Filmmakers & Film Festivals Against Withoutabox. is a movement that was started back in 2011 (and quite possibly had its seeds planted well before) and now has upwards of 11,000 followers as of August 18, 2013 and includes festivals as notable as the Honolulu Film Awards, which recently had to change it’s name from the Honolulu International Film Awards and even some of the majors. A blog posted in September 2011, on Blogspot, lists several detailed reasons as to why this movement is relevant and necessary to the future of the independent film community.
Included on the list of reasons film festivals should avoid doing business with Withoutabox are the fees and rules that come with operating under the WAB umbrella. They make it incredibly difficult for festivals to operator efficiently, to grow exponentially and put too much strain on the filmmaker, at least as far as financial contribution goes. You can read it in detail here: http://boycottwithoutabox.blogspot.com/ These complaints aren’t uncommon with film festivals and even some of the majors have started pulling their festivals from WAB’s list of partners.
I have utilized Withoutabox both as a filmmaker and a festival programmer and coordinator. In addition, I had attempted to start a film series in New York, that would be completely free of submission fees. The only problem was that Withoutabox didn’t like the idea of hosting a film series that didn’t involve any kind of currency exchange. The catch to having a free-to-submit to festival listed on their site is that they would require the festival coordinators to put down thousands of dollars. This was unacceptable and I never got this particular series off the ground. This is why festivals continue to program via the antiquated “pay to submit to” system. It’s not so much about covering operating costs, but because the submission platform they use requires fees, that the filmmakers are expected to front.
Other film festivals I’ve worked with on the programming level have been endlessly bullied by WAB and its ridiculous policies to the point where some of them have invested in an online submission tool of their own. I have even gone so far as to discuss the idea of collaborating with some of these festivals to develop an open source submission platform which can be tailored by any festival or series and added to their websites, free of charge so long as they have a web developer competent enough to create a kick ass site. They can choose between having submission fees or not and if they choose the latter, they don’t have to fear being financially punished and can pick and choose between multiple service providers to handle any payments or refunds. In my opinion, this is the most logical solution to the WAB monopoly and allows a constant to be maintained across a wide gamut of film festivals so filmmakers can become familiar with a single basic system.
Anthony Kaufman, who wrote a blog on IndieWire (a website I detest but the journalist in me feels I should at least reference it briefly) had made some similar points. Kaufman’s article concentrated more on WAB’s outdated technology platform and how terrible the films looked in their online video system. In his article, Kaufman interviewed Barbara Morgan, the Executive Director of the Austin Film Festival. She is quoted as saying “Before Withoutabox, it was easier to be a festival, we did our own marketing, we could track our own marketing, we reached a tremendous amount of filmmakers on our own. When we went the way of Withoutabox, that opened up all kinds of issues…. I guess the biggest issue with them is that we didn’t really need them, and then we had to pay for something that we didn’t really need.” I think this rings true for many film festivals, both small and large. The mega film festivals have already started dropping their affiliation with WAB and the smaller ones are quickly following suit. It has gotten to the point where many of them are realizing they don’t actually need WAB to run a good, solid film festival.
In my opinion as a filmmaker and a programmer, the big problem with WAB is that filmmakers don’t want to engage in any real research when it comes to finding a festival to whom they can submit their work. WAB makes it ridiculously easy to locate a festival and send them your film, a service which at the start seemed like a blessing. The reality, it seems, is that filmmakers spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars in one bout of submissions to maybe, five to ten festivals, all through Withoutabox and most of the filmmakers don’t bother visiting the festival’s sites to look at the types of films that particular festival has programmed in the past. This results in a huge number of disappointments when the majority receive rejection notices. Thus, filmmakers file complaints against said festivals, WAB investigates and thus a vicious circle of “what’s wrong with the system, who’s fault is it” begins and the filmmakers, who failed to do any real research, are made to look like helpless victims. Many filmmakers love this because they essentially get attention and press for being complete and utter failures, while sticking it to the festival that rejected their work.
Submitting to the festival circuit used to take real work; sitting down in a library and opening several books on film festivals and making phone calls etc. It’s now TOO EASY and we’re TOO OUT OF TOUCH with the festival coordinators to make dumping any submission fee really truly worth it. Not only do film festivals need to adopt a new submission platform/system, but filmmakers need to step up their game and stop blindly dumping submission fees to any old festival that comes up on a list. Research is key. I say again, research is key. I say one more time: RESEARCH IS KEY!
All the indie legends that started out in the festival circuit didn’t get there by submitting through Withoutabox. Heck, WAB wasn’t in existence until well after the 90′s indie hayday had ended. These indie film leaders researched and submitted the old way. Many of them got invited to the major festivals because they were inventive and didn’t depend on a computer system to get their work out there. They made SURE their movies were seen by the RIGHT people. This is the kind of initiative filmmakers need start taking again, otherwise it’s all for naught. WAB may not openly post easily accessible information on how many submissions are festival receives, vs. how many it programs, but that data is out there and a good festival is willing to share such info with you if you ask for it.