UP058: Audience Awards // creating opportunity for filmmakers through contests, festivals, and distribution

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Paige Williams 0:00
Even less films actually make money or repay their investors or return. It’s just not a thing that happens today. It happened a little bit before today when you actually could go to Sundance and get a deal, but it’s just not like that anymore.

Jay Clouse 0:16
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.

Eric Hornung 0:44
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Hornung, and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. Producer himself. Jay Clouse. Jay I’m not talking about podcast producer here. This is bigger. This is better. This is visual.

Jay Clouse 1:03
Bigger, better, and visual. On the big screen. The silver screen?

Eric Hornung 1:08
The silver screen?

Jay Clouse 1:09
Is that TV?

Eric Hornung 1:10
I don’t actually know what that means.

Jay Clouse 1:12
I think it’s a big screen. I think silver screen is TV.

Eric Hornung 1:14
Okay, this is not silver screen. This is big screen material. This is the gold screen. That’s probably not a phrase, but I’m using it anyway. We took this thing straight out of Tinseltown and brought it right into Columbus. There’s a lot of shiny metals going through this metaphor, but you produced a film. And it was fantastic.

Jay Clouse 1:34
That’s right. We talked about it a little bit in last Wednesday’s episode. So if this is interesting to you, definitely go back and listen to last Wednesday’s short talking-heads episode. But three weeks ago, we released our first full length feature documentary, “Test City, USA,” which we’ve been working on all through the summer. Three plus months worth of work. And yeah, just add another title my bucket, Eric. Producer, here I am.

Eric Hornung 1:56
You know what’s even better. I got a title as well with this one. And it didn’t say “co” in front of it. It had a much nicer prefix.

Jay Clouse 2:04
Yes, we were very kind to you.

Eric Hornung 2:05
Executive Producer.

Jay Clouse 2:07
Executive producer.

Eric Hornung 2:08
Yeah, here’s what I’m telling you. If, if what I did constitutes executive production, sign me up. I will executive produce anything.

Jay Clouse 2:16
I think technically I was also executive producer as well as producer.

Eric Hornung 2:20
I didn’t see it on the…on the outro, on the credits.

Jay Clouse 2:23
No, I didn’t put it, I didn’t put it that way. But if we’re talking about what executive producers do, and actually one day I literally searched “breakdown of film roles,” and it brought me to, like, one of those “For Dummies” websites. It was like, “film roles for dummies, here is like,” and I think it compared it to food or chefs or something of what these roles are. But that’s how I was like, okay, Kyle directed, I produced, Eric executive produced, we made Izzy and Sammy, our other interns, Production Assistants. Here’s what’s cool, though, Eric, and I don’t know if you thought about this. We can do this this afternoon, if you want. We can now make an IMDB page for ourselves.

Eric Hornung 2:24
Wow. Yeah, we should do that. We should absolutely do that.

Jay Clouse 2:58
Haven’t done it yet. But I was absolutely going to do it like, first time, like first thing that I thought of it and had time.

Eric Hornung 3:03
That’s really cool. And we can do that together, because, Jay, we are in a very interesting position for this episode.

Jay Clouse 3:08
Very interesting position for this episode. Right now, we are sitting toe to toe in my studio, my podcasting studio, my studio apartment here in Columbus, Ohio. And we did not think through how to do remote interviews with two people who are in the same place.

Eric Hornung 3:24
Yeah, this is it’s, it’s kind of weird. Yeah, this episode is going to be interesting to record. But it’s gonna be interesting for a couple reason, Jay. It’s gonna be interesting because you and I are sitting on the same couch looking at one screen. But also interesting because screens are coming back up again: this interview is about film.

Jay Clouse 3:43
That’s right. Today we’re talking with Paige Williams, the founder and CEO of Audience Awards. Audience Awards provides opportunities to filmmakers through their turn-key submissions platform that power’s video contests, filmmaking challenges, online film festivals, and internal submissions review of content. Those submissions are juried by the entertainment industry, including influencers, celebrities, and voted on by the world. The top filmmakers receive cash prizes, distribution, and festival screenings. Audience Awards was founded in 2013. They have a video library of over 6,000 short films. They’ve operated over 100 film festivals, contests, and challenges.

Eric Hornung 4:24
You know who really deserves an award, an Audience Award? Kyle Skinner, our intern Director who took over this project and made it what it really was. And our Production Assistants, Sammy Stone and Izzy Rodriguez, who were instrumental in buying me a gift that said “Wedding Planning for Dummies.” So…That’s right.

Jay Clouse 4:46
Gifts from the inters. You got “Wedding Planing for Dummies,” I got a thirt for ugly tuna salone version two. Have we talked — we’ve told the story of ugly tune on this podcast, right?

Eric Hornung 4:54
We have told that story.

Jay Clouse 4:55
Do you remember what episode that was?

Eric Hornung 4:56
I don’t. Insert episode here. Do we have that capability yet?

Jay Clouse 5:00
We could. We could make it work. Yeah, they deserve awards. Kyle Skinner, our director also, without prompting or without us asking, realized it was appropriate to wear glasses — just like the two of us wear glasses — to the premiere because that’s what film directors, producers, and executive producers do.

Eric Hornung 5:20
And you wear a jacket.

Jay Clouse 5:22
And I wore a jacket.

Eric Hornung 5:22
And I didn’t.

Eric Hornung 5:23
And you did not. Nope, I looked much better. Audience Awards was founded in 2013. They’re based in Missoula, Montana, our first Montana company, Eric.

Eric Hornung 5:33
First one. I — I’ve been itching to get into Montana for a while now. I like the Rocky Mountain region. I want to learn more about it. That Montana. I would love to do an Idaho here. That would be nice.

Jay Clouse 5:45
You were looking for Bozeman though, right?

Eric Hornung 5:47
I was looking for Bozeman, but look, I’m not picky, you know?

Jay Clouse 5:50
We…a little behind the curtain, we have an internal newsletter we send out to all guests and close friends of the show. And in that, we look for certain geographies, and we’ve had Bozeman, Montana, there I feel like for three or four months.

Eric Hornung 6:02
Yeah, so shout out to Maddie from Anthos Capital who made the connection when she saw we were looking for Bozeman. She said, I got someone you got to meet. And that’s today.

Jay Clouse 6:12
And that’s today. Talking with Paige. Side to side, hip to hip, on this couch, sharing a mic, sharing a paair of earpods, because logistics is difficult.

Eric Hornung 6:20
Right, we’re definitely remote first.

Jay Clouse 6:22
Mmhmm. Alright guys, well, we’re excited to share this episode with you. If you have thoughts as we go through, of course, you can tweet at us @upsidfm or email us hello@upside.fm. And we’ll get into that interview with Paige. Eric, one of our favorite questions is, “what sucks?” And do you know what sucks about podcasts?

Eric Hornung 6:42
The fact that we don’t know who’s listening to us?

Jay Clouse 6:45
Exactly. The analytics in podcasts are terrible. And so, I think I came up with the solution of how we can get a better feeling for who our listeners are.

Eric Hornung 6:55
Well, do tell.

Jay Clouse 6:56
All we need you to do, dear listener, is go to upside.fm/survey and answer a short one to three minute survey so we can get a better understanding of who you are, which helps us serve you better. We love feedback on the podcast, don’t we, Eric?

