Monthly Archives: September 2012

Congratulations Vikas Wadhwa!

What’s the next best thing to winning a contest yourself? Seeing the most deserving competitor win! There is justice in this crazy world after all.

Vikas Wadhwa (Clear Box Studios) took first place in the Amazon Studios Seed Book Trailer Contest with his entry “Grinning Demons.” It’s a live action, beautifully filmed piece that captures every essential element of the novel and sells it convincingly. I told Vikas early on that if his video won, I would celebrate with him. And indeed I am doing just that! For all the awful gaming and bias that went on during the contest, I have to say that Amazon got it right when they chose the grand prize winner. Ania Ahlborn, you are one very lucky author!

I was born and raised in the Deep South. Vikas’ video opens with the line, “We’re Southerners.” Oh, boy! Did he ever get my attention with that one. And the rest of the trailer does not shirk when it comes to delivering on the promise of a “Dirty South.” With every frame, we are drawn deeper and deeper into a dark, desaturated world that oozes creepy from its pores, from willow branches dragging the ground to the dead-eyed children who stare right through the camera. Not to mention the fact that the young Jack Winter is a carbon copy of the adult Jack Winter, an attention to detail you seldom see even in big-budget Hollywood productions.

And the actress who plays Aimee Winter. . .oh, my goodness, does she ever sell her character. Actually, there isn’t a bad actor in the bunch, but I suppose it’s because she has so much screen time that I find her so memorable. Vikas, you did a heck of a job casting these roles. I predict great things for your future!

Now here’s the best part: Vikas Wadhwa is a NICE GUY. He’s very approachable, unassuming, and maintained his perspective and his professionalism throughout the entire fracas spawned by those SCAD students. This is more than I can say for myself; I completely popped a cork. But I usually do when bullies take over the playground.

I don’t know if Vikas is interested in producing more book trailers or if he has his sights set on the box office, but for live action filmmaking, I would love to channel some business his way. I know a lot of professionals in the writing community, but I don’t have any particular influence over them. Let me just go on record as saying that if I am able to afford a live action trailer for my own novel, Vikas Wadhwa will be the very first person I contact.

I also want to mention that after the contest, I received an email from Vikas that contained one of the kindest and most encouraging messages anyone could have sent. I won’t quote it here, but what he said to me validated every bit of effort I have put into building this niche for machinima book trailers.

Congratulations, Vikas! You deserved the win!

To see his winning video, which is now the official trailer for Ania’s novel Seed, follow the link below and make sure that Video #68 is active in the view window. I’m not sure how long this link will be active on Amazon’s site, but I will try to keep a working link somewhere on this blog.

Grinning Demons–Clear Box Studios

After The Contest–Amazon Studios And The Seed Book Trailer

Whew! All I can say is that I’ve never been happier to see a deadline come and go.

Midnight, August 31, was the closing date for the Seed Book Trailer Contest sponsored by Amazon Studios. I’m happy to report that despite the organized, persistent one-star attacks by SCAD students and their friends, my video (watch on YouTube here) survived this deadline with a 3.8 averate rating out of. . .well, seventy-one or seventy-two. I’m not sure which time zone Amazon was using, and ratings are still trickling in even now. I’m thinking that Amazon will use the averages logged at that date and time and discard more recent ones. But who knows. Amazon clearly didn’t honor their own rulebook in this contest from the get-go, so I have no idea what to expect with the scoring process.

Mine was not the only entry to be targeted. When studying the patterns exhibited by the worst vote-stacking offenders, it quickly became apparent that a specific strategy was in place to bloat Video #29’s average “just enough” to keep it higher than all others. Then, when another video’s average overtook it, several more supporters of #29 would swoop in with one and two star ratings to drag that competitor’s average back down. This was very consistent and very predictable. So other contestants and I began doing some digging and discovered a very tightly woven network of SCAD students (Savannah College of Art and Design) who all seemed to be working together on behalf of Video #29’s uploader. We put together some documentation using social media, blogs, and websites that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that at least thirty vote-stackers were affiliated with each other prior to the contest, and that some of them most likely participated in the actual production of video #29.

Is this surprising? Not in the least. What shocked and horrified me was Amazon’s outright denial that contest gaming was afoot. Despite repeated attempts by several participants–including me–to correspond with Amazon and provide them with proof of our claims, Amazon steadfastly refused to address any wrongdoing. I’m pasting here a copy of the last correspondence I had with Amazon Studios (to date), which was a canned response that did not acknowledge my request to submit the documentation we had collected.

“Hello Rhonda,

Please allow me to express my apologies for any frustration you may have experienced.

Thanks for bringing these reviews to our attention. We’ll read each of the reviews and remove any that violate our guidelines. Any reviews we find outside our guidelines will be removed within 48 hours.

