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Got an invite from the American Online Film Awards?

Updated on December 29, 2013

The Invitation

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.

Research Time!

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.

Conclusions

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.

Final Thought

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.

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    • profile image

      Jesus Diez 7 months ago

      Fantastic article, Cassie.

      I have been finding short films with multiple awards and the famous laurels and they turn out to be really bad. All of the awards are from places like the one you mention.

      It's a bit worrying.

    • profile image

      Brian Rodríguez 3 years ago

      We did fall for it and believe it's a Scam.

      We paid my 20 dollars to show our documentary and share it. http://youtu.be/ek_A86eLkfo

      The showcase - This procedure where you invite your friends to pay 3 or 4 dollars to watch it and vote - started the 1st of May.

      We get "free" passes to watch all the other works, so we can access to the main page (suspiciously hosted in Panama) that shows randomly 4 of more than 50 different works per category.

      Our documentary had problems to play and after 5 days of 14 without being able to show it, i haven't receive any information from the "team" (that even if it changes the signature name - Josh Applewood / Nina Meyers - works only with one e-mail address info@americanonlinefilmawards.org -) other than the following message

      "You're issue is being looked into by our technical team.

      When did you upload the materials?

      Best wishes,"

      Definitely this scam hasn't only been a waste of our money but a waste of time.

    • profile image

      Glen Pearson 3 years ago

      At the time we had our request our UK movie Fit-Boy was already available to watch for free on youtube but we thought for approx. £12 we might get a bit of american publicity. Was a bit dubious of their own "secure" payment system but they were happy to accept paypal so all good. The preview of the site is now up and it does look a bit basic. Not much was happening with Fit-Boy anyway so at the worst I'll have lost a bit of upload time and just over a tenner but will now just wait and see what happens. Anyone wanting to reserve their film for a bigger festival had probably leave alone I guess....

    • profile image

      Alex 3 years ago

      It sounds a bit off interesting so I started researching and found this article. I don't even know how the guy got my email address . I submit my documentary to many festivals throe Withoutabox.com in January. I believe this gay have a connection with somebody from the office of them, and he approach me like he approach all of us.Thanks for doing the research and sharing.

    • profile image

      porkpiehat 3 years ago

      I think it's "interesting" one person in the comments section is backing up the festival, believing it to be legit when so many of us have had the same experience and the same concerns. Hmmm... a FULL REFUND?? This comments section isn't loaded with people getting full refunds. Again, suspicious. RYoga wants to "assure us that this festival is 100% legit"?!?! An end user doesn't really make grand claims like that. And "RYoga" still doesn't provide any real names or company information that can be verified from their experience. I mean, anyone can post on these comment sections anonymously. I just did.

    • profile image

      Andrea 3 years ago

      Really glad to see this before I moved forward with anything. My experience echoes all of the previous: elated to be "chosen", but mystified how they "scouted" my private screenings only film. I paid $20 for the reg fee, but was cautioned by a filmmaker friend to NOT post my film online. I was still curious though, you want your film out to anyone who would want to see it, and you want to believe the best about people (I know, gullible right? but just trying to stay on the positive side of a negative world:) anyway, thanks for the blog post and the ensuing discussion. Takes a village. And who knows, maybe there will be a big AOFA blow-out awards night in NYC this December and we can all meet up there.

    • profile image

      jks 3 years ago

      Thanks for this article. I'm in the same boat. I've never seen a "Registration fee" demanded ON TOP OF Submission fee. Submission fee is what should cover exactly the things they claim to be covering with registration fee. Also, the page that asks for your payment info was where the total red flag went off: no security whatsoever. For all I know, they could just be taking the credit card info and do whatever they want.

      Unless they offer a full discount, I'm not doing it.

    • profile image

      MAGZ 3 years ago

      Hello, THANKS A LOT FOR THIS ARTICLE!!!

      I received the same "invitation" from guy Joshua Applewood, and my registration fee today would be 75 USD! Hello! ( late deadline) and they told me I was chosen and all the same bullshit is described in your article. I think this is total scam these guys and the emails sound totally like scam. If they want to screen my music videos- why I should pay? You are totally right, there is Youtube, Vimeo etc, where can be screened for free :-) Great Article thank you so much!

    • profile image

      Ryoga420 3 years ago

      Sorry, I meant to say FULL refund.

    • profile image

      Ryoga420 3 years ago

      Just wanted to chime in on this. I got an invite and after reading this and a few other sites I emailed the fest director and the film scout directly about some of their concerns. I want to assure everyone this fest looks 100% legit. They let me know their sponsor list will be up before the event, and he even offered me a FULL discount if I was not satisfied and wanted to pull my film for the contest. For those that are worried, I would say give this fest a chance.

    • profile image

      DLJ 3 years ago

      Got an email this morning - sounds a bit off but interesting (oh wow, they want MY film!) so I started researching and found this article. You've made a lot of valid points and I will NOT be submitting! I don't even know how the guy got my email address and my short film is already on YouTube, so why would I want to stream it privately when I get views every week already? Thanks for doing the research and sharing.

