FilmFreeway has taken the film industry by storm since this indy startup launched 2 years ago. It is now the #1 platform in the world for filmmakers to submit their films and screenplays to festivals, trumping Withoutabox, which is owned and operated by the billion $ corporation Amazon. It’s quite an achievement. And they have succeeded by doing the right thing, and with integrity.
I recently sat down again with the founder of FilmFreeway, Zachary Jones:
Matthew Toffolo: Last time we spoke was a little over 16 months ago in late November 2014. You were then at 1200 festivals signed up. How many festivals do you now have signed up today? How many filmmakers/screenwriters?
Zachary Jones: Wow, that’s incredible to think that less than a year and a half ago we had just crossed the 1,000 mark. Now here we are just after our 2 year anniversary and we’re approaching 3,700 film festivals and 250,000 filmmakers! The support and reception from the indie film community has been incredible. We would have never guessed we’d reach an audience like this in 2 years. We’re tremendously grateful to our users and to the community for all the support.
MT: You just passed the 2 year anniversary of the site. What has been your biggest learning experience so far?
ZJ: We’ve learned a great deal about what users, both filmmakers and festivals, are looking for in a submission platform. Many of the best features we’ve added have been the results of the feedback and ideas that have been submitted to us by the community. It’s great to have direct lines of communication with our users so we can learn what new features they need and then get to work building them.
MT: What has been your proudest achievement in the last 2 years?
ZJ: There’s definitely been quite a few noteworthy milestones to celebrate along the way. Some of our proudest achievements include:
– Reaching 200,000+ filmmaker users
– Serving 30+ Academy Award accredited festivals
– Becoming the exclusive submission platform for HBO, The Student Oscars, and the LA Film Festival
– Surpassing Withoutabox in global web traffic and becoming the #1 submission platform in the world
MT: Where do you see the site in 5 years?
ZJ: Our team comes to work every day eager to continue building and improving what is already the best submission platform in the world. We are planning on rolling out a few new features that are entirely outside the current scope of our business that we think will really shake things up. I can’t say too much about that now, but we’ll be offering some free services that other organizations are currently charging an arm and a leg for. Remember how Withoutabox used to charge $3 a pop for online submissions and charge festivals 18% commissions? Well, that went away almost immediately once we introduced our fairly priced business model. We’re planning on doing that again with another aspect of indie film that we feel is currently greatly overpriced.
MT: What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of being a Canadian based company?
ZJ: I can’t think of a better place in which to live and do business. We have it all: a beautiful, clean city with four seasons, the friendliest people, the best seafood, amazing architecture, access to the sea and the mountains, a thriving film community. You name it. We’re all very happy here.
MT: You created this site because there was a monopoly occurring over at Withoutabox that controlled the film festival online market. No competition generally leads to stagnant production – which many argued occurred at Withoutabox. Now you seem to be passing them in every single way (online traffic, film festival signups etc..). Are you a bit shocked that they haven’t made their site more user friendly and steal some of your ideas? Do you believe that competition is important in business? Coke needs Pepsi? Nike needs Reebok? FilmFreeway needs Withoutabox (or a future site)?
ZJ: Actually, we have seen them make several changes to their site and business model in direct response to our arrival. For example, they changed their commission from 18% to match ours right down to the decimal at 8.5%. They also stopped charging filmmakers $3 for every online submission. When this happened we literally received hundreds of emails from filmmakers and festivals thanking us profusely and saying that they never thought they would see this day. To hear that kind of feedback was especially gratifying because we knew we had changed festival submissions for the better, as now both filmmakers and festivals were benefitting in the form of lower prices and fees across the board. For this reason, competition is always good. When filmmakers and festivals have a choice, they win. The days of a monopoly controlling every aspect of festival submissions and price gouging filmmakers and festivals at every turn are over. Actually Withoutabox still charges filmmakers an outrageous $400 for “upgraded projects,” which we offer for free. In fact, every aspect of FilmFreeway is entirely free for submitters. We’re very proud to be the only festival submission platform that is truly 100% free for submitters.
IMAGE: Current online stats between FilmFreeway vs Withoutabox:
MT: Are you ever able to attend any of the film festivals that receive their submissions through your site?
ZJ: We did have a chance to attend Slamdance last year, which was amazing. What an amazing festival they put together, truly one of the gems of the festival circuit. We also got chance to meet a bunch of great filmmakers and watch some killer films, even do a little skiing and snowboarding in Park City. But overall, the last two and half years have been filled with a lot of late nights coding and designing. We’re hoping to have the time to begin traveling more and attending the many of the festivals that we serve. We’ve made a lot of great friends with festival organizers and owe them some visits to thank them for their support.
MT: What film have you watched the most times in your life?
ZJ: Anything Star Trek. I’ve seen them all countless times.
MT: What person, dead or alive, would you love to have dinner with?
ZJ: Vint Cerf, one of the “Fathers of the Internet.” Legend.
MT: What was your favourite television show growing up?
ZJ: “The Simpsons,” hands down.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.