What Does The Term "Award Winning" Mean Anyway?

A Satirical Yet Revealing Look At The Industry Of Award Giving
by Walter Graff

I saw an ad yesterday. It said the following:

"Editor available, Emmy Award winning..."

The more I read ads, the more I see the term "award winning" as of late. It's not that people don't deserve awards for their work but I seem to remember a day when an award meant something. Today, everyone seems to have some sort of award. Lord knows there are enough of these award programs out there. The real question is what is an award and secondly, did most folks who use the term "award winning" actually earn the title? Many times the answer is "sort of".

Three catagories of award winners
The first type is what I call "award by osmosis". I have worked on many award winning programs over the years. As a result, I could go around saying that I am an award winner. Well sort of. Take for instance a sports program I worked on. It won an Emmy award for writing. So here is the logic; the show won an Emmy award. I worked on that program, so I guess I am an award winner. I never actually wrote for the program but I did work on it and the show did win an Emmy. I know it doesn't sound right, but that is what half of all the "award winners" out there do when it comes to awards; they win an award by osmosis.

The second method of award winning is valid group association based on what the award was given for. Take another program I worked on. One year it was awarded best daytime syndicated program. Since I worked on it as a field producer, I think it safe to say I was part of its success, so I too won the award. This is how some folks more rightfully claim to be award winners, but remember the example I mentioned earlier about how I worked on a program that won an award for writing? I was the lighting director on that program so although the show won an award, for me to claim I won the award would be stretching it. As field producer on a program that won for best produced program, I think it's safe to say I was part of the programs success. I guess in the end, if something you worked on won an award, the real question is how valid was your association. If you were a grip on a program that won an award for best music, is it fair to say you are an "award winner"? I guess ego decides that answer.

The third level of award winning is about the best and most accurate way you could actually say you won an award and that is to have been the person who entered the award for your participation. Last year I entered a commercial I conceived and directed in the "Best Humor" category of the Telly Awards program. I won the award. It's sitting in my office gathering dust right now. I know someone who worked in post-production on the sound mix also requested a certificate to hang on his wall. Did he really win the award or does he have claim to it? Maybe! I'll let you be the judge of that. Great Way To Create a Career
The real question is about the award itself. I remember when a now well-known Festivals Award began. I worked on a few projects for the organization at the time. It seemed to me that their vision had little to do with the actual award and more with getting as many entries as possible to keep themselves in business. They simply spent 11 months of the year trying to increase the number of entries each year. Doing that guaranteed them income and gave them a job. Today they are one of the big awards to win. I guess starting an awards program is a good way to maintain a comfortable living.

I was never much into awards. I directed the main title theme for a daytime syndicated program one year. The producer entered it into the Emmy program and it won for best opening. I never collected an award as I felt at the time that my work was my reward. Then again, lately I've found myself needing a few awards as some of my peers say I ought to have a few. They tell me it looks good in the resume. It's actually not that hard to win an award come to think of it. Lately I've entered some work thinking that there was probably better stuff out there, only to find out that I always won something."Something" is an interesting term as it seems everyone is an "award winner", if that is they enter. Most awards programs require between $75 and $350 to enter. For that price they've realized that if they give everyone some sort of recognition, as in first place, second, place, third place, runner-up, and notable mention, those that enter feel they get their moneys worth and teasing them with "something" gives them good reason to enter next year. It's a good way to sustain your awards business. And like the prestige of receiving an award, the awards business knows that if you want your award to have prestige, you have to get as many people as you can to enter it so that it becomes the coveted thing to receive.Want An Award, Send In Your Check!
The best part is that if you do win, in order to get a statue or anything to note your win, you then have to fork over another $75 to $325. Or if you want a paper certificate frame on your wall, you have to pay for that too. In fact you can order all sorts of things from these awards organizations once you've won to remind the world and yourself that you've won. They include additional gold statues, silver statues, bronze statues, plaques, metals, rosewood shadow box frames, stickers you can put all over your product to say you've won, tee-shirts and even key chains. In reality winning an award doesn't actually get you anything other than a letter telling you that you won. No, you don't just win and receive a statue, rather you get a letter that says something like this:

Congratulations! You've won second place in the "Award name of choice" for 2003. Enclosed is your order form. Fill out the form and enter your winning number and enclose a check for the amount shown and you can have an award sent to you. (Six to eight weeks for delivery). And it includes an additional order from so you can order some for friends and family. In fact, you can tell them what you want the award to say even changing the name of the organization who won to your own company's name. You can pretty much make most awards say anything you want.With the proliferation of the low-budget/no budget indie feature world it seems lots of folks have realized how to subsidize their income with the money of others. A look in my latest issue of a filmmaker's magazine shows an ad every other page for film festivals of every shape and size. Of course there is the famous Sundance, and now there is a film festival in every City in the country. How does the Cincinnati Film Festival sound? And there are all sorts of other smaller awards one can take home for making a feature and sending in a check and tape. Considering that there are so many of these homemade films out there that will never see the light of day, I guess the awards industry has found a cash cow by taking money from folks who will never get exposure, but want some sort of "official" recognition. It's a good way for these awards organizations to pay the mortgage on their home while offering people some of actually being able to call themselves filmmakers.You've Got To Be In It To Win It
I remember working in the mid eighties on commercials with one of the most respected commercial directors. His work was considered some of the best in the industry. Strange thing was he never won any of those industry related awards. I asked him why. His response was that he never entered them and said if you don't enter them you can't win. He said that he didn't need to win awards to know how good his work was. In reality awards are awards only if you choose to be part of them. Of course there are awards such as the award given by the motion picture Academy (legally you can't say the name of the award or the phrase involving two words, the Academy and the prize: they hunt you down and send you a letter to cease and desist) where you are nominated by your peers, but then again they had to pay to become your peer and to have the ability at nominating you. In the end, someone always pays. For most of the awards it's called "a call for entries". With many of these awards programs I call it "a call for your money".Now I know it all sounds bad, I don't mean it too. Awards are good. Who doesn't want to receive recognition for their work? Problem is that nowadays all you need is a VHS tape and a check and you too can be an 'award winner'. And you can claim the award even if you were the editor on a program that won for best costume. And best of all, you can order your statue and change what the award was given for and who to. Oh yea, and anyone that knows or worked with you in the last ten years or has a friend that knows you can claim they are an "award winner" too!