    • profile image

      SMITH 3 years ago

      Yep, got an email a few days ago, checked them out. Not sure how they got my email or know about my film - I've only had private screenings. I think someone from WAB must pass our details on, and I imagine they'll have contacted 100s of people with 'you film would probably fit in with this years line-up'.

      There are many festivals outside of WAB, but one's with such high fees and such little information. A scam? No. But certainly misleading.

    • profile image

      bubu 3 years ago

      I received an invite this morning. So when I was doing research about it, I read this article and the comments above. Thank you!

      I don't think I'll submit my film. But I haven't submitted mine to lots of American film festivals. I wonder how would he know about me?

    • profile image

      Pepijn 3 years ago

      Thanks for your article, I received an email from them this weekend.

      A promise to waive the fees, but still the registration fee... That doesnt smell right to me!

    • profile image

      Anton 3 years ago

      My girlfriend just recieved the same e-mail. We immidietly decide to submit... but something in the payment method set off an alarm in me. They want too much information and they practicly don't exist.

      I have experience with few festivals myself. The real ones have quite different selection policy. If this is the future of the film festivals... you can never know if the guy writing you behind any name and any festival isn't just a schemer.

      I think there is something wrong! We didn't go through with the payment.

    • profile image

      Rich 3 years ago

      Also received this email today. Tribeca Film Festival launched an online festival back in 2011. I'm not against the idea, but this one does seem fishy to me, or maybe they have a VERY high acceptance rate...

    • profile image

      Neil B 3 years ago

      Got the invite this morning and, being super cagey about anything that appears too good to be true, googled them. Your article just confirmed my own suspicions - many thanks for doing the leg work, and best wishes for your future films.

    • profile image

      James Bailey 3 years ago

      Thank you Cassie for this. I received an invite email from them the other day and am glad I came across your blog. As you said, I too am not sure if it is actually a scam but they are definitely being cagey with the details which rings alarm bells. No submission from me!

    • profile image

      HKi 3 years ago

      So what is the conclusion? Is it real or cheating?

    • profile image

      R. Turner 3 years ago

      I feel less special now. Did everyone submit to Sedona Film Festival? I know the American Online Film Awards shows NYC on the web page but it shows the company listed in Arizona. So maybe the scout was working for selection committee for Sedona?

    • profile image

      Andy Price 3 years ago

      Had the same email before Xmas. Very hard to know/find out if they are legit - given that it's their first year. How do you start something like this up without the trust and support of submitting filmmakers? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to to scam us? The website is pretty impressive. I'm inclined to proceed and give them our support.

    • profile image

      Mark Charles Adams 3 years ago

      Hey everyone,

      We got the same thing for one of our older features and we've decided to go for it after debating everything here and more...

      This film had it's run and could be one last hurrah or a learning experience for everyone. We had the same concerns as most it seems, but this is either a brave new venture in it's first year or, frankly a scam. The awkward website and documentation could point either way.

      I've worked on a bunch of online service and they all use AWS, so that was not a surprise for a virtual festival or whatever you might call this.

      Either way, I'll report back on it all and we'll all see.

      Cassie, thanks again for writing this, I should have thought about it myself when I got the invite and there was nothing online about it.

      -M.

    • profile image

      pao paixao 3 years ago

      Thank you Cassie for your research and tagging, i nearly fell into it,

      I just posted your article on my facebook.

    • profile image

      R-Brown 3 years ago

      I got invited, and paid the $20 reg fee. Today I got and email about how to upload it, and a few flags went off for me, ie that the festival will collect fees for people to supposedly view it, and it will be through Amazon....

      I quote:

      "Your film will not be publicly viewable at all until May 1. Beyond that, for 2 weeks starting May 1, only those with screening passes will be able to login, watch and vote on films. The screening passes are just like any other festival tickets. Your film will not be able to viewed without screening passes. "

      "Security

      Your uploaded film will be transcoded and stored on Amazon Web Service's S3 service. This is the same infrastructure that powers Netflix, Hulu etc. "

      So ya, I guess I lost 20 bucks, but I don't think Ima gonna upload nuthin.

      Your film will not be publicly viewable. This will be securely stored behind the security measures of Amazon and us combined.

      Streaming is always encrypted.

    • profile image

      Simon 3 years ago

      I too got invited - very fishy indeed

      Their website just looked too crap to be a real festival - Someone should report them

      Best

      Simon

    • Cassie Dart profile image
      Author

      Cassie Dart 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      And thank you. I felt compelled to write this article and to know it has been helpful to someone has made it worthwhile.

    • profile image

      Haq 3 years ago

      Thank you for validating my concerns. I got the invite about ten days ago too, and like you couldn't find any concrete second party information, so put it on hold till I had more time to research. I found your blog while doing that research. The invite sounds like a scam. Glad someone agrees.