Best Regards,

Adele S.”

My reply:

“Amazon staff can “read each of the reviews” all day long, but until you investigate the collusion perpetrated on your contest I don’t believe anything will be resolved. How Amazon can ignore or dismiss the blatant beat-down of other contestants administered by personal friends and schoolmates of (names removed) is baffling, especially when Amazon Studios consistently removed innocent five-star ratings from my entry (Ryan Sizer, Fae Hill, Gary Thompson, others I can’t remember.) Amazon Studios also retracted my right to vote for excellence (Video 39) by stripping my heartfelt five-star rating from him. He is aware of this, by the way. Also, my husband was deprived of his right to rate other contestants and systematically had his ratings removed. Naturally, his comment and rating was removed from my entry, yet “(name removed))” obviously a family member of (name removed,) has been allowed to remain in the ratings contest-wide. This demonstrates a clear bias on Amazon’s part, not just the fraudulent voting patterns among supporters of 29.

The prejudicial way this has been handled throughout the contest does not reflect positively on Amazon Studios. It appears that certain participants get a free pass for behaviors that others are penalized for. When one digs a little deeper, one learns that the “free pass” group is a collection of students from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design,) exactly the type of creative souls Amazon Studios might wish to entice and recruit as permanent members of the community. This begs the question: is Amazon Studios part of the collusion also, or at least using “participation guidelines” to sift through potential talent and handpick future contributors? I certainly hope not.

A copy of this correspondence will be forwarded to a network of at least 200 professional screenwriters and authors, as well as to Ania Ahlborn herself. Each individual receiving it is already aware of the questionable circumstances surrounding this contest and many have expressed their concern to me personally. Winning this competition is not on my radar–never was. Building a relationship with Amazon and establishing a niche platform among other creative talent was the primary goal. Yet what I witnessed has appalled me. I expected better from Amazon.”

It bears mentioning that today, more than 72 hours after I registered my complaint, none of the ratings that clearly violate Amazon’s “participation guidelines” have been removed.

Will any of this be sorted during the final scoring process? Who knows. The only thing at stake is a $500 gift card for Amazon purchases. The $3000 winner will not be determined by ratings, but by an independent panel of judges and Ania Ahlborn herself. Were I among those judges, I would select any one of of several other entries over mine. I am not kidding when I say there were some really, really good videos submitted.

But here’s where the rubber meets the road: most authors cannot invest $3000 in a book trailer, and even that seems a little on the cheap side for some of the excellent videos uploaded late in the contest. I won’t argue that some of the more professional directors and filmmakers blew the wheels off my little machinima. . .but realistically, who can afford them? It is very doubtful that any of those filmmakers are looking to corner the book trailer market. They’re looking to make a name for themselves as. . .well, filmmakers.

And more power to them. I support their endeavors one hundred percent.

Still, somewhere along the way, the focus was shifted from “what’s best for the author” to “what’s best for the filmmaker.” In a contest like this one, perhaps that’s fine. But in the long run, none of the authors I know would tolerate the broad creative license so many uploaders took with Ania Ahlborn’s material. What set me apart from every other contestant is that they know filmmaking. I know writers.

As far as my video versus video #29, I can tell you that:

A) Not a single animator (that I know of) liked my machinima; most didn’t even recognize it as machinima, period.
B) Not a single writer (that I know of) liked video #29.

I could spout volumes of opinion about a bunch of digital arts students who have no clue what machinima is or what it’s for. But you don’t want to hear that. More germane to this blog is my take on all the professional writers who preferred my direct, true-to-the-novel approach rather than #29’s obscure interpretation of the novel’s synopsis rather than the novel itself. And if the writer is the client, shouldn’t their expectations trump all?

I never expected my machinima entry to be well-received. In fact, it performed far better than I ever would have hoped. Machinima has long been the red-headed stepchild of the 3D animation world. Traditional animators routinely scoff at its technology. I have no problem with that. I am infinitely more concerned with responses from the end consumer (the authors themselves and potential buyers of their novel who might watch its trailer) than I am with any reaction from digital arts students who only want to win prize money so they can upgrade their gaming system.

The good to come from this? Well, one example is the online magazine post I found in my inbox this morning. Among all the other articles that span everything from 3-D animation to movies to photography was a blurb about my machinima entry “mingling” with an Amazon contest. You could have knocked me over with a feather. This tells me that despite all the negativity surrounding the contest, my original goal of exposing machinima to the mainstream was not only met, but exceeded. Let’s not forget that author Ania Ahlborn will get a very professional, very well-done book trailer out of this whole ordeal, and even though it won’t be anything I produced, she’s still making inroads into the new world of e-publishing and internet marketing that many of us writers will someday tread. Go, Ania! You’re blazing a trail for all of us. 🙂