I recently visited a lovely small film festival in Germany and the head of the festival asked me what my experiences were, as a filmmaker, with online festival submission platforms. He would soon have to choose one for his own festival’s submissions. I thought I would compile my observations into a post that might benefit others, so here it is!
I am a short filmmaker who submits my work to film festivals. Despite working in animation, I work quickly, and sometimes make a few films per year. Right now, I have ten films that were completed after Jan 1, 2012. This means that I am often submitting one, two, three, four, five or even more films to a festival, depending on which films I have submitted to them in the past, what their cut-off date is for completion, and whether they have an entry fee.
I spend a lot of time on festival submissions. I would say I spend about 30 hours a month on them: meticulously looking up the festival details, updating my spreadsheet, filling in online forms, and getting my films to festivals.
Some festivals still want a physical DVD in the mail, and to them I say – please join the internet age. It costs a lot of time and money to burn a DVD, write the appropriate information on it, put it in a specially purchased bubble envelope, carry it to the post office, stand in line, and then pay the international postage fee. Now imagine doing that for 10 films per festival. I am able to get my film digitally to film festivals in a number of ways: WeTransfer, FTP server, Mega link, Dropbox, downloadable vimeo link, in addition to the festival submission websites. I’ll do whatever works for you! Just don’t make me mail you a DVD. I will seriously consider not submitting to a festival if they require a DVD, and especially if they require multiple DVDs of the same film. I once had an environmental film festival that insisted on 3 DVDs in the mail. I did not submit.
But most festivals have started to realize the wisdom of switching to online submissions, and nowadays they have filmmakers submit through a festival submission platform like Withoutabox or reelport. Thing is, there are a bunch of these sites, and festivals don’t use all the same ones. This means part of my job is uploading my film file and information to not just one, but all of these sites. Remember, I have more than 10 films I could be submitting. That’s per platform, and I’ve had to use 6 of them. That’s at least 60 film uploads. This also takes time, but at least after it’s done I can theoretically submit the film to multiple festivals with minimal trouble. But not all festival submission platforms are created equal.
The criteria used to compare are:
1. Does the website make me upload my film file to their server, or can I simply link to the file that is already on vimeo or YouTube? Uploading takes time (10 films per site).
2. How much information does the website ask me to fill in? For pre-selection purposes of course it is important for festivals to have my contact information, a synopsis, a still, and basic info like year finished and maybe animation technique used. But do they really need to know the cast’s name? The composer? The synopsis in French? The producer, when there was no producer? The sales distributor, when there is no sales distributor? I think a lot of this information could be asked of filmmakers if their film is lucky enough to be chosen for the festival. Clicking through these info forms takes time.
3. The interface: is it easy to find your pending submissions? Is it easy to find or search for festivals to submit to?
4. Does the website charge a fee for each submission? These can add up.
5. Does the website allow you to pay via PayPal, or will it make me go up to my room and find my wallet and pay by credit card?
The websites I profiled are ones I have used. There are other websites out there like FestivalFocus or ClickforFestivals, but I haven’t been prompted to use them yet by a festival. Here are the results:
Conclusion: FilmFreeway is clearly the best website to use from the point of view of filmmakers. It’s free, it has a fluid, simple interface, it doesn’t ask you to fill in too much information, you can pay via PayPal and you don’t even have to upload your film file, just link to where it is probably already uploaded: YouTube or vimeo. It even has an upload option if for some reason you don’t have YouTube or vimeo.
I will continue using all six websites as long as festivals will continue to send me to all six. And I have no idea how much these websites charge the festivals for their use. But if there is a festival looking to jump on the online submission bandwagon, I hope these observations help you see what we filmmakers take into consideration when using these platforms.