Eric Hornung 7:10
Oh, we love feedback. All about the feedback.

Jay Clouse 7:14
All about the feedback. And so if you would humor us, please go to upside.fm/survey. Let us know a little bit more about you so that we can better serve you and make this podcast even better. That’s upside.fm/survey.

Eric Hornung 7:28
We promise the survey won’t suck.

Jay Clouse 7:37
Paige, welcome to the show.

Paige Williams 7:39
Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Eric Hornung 7:41
Paige, on Upside, we like to start with a history of the founder. So can you tell us about the history of Paige?

Paige Williams 7:49
Sure. I live in Montana, and I’ve been here for 20 years. But I grew up in Mississippi, moved away from there in ’99. So I guess I like to just live in states that start with “M.” And did undergrad in Mississippi at a small liberal arts college called Millsaps and got the wonderful, worthy degree of philosophy. Moved to Missoula because I liked “A River Runs Through It.” And I thought I had an idea that maybe the mountains were calling. And so I came out here to see what the west was all about. And I stayed, ended up doing a dual masters in directing theater and filmmaking. And here at the University of Montana, and then I made a few feature documentaries and some short documentaries on the XK Ministry in the south, which is a personal story of my family and mine, as I’m gay. Got married, had a couple of kids after making several films decided that I was ready to do something different and help filmmakers get ahead in their own careers. And that’s when I came up with the idea of the Audience Awards and started the company back in 2013.

Jay Clouse 9:00
You talked about “A River Runs Through It.” You talked about doing some of your own films and documentaries. What’s your earliest memory of experiencing film and being captivated or deeply interested interested in it?

Paige Williams 9:13
That is a great question that I have never been asked.

Eric Hornung 9:16
We’re just getting started.

Paige Williams 9:20
I think the first cinematic movie of going to the theater that I remember and was deeply moved by was “E.T.” And then came a lot of great kid movies like “Goonies,” and there was some terrible horror at the time if you remember. Well, I don’t know how old you guys are, but there was some weird stuff, too.

Jay Clouse 9:42
Like “Nightmare on Elm Street?”

Paige Williams 9:43
Yeah. I had nightmares from “Porky’s Revenge” of watching that at too young of an age. But a movie that really impacted me later on, I think I was in seventh grade, was “Steel Magnolias,” because I felt like it was, it spoke about my people and where I came from. And that’s still probably one of my favorite movies. And yeah.

Jay Clouse 10:07
At what point did you get interested in the idea of making film yourself?

Paige Williams 10:11
I got a video camcorder, a VHS camcorder when I was 16 and started recording my life and my friends and…and then I kind of put that down, and I was into theater. So I did that throughout college and then went to go start an MFA in directing theater. And I had a mentor, Jim Craig Lee, who’s great. He had started the Media Arts Program, which is our digital filmmaking program at Montana. And he said, why don’t you come over here and learn how to run a camera and edit, and then when you graduate, you can actually get a job. And I thought that was a pretty good idea. So I ended up doing that dual degree and, and sure enough, as soon as I was done with school, you know, it was like, okay, what do we do now? So we grabbed a couple of buddies, and we went down to Mississippi to make our first film. And at the time, that was 2006, so MySpace was the big thing, and YouTube was just getting acquired. I don’t even know if they’d been acquired yet. And PayPal was the thing. So I went on, if I remember correctly, YouTube, made a video, posted it to my MySpace and said, if you give me a donation, I’ll send you a t-shirt, and you can make it through my PayPal button. And of course, that was way before Kickstarter. So when I was kind of bored with making films and wanted to do something bigger for the world, I thought of that, that I’d had this really great idea that was actualized for filmmakers. And so when I had the idea for Audience Awards, I went ahead and said, well, this time, I’m going to capitalize on that idea.

Eric Hornung 11:47
How did you come up with the first inspiration for the film?

Paige Williams 11:50
Which?

Eric Hornung 11:51
The very first one you did?

Paige Williams 11:53
Well, I did a couple of really crappy films that no one can see and call it in grad school. But the first fill that was significant was called “Mississippi Queen.” And it’s the story of my relationship with my family, my parents, after I came out, decided to start an XK Ministry. I had written like a fiction screenplay kind of based on the south, and being gay in the south, and that experience. And, you know, it’s cheaper to make documentary. So after grad school ended, like I said, I grabbed a couple of buddies, and we headed down to Mississippi with our cameras to tell this extreme history story. And ultimately, what the film ended up being about was, how do we get along with our families and the people that we love when we disagree so much. And filmed it over the course of, the first year, I tried to — the first summer when we filmed I tried to not be in the film. I just interviewed people who used to be gay and don’t want to be gay anymore because of Jesus. And I interviewed the Southern Baptist pastor of my parents’ church and the church I grew up in, and interviewed my parents and, and then came back and edited like a 10 minute cut and said, what do you guys think? And everybody said, oh, it’s pretty good, but where the hell are you? And so, I got pregnant, and the next summer, went down to Mississippi, and we filmed, just my wife and I, filmed my part of the story and, and my relationship with my parents, and just over that evolution of 12 months of finally sitting down and talking about it. And then them knowing that they we’re going to have a grandchild kind of changed everything. And so, all that became a part of the story. The cut ended up being about 60 minutes and got picked up for distribution. It filmed — it screened at over 100 film festivals, and it used to win the Audience Awards. It wasn’t a great doc technically, but it told a pretty good story that people identified with, I think, and, and so that kind of, you know, kick-started my career, and got me going, and got me to the place to make the next few things.

Jay Clouse 13:49
We said before we started recording that we just aired the documentary that we put together last night, and it was the scariest launch of something that I’ve ever experienced. And you doing this documentary 10+ years ago in the south, what did that feel like?

Paige Williams 14:04
Hell. It was as hot as Mississippi is. There was this one experience I’ll — and my film would actually screen a lot in southern film festivals. But there was this one experience where I went home to screen at the Crossroads, no the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Mississippi, where Ole Miss is. My parents were there, and they hadn’t seen it yet, and that was terrifying, and the theater was full. And then it screened at the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, Mississippi, which is where I’m from, and half the audience was my parents, friends, and supporters, and half the audience were my friends and supporters. And there’s a lot of crossover. But of course, we walk different paths. And it’s an experience, a live experience I’ll never forget. And if I could have disappeared, I would have. And I still don’t, I don’t pull that movie out to watch. It’s just, it had its place and its purpose. But I’m glad its way behind me.

Eric Hornung 15:00
You said that it premiered at over 100 film festivals. Is that common for a documentary or a film?

Paige Williams 15:10
Probably not. I don’t really know the stats on that. But it kept going for several years, getting played. There was a company at the time called Film Buff which is a part of Cinetic Media that had picked it up and distributed it so it screened on the Sundance Channel, back when that was a thing, and in several countries.

Eric Hornung 15:28
What does getting picked up look like mechanically?

Paige Williams 15:31
Well, it’s very different today than it was back in 2007. So back then it was, send us all of your assets, we’ll put your film wherever we can, and we’ll rev share some amount of, you know, minimal dollars with you. I think we had a 70/30 deal. So you know, I saw a couple of checks from that. And today it’s quite different, Distribution and all of that.

