[Here’s a great April 3, 2016 article – The seismic shift in the world of film festivals – which includes recent research about Withoutabox and FilmFreeway. It’s well worth reading!]
Withoutabox is the Goliath when it comes to platforms that connect filmmakers to film festivals and make digital submissions to multiple festivals an easy process, but a David may have arrived on the scene in the form of FilmFreeway, a Vancouver company offering a rival platform with “user-friendly technology” and “real customer service” that’s “free and easy for filmmakers” and “fair and simple for festivals.” Or will this Canadian company suffer the same fate as B-Side’s Submissions 2.0 which had 100 festivals on board before B-Side decided to pull the plug on the service over fears of being sued?
We have only ever had free listings on WAB (Withoutabox) which have, to my knowledge, never gained us a single submission in eight years. Festivals that upgrade their free listing to become partner festivals do see a big increase in the number of submissions they get because they can receive digital submissions and can view the submitted films right on the WAB website. Founded in 2000, WAB provided a huge advantage to filmmakers and festivals alike by eliminating the need to send DVD screeners and paper submission forms. In January 2008, according to Wikipedia, it was acquired by IMDb (Internet Movie Database), a subsidiary of amazon.com, and an online behemoth was formed.
The last time I looked into becoming a WAB partner festival was September 2011. For festivals such as ours that don’t charge a submission fee, the cost we were quoted then to use their services (i.e. accept digital submissions, view online screeners, and download electronic press kits, JPG stills, etc) was $2,000 US. This was not feasible so we looked at what it would cost if we charged submission fees:
- a $500 setup fee
- a mandatory marketing package starting at $795
- a commission rate of 18% plus a $5-$15 filmmaker discount on all submissions received through WAB
Needless to say, we chose to keep our free submission policy and to look elsewhere for submission platforms. Part 2 of the following articles written by Stephen Follows was a great source of information in this regard. One of the nine key messages in Part 3 is that “Festival Directors really don’t like Withoutabox,” a sentiment best summed up in the quote by an unnamed festival professional, “Withoutabox is the ugliest monopoly in the festival scene, and they keep your entry fees artificially high. Before a festival has even received a single submission, they’ve already spent thousands on Withoutabox for basically an entry system that hasn’t significantly improved in years.” For an explanation as to how WAB has managed to remain a Goliath in the field despite being disliked by festivals, read the final article about Withoutabox’s “dirty secret” below:
- Film Festivals Pt 1: The Truths Behind Film Festivals
- Film Festivals Pt 2: The Economics of Film Festivals
- Film Festivals Pt 3: What Festival Directors Really Think
- US6829612: Withoutabox’s Dirty Secret
Filmmakers should take note that, according to Stephen Follows’ research in Pt 2 of his articles above, only 45% of film festivals use WAB so it should not be the only method used to find and submit to festivals. Also, no doubt influenced by their dislike of WAB, over 60% of festivals have set up a system to accept submissions on their own websites or have stayed with the old system of accepting hard copy forms, neither of which is convenient to filmmakers when it comes to submitting to multiple festivals.
Who are some of the other contenders that have gotten into the ring with WAB and are still standing?
- Festhome, a European site that charges filmmakers 2€ per submission but that can drop to as low as 1€ if credit vouchers are bought (e.g. 75€ will buy 75 credits which will pay for 75 submissions). It’s free to use for festivals, even those that charge submission fees although, if Festhome processes the payment, there’s a 10% commission charged. Screeners can be watched on their site or downloaded, and H264 files (a video codec standard that we ask filmmakers for when we invite their films to screen at our fest) and EPK (electronic press kit) materials can be downloaded. Film files stay on their server 6 months from the last submission. Attractive features for filmmakers include file size (the maximum upload size is 20GB), free conversion service if the file isn’t in the required MP4 format using a video compression with the recommended H.264 codec, and both a translation service (3€/minute) and subtitling service (4€/minute).
- Reelport, a European site that charges filmmakers 2€ per submission. The advantage to festivals is that they offer the option of White Label VoD, i.e. streaming all uploaded films on the fest’s own website for online screenings or a video library. An advantage to filmmakers is that Reelport keeps a film file on their server for 24 months, by which time most films have completed their festival tour.
