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POV Hackathon Submission Tips for Filmmakers

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For our previous POV Hackathon, it was tough to turn away all but five great web-based nonfiction projects. We expect this round to be just as competitive as the last one, but if you take the tips below to heart, you’ve got an advantage.

7 Tips for Improving Your Application

1. Focus. Do you have lots of ideas for how your project could use technology? That’s great — and we love ambitious projects — but what can you accomplish in 30 hours? Decide what’s critical to the project and base your hackathon application on that. The focus will mean less writing, and a concise application makes your reviewer happy.

2. Know your audience. Who is this project for? “Everybody” isn’t a good answer. Think about who’s likely to see/hear/explore/use/live your project and how you expect them to interact with it. It might be helpful to create “personas” (models of users with a certain set of goals and resulting behaviors) to help you refine your project.

3. Know your technology. You’re not expected to know everything about everything, but if you’ve decided on a specific technology, you’re obliged to know and explain why.

4. Emphasize newness. You’re re-inventing how nonfiction can work online, so you should describe your vision for how things could be done differently.

5. What can others learn? How does your project contribute to the craft of creating web documentaries? How might what you do at the POV Hackathon ultimately benefit other filmmakers? Will you be contributing to an open-source project?

6. What’s your story? The high standards of our award-winning broadcast hold for the stories we support with our award-winning digital channels. Read our blog post, What does POV look for in a film? for the answer to this frequently asked question.

7. Show your passion. The storytelling business is a tough one. We want to know that you love your project and that no obstacle (even a Hackathon rejection) will prevent you from seeing this project through to the end.

6 Red Flags From Rejected Applications

Want to know what to avoid in your application? If what’s below matches your application, then read what’s above and keep refining your idea!

1. “I’m looking for ideas.” You’ll probably come up with some new ideas while participating in the POV Hackathon, but you’ve got to come with a strong one to start with.

2. “I want to make a website.” You don’t need a hackathon to make a website. Tell us what’s unique about the amazing website you have in your mind.

3. “I need a social media strategy.” You may be inspired at the hackathon and you may even get some advice from the experts in attendance, but it’s unlikely a project that centers on developing a social media strategy will be accepted as a POV Hackathon project. And as a side note, no projects accepted to the first hackathon sought to integrate with a social network. They worked very well without a “social media strategy.”

4. “I saw a film that used technology X, and I’d like to use it too!” If it’s already been done, the POV Hackathon framework won’t be much help to you. Find a new way to use that technology, or a propose a way to improve it.

5. “I’m so excited someone else is going to do all that tech stuff!” They’re not excited. POV Hackathon teams must be partnerships. Your project will stall if you’re not invested in the technology as much as you are in the storytelling.

6. “My project is innovative! It’s going to re-invent transmedia!” No, it won’t. We appreciate clarity and brevity over superlatives and buzzwords.

More questions? Ask us at hackathon@pov.org. Visit pov.org/hackathon to apply, explore previous projects and find out more. Good luck!

Adnaan Wasey
Adnaan Wasey is the Executive Producer of POV Digital, which leads new storytelling iniatives for the PBS documentary series POV. Follow him on Twitter @adnaanwasey, Google+ or LinkedIn. Five documentaries he's into (today): 1. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse 2. Hoop Dreams 3. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 4. Sweetgrass 5. Last Train Home