Jay Clouse 16:01
I’m sure we’ll dive into that a little bit more when we talked about Audience Awards. So maybe this is good transition to talk about when you decided to make the career move into starting Audience Awards. What was that impetus?

Paige Williams 16:13
The Montana Film Commissioner — so this was in 2013 — decided to take, to start three Montana-centric YouTube channels. He was going to a few producers around the state and asking smart questions like, how do we get content on the channels, and how could it work, and how can we engage or bring an audience to it? And I said, well, you know, “Queen” had won audience awards several times, so I said, well, why don’t we just do online audience awards, voting on YouTube for the channels, and then you’ll not only crowdsource video content and films for your channels, but also drive in an audience if there’s some sort of accolade for winning. And that’s when I was like — I was looking for something new to do. I had just spent six years, three years following six kids as they aged out of foster care, which was pretty tough. And there were some dark times in the editing room. So I was looking for something lighter to do and something fun to do. And I thought, well, that’s actually a really good idea. So I literally googled how to start a tech company and went to godaddy.com, and put in Audience Awards, and that URL wasn’t available. So I put in The Audience Aords, and that URL was available. And so I bought the URL and googled, “how to raise money for your fledgling” — I didn’t even know the word fledgling — “new tech company.” And I found this, this angel group up in the Flathead called Frontier Angels. So found where to create a, you know, create a deck and submit and figured out how to create a deck. And I mean, I’d raised money for my films, so, and I actually taught the business of film and television at the University. So you know, every film has its own business, every business requires a business plan and a way to make money potentially, and all that. So I mean, I had some history with how to do that. Just not with a tech company. So they invited me to pitch. And I pitched and, and then I started putting the pieces together and went from there.

Eric Hornung 18:23
And what was that pitch?

Paige Williams 18:25
An American Idol for filmmakers was the quick elevator.

Eric Hornung 18:29
How has it changed since? What is Audience Awards today?

Paige Williams 18:33
It’s pretty close, actually. But really, our goal is to give filmmakers opportunity and to give a leg up to get to that next level, and to be able to support themselves or incentivize their careers, and because we believe that stories can change hearts and minds, as I saw in “Queen” and from “Place to Place,” that second feature doc I made changed Montana legislation as well as legislation on the federal level for kids in care. So I knew that films had the power to change society, and that we just need to be able to empower filmmakers to do more of it. And so, every month we run, what came of that is, every month, we would run a short film festival based on a certain genre, select shorts, or action, or adventure, comedy, love, LGBTQ, etc. And then, you know, every startup faces the challenge of, well, that’s great, but how are you going to make money? So I would call up people, companies and say, hey, will you sponsor this online film festival, and you’re going to get some social media engagement? Because everyone drives their friends and family to vote on the films. And they were like, well, that’s interesting, but what if you’re filmmakers make content for us. And so we do branded video contests and film challenges. We just closed one for female filmmakers with Chloe Wines and Women in Film LA for female film makers to get to that next level, and the grand prize winner won 10 thousand bucks, and the top five films get professional mentorship. So we love doing that. We’ve run over probably over 200 contests and festivals with different global brands and local brands. And you know, it’s anything from Chloe Wine, we just did one for the Better Business Bureau. We’re doing one for this pack in Montana called Open Source, Montana, and it’s for Montanans to say what their new Governor’s value should be because we’re about to elect a new governor. So it, you know, services all sorts of filmmakers all around the world, providing them opportunities while still redding these film festivals. So we have this library of over 9,000 short films that have been juried by industry professionals as well as the audience. And it’s super fun.

Jay Clouse 20:51
You talked about wanting to empower filmmakers to create more films. How would you describe the lives and circumstances and, like, realities of someone who’s getting into the film or young in the filmmaking industry not doing sort of like industry level films yet?

Paige Williams 21:06
There’s a lot of film schools, there’s a lot of film festivals. There’s a lot of people with cameras in their hand, anyone, anything from an iPhone to, you know, a Canon red camera. And it’s just a progress. I mean, with anything, if you’re starting a career, it takes one step and then the next step and the next step to get to that next level and to get some industry exposure. And it can feel, you know, pretty hard to access. If you’re trying to get into Hollywood, of course, the budget, all of our filmmakers are independent creators, and some of them are, you know, in Hollywood making films, but then often a lot of them are in mid-America or places like I am in Missoula, Montana. And so they’re emerging, and the more film festivals and accolades they get, the more exposure they get. And so the more we offer that for them, the better job we’re doing.

Eric Hornung 21:54
How many film makers are on Audience Awards?

Paige Williams 21:58
There’s about 65,000. That grows every week. And we have a community of about 215,000. So that’s people who come and watch the films and engage.

Eric Hornung 22:07
How many of those are active on a whatever monthly, yearly basis that you measure it?

Paige Williams 22:13
Yeah. We average about 30,000 Films submissions a year to Audience Awards right now, so probably half. A lot of times — and this is good news is that — we’ll help filmmakers get to that next level, and then they’re busy, and they’re hired, and they’re working for, you know, networks and whatnot. But there’s always a new crop of filmmakers coming out of film schools are wanting to do something.

Eric Hornung 22:35
How many of those short films or films that are being uploaded in general of those 30,000 are through contests? And how many are…My understanding is filmmakers can upload film, as well, that’s not through a contest. Is that correct?

Paige Williams 22:49
Yeah, anyone can come in and upload.

Eric Hornung 22:51
So what’s the breakdown of those two kind of video upload?

Paige Williams 22:54
Most of its to festivals and contests. I’d say 95%, because we don’t really market ourselves like YouTube, where you just go and upload a video that you could.

Jay Clouse 23:03
If so much of it is towards festivals, how does that work for both the festival side and the filmmaker side? Are the festival sayings, hey, Audience Awards, we want more submissions, here’s a way to allow filmmakers to submit easily to multiple festivals at once? Like is it almost, like am I able as a filmmaker to apply to a bunch of festivals at once by going through Audience Awards?

Paige Williams 23:24
Well, they’re actually Audience Awards film festivals. So they’re branded audience awards, and they happen online. And then the top films screen at our live event, which, for the last live festival, so it’s a little bass-ackwards than traditional festivals. But, you know, so, so we’ll screen 100 award-winning short films in December here in Missoula — the festival had been in LA, but we decided to bring it home. But then, we do work with film festivals. We will advertise their film festivals to our filmmakers for opportunities. And also sometimes, they will have a showcase of the short films that have screened at their festivals over the years. We primarily are around short films because filmmakers can have them online, whereas a feature film costs more and there’s just different types of distribution deals.

Eric Hornung 24:10
You mentioned the contests as how you make money. Can you break that down a little bit more?l Like, how does that actually turn into revenue for The Audience Awards?

