too long.  This is supposed to be an elevator pitch, after all.  I'll be aiming for 1:00 to 1:45.)


Better Luck Next Time?

How about:

Better work next time.

Luck has nothing to do with it.*  If I can learn from my mistakes, I can avoid making them again.  Kaizen.

If this has been helpful to you, why not drop me a clue cookie, and let me know you've been here, and what you think?  Leave a comment.

*Yes, serendipity happens, but that's circumstance, not luck.  That's a discussion for a whole 'nother time.

Update: The five finalists's films are now online at .  Check them out.

I still have so much to learn.

Categories: Certainty · Connection · Contribution · Film · Growth · Significance · Television · Variety · Video · Web/Tech · Writing
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,