UPSTARTS CHALLENGE WITHOUTABOX'S FILM FESTIVAL SUBMISSION DOMINANCE
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [March 20, 2014]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Withoutabox has long been the world's leading film festival submission service. Owned by Amazon (which also owns the IMDb), Withoutabox boasts a huge database of film festivals and their submission requirements -- entry fees, deadlines, types of films accepted. Filmmakers submit their works through Withoutabox, which takes a cut of the entry fee. Festivals that don't charge entry fees must pay a flat fee to use Withoutabox. When I last checked several years ago, the annual fee was $2,000. Withoutabox also charges filmmakers $2.95 per online screener uploaded to the site.
While some festival directors have praised Withoutabox for increasing the number and quality of submissions (and entry fees) to their events, other festivals and filmmakers have complained that Withoutabox drives up the cost of submissions, which festivals pass on to filmmakers.
Now other festival submission services are challenging Withoutabox's dominance. FilmFreeway, FestivalFocus, Festhome, and ClickForFestivals all claim to offer more for less, to both festivals and filmmakers. Three of these services also replied to queries from the Hollywood Investigator.
FilmFreeway says it does not charge anything to festivals or filmmakers. "For festivals that charge entry fees, we take a 8.5% commission of fees. We also offer commission rates as low as 5%."
FilmFreeway has a pie chart comparing its festival commission to Withoutabox's:
FilmFreeway is the newest of these services. "We launched last month, February 2014. We are a small group of engineers and programmers, led by our founder, Zachary Jones. No big corporations behind us." The service claims to have registered 332 international film festivals and "over 17,000 international filmmakers and screenwriters" so far.
Yes, that's right. Screenwriters. Some festivals do have screenplay contests. Screenwriters can submit PDF files of their scripts through FilmFreeway, free of charge. (Naturally, they must still pay the festival's submission fee.)
Being the newest festival submission service, FilmFreeway lists the fewest festivals. Yet they boast that "We have more free [No Entry Fee] festivals listed than any other submissions platform in the world." I haven't verified that, but, since they charge nothing, filmmakers may as well register and see what festivals are available. FilmFreeway is nonexclusive.
One common element to all these new film festival submission services is their emphasis on online screeners as opposed to DVDs. Filmmakers upload films to the website. Festivals are supposed to review the films online. They can request DVDs, but automatic DVD submissions are not the norm.
FilmFreeway lets filmmakers upload an HD film to their site, or to Vimeo, or YouTube (and then link to that from FilmFreeway). They can also submit a DVD if the festival requests one.
"Withoutabox does not permit YouTube or Vimeo submissions," notes FilmFreeway. "And they charge almost $3 to submit [a film to their site]."
FestivalFocus is likewise "entirely free" to both festivals and filmmakers. When I asked how they make their money, or if they charge commissions, Chris only replied. "We're a free service. We don't charge anyone."
In which case, FestivalFocus is the only festival submission service that is free to all involved.
They were founded in 2006. "It's run by Blue Compass Ltd, the company behind Casting Call Pro and Film and TV Pro." Chris adds that, so far, they have listed 2,433 festivals, 33,000 filmmakers (by which number he includes "cast and crew"), and 76,000 films.
Like FilmFreeway, FestivalFocus lets filmmakers upload films to their site "or link to films stored on third party platforms (Vimeo, etc.). This ensures short-listing can be done without incurring any fees (postage, import, etc.) and filmmakers know when their submission has been viewed. If selected for screening at a festival, you may be required to send a DVD, but that's down to the individual festival."
Daniel L. Fenaux says that Festhome is "completely free" for festivals, but charges a small fee to filmmakers. "We do not believe in charging festivals, since they need the money to make the festival happen.
"Our direct fee system links festivals' PayPal accounts to our site. They receive their entry fees the moment the submission is done, directly to their accounts without us having to handle any money or charge commissions."
Fenaux believes that filmmakers are the main beneficiaries of Festhome, "so we charge them, which also makes us responsible toward their submissions and what happens with them. Filmmakers are charged from $1 to $2 when using credits or making single submissions. We also offer an Annual Pass for $40 and $55, which lets them submit to any festival for a year. Considering the amount of festivals partnering with us, it amounts to about 10 cents per submission."
So unlike FilmFreeway and FestivalFocus, Festhome charges filmmakers. But Fenaux believes they offer value in return. "We make sure that festivals allowed in our service are actual festivals. We try to protect filmmakers. Also, every festival in Festhome is aware they are using our service -- which doesn't happen everywhere. Festhome is also pushing other platforms to talk, and create a code of ethics, even an association, that guides how platforms should operate with best business practices and avoiding scams. This is probably one of our biggest enemies right now, as it is a new market for everyone. Having competitors do things unethically is going to hurt all of of us in the long run."
Fenaux says that "Festhome was founded in 2010 and started its beta in 2011. Moisés Tuñón and myself are the owners. We are filmmakers who used to submit a lot to film festivals, and hated the process that existed back then. We thought it could be done a lot better -- easily and cheaply.
"We have over 400 festivals, and we keep adding new festivals each week. I am sorry that I cannot disclose our filmmaker numbers at this time, due to fierce competition. But it is over 10,000."
As per the new norm, "all submissions must be made online." However, Festhome recognizes that some people still live in the previous decade. "We do have a service for people with bad internet connections to send us their DVD so we can upload it for them. We also have a system to upload files to our servers that saves the progress of the upload, which helps in areas where internet is not stable. Vimeo linking is also possible."
All three of these submission services say they're evolving, and express eagerness for suggestions from users. Festhome says they offer "quick phone or chat support. Reaching us is easy. We travel to film festivals and markets to meet people, so they can put a name to our faces."
ClickForFestivals did not reply to queries from the Hollywood Investigator, but some information can be gleaned from their website.
They do charge filmmakers. "The more clicks you buy, the more you save every time you send a film." Apparently they charge per submission, and offer volume discounts. "You can consult our price list on the top menu of our website. Both distributors and schools [film schools, I suppose] will be offered special promotions, once they have signed up in our system."
It sounds like they do not charge festivals, as they don't handle submission fees. "ClickForFestivals is not responsible for fees payable to festivals that require them. Every participant is responsible for such payments, according to the regulations set by each festival. During the process, users will be informed that a submission to those festivals is subject to the payment of the required fees."
Festivals can invite filmmakers to submit. "The organizers of our associated festivals will be able to consult your data sheet and invite you to join their festivals."
ClickForFestivals has its own server for online screeners. "Your file can be stored in our server for a maximum of 2 months without being submitted to any festival, and for one month after the end of the last festival to which it was submitted." I'm guessing this means that it's free to upload files, but since they make their money per submission, if a filmmaker doesn't submit for two months straight, the film is deleted. It also sounds as if films must be kept on their servers -- no linking to Vimeo or YouTube.
Who's behind ClickForFestivals? "This platform is backed by Promofest." I'm not sure who they are, but from a logo on their site (right), and the words: "Actividad subvencionada por el Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte," I infer that they're funded by the Spanish government. The site is available in both English and Spanish.