Without A Box

May 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Once upon a time, filmmakers on the festival circuit had to obtain an application for each festival, fill it out and mail a check along with videocassette (remember those?). I’m not making this up; moreover, this was the way it was done in 2001, when I started sending out my first documentary. I can’t even remember how I obtained the applications, but I do remember the process was tedious and discouraging enough to prevent me from entering more than a handful of festivals.

How things have changed. Now there’s Without A Box, a website that allows filmmakers to fill out a standard online application used by hundreds of festivals. While the WAB application– which includes a press kit–takes some time to fill out, it only has to be done once. After that, it’s just a matter of choosing the festival and providing a credit card number before sending every conceivable bit of information about the film–including production stills–off with a single mouse click. The DVD does have to be mailed, but that’s the only manual labor involved.

This is why I find myself with two films–one long-form documentary and a short feature– entered in a dozen festivals. And why I often can be found tending my WAB web page by updating information, browsing the descriptions of upcoming festivals and pruning my watch list as I apply (or don’t apply) to new ones. If the Internet is a virtual world, Without A Box is (for the moment) my virtual home.

The only catch–besides the expense–is that not every festival is on Without A Box. The larger and older the festival, the less likely it is to want to surrender part of each entry fee to be on the WAB roster.  Toronto, New York, Montreal, Venice and Deauville go their own way with online applications, while Cannes maintains some mysterious application process that apparently doesn’t involve the Internet. Recently, my filling out one of these festivals’ applications was a crawl through the gaslit streets of the misty, pre-Without A Box past. Though the application was online, the site was so much more difficult to navigate than WAB’s that I would have gotten through it faster using paper, and perhaps a quill pen.

As much as most filmmakers dread selling their wares, Without A Box has made the crucial marketing phase so much easier that it’s easy to forget how much worse things used to be. Until, of course, they apply to a festival that’s not on it. Though it’s probably unrealistic to expect the most famous festivals to put themselves on WAB, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine a WAB-inspired redesign of their applications and websites.  I can dream, can’t I?

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