The Story Behind CUT-UP
by Lilla Puskás
The founders of CUT-UP, Moritz Schneider and Andrea Sponring, met back in 2008. They quickly discovered their shared passion for film, and began collaborating on the production of commercials, music videos and narrative shorts. When consulting their friends and colleagues about their films’ festival run, they saw the need for a revolution in the festival distribution process. They came up with a vague idea of building a tool that would assist filmmakers with their festival strategy.
Over the past three years, they founded CUT-UP, a comprehensive festival distribution service. Now they launch CUT-UP HUB, with the aim of helping even more filmmakers to navigate through the film festival galaxy.
I took the occasion to sit down in their cosy office in Zürich, have some coffee and “Basler Leckerli” and talk about their experiences, ambitions and future plans.
Can you tell us about the idea of creating the tool CUT-UP HUB?
Being involved in film production and working for festivals as programmers, in the jury or as a festival director, we realized that many of our friends were lost when it came to festival strategies. Most of them didn’t even really have a strategy. They tried to find out where to submit their films by contacting either the film schools that they were studying at or film institutions for help. The advice they received was rather nonspecific and sometimes left them with more questions than answers. They received some lists, but rarely with a selection that really fit their film. And not every filmmaker wanted to submit to A-List festivals and wait for a miracle. Some just wanted to get the film out to a broad audience, the sooner the better. Filmmakers want their work to be seen. Google and the submission platforms weren’t a big help, either. It was impossibe to check and compare all the submission options, deadlines and fees. We did some research on the whole topic and knew that we could do better.
We felt that there should be a way to compare, select and rank the festivals that you want to submit to. We wanted a tool to create a real strategy.
That’s why we built our own database and created a matching algorithm, which matches films with the festivals most suited to them based on various criteria. Initially we thought that it should be easy to develop such a tool. We started with excel sheets, with the goal to develop the best tool ever. Looking back we were quite naive! The whole topic is much more complex than we first thought, and we constantly found new criteria we wanted to integrate. But in the end we succeed, and now we have an amazing tool, that is both flexible and has the potential to be developed even further. This allows us to constantly improve and update it with valuable information we find while submitting or researching.
How did you start CUT-UP and what was your experience building it?
While the tool was taking shape, we started our full service festival distribution, CUT-UP. We used the tool for almost three years for CUT-UP, during this time we learned a lot about festivals, submissions and the industry in general. In the beginning our friends were our first clients. We faced some skepticism, as filmmakers are often approached by many different offers, some of which can be a bit sketchy. But quality prevails, and soon we were taking care of films from Japan to Venezuela, and Rwanda to Iceland with Oscar nominees, as well as BAFTA and Berlinale winners among them. At the same time, it was important for us to have a diverse portfolio, that's why we also provided festival distribution for genre films. CUT-UP enabled filmmakers to screen their films in more than 90 countries and thousands of festivals. However, our capacity to offer this full service for films was limited. We believe in the importance of sharing and exchanging experiences, so we created CUT-UP HUB.
With the creation of CUT-UP HUB, we can offer this kind of festival distribution support to even more filmmakers.
How can CUT-UP help filmmakers?
Without realizing it, the filmmakers can spend hours and days comparing festivals and reading rules and regulations. Although you try to control your budget, this becomes increasingly challenging as submission fees are getting more expensive.
So you want to be sure that you are eligible for the festivals you submit to, and the festival is worth the submission fee. You want to make clever decisions. And our tool does that for you.
What part of the tool are you especially proud of?
The algorithm. It turned out really great: it compares and ranks so many factors, filmmakers would go crazy trying to note down all these criteria while researching. The algorithm is flexible, we can adjust and add factors at any time if we wanted to, although I think we already cover a lot! We are looking forward to integrating input from users, who will surely contribute their own ideas of further improvments.
How do you select the festivals you include into your repertoire