TELEVISION, INTERNET & VIDEO ASSOCIATION OF DC, INC.
This year, we sadly said goodbye to our longtime Peer Awards entry system, and ushered in a new platform, one that is likely familiar to the independent filmmaker contingent, but may be largely unknown to those of us working “in the trenches” in the local production industry: FilmFreeway.
Originally developed as a competitor to the industry-dominant Withoutabox (which was purchased by IMDb in 2008, itself a subsidiary of Amazon), FilmFreeway was set up as a way for filmmakers to submit to film festivals around the world, without dealing with all of the different individual festival submission processes. The system might be thought of analogous to Common App, the system that allows prospective students to enter their information once and use that to apply to several different colleges. Only in this case, the user enters their information once, and can then use that to submit to multiple different film festivals. And on the other side of the equation, film festivals can collect all of the information from their submitters in one central location, as well as screeners for evaluation and systems for judging those entries.
But the Peer Awards is most definitely not a film festival. So why choose this system over our prior one?
Part of it is the user interface. While not as robust on the back end as our previous system, FilmFreeway — designed to appeal to a wide audience of users — is set up to be as simple as possible. That's not to say it's easy, but once you familiarize yourself with the basics, entering is straightforward and easy. The layout of the site is designed with the user experience in mind: the user is the first concern, not a secondary thought after the underlying database functionality.
Another part is the cost structure. Our prior entry system required a full up-front payment of several thousand dollars (and had, in fact, doubled in price this year), whereas the FilmFreeway system operates on a percentage-of-entry-fees basis (and also offers discounts for being the exclusive system for collecting entries). As responsible stewards of our members’ funds, this was definitely top-of-mind.
And yet a third consideration was sustainability. The old Peer system was certainly comprehensive, but required extensive database management experience to take advantage of that functionality. While the FilmFreeway back end certainly isn’t simple, its user interface is logical, intuitive, and self-contained. (And, of course, there is a support team that has been extremely helpful as we work out the basics.)
All that said, there have been some things we've had to work around. Because entrants submit in individual production and skills categories — and not just once overall, after which judges determine what categories it should be judged in — we had to do some extensive work to make the system work for our particular event. This entailed a complete rethinking of our structure and process, such as grouping entries into larger “bucket” categories, with individual subcategories underneath. And we had to develop custom submission-form questions to make sure we were capturing the critical information our judges needed to evaluate the entries accordingly. At all times, we had to strike a balance between making sure we had sufficient information and not making the submission process too cumbersome for submitters.
There have been quite a few growing pains, of course. One thing that truly surprised us was the number of pleas from Iranian filmmakers asking for fee waivers — Jim Pennington has done a yeoman's job of gently informing them that (a) we do not offer fee waivers, and (b) their films are not eligible in the first place (which would be clear if they stopped to actually look at our event page before emailing blindly).
As we work through this process, we welcome feedback from everyone involved. We may or may not continue with FilmFreeway in the future, but any decision we make in that regard will be done with the best interests of our membership first and foremost — and for that, we need (and sincerely appreciate) your input.
Since the process is new, we decided to reprint our “Frequently Asked Questions” here for your review — including a dedicated "how-to" video (customized to our specific needs) produced by TIVA Vice President Zeke Dowty. Give it a read, reach out to us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and happy submitting!
Since FilmFreeway is new to TIVA as an organization (though many of us have used it individually), here are a few off-the-cuff tips for accessing the system and submitting your work: