If you’re a filmmaker or film festival that has grown disgruntled with the online submission service WithoutABox, you’re not alone. Thousands of filmmakers from around the world, including yours truly, have grown tired of the overpriced and appalling service the Amazon owned website provides and up until recently there hasn’t been any viable alternative. No competitors were willing to take WAB head on. Of course there has been the increasingly popular Filmmakers & Festivals Against WithoutABox, but the petition-oriented site which is more of a declaration platform, doesn’t provide any real world solutions to the problem. The status quo remained the same for many years: there had been no other trustworthy, online solution for filmmakers and film festivals to connect with one another.

Thankfully times are changing and the good news for all of us is that FilmFreeway.com has launched and acquired quite an impressive crop of festivals. The new service is in full operation and today I had the opportunity to interview Zachary Jones, one of the founders of FilmFreeway, about this very ambitious project.

Renegade Cinema (RC): What inspired the idea of creating the long overdue FilmFreeway website?

Zachary Jones (ZJ): FilmFreeway was created, quite simply, as a solution to a problem.  In our view, festival submissions were broken.  The industry was dominated by a market leader with grossly outdated, dreadful technology, a miserable user experience, backed up by an unfair, predatory business model.  We saw an opportunity to create a product that would make film festivals’ and filmmakers’ lives easier.  FilmFreeway was created to simplify and improve film festival submissions with modern technology with a fair business model.

RC: How did this project transition from being an idea to becoming a live, fully functioning service?

ZJ: We’re engineers and programmers, so we come from that background and took a very analytic approach.  First, we immersed ourselves with learning as much about the independent film community and festival circuit as possible. Then we set out to address the common complaints and concerns we had heard and read about over and over again from filmmakers and festivals all over the world.  All we had to do was listen to the very specific requests and concerns we kept hearing from just about everyone we spoke with.  The information is widely available, but no one was listening.  So we set out to build for the indie film community, a service exactly like they asked for.

We’ve been live for less than a week and already we’re approaching 100 festivals that have signed up for our platform.  We are receiving daily submissions from filmmakers all over the world that are finding out about us from festivals and word of mouth.  Frankly, we didn’t expect to be receiving submissions from filmmakers this early.  We have almost 1/6th of the live listings that WithoutABox has in our first week.  That speaks volumes about the long-standing, pent-up demand for an alternative.

Here’s what one festival manager wrote to us today, verbatim, (names redacted for privacy):

“FINALLY – an alternative to Without A Box!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! I NEED to talk to you as soon as possible to discuss moving all of my accounts, which include the _______ Film Festival (now in its 14th season), _______ Film Festival (now in its 8th) and the ________ International Film Festival (debuts this season) over to your site – but not until I talk with someone… as I must be dreaming here… ;-) Thanks!  ________”

From what we’ve seen so far, this is indicative of the general sentiments of much of the festival community.

” Our service will always be 100% free for festivals that don’t charge entry fees.” -Zachary Jones

RC: Without giving away too much inside info, what is your plan on how to compete with WAB?

ZJ: First, FilmFreeway is 100% free to list for festivals.  No set-up fees of any kind.   WAB charges first-time festivals a $500 USD set up fee and another minimum $750 USD as a mandatory marketing package.

For festivals that don’t charge entry fees, WAB charges a fee of $2,000 USD.  Why should a submissions platform make money off festivals that aren’t making money?  If your festival is free, we don’t charge a nickel.  Our service will always be 100% free for festivals that don’t charge entry fees.

For festivals that charge entry fees we take a very reasonable commission of 8.5%.  After we pay our payment processor 3% plus 30 cents USD per transaction, we make about 5%. Compare that to WAB’s commission of 18%. Actually, we did the math and posted it on our site and when you factor in all of WAB’s fees and commissions, under a common circumstance they take about 35% of a festival’s revenue.  Festivals have spoken loud and clear how they feel about that. In our view, the days of paying a 3rd party 35% of your festival revenue are over.

Financial Comparison

RC: WAB’s appeal to many filmmakers, especially first time filmmakers, is their affiliation with IMDB. FIlmmakers, actors and other crew who have no professional track record are clamoring to have their names listed on IMDB and WAB makes this relatively easy by using their submission service.

ZJ: IMDB is somewhat overrated. The most important thing for a filmmaker is to have her or his work seen by an audience, not listed on an Internet directory.

RC:  How are you appealing to film festivals to get them to come over to FilmFreeway?

ZJ: We have quite a laundry list of incentives for festivals.  I’ve copied some from our marketing materials here:

  • No set up fees – it’s 100% free to list a festival.
  • It’s fast – a festival can be live and ready to accept entries in under 10 minutes, absolutely free.
  • FilmFreeway is always 100% free for festivals that don’t charge entry fees.
  • Simple, Honest Pricing – Festivals with entry fees pay a simple commission of just 8.5%.  We only make money when we directly generate money for our festivals.  That’s less than half of Withoutbox’s commission of 18%.
  • Real Customer Service – We pride ourselves on immediate and personal customer service.  We list a phone number where our customers can call and actually speak to a real human being.
  • We designed FilmFreeway to be fully responsive for mobile devices so festivals and filmmakers can manage their projects and events from their smartphones or tablets.
  • Our user interface is clean and simple, with functionality that is fast and easy to use.
  • We’ll never require festivals to create mandatory “discounts” or special deadlines.  We believe festivals should be free to manage their festivals how they wish, not jump through hoops to use our platform.
  • We’ll never require festivals to purchase any mandatory “marketing packages” or upgrades.
  • We’ll never require festivals to add our logo or link to their websites.  We don’t need to poach the organic traffic of festivals to be successful.  The content of a festival’s website should be entirely up to the festival.
  • No Activation Calls – Why should a web-based service require a tedious phone call to get started?  FilmFreeway allows festivals to easily activate and manage their festivals entirely online.
  • All-Season Access – We will never lock you out of your listing mid-season.  Access your festival anytime to easily make updates or add information.
  • Dashboard, Analytics and Reporting – FilmFreeway comes with powerful dashboard, analytics, and reporting features that allow you to monitor key festival performance metrics at a glance and in detail.
  • Free Discount Codes and Waivers – FilmFreeway lets you easily create custom discount codes and deadline waivers.  We’ll never prevent you from offering your own discounts or promotions on your website or elsewhere, too.
  • Completely Non-Exclusive – FilmFreeway is 100% non-exclusive.  You can use any additional submission platforms you like.  We want your festival to thrive!
  • Lighting Fast Performance – We developed FilmFreeway to be fast and responsive site-wide.  No more waiting minutes for a page to load.
  • Timely Payouts – We pay on time. When we receive money, it is credited to your account in real time.  The way it should be.  There are never any deadlines by which you must track films to get paid.

RC: What are some other incentives for both festivals and filmmakers that might not be known via the website? Additionally, do you have future incentives planned?

ZJ: FilmFreeway is always 100% free for filmmakers and screenwriters.  That means the whole site, every feature and all services.  No tricky paid add-ons or upgrade packs.  We built FilmFreeway for the artist, not for us. Additionally, you Own 100% of Your Rights and our terms of service will never require that you license us rights to your work.  You always retain 100% of all rights to your intellectual property.

We have Crystal Clear Online Screeners. Online screeners play seamlessly, in beautiful, crystal clear HD.  We understand how vitally important is that the viewing experience for your film reflects the same quality and attention to detail you put into creating it. All data and screener information is safe and secure. We use industry-leading technology to assure that your online screeners cannot be downloaded or shared without your consent.

Our clean and modern user interface is incredibly simple, fast and easy to use.  Easily add your project in under 5 minutes on one simple page.

RC: How would you compare the quality of the online screeners on FilmFreeway with the horrendous WAB online screeners?

ZJ: Night and day.  Withoutabox’s video player is absolutely archaic.  Last we checked, it pops up in a small window about 300 pixels wide in the corner of your screen with a terrible compression.  Filmmakers would be aghast if they knew how their work was being screened by festivals online.  One of our main objectives was to deliver state of the art online screeners.  In fact, we use the same video technology as YouTube and Facebook.  What’s more, along with supporting uploads, our platform also integrates with Vimeo and YouTube so filmmakers can submit with their already uploaded films with no new uploads required.  This feature is also 100% free.  Withoutabox charges to use their online screener service. Why charge for a service Vimeo and YouTube are already offering for free?

RC: Beyond the festival circuit, what other industry areas, without giving away any vital business plan information, do you see FilmFreeway dabbling into?

ZJ: Right now we’re 100% focused on creating the best user experience possible for filmmakers, screenwriters and festivals.  This is our single-minded goal for now.  Perhaps in the future we’ll explore other facets of the industry that we feel we may be able to improve. Anything’s possible.

RC: How do you see FilmFreeway in ten years?

ZJ: I can’t guess where we’ll be in 10 years but I do think in 6 months we’ll be the market leader in film festival submissions.  We built our model to operate at as close to break even as possible once you factor in video hosting expenses, which are considerable.  We don’t believe there is a way to offer the services we are offering any cheaper than we are offering them and still stay in business.  If you add up: free for filmmakers, cheap for festivals, and a clean, modern user experience, we believe you you get the best film festival submissions platform on the planet for the absolute least cost possible.  No one is going to undercut our prices because we entered the market with the lowest sustainable model.

Note from the author: As a filmmaker and festival adviser to many indie fests in the NYC area, I was overjoyed to see the launch of FilmFreeway and urge all artists and festival programmers to try this brand new service out. Something tells me you won’t look back once you transition over to FilmFreeway. The monopoly that is WithoutABox will be nothing more than a footnote in independent film history. -Eric