Paige Williams 24:18
We charge a brand a fee to run a video contest. So for example, GoDaddy said, okay Paige, we want original two-minute videos telling really cool small business stories. And so they paid us a fee to host a contest and market that to our film community. And they received 233 original submissions featuring small businesses all around the world. They gave away over $21,000 to the top 10 submissions. And there’s usually two rounds of jurying. So in the first round, the audience voted, most top 10 audience voted, the top 10 preliminary jury selected will move to a finals round, where the brand will choose the winners and award them prizes that can range from cash to cameras to industry access. And we market those contests, it’s super turnkey, the brand doesn’t have to do anything, like we take the pain out of running a contest, it all happens on our platform, it’s super easy, makes a large earned social media splash, which is great for the brand as well as accessing that content. The filmmaker maintains their right, but they also get exposure through then GoDaddy taking those films and putting them up across their social media channels and in their blog.

Eric Hornung 25:26
Is that a flat fee? Or is that a, if you had 250 submissions, it would be more? Like, what does that fee look like?

Paige Williams 25:34
Our fees are based on the amount of marketing we do generally and submission rights. It’s sort of a SAS model actually is what we’re shifting into.

Jay Clouse 25:43
So it sounds like you have essentially a marketplace here, which almost has three sides, right? You have the filmmakers, you have the audience members who are doing the voting, and then you have the brands who are kind of creating the contest. Which part of that marketplace is most difficult for you guys to keep going? Or is it at this point, like, really self sustaining?

Paige Williams 26:03
The goal of our company is to provide filmmakers real value. And we provide our filmmakers real value by opportunities with brands. And so, you know, that’s just sales, no matter how you look at it. Where we have product market fit is in user growth and filmmaker growth, because every creative needs a great opportunity. That’s really easy. The hard part is getting into a brand and saying, here’s what we do, here are the results, don’t you want to do it too? And then getting them to sign that contract.

Jay Clouse 26:35
If I’m one of these filmmakers, and I find Audience Awards, and I say, oh my gosh, there’s a contest going now for GoDaddy, I’m going to make a short film for this, how much time do you think that filmmaker puts into one brand sponsored contest?

Paige Williams 26:50
Not much. It’s so easy to make content these days.

Eric Hornung 26:54
Jay, did you here that? It’s really easy to make films now.

Paige Williams 26:57
Not your documentary that screened at the film festival last night. We’re not talking about that.

Jay Clouse 27:03
Well, and the reason I asked is, how, how many contests does a typical film maker enter? And if they don’t win one of them, like, are they still going to keep entering and entering and entering? Like, where, where do they draw the line?

Paige Williams 27:19
Oh my God, we will have the same film submitted 20 times. You know, usually we see our successful filmmakers who win over and over and over, they just keep engaging. So I would say the standard for folks who are really good at what they do and really crafted is probably three to five over the course of the years, maybe more, some are more. Like there’s this one guy — I mean, this is kind of an outlier –but he does every single one because he can win. He’s just gotten it. You know, he just he has this process, it doesn’t take long, and he always wins. He’s really successful. And then those filmmakers that stink — bless them — kind of disappear, which is great.

Eric Hornung 27:56
I don’t remember if you called it a judge or a jury process. But how does that work? Who is the judge, who’s the jury?

Jay Clouse 28:02
And who’s the executioner?

Paige Williams 28:05
Depends on the event. The online event. So often, the, like in the Chloe Wine She Directed contest, Women in Film and Chloe Wines got it down to the top 10, and then we had a celebrity judge choose the winner, and that was Kate Bosworth. In the GoDaddy example, their team and our team helped narrow it down to the top 20, and then three brand managers from GoDaddy chose the winners. When we do our film festivals, that’s a combination of our team and then also some industry jurors who are experienced in filmmaking and are jurying other film festivals. So it just depends.

Jay Clouse 28:48
What are the guidelines that someone like GoDaddy gives for the contest? What’s like the prompt?

Paige Williams 28:54
Whatever the content is, the content need that they have. So in their case, it was small business stories. When we ran one for Dale, it was 8K footage, beautiful 8K shots. When we ran one for Sony, they had a cando-mission, so it was content around that. So just depends on whatever content they need. And then we always keep it short, because it’s easy to make, and people don’t watch long projects online. You know, our, our consumers are young and want to consume something within two minutes or less.

Jay Clouse 29:28
Short like five minutes short, like 30 seconds?

Paige Williams 29:31
Two minutes or less. So 15 seconds if it’s a campaign that they know that the contents going to go on YouTube ads, that’s six seconds. Some are one minute. But we always encourage general two minutes or under if it’s for a brand. And if it’s for like a do-good campaign, like let’s save the ocean, and we ran the Ocean Film Challenge, then those films were five minutes or under, because those films, the top films go and screen at film festivals, and people are more engaged inn knowing that they’re going to watch a longer form short form video. So it depends on who the audience is, and where the videos are going to be used.

Eric Hornung 30:11
What metrics do you look at to gauge the health of Audience Awards?

Paige Williams 30:15
User growth, and time spent on site, and average page visits. Those are our primary things right now. I mean, we’ve really spent the last six years building a platform with an engaged community and filmmakers, and a video library; and now it’s really the time to start a go-to-market strategy to scale and monetize this platform.

Eric Hornung 30:40
And what does that look like? What does scale look like here?

Paige Williams 30:43
65,000 filmmakers are great. 215,000 community members are awesome. But we’d love to be at a million and then 2 million and then 3 million and then 4 million. And people going on audience awards and watching great content. Our films are super high quality. I mean, there’s some real crap, don’t get me wrong. But there’s some amazing films on our site. We have a web based version of an OTT app. We plan on doing one for iOS and Android and Roku TV. We’re working distribution deals with some of the OTT platforms, like some of our films are on Zumo, we want to get on Pluto and Tuby. So the more exposure for filmmakers, the better.

Jay Clouse 31:21
What is OTT? You just listed of a bunch of names thhat I’ve actually never heard of. So I’m super interested to know, like what is Pluto? What is…

Paige Williams 31:28
Did you ever see Sylvester Stallone in “Over the Top?”

Jay Clouse 31:31
No.

Paige Williams 31:34
OTT means over the top, and it’s, like Netflix is an OTT channel. It’s what you watch when you don’t have cable. There’s a big business right now around OTT channels. And of course we know Apple’s creating one, and there’s now IMDb TV, and there’s, probably, you know, the general usual suspects like prime and Hulu, etc. But there’s also other channels like Zumo and Pluto and Tuby. And what they are is it’s like old school TV where you have your linear channels, anything from CNN to maybe PBS, but then you also have these different niche channels, and they run just like linear TV except for their ad supported. So instead of paying $7.99 to have Netflix, you get to watch for free but there’s ads. And so they come pre-loaded on phones and on smart TVs, or you can download them to your TV.

Jay Clouse 32:24
How hard is it as a filmmaker to get on these OTT platforms?

Paige Williams 32:29
It’s pretty tough. And that’s one of the problems we’re trying to solve for filmmakers to give them more exposure, especially since it’s short films. There’s not a ton of revenue to be made for filmmakers, but there’s a ton of exposure to be had, which is great.

Eric Hornung 32:42
If I was a short film maker and wanted to get on one of these platforms, what does that process look like right now?

Paige Williams 32:48
That’s actually a problem we’re solving, there isn’t really a process. So a lot of times, like a friend of mine runs the Black Cinema channel. So he goes and he goes to film festivals, and he watches films, and then he offers them a distribution deal. So it’s pretty analog. These channels are going to film festivals and trying to discover filmmakers through networks, and maybe finding, maybe, you know, searching Vimeo or YouTube to find content. But primarily I hear that they’re going to film festivals to try to find films to distribute. And so, we can take care of all of that just through our digital platform.