- Short Film Central, an Australian site that’s free to use for filmmakers and offers a film submission service to member festivals (cost of membership ranges between $100 to $150 CAD) that don’t charge a submission fee. The biggest disadvantage to festivals is that the films aren’t available for viewing on the website so online screeners must be obtained from each filmmaker. The biggest disadvantage to filmmakers is the enforced delays in submitting. First, a personal profile must be set up on the website followed by an approval process that can take up to 24 hours. Then a film profile must be set up followed by another delay of up to 24 hours for approval before a film can finally be submitted to a member festival. It was frustrating for both filmmakers and ourselves because many filmmakers believed they had submitted when they hadn’t so we had to follow up with them, or they emailed us wanting an explanation for why they were being prevented from submitting because they assumed the whole process could be done at the same time.
- Shortfilmdepot, the only submission platform for submitting to the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, the largest short film festival in the world and the second largest film festival in France after Cannes in terms of audience and professional attendance. Both the submission platform and the film festival are run by the Sauve Qui Peut le Court Métrage Association, but many other film festivals also use this submission platform which charges filmmakers from 1.5€ to 3€ depending on purchase option, AND charges festivals 650€ for a 1-year subscription.
- Uptofest, a European site that charges filmmakers 2.5€ and is free for fests.
- Click for Festivals, an initiative of Promofest, a well-established distributor in Spain. Cost to filmmakers starts at 3€ and drops to 1.5€ if buying 100 clicks (i.e. a click is equivalent to one festival submission). It’s free for festivals. A possible disadvantage for filmmakers is that the site only keeps a film file on their server for 2 months without being submitted and for one month after the end of the last festival to which it was submitted.
- Film Festival Life, a European site (Germany) that’s free for festivals but not for filmmakers. Cost is 2.99€ per submission for shorts. This will change in the near future as they plan to introduce a pricing structure that includes credits, packages and subscriptions.
- Festival Focus, a European (London, England) database site that started offering a submission service in Dec 2013 via their website to festivals that don’t charge a submission fee.
- MoviBeta, a new European site that costs filmmakers 4.84€ to submit but that drops to 0.5€ each when submitting to 20 festivals at one time. The FAQs seemed confusing which is not a good sign.
Notice how they’re all European with the exception of Short Film Central which is based in Australia? And that many of them charge filmmakers a fee. Or if they’re free to filmmakers, they charge the festival a fee. Why isn’t there a platform that is free for filmmakers and free for festivals that don’t charge a submission fee, and makes their money by charging a reasonable commission (8.5%) on submission fees for those festivals that charge them? Well, now there is – FilmFreeway.
Filmmakers and screenwriters, check out their FAQs for answers to questions about the cost to submit to festivals/screenplay contests (no cost; it’s free), the quality of uploaded files (online screeners play seamlessly in HD quality), ability to submit digitally (yes), security of online screeners (they can’t be downloaded or shared), loss or transfer of any rights in your work (none), and ability to work on smartphone or tablet (yes).
But even though the FAQ page purports that a filmmaker or festival can add their film or festival to their site in under 10 minutes on one simple page (true when we added our festival), is it a worthwhile investment of time if FilmFreeway runs the same risk of being shut down as B-Side’s Submissions 2.0 service mentioned above?
I figured the simplest way to find out was to phone the number given on their Contact page and “Talk to a real person” as promised on their website. Not only did a real person answer, but it was Andrew Michael, one of the co-founders, who was happy to answer my questions.
I asked if they had a filmmaking or festival background and that’s why they had started this service, but he said that wasn’t the case. They were a team of programmers looking for industries that have problems that need solutions. Someone pointed out to them that the submission system was broken and the industry leader wasn’t doing anything to improve it, so they very quickly focused on coming up with a solution. As Andrew said, “If you’re not doing something right, someone’s going to come along and do it better.”
When I asked if there was a risk that they’d be shut down due to patent litigation, he said they were very well prepared. When they first looked at getting into this kind of business, they had hired one of the best IP law firms in the world and took a close look at Withoutabox’s patent. They designed and built their platform so that it doesn’t impinge on that patent.
I asked whether they were going to add a feature that many festivals, including ours, really need which is a system for judging entries, and he said their judging component will go live within a couple of weeks.
Part of my excitement about FilmFreeway is patriotic pride that a Canadian firm is taking on the giant of the industry with a better product. Part of it is the fact that a real person answered the phone, a rarity of customer service that’s a joy to find nowadays. But the biggest part is knowing what platform we’re going to use when we open for submissions on September 15. And we’re not the only festival flocking to their site. I got a mass email late Sat, which was the first I’d heard of FilmFreeway. When I added our fest a few hours later, we were the 52nd festival to do so. Within 48 hours, they now have 104 festivals listed, many of which are open for submissions and accepting them on the site.
Filmmakers, I strongly recommend you check them out at www.filmfreeway.com.