Most festivals and filmmakers use the Amazon owned Withoutabox for their submission process. I used it for my film “The Selling” and we had an amazing festival run. Withoutabox boasts over 5,000 festivals across six Continents, a standardized submission form and digital upload options. There is also a video player that makes it easy for the festival screeners to watch and judge films all in one place.
It’s also got a clunky and unreliable interface that hasn’t changed much since the site went live in 2000. The Withoutabox search feature was, as far as I could tell worse than useless, although to be fair I had usually forgot what I was searching for by the time a result came up so maybe it’s perfect, I don’t remember. When I was screening shorts for a festival I found the Withoutabox video player to be of very low quality and very slow. In general the site is missing a lot of features it should have and costs both filmmakers and festivals A LOT of money. The fee structures vary on how much of the submission fee they take but it can be up to 18% plus a hefty setup fee. That’s a lot. You can find out more in this great Indiewire article or at Filmmakers and Festivals Against Withoutabox.
There seems to be a new kid in town! A couple of engineers saw this giant hole in the market and filled it with something that looks like a real good alternative. Check out Film Freeway.
Unlike similar services that have folded because of a fear of being sued by Amazon due to patent infringement the Film Freeway guys have designed their service around the patent and seem to be pretty confident that they are in the clear. So they’ll hopefully be sticking around and providing some real competition in this arena for the first time in 14 years.
Film Freeway has a much nicer pricing structure for festivals (they take 8.5% of entry fees). That might help stem the tide of constantly rising submission prices and make festivals more likely to grant a fee waiver if a filmmaker asks nicely.
Their video player is in HD. For “The Selling” I physically made, tested and mailed a DVD for every submission because I don’t feel the Withoutabox player is appropriate for a feature length submission and it was cheaper than paying the additional fee.
They have a feature that supports press kits. This is wonderful. Press kits require GIANT sized photos that are hard to host and mail. Having your press kit attached to your submission is an amazing feature.
There is actual customer service! This is a big difference from the way Withoutabox works. There is a human you can actually call if you have a problem. Crazy. The founders seem to be really interested in building a service that provides what people actually want and need. Here is a great interview with founder Zachary Jones on Renegade Cinema about how they designed the site.
There are currently 850 festivals working with Film Freeway. This means that a lot of filmmakers will still have to use Withoutabox if their target festivals haven’t signed up yet but if you look at the Film Freeway Facebook Page you’ll see that they are acquiring more festivals all the time. It’s looking like it’s got the momentum to become a real viable alternative.
I haven’t used this service yet as my new film Diani And Devine Meet The Apocalypse is still in post-production. I’ll have a better idea about how much of a game changer this is in the New Year.
When good alternatives to the bad alternatives pop up we should do what we can to encourage their success. If you are currently submitting a film to festivals and you use Film Freeway let us know how it’s working. Let them know too. They actually seem like they’d care enough to fix it if something is wrong.