Jay Clouse 33:23
Back to the question of scale. If you want to have a million filmmakers, how many sponsored contests would you have to have on the platform to support a million filmmakers continuing to put effort into submitting to contest?

Paige Williams 33:37
Well, I would say a new million users, not necessarily filmmakers, but people consuming the content. It’s completely scalable. There’s a ton of brands and companies in the world, and video converts consumers better than anything. So video’s really important right now. And everyone’s trying to figure out how do you sell and market to a GenZ, or a…

Jay Clouse 33:59
I guess what I’m wondering is, taking the marketplace now with 65,000 filmmakers, like have you found that there’s any type of sweet spot or like a particular ratio that you try to keep intact of filmmakers to contest that works and keeps the network thriving? And is that even an issue as you scale?

Paige Williams 34:18
It really hasn’t been an issue. I mean, we certainly grow more when there’s a really cool opportunity. Like we ran a writers lab and a directors lab for 20th Century Fox before they got bought by Disney. And we had to close down submissions because there were so many submissions because the opportunity was to go to the studio and have an internship and get hired. So needed to shut those down at like 1,000 entries for each of those. So of course they have more growth when there’s a super good opportunity. And often it’s not cash, it’s just not, because filmmakers are looking to get to that next level, and cash doesn’t get us there. You know, we always want something going on. That’s why we’re always running a monthly film festival. But that there’s not really a scale issue or a limit. The more brands we have, the more opportunities we have, the better for the filmmakers. We can also create all kinds of opportunities that are created by Audience Awards. Like one of our missions is to do a film challenge for each of the Sustainable Development Goals to show how communities and people are solving problems — the world’s greatest problems, and then get them out into film festivals and into the hands of people or the eyeballs of people to know, how do we affect climate change? How do we stop human trafficking? Or how are people stopping human trafficking in other parts of the world? So it’s really just providing more opportunities, and that doesn’t take a lot. I mean, our software is turnkey; we can put up an opportunity for anyone and a submissions quarter for film filmmakers to be able to submit the content that they have and hopefully make a difference in the world.

Eric Hornung 35:49
You mentioned really cool opportunities. Do you have any, like, reach really cool opportunities like your top one to two that you’re like, man, if this happened, that would be so awesome. Anything that comes to mind?

Paige Williams 36:00
I think the — I’m working with another organization called Hatch on the Sustainable Development Goals film challenges. And we’re going to start with a few really important ones. And it’s going to be an incredible opportunity, not just for the filmmakers but for everyone who’s involved in it and all the potential eyeballs to be able to affect some major issues. And I’m kind of looking at it as like, you know, 1,000 films to save one planet, 10,000 films to save one planet, a million films to save the planet. And how big can we scale that? That’s exciting for the filmmakers. It’s exciting for the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s exciting for the brands who are going to partner. And it’s exciting for Audience Awards. Whenever we work with distributors, that is, like, our sweet spot because it gives filmmakers an opportunity to get their film on another channel. So we just closed a fun contest or film challenge for PDiddy’s Revolt TV. So they accepted hip hop horror-Halloween films, and so, but seven filmmakers who could have never gotten to Revolt TV are going to screen their films on linear TV, which is impossible, on October 13th. It’s so cool.

Jay Clouse 37:13
How do you guys get in front of filmmakers?

Paige Williams 37:16
We have our ways. That’s our secret sauce man, I can’t tell you that. No, I’m just kidding. We do a little bit of, we don’t do too much advertising. We’re pretty bootstrap. So everything’s been organic, slow growth, quite frankly. But we can target filmmakers online in a few ways. And then we also let film schools know about opportunities for their film students. And we have some film festival outreach, things like that.

Jay Clouse 37:41
Now running a tech company, I would like to hear one, the parallels and the differences between running a tech company as a business and building a film as a business. I’ll start there.

Paige Williams 37:54
Well, from a personal POV, I know how to run a camera, and I know editing software. I am not a coder. So that’s a big difference. And sometimes I wish I was because I could just get in there and take care of what I need. Fixed. You know, like, immediately. What’s so great about editing software is you just be like, oh, that part sucks, clip done. But I would say that what’s similar is a good edit makes all the difference in the world. So we learn and measure everything that we do. And we get better and better. And that’s kind of, like, I mean, you guys just went through the this documentary. And I applaud you because, you know, you might have hours and hours and hours of footage, and how do you get it down to the perfect 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, whatever it is, and how do you do that over and over and over so that someone actually wants to come and watch your film and engage? And that’s the same with a company, no matter what company is, whether it’s a tech company or anything else. But what value are you providing that engages an audience? So I would say that that’s, that’s similar, and making sure, you know, your value prop, you know, major industry, motion pictures, trailers are all about — effective trailers are all about immediately getting to the value of why I should spend 10 bucks to go watch this movie. And a company has to be about immediately getting to the value of why I should engage and, and go to this website, because there’s over, you know, there’s a billion websites. But the technical aspects of a company are a lot more extensive. When you make a film, you maybe manage a few people for a time period, whereas when you have a company, that’s long lasting. They say that a film stays in your life for at least seven years. That’s similar. I’m still here, Audience Awards is still in my life six and a half years later.

Jay Clouse 39:42
What about fundraising for more major film productions? What does that process look like, and how is that similar or dissimilar to what you did with the angel funding that you got?

Paige Williams 39:53
Well, there are not angel groups funding films. But there are angel groups funding tech companies. I think, you know, I was talking to an investor yesterday, and she said, in her portfolio, four of ten companies that they invest in fail. I was surprised that it was that low, you know? I kind of thought it was probably eight of ten companies. And you guys probably know that better than than me and those statistics of failing companies. But I would say even less films actually make money or repay their investors a return. It’s just not a thing that happens today. It happened a little bit before today, when you actually could go to Sundance and get a deal, but it’s just not like that anymore. And so, tech companies are making returns, so there’s groups that invest in tech companies versus film.

Eric Hornung 40:41
What changed that people aren’t making money on films anymore?

Paige Williams 40:44
The industry. You know, people don’t watch movies as much in theaters. And so you’re not going to sell as many tickets and as much popcorn. And so you’re going to get a lower offer for your film than you would have before, because there’s more content and more opportunity. So people are more divided, their eyeballs are more divided. And so, you don’t sell your content for as much.

Eric Hornung 41:02
What’s the future of Audience Awards look like?

Paige Williams 41:06
I think the future of Audience Awards is — Our job is to just get what we do out more. It’s to bring in more eyeballs and audience, bring in more opportunities for filmmakers, and that means more brand sales, as well as creating our own opportunities for filmmakers to really help them get ahead. And you know, we’re, we’re okay with organic growth and keep going as things are. But you know, it could be an investment, it could be there are companies who are interested in us because of our library. So we’re not sure. There’s a couple of paths we’re actually looking at right now. But it…either way, whichever path we take, it means ultimately more opportunities for filmmakers, which is really cool.

Eric Hornung 41:50
If you go down the path of, alright, we’re going to grow this organically, who do you need to hire? Who’s, like, the next hire to kind of keep scaling this thing? Or do you need one?

