Got an invite from the American Online Film Awards?
Around Christmas I got an email about one of my short films which has been doing the rounds at festivals. We had sent the film around the world, waiting for good news, hoping festivals will accept and screen it for as many audiences as possible. So naturally, when I got an email from a man saying he was a Film Scout for the American Online Film Awards, I thought - sweet!
He said he had heard about my film and felt it would fit well into the current line up for their competition. He said I was guaranteed a place in the Spring Showcase Selection if I submitted the film via a link provided to their website. He said I was welcome to contact him with any questions or concerns, so I did. Through my emails back and forth, plus some online research, I learnt a few tidbits that may be of interest to independent filmmakers like myself.
I told the Film Scout the offer sounded great but I had not heard of the awards. I asked how he became aware of my film and also if there were any fees associated with being included in the showcase. He promptly replied, telling me the awards were in their first year, and that my film had been viewed by one of their scouts; either at a film festival, industry screening or as part of a film festival selection committee. The film was then referred to the AOFA and through their research they decided to invite me. He went on to say that once I submitted the film, a team member would be in touch to guide me through the "upload procedure" for the Spring Showcase Screenings. The Awards would later be judged by an industry panel and the public.
I was a little wary, as my film has not been made available online as yet, but as I had submitted it to many festivals around the USA, it was flattering to think somebody had seen it in passing and wanted it for their own festival. The scout told me I had to click a link to their website to be guaranteed my place - this would also waive the submissions fee, but I would still have to pay a “registration fee”. I later learned from the scout that they are charging $20 for registration, which covers admin costs, etc. I decided more research was needed.
I posted on Facebook and discovered other people I knew had also received the same invitation. In fact I found dozens of independent filmmakers online celebrating their 'official selection' for the Spring Showcase, some had even put up laurels, or said they had been shortlisted for the Awards. I had a look at the AOFA official website and twitter, but found no other sources of information. I was particularly surprised to find the American Online Film Awards were not listed on Without-a-Box. AOFA uses the word 'festival' on their own website, and yet WAB is the number one festival entry portal in the world for filmmakers.
I did not want to miss out on a potentially great opportunity, so with the official site www.americanonlinefilmawards.org as my only real source of information, I analysed the offer based on that, and made several discoveries worth noting:
1. Usually a festival has the organisers or festival director's name listed, perhaps also name drops a few celebrity judges and sponsors, or an exciting venue attached to bolster the festival's profile. I could find no big names or sponsors mentioned on the website, in fact, I could find no names at all. The only person I knew the name of was the Film Scout who had emailed me. I believe if you want to promote your festival, you should list some names. In my personal opinion, based on the awards being in their first year, perhaps they are being organised by a largely unknown group or person within the industry.
2. The home page has a striking picture of a New York skyline and says "AOFA 2014 will be hosted in New York... it runs two seasonal film showcases, spring and fall, culminating with the awards in December." Their 'Terms and Conditions' or 'General Rules' (both take you to an identical page), say under Dates and Venue that "The American Online Film Awards take place every year during the month of December... The venue for the ceremony is announced approximately two months before the ceremony."
Saying the Awards take place “every year” seemed a little odd given it is their first year, and while it is nice that there will be an awards ceremony in New York, I don't know if I'll get nominated for an award, or if they will screen any films at the awards ceremony, or where the venue will be. And in the meantime I still need to pay that $20 registration fee and upload my video without really knowing who, what or where I’m affiliating myself with.
3. I forget about New York and the awards for now and turn my attention to the Official Selection in Spring that I've been invited to join. A screening is a screening wherever it is, and if they like my film, of course it doesn't matter who wants to see it, I made it for everyone to enjoy. Quoting from their T&Cs: "Screenings will be hosted on the website... Screenings will be held for a minimum of two weeks, after which time films will be not available for viewing...."
Woo, wait a minute - I tend to call an online web hosting of a film 'streaming' or 'made available at'. I suppose you do need a 'screen' to watch an online video, but still, the term 'Screenings' suggests something will be screened multiple times, typically at a set time. Will there be set times audiences need to 'tune in' to the website? Or will it be accessible to view / screen / stream as they wish? I assume the latter would be more convenient. Back to the T&Cs: "For successful submissions that are granted a screening, .mpeg is the preferred format… If you are unable to upload your screener once granted access to filmmaker tools, please address your screeners to info@AmericanOnlineFilmAwards.com"
Okay, so AOFA wants me to pay a fee to cover their costs and upload my video to their website. If I have any trouble I can contact tech support. Just like YouTube or Vimeo, where I upload it and they stream it. Except on YouTube I probably won't win an award, but people still get to see my film and I can earn money on advertising to boot. I can do this all for free on YouTube, and have the video up for an unlimited time, integrating it easily into my other social media platforms.
To clarify an invitation to the Spring Showcase for the American Online Film Awards:
It's not a 'screening' being offered in the traditional sense, there's no confirmation a venue will play your film. The films will be hosted on a new website by the festival in its first year. Once invited, you will need to pay a registration fee of $20 and then upload your video. You will be judged by, at this stage, unnamed industry professionals to potentially win an award at a location in New York, to be announced. Just to clarify, the AOFA are not saying "We watched and loved your film, may we play it please?" The invitation is saying "We heard about your film, would you pay for us to host it on our website for two weeks?"
To my knowledge this is a legitimate offer. It will definitely appeal to some people and be worth accepting. The lack of details does honestly concern me, but perhaps more information, official associations and preferably an indication of a registered business will appear on their website in the near future. For now AOFA is being very mysterious about it all, and when you break down what is actually known online about this event, there is nothing to stop anyone setting up their own comparable online film awards tomorrow. That does not mean that the AOFA doesn't have the ability to put on a great competition which will be entertaining, engaging and help further independent filmmakers. Despite the lack of information, I do believe the website it attractive, easy to navigate and well written.
However, do consider that some prestigious, established festivals, which also have their own awards ceremonies, like MIFF for example, have strict rules about releasing a film for the general public online prior to the festival. Which is reasonable, because why would people come to a festival if they can just jump on YouTube? By accepting the offer from AOFA, you are potentially making your film ineligible for established, big festivals, so just double check this before they stream your film. For this reason in particular, I was unable to accept the offer to participate in the Spring Showcase 2014.
I hope my analysis of this new competition has been of interest and perhaps help other independent filmmakers out there make an informed decision.
Regardless of the reputation of a festival, whether they are new or established, you should always be wary of unsolicited offers because let’s face it, independent filmmakers are a dime a dozen. We do not command the audiences that come with big budget distribution and it is hard to get noticed. We are proud of our work. You put your heart and soul into a film and you just want it seen. We are all prone to that vanity, and that makes us vulnerable. So always do your research, and make sure you understand what an offer truly is before accepting it.