Introduction

I'm announcing a script writing contest for the Rational Animations YouTube channel. Write scripts of 2500 words maximum about a topic of longtermist relevance, and win:

  • 5000 USD.
  • We will make an animated video based on your script to be published on the YouTube channel with due credits. It will be animated by a team of 9 animators or an animation studio and will be of much higher quality than anything we've done so far. 
  • A potential job offer as a scriptwriter for the channel. 

Bonus: you may suggest other people's already written work. If we bring your suggestion to the channel as it is (without having to adapt it), you will get $500, but nothing if I am already considering the work.

Soft deadline: October 15th.

Topics

The topic of your script should be of longtermist relevance. Examples: existential risks of any kind, the future of humanity, philosophy related to longtermism, technologies of longtermist relevance. I don't mean to be too strict, I'll accept scripts about a broad range of topics, and I might even make exceptions and offer a prize to scripts not relevant to longtermism if I find them a lot better than the competition. As a reference, the videos already on the channel that I would classify as longtermism-relevant are: 

Length and number of scripts

The maximum length of the script should be 2500 words. Of course, you may split a longer script into two or more parts. You may send an unlimited number of scripts.

Are there any more restrictions?

Not really.

So far, we've only published explainers on the YT channel, but you don't have to limit yourself to explainers. Do you want to write a Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant style short story? OK. Do you want to write an anime episode? OK. You can do whatever you want.

You may also adapt or send older work you've written that you think would make a good video for the YouTube channel if narrated as it is or with some tweaks.

Assorted things that make a good script, in order of importance:

  1. For any claim, you should include sources. The script should be as epistemically legible as possible for the audience.
  2. Focus on what really matters. If you write about complex topic X, there will be a few core points that are necessary and sufficient to build a solid understanding of topic X. Focus on those points. Yes, I understand this is a bit vague as a suggestion.
  3. Don't simplify, but explain. Write for a really smart audience that is ignorant about the topic. Some background explanations can be skipped, and some others are required. Recognizing the difference is a bit of an art.
  4. Be concise, and avoid useless words and filler phrases.
  5. Telling stories and using concrete details helps with engagement and works better for teaching.
  6. How you start matters: if the beginning of the script is boring, that's especially bad for engagement on YouTube.
  7. Challenge the preconceived assumptions a viewer might have about a topic, if the topic lends itself to it.
  8. See old topics from new surprising angles, but as with point 7, don't force it.

How to send scripts

Send your scripts to rationalanimations@gmail.com (beware of the spelling, it's "rationalanimations", not "rationalanimation").

In addition to sending the script to the YouTube channel's e-mail, you may also publish it as a comment under this post or as a top-level post in the EA Forum or Less Wrong. If you do, link your post in the e-mail.

Deadline

October 15th, but you may continue to send scripts after the deadline, and I'll see if I can still offer prizes. 

Prizes and winners 

Prizes include:

  • 5000 USD. Number of winners: 0-4, perhaps more. You can’t win this prize more than once.
  • Animated YouTube video on Rational Animations based on your script, with due credits, unless you don't want to be credited. Number of winners: 0-4, perhaps more. If you didn't win the money prize, I'd only consider you for the video prize if I've already chosen at least four money prizes. We might bring the scripts to the channel as they are, or edit them beforehand.
  • Potentially, a job offer as a scriptwriter for Rational Animations. Number of winners: ???

Video quality

The animation, music, and sound design quality will be much higher than in our previous videos. We just hired a team of 9 animators. The videos currently uploaded on the channel were animated by a single person. We also have the budget to hire external animation studios.

Bonus

You may suggest other people's already written work. If we bring your suggestion to the channel as it is (without having to adapt it), you will get $500, but nothing if I am already considering the work.

Topics that we'll bring to the channel soon enough and stuff I'm already considering

To not make you waste time, here are the topics of the next two videos: 

I recommend not writing scripts about these same exact topics.

I'm considering adapting the top results of the Fiction category on the EA Forum and Less Wrong, so you won't win the $500 prize by suggesting them.

Questions?

Anything unclear or that I've missed? Ask away in the comments!

Cross-posted to LW.

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8 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:25 PM
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I suggest On Caring by Nates Soares. It is ~2880 words, so slightly long, but many people have strongly recommended it over the years (myself included), such as jackva:

For me, and I have heard this from many other people in EA, this has been a deeply  touching essay and is among the best short statements of the core of EA.

And FWIW I think a lot of the essay would work well paired with an animation, such as the discussion of scope insensitivity, the story of Daniel the college student with the birds, and the mountains of problems everywhere later on.

will add this opportunity to the EA opportunity board!

Thanks a lot!

I'm really happy to see this contest and hope it will produce high quality scripts!

I've watched all the longtermism-relevant videos on your channel and thought they were very well done overall. To be more specific, I thought the video you released promoting WWOTF was significantly better than Kurzgesagt's video promoting WWOTF and I was disappointed Kurzgesagt hadn't used a script like yours (given their very large audience).

While I'm sure you've already thought of this, I want to highlight one concern I have about the contest, namely that your $5,000 prize may provide a much smaller incentive than a prize 2-3 times as large:

Given you're hiring a team of 9 animators to work on the next video, I'd guess that $5,000 is not a large fraction of the budget (though I could be mistaken). And in my opinion, the script matters more than the animation (e.g. see my claim that your WWOTF video was better than Kurzgesagt's despite them presumably having a much larger / more expensive animation team). So I'd question the decision to spend a lot more on animators than the script (if you are in fact doing that).

Additionally, contest participants know they are not guaranteed to win the top prize. To asses the expected hourly earnings from entering the contest they need to discount the prize by the probability that they win. All things considered I'm not sure that many people who could write great scripts for you would be justified in believing they'd earn a reasonable wage in expectation by participating in the contest.

Anyway, I'm sure you picked the $5,000 amount carefully and that you've already thought of the relative value of higher prize amounts, but just wanted to provide this quick feedback in case it's helpful.

The second related point of feedback is that committing to "0-4" prizes means that someone might think "even if I write the best script, they still might not choose me and I might not win any money" leading people to discount their expected earnings even more. Perhaps commit to offering some prize for the best script regardless of whether you create a video out of it?

Thanks a lot for the feedback!

I have the same concern about the fact that the expected income from participating in the contest might be small. I think the other two prizes somewhat mitigate this, but I'm not sure how people value those prizes.

I'm indeed spending a lot less on scriptwriting than on animation. This hasn't always been true, but it is true now and will continue to be true as the team becomes larger because animation is just way costlier. That said, the proportion of the budget devoted to scriptwriting will increase again in the near future, but not drastically. More specifically, as I say in the post, I'd like to hire more scriptwriters, and, later on, I'd like to bring in at least one fact-checker.

For now, I'll leave the prizes unchanged. I'll wait at least a couple of weeks to see how the contest goes. Depending on how many scripts I'm getting and their quality, I might decide to change the prizes.

Terrific, I'm excited to see how things turn out!

I have always thought that there is a lot of unpicked low-hanging fruit for animation among the most popular blogposts. Examples might be "I only believe in the paranormal" and "Great minds might not think alike"from lesswrong.