Paige Williams 42:01
We are actually interviewing a VP of Sales. We’re a very small team and have had sales people before, but we don’t right now. And so, I met a pretty good guy who I think could could do well. You know, what’s interesting about this company and this platform is people don’t — hires don’t change the trajectory of our company. I’ve hired people, and it didn’t really change anything. And it wasn’t that it was the wrong hire. It’s just not the nature of this company. What changes the trajectory of this company and user growth is opportunity.

Jay Clouse 42:33
How big is your team right now?

Paige Williams 42:35
We have a dev team that is five. We have three in office. And then we have a couple of subcontractors around the country. It’s pretty small.

Eric Hornung 42:47
You said new people don’t change the trajectory of this company. But if someone gave you $20 million of cash right now, would that change the trajectory of the company?

Paige Williams 42:56
Yeah, we would — that’s a good question, we would definitely…What would happen is we would provide more opportunities for filmmakers with that money. And because we have more opportunities for filmmakers, we would need more account managers to be able to take care of the filmmakers in the process and what our process is when we run a festival or contest, etc. We’d hire some devs to keep up with the traction and build out some, you know, a mobile video app, etc. So definitely an influx of cash would increase our team. But that’s not necessarily what, where we’re going right now.

Eric Hornung 43:31
How much does it cost you to run an Audience Awards festival or contest, not a branded one?

Paige Williams 43:38
That depends on the — I can’t answer that, that’s like, how much does it cost to build a house? Depends on the amount of submissions, it depends on the prizes, etc., because you know, each film costs money to store. It’s not much, but it varies.

Eric Hornung 43:52
Okay, so then a different question, maybe more philosophically is, how do you measure ROI on running your own festivals versus the ROI of branded content?

Paige Williams 44:01
Yeah. So every time we run, for example, the Adventure Film Festival, we’re measuring how did we do in the 5, 6, 7 years past? So how, what is our percentage of growth of the number of films submitted to this year’s Adventure Film Festival versus last year? And what is the measure of social media impressions this year versus last year and the year before that, and year before that? So we’re measuring growth and performance based on past performance.

Eric Hornung 44:25
One last question from me. What’s the most misunderstood thing about Audience Awards?

Paige Williams 44:30
Well, by virtue of its name, it seems like the audience chooses the winner. And that is how we started. But we quickly learned that the audience does not choose the best content, and that people scam the system. So we changed it to where the audience — because if you’re, if you’re at a film festival, a real live flm festival, and you’re holding a paper ballot, there are people taking your ballots, and you can only submit one. And that’s, that’s easy. But it’s possible to scam a system. So, we made it where the two rounds where the audience, you know, move forward and preliminary jury move forward. But ultimately, the jury selects the winners. So I guess we should be called “jury awards.” But that’s not our trademark.

Jay Clouse 45:20
We didn’t spend a ton of time talking about Montana, other than the mountains were calling you. So at this point in Audience Awards’s life six and a half years in, what does it mean to be based in Missoula for this type of company?

Paige Williams 45:34
That’s pretty cool. You know, Montana has the highest growth ecosystem for high tech startups in the nation. There’s a ton of reporting on it right now. And there’s a lot of excitement around tech companies in Missoula. So the kids that are coming out of the University of Montana, Montana State, are getting to stay in the state because they’re getting really great tech jobs and fun jobs and getting paid well. So used to, you know, we would graduate people, and then they would leave and go to Seattle, or Minneapolis, or Salt Lake, or LA, San Francisco to get jobs. And now we can retain our college graduates. Just this week, I was up in Whitefish because there’s a new fund firm, Two Bear, and the guy worked for Sequoia since 1996. And he’s bringing his own fund to Whitefish, and we have another VC over in Bozeman, and then a couple of angel groups. And so, it’s getting pretty exciting. And I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s very different today than it was when I started at — Montana’s startup ecosystem is very different today than when I started the company in 2013. We had no VC funds in 2013; and now we have two. So that’s exciting. And you know, Montana is a place where people say yes. And so if you want to do something, they say, okay, do it. I mean, it’s a ton of land, it’s only a million people. So it’s really a land of opportunity in my eyes. And we’re attracting a lot of, a ton of great talent, because there’s so many jobs and companies who are hiring right now. So it’s pretty fun.

Eric Hornung 47:06
Do you fly fish yet?

Paige Williams 47:08
Oh, yeah. It’s more like, do I still fly fish? Because I read a company, and I have two kids, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But yeah, we have a raft. I mean, you know, I, I’m to work in five minutes. I cross a river to get to work. There’s a mountain behind my house that I hike every morning with my dog. My kids walk to school. We don’t lock our doors. Like, my brother lives in Mississippi, and he just got a job, Onx, which is a high tech company here in Montana that just raised a $30 million round. And so he gets to come to Missoula now. And he just says, you live in Mayberry, this is insane.

Jay Clouse 47:49
Awesome. Well, we may be asking you for an intro to the resident Andy Griffith so we can learn more about Montana.

Paige Williams 47:55
Y’all come up anytime.

Jay Clouse 47:56
Paige, thanks for taking the time. If people want to learn more about you or Audience Awards after the show, where should they go?

Paige Williams 48:01
Go to TheAudienceAwards.com, sign up, watch some great films. Or if you want to get in touch with me personally, I’m pretty easy to reach. I’m Paige, Paige@adawards com.

Jay Clouse 48:15
All right, Eric, we just spoke with Paige Williams, the founder and CEO of Audience Awards. I had a hard time stopping myself from asking just a bunch of questions that were purely selfish in interested in learning more about the film industry now that we’ve done a film. Where would you like to start with this debrief?

Eric Hornung 48:31
I think this whole podcast is selfish. It’s us asking questions about things we’re interested in. So you should have asked. aybe we’ll still have a chance offline. I would like to start with the idea that her film got into 100 film festivals. Jay, we got into one. And that felt like a lot.

Jay Clouse 48:46
Yeah, but our conversion rate right now, our hit rate is 100%.

Eric Hornung 48:49
We haven’t been rejected from any.

Jay Clouse 48:51
We’ve been rejected from no film festivals, we are one for one. If we continue on this pace, how many film festivals do you think there are in the United States?

Eric Hornung 48:58
I think there’s somewhere around 4,000 in North America.

Jay Clouse 49:01
So if we continue on this pace, we can be in 4,000 film festivals in North America.

Eric Hornung 49:05
Right? All we have to do is get into every single one.

Jay Clouse 49:08
Yes. And so far, we’ve proven that every one we’ve applied for, we’ve gotten into.

Eric Hornung 49:10
Right, this is definitely a trend worth following. Let’s get off of the selfish tangent for a minute. Jay, you let us down that path. That was very selfish of you. I want to talk about founder-market fit. Because implicit in the four questions that we try to answer here on Upside, we obviously care about the founder. But there’s this idea of founder-market fit kind of floating around VC twit — is that what they call it? Do they call it V-C-twit.

Jay Clouse 49:38
If that’s a thing, I’m going to call it VcTwit.

Eric Hornung 49:39
VcTwit? It’s just a bunch of guys named Victor tweeting?

Jay Clouse 49:43
It’s actually more true than you think.

Eric Hornung 49:46
But there’s this idea kind of floating around VC, Twitter, and medium, and it’s about this idea of founder market fit. How important do you think that is when you’re founding a company?

Jay Clouse 49:56
My personal viewpoint is that it is important. And this has come up in my perspective on founders in this show over the last few weeks, because it’s become, in my mind, more important to me. Now, I don’t know if that’s — I don’t know if you can say objectively that there’s a measure of how important it is. But to me, I’m more and more interested in that. It came up in our debrief with Hurry Home where we’re talking about Jada, and I said my only real shadow here is that we’re talking about a first time founder here in an industry that’s new to her. Like, to me, that’s something to have a little bit of pause about. When you have founder market fit, that to me is a very compelling story. And maybe it’s because as humans, we just love stories that makes sense to us. But it does make sense to me that someone with founder-market fit has ins to the industry that would be very difficult to pick up otherwise. Like this, we’re talking about the film industry here and even the TV industry, to some extent. Getting connected to some of these companies that have distribution could take a lot of time. And in a startup world, time is money. So if you can shorten the path to building relationships with distribution and partners that make sense for your business, that literally saves you a ton of money. And if I’m an investor financing a company, if I know that I can have more efficient capital in there, because they have the relationships already to save the spend of burn, I think that’s an important.

Eric Hornung 51:19
So, when we talk about founder-market fit specifically in the case here of Paige, she was a filmmaker. Would you say that she has deep founder market fit? And would she have more or less founder market fit had she been a top five employee at Netflix or a top ten employee at Netflix with the same background?

Jay Clouse 51:39
It depends. I think founder-market fit comes down to, I can think of two core drivers right now. One of them being relationships, as I just talked about. The second being pure insight. I think you can have insight into an industry and how things work without necessarily having the relationships. I think if you can have relationship and maybe not necessarily insight. It’d be great if you have both. So in the case of Paige as a filmmaker, being a filmmaker by virtue is going to give you some insight into the industry. Doesn’t necessarily say you have the relationships. It sounds like she does also have the relationships, whether it’s because of six years doing Audience Awards or everything for that. But to me having the collection of both of those things is really powerful. Filmmaker versus top five employee at Netflix, I think it just depends on who you met during that period of time.

Eric Hornung 52:24
So I’m asking a lot of questions. This is like interviewing Jay Clouse. Maybe it’s the proximity to sitting by you. But we talk here on Upside a lot about the different types of fundraising that there are. We’ve talked with Ernest Capital about bootstrapping, we’ve talked with venture capitalists about the growth-at-all-costs mindset. We’ve talked with our friends at Zive about that middle ground that is so elusive. Here we have more of an organic, slow-growing tech company. Is that a shadow to you? Or what do you think about that?

Jay Clouse 52:56
What I love about Audience Awards organic growth, even if it may be slower to this point than someone who’s taken on venture capital rocket fuel, the fact that they have existed for six and a half years is very, like that’s a very strong mark to me. More and more, I’m convinced that the longer you have been able to exist, the more likely you’re going to continue to exist that long. I think that plateaus at some point. You know, you look at giant industries who’ve been around for 200 years, like, because the world has changed so much in the last 200 years, they can be in danger. But for a company that’s bootstrapped, I think, being around for six years, they’ve figured out how to make money to make the team work right now. We got some really interesting perspective at the end of the interview about how hiring didn’t necessarily equate to growth on the platform right now. And then we asked about, well, if you got $20 million, what would that do? And she said, well, there’d be more opportunity. I didn’t quite close the gap between how money relates to opportunity, if it’s not through hiring, which I have a little bit of a shadow on. But I like the, I like the growth at this point, just because by virtue of existing for six and a half years, they’ve learned a ton, they’ve built more of those relationships, like I said, that I think are important. It sounds like their moat of how many filmmakers they have on the platform is something that will be difficult to replicate and very important. And also, the amount of videos and heir library is something that each one of those is an asset potentially to somebody of some value, which is great. But where’s your head at?

Eric Hornung 54:24
My understanding of your shadow is that right now, the model is the Audience Awards, their brand of festivals and competitions, those cost them money. So to grow those specific festivals is going to cost them money, which is why it doesn’t cost them more people. You can’t have more people, and then just have more festivals, because they are a, they’re driven by the ability to spend mone. The way they get that money currently is through this branded content. So right now, the money comes in through branded content, is spent through advertising awards, and hat’s how they dig that moat deeper and deeper in both their number of filmmakers and film library. So they’re using branded content, essentially, as fundraising for their creative side and their own, their own initiatives. So I think if you did have that money come in, you could still have your branded side of things, which is obviously going to be your revenue driver. But all that money can get poured into building out that internal service offering.

Jay Clouse 55:24
Which I love. And to me, what I thought was obvious midway through the interview and going into this was the more, like, if the revenue model is from brands and sponsored contests, it seems like that is one of the most important metrics and things to track and be trying to grow. And when we asked about health and KPIs, we got user growth, time spent on the site, page visits, she wants to grow community members, more people watching the content. I just didn’t quite understand how that maps to what’s making the business money right now and what needs to happen for this to be a high growth or potentially more investable company from the brand and sponsored content side of things, because I think about — and this is my experience as one data point — I think about HQ trivia. Weird comparison to make here but keep up with me here. When you start at HQ Trivia, it was awesome, fun, you tune in for a couple minutes a day, and you have a chance at $10,000. If you haven’t, if you’re not familiar with HQ Trivia, maybe I shoud explain this. Live trivia concept. You get given something like 12 questions, I think it was…12 questions, and everyone who makes, gets all those questions correct all the way through the end, you have like three answers, three, three seconds to answer. If you get all the questions right and survived the end, the winners split the pot of the $10,000. When that started, that was awesome. because there weren’t that many people on the platform and your chances of winning were okay. And even when there were more people, you weren’t competing directly against them. But the more winners meant more of the pot that was split. So by the end of the time I stopped playing HQ Trivia, the winners were getting like less than 200 bucks apiece. I think of the marketplace dynamics of Audience Awards, and I want to understand more about how long am I going to be a filmmaker on this platform, creating films if I’m not winning these contents and getting compensated, because that has a natural relationship to how many contests I would want to have on the platform as the purveyor of the platform to keep that creative filmmaking audience engaged.

Eric Hornung 57:18
I see what you’re saying. I think HQ Trivia is probably a flawed metaphor.

Jay Clouse 57:23
It’s not, it’s not, it’s not a direct one to one. But what I’m saying is like, there’s a point where if I’m not getting gratification from my effort, I stop showing up.

Eric Hornung 57:32
I think Rap Chat is probably a better proxy, to be candid. You have people coming on creating music, and there’s the same power law distribution of, okay, there’s going to be one winner, and 223 entries — on Rap Chat, it’s more of a user generated content model. But there’s contests and certain things — So Rap Chat was, for new listeners of the show, episode two of the Upside podcast. And I’m less concerned with the fact that it’s a power law distribution, because I see things like YouTube, or podcasts, even, things that, like, we do that have power law results. And I think that is the same thing here in filmmaking. She said it, most films are never going to make anybody money. And I think it’s the same thing when most films are never going to win a competition. And filmmakers go in with that expectation. I think expectation’s important. If you’re going in thinking, I’m going to win everyone, like the one outlier she mentioned, then yeah, you’re going to have a very different experience. But most filmmakers, the ones who’ve gone through school, know, hey, I’m going to get turned down a lot. I mean, just go read any article about getting into a film festival, and it’s like, just be ready to get, like, 90% rejections. So the expectations…

Jay Clouse 58:47
Were one for one, though.

Eric Hornung 58:48
Upside is one for one. But the rest of the film industry is that 90% rejections.

Jay Clouse 58:54
I feel like a lot of filmmakers, most filmmakers, are in it to tell stories and create things that are interesting to them. And they’re probably not trying to make their full living on sponsored, corporate stuff like this. So maybe it’s a factor of this is something I’m willing to put some amount of my time into, to try and fund my own creative projects. And they’re still getting value out of submitting to the Audience Award film festivals and having it on the platform and getting in front of people there. So maybe it’s not as big of an issue as I think. I mean, for the platform itself, for Audience Awards, if they want more branded and sponsored contests on the platform, the biggest win for them is those brands and sponsors walking away saying, wow, we have some awesome content to work with here. And you don’t need the whole platform submitting to those competitions; you need enough people submitting enough good content, that brand is happy. So maybe what I’m saying is a non-issue. But I was trying to suss that out of the interview, I just wasn’t quite getting the answer I was looking for.

Eric Hornung 59:48
I would say that I am with you in terms of…probably my biggest shadow was that answer of the health of the ecosystem. And I think this could just be the difference between bootstrapping a company and looking at things on more of a long-term time horizon versus the companies we talked to are raising every 6 to 18 months, so they need to know their KPIs and metrics, and what is that very specific thing that’s driving this very specific thing, whereas page and Audience Awards haven’t been on that same trajectory, so they have focused on different things that are maybe more long term indicators than short term revenue drivers.

Jay Clouse 1:00:31
So what do you think, Eric, with your investor hat on over your hair that’s much better than mine? What do you think about if they wanted to go down the investment path — and she didn’t say that they were going down that path, it’s just an option potentially — if she wanted to go down that path, what would you be looking for as an investor that would give you more confidence in evaluating this?

Eric Hornung 1:00:52
I asked the question about their go-to-market strategy and kind of elaborating on that. And she really just, just mentioned the over the top strategy. I wish I would have gotten more there. If I’m an investor, I think this has product-market fit, it has a community, it has the numbers. But if we’re going to scale this thing, what does scale look like? Like, mechanically? You’re going to get on to Pluto, and all these over the tops, are you going to, like, how are we going to get to that next level? Like how is this going to 10x? How is this going to hundred-x? Can it 100-x? That’s a question I have as well. Can you get 100 times more filmmakers? Maybe. I don’t, I don’t know the global population of filmmakers.

Jay Clouse 1:01:35
And that’s probably not even though the variable that matters as much. Like, it’s probably more about viewers, and it’s probably more about getting sponsored contests on here. I really like this, this company. I think that it’s scratching the surface of its potential. Because as she mentioned from our brief experience in this, in this world with our foray into film, it does seem like a very opaque and difficult process to get your film on to some of these OTT platforms. So if that’s a real pain point, I feel like there might be some market opportunity there that they’ve barely scratched the surface on. What excites me about this also, like YouTube, there is just so much content that becomes an asset to the platform that’s on here. So the longer they exist, like I said, getting more and more assets that you can leverage in one way or another, I think, becomes a moat for this business, especially if it has relative high quality. Like this is done by filmmakers. YouTube is just like anyone has a camera, hit upload, and put this up here. And she said there’s some crap on Audience Awards as well. But if the vast majority of your library is filmmaker quality shorts, it’s worth exploring more. Like, as an investor, I would dive deeper into what is the value of this and who is the value to because I think that’s a unique asset that they have in large quantities.

Eric Hornung 1:02:50
I would agree. And I think it’s more and more valuable right now, as we’re still, it feels like it’s been a decade, but we’re still in the midst of these, like, the golden age of content, the content wars, whatever you want to call. It feels like everyone is getting into professional quality content, from the biggest players to brands to it really doesn’t matter.

Jay Clouse 1:03:11
To us. So 6 to 18 months from now, what are you looking for from Audience Awards?

Eric Hornung 1:03:17
This is such a hard question for me to answer because they’re obviously doing well enough to support their team, continue growing at the current clip. And it feels like putting that 6 to 18 months question on Audience Awards takes away the long term nature of their growth pattern. So the one driver I can think about in the next 6 to 18 months is do they decide to pour gas on the fire? Do they go out and raise? Because if they do that in the next 6 to 18 months, this becomes a whole different business proposition in terms of timing. And if they don’t do that in the next 6 to 18 months, and they don’t plan on doing it in the next 6 to 18 months or whatever, I think it’s going to continually increase, continually do well. This question is based on a venture capitalist model. And I don’t know that right now, this is a venture capitalist’s investment without taking on that funding.

Jay Clouse 1:04:09
We are completely aligned on that. Implicit in the 6 to 18 months question that we asked here is looking at this through events or venture capitals lens. And so 6 to 18 months from now, I’ll be looking at metrics of scale or, like, indications of scale and what that could look like, and I don’t know if that’s, to your point, if they’re pouring that gas on the fire, if that’s their priority right now. So yes, I’m also looking to see, one, is that the path they’re trying to go? Are they trying to go, like, giant, like, I want VC rocket fuel? And if so, I want to understand, at a deeper level, some of their unit economics at scale and the drivers of what makes a healthy network and marketplace for them.

Eric Hornung 1:04:47
Love that? Well, if you guys have comments about Audience Awards, or you have thoughts about film, or you want to know more about what Jay and I are up to, because we have to make this selfish, Jay, it’s very important for us in our egos, send us a Tweet @upsidefm or, if you got something a little longer, send us an email at hello@upside.fm. And we will see you next week.

Interview begins: 7:35
Debrief begins: 48:15

Paige Williams is the founder and CEO of Audience Awards.

Audience Awards is an online platform that organizes contests and film festivals in hopes of providing more opportunity and exposure to independent filmmakers. Operating in Montana, Audience Awards opens submissions to anyone who has a story to share while offering prizes such as camera equipment and mentorship with industry regulars.

Audience Awards now hosts 65,000 filmmakers and covers an audience of 200,000 viewers. Paige, an experienced filmmaker herself, shares her thoughts in hoping to grow those numbers and offers insight into how their company has shown success.

We discuss:

  • First inspirations for making film (9:00)
  • Original film experiences (11:45)
  • Impetus for Audience Awards (16:00)
  • Audience Awards today (18:30)
  • Film festivals and contests on Audience Awards (23:02)
  • Growth of Audience Awards (30:10)
  • OTT: Over The Top platforms (31:03)
  • Growth and scaling (33:23)
  • Future opportunities at Audience Awards (35:49)
  • Running and funding a tech company vs a film (37:41)
  • Growth as a question of money vs. opportunities offered (41:02)
  • Operating in Montana (45:20)
  • Audience awards was founded in 2013 and based in Missoula, Montana.

Learn more about Audience Awards: https://theaudienceawards.com/
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