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By Mark Bell | June 11, 2008

Film competitions are nothing new, but few can boast around $300K in prizes. The Doorpost Film Contest does just that, however, and I took some time to talk to Al Letson about what makes this competition unique and, ultimately, important to the filmmaking community at large.

Tell me a little about Doorpost? How did this all come about?
Doorpost got started out of a little frustration. After watching stupid YouTube videos for the millionth time the creators of the contest, namely Nathan Eliott, decided he wanted to see something with some merit online. He got some folks together and they thought a contest to generate content would be the best way to do that.

Many contests are based on duration and genre, but this one is based on duration and the themes. Why choose the themes of love, greed, redemption, pain, forgiveness, freedom or energy?
We wanted to give the directors a wide range in which to play. At the same time we didn’t want the type of mindless stuff you see online a lot, I mean the whole goal is to make art that means something. We figured the themes were the best way to do that, and still give people creative freedom to do what they do.

What is your involvement with Doorpost?
I’m the mouthpiece, I get to spread the word about the contest. I’m also a filmmaker so I give input on how to make the contest as filmmaker friendly as possible. I got the easy job.

The contest boasts about $300K in prizes… where did this money come from?
Next week we are robbing a certain national bank that keeps hitting me up for NSF fees. I think recouping that alone will pay for the contest. I kid! I kid! We have a group of investors. This contest is a non-profit and has been funded for a couple years.

How is the contest format, with more films getting lower prizes (though still substantial), better than, say, taking that $300K and just investing it in one film?
Well 300k isn’t going to get you very far in financing a film. Some might argue that point, but I think you’d need a lot more then that to really make a dent. What we are trying to do is two fold. One, start some conversation, get back to storytelling that means something to peoples lives. Two, identify talent. It’s our hopes to take this project much farther then this contest so having a “stable” of talent will help when we start to grow.

If you’re not a filmmaker, how can you get involved? How does the voting process work?
Sign up on the sight, and you can start rating films. Films will be judged by the panel and audience votes will also play a role in deciding who will move on to the next round. We will post more detailed info on the selection process.

Who are the prominent industry professionals that are judging?
For several reasons, we’ve decided to keep the list of judges anonymous. I can tell you that several of them are film professors at some impressive film schools as well as some reputable producers in the industry.

Are there any films that you personally enjoy more than others?
At this point even though I’m not judging, I’ll keep that to myself.

Why and how are contests like this important for the filmmaking community? How, if at all, can Doorpost affect meaningful change in the film industry (if that is a goal at all)?
Well, I think it spurs creativity, gets people to get up and make films and that in itself is an important contribution. I think the Doorpost will affect change by starting the conversation. That’s why I think the themes are so important because they have more substance then the typical fare you see on YouTube. Hopefully the themes will serve as a catalyst, and get filmmakers concentrate on story, and their individual voice. There are tons of filmmakers who already have that, and if that’s the case we want to create a home for them.

Do you have any advice to aspiring filmmakers? Any words of wisdom?
For me filmmaking comes down to the story, and story comes down to structure. Concentrate on that aspect of it and build from there. I’ve seen so many filmmakers that can do the visual stuff but neglect the most important part. The story.

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