After more than 10 years, film festival submission platform Withoutabox is shutting down, according to emails from the company to festival administrators today. The company announced:
“After more than 10 years operating the Withoutabox film festival submission service, we have decided to phase out the service over the next year.
We are working with current film festival customers to fulfill Withoutabox’s commitments through October 30, 2019 and are working with filmmakers to ensure their submissions are properly processed during this transition. We are grateful to all the filmmakers who have shared their stories through Withoutabox and the film festivals who have discovered talented artists around the world using our service.
Why are you disabling the service?
After extensive consideration, we have decided to phase out the service over the next year. We are working with current film festival customers to fulfill Withoutabox’s commitments through October 30, 2019 and are working with filmmakers to ensure their submissions are properly processed in this transition phase. We are grateful to all the filmmakers who have shared their stories through Withoutabox and the film festivals who have discovered talented artists around the world using our service.”
The website pioneered online submissions for film festivals, and quickly grew to be the largest platform for submitting independent films for consideration by festivals. The company was launched in January 2000 by founders David Straus, Joe Neulight and Charles Neulight which allowed filmmakers to distribute their films to festivals. In January 2008, Withoutabox was acquired by IMDb, a subsidiary of Amazon. At its peak, Withoutabox hosted over 3000 film festivals on five continents, including such world-renowned festivals such as Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival.
The company earned revenue by charging a commission on festival submission fees, as well as by selling advertising to film festival administrators to promote their call for entries.
While the service was a breath of fresh air for filmmakers initially, who prior to Withoutabox had to submit their film 35mm prints and VHS tapes literally in a box to film festivals with a check for payment, the tide of public opinion began to turn.
After growing quickly to dominate the marketplace of film festival submissions, Withoutabox began to encounter criticism from festivals and filmmakers for charging to much money for their service and for having an unstable technical platform that was difficult to navigate.
“The honeymoon was over for festivals,” as industry analyst Stephen Follows wrote in a piece titled The seismic shift in the world of film festivals.
Even before Amazon’s acquisition of the platform, anger and discontent about the service began to grow, as Withoutabox was blamed for a buggy site, high upfront fees for film festivals, high commission fees, anti-competitive practices and litigious behavior against upstart competitors, claiming unnecessary rights from filmmakers, and poor customer service. Additionally, Withoutabox claimed a patent on their submission platform which they wielded against would-be competitors.
A Facebook group called Filmmakers and Festivals Against Withoutabox was formed, and now has over 6,000 members.
Withoutabox came under fire for paying top film festivals to exclusively use their platform. As recently as this year, Withoutabox negotiated a 3-year exclusive deal with Sundance. It remains to be seen what will come of this deal in light of today’s news of Withoutabox’s demise.
As recently as last year (April 2017), Withoutabox crashed under the huge volume of of HBO Access screenplay submissions.
FilmFreeway’s debut in 2013 quickly supplanted Withoutabox as the preferred submission platform by many festivals and filmmakers.
Today there are several industry-leading submission platforms for films and screenplays, notably:
- Coverfly (specializing in curated screenplay competition submissions management)
- FilmFreeway (specializing in film and script submissions, and event ticketing)
- Submittable (specializing in multi-format submissions including film, books, essays and applications)
Coverfly has quickly grown to be the leading submissions management platform specializing in screenwriting competitions, fellowships and writing labs. Open only to top screenwriting competitions with proven reputations, Coverfly offers festival and contest administrators robust features for managing their contest’s submissions.