Disclaimer 1: I fully support FilmFreeway.com as a general rule. As a filmmaker who retains vivid memories of the dark days when WithoutABox held a monopoly on online film submissions, FilmFreeway is still my top choice for online Submissions. I was among the first adopters of the service and the earliest public advocate for it. I even went as far as to conduct an interview with one of its founders for Renegade Cinema, which helped propel the site into the indie filmmaking stratosphere.
Disclaimer 2: I have screened at and volunteered with many film festivals over the years. I advise programming for several of them (all of which are listed on the FilmFreeway website). I have been outed by some film festivals for attempting to improve how they do business. I am aware of the hardships of many independent film festivals (especially the ones that lack sponsors). While I sympathize with the complexity of the world in which they must operate, I also come from a place of increasing disenchantment with their lack of willingness to grow and improve how they do business with filmmakers.
With that out of the way...
I have always been curious about FilmFreeway's marketing packages, especially the e-mails I constantly receive that promote current film projects. I call these the "Now Submitting.... e-mails". I couldn't find any information from the filmmaking community on the outcomes of these e-mail blasts and whether or not any filmmakers found value in them. Thus, I decided to test them out for the sake of furthering transparency as it concerns them. Also I wanted to start a new blog and I thought what better way to get it off the ground than with some light investigative reporting.
The e-mail blast with my film went out on August 2, 2018. I decided to promote my essay/art-house feature, Death & Life, as it's been a struggle to get this little bastard programmed.
The specific packages I obtained are irrelevant because in the end, they all promise that one thing that appeals to all of us: Festivals can invite your project to submit with a full entry fee waiver with just one click. All packages involve either/and/or your film included in an e-mail blast or on the dashboard for film festival programmers when they log onto the website.
The e-mail blast for Death & Life went out on August 2, 2018. Death & Life was the only film listed in this blast.
The blast also included my director bio, but I omitted it in favor of directing you to my main website to read it.
So, what came of this e-mail blast and what do I have to look forward to?
Fee Waiver invites: ZERO
That's right, as of yet, not a single film festival has invited the film to submit with a complete waiver of the submission fees they typically charge.
Fee Discounts: On the first day, upwards of 40 film festivals invited me to submit the film with a fee discount. These discounts ranged from 10% and up to 80% off. Most of these film festivals I had never heard of and was not comfortable submitting to them for a fee. Several of them were festivals that had already either rejected this specific film, or rejected a previous film that I had submitted to them. I did not submit to them either.
Day 2 (today): I'm still getting discount invites, but no actual waivers. I did get a $6.00 off invite for a film festival where the overall submission fee is $7.00 (thus the submission would have only been $1.o0 for the current deadline) but it's in Nigeria. So I didn't submit to that either, because as a person who once (in his early twenties) rented a room from the Brooklyn cell of a Nigerian scam ring, there were too many red flags.
I did receive a couple messages through my website contact form: one from a film festival asking for a full-fee submission and another from a filmmaker who was simply curious to see the film (I ended up sending her a download link in exchange for some light feedback, which she kindly obliged).
In an era where any computer-literate individual can establish a virtual presence for a film festival that may or may not exist, that may or may not have good intentions, I take the current position: if a festival is dependent on submission fees as a primary source of financing, then giving them the option to invite with a fee waiver or with a fee discount, they'll almost assuredly click the discount button unless there is an incentive to waive the fee completely. There have been times where I have gone as far as to ask festivals to waive their submission fees, only to be laughed out of their Rolodex.
Film festival submission fees will not go anywhere until it becomes socially and professionally unacceptable to charge them. This means that only the big festivals can change the game. Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, - all of the majors - would need to stop accepting fees as part of their submissions process (and all of these guys are totally capable of doing so, considering the backing that is already behind them). By doing so, they would be forcing a new norm for the film festival sector and force smaller festivals to stop being so lackadaisical with their financing structure. Festivals need to be forced to think outside of the box in regards to how they are funded. Until these changes occur at the top, receiving an invitation with a complete fee waiver is really only going to be for those that have already made it.
UPDATE: August 7, 2018
The second e-mail blast (cheaper of the packages) went out yesterday, 07/06/2018. Results were nearly exactly similar to the more expensive package. Festivals offered discount waivers, most of them were the same festivals as before. Again, I declined to submit.
Ultimately, I would not recommend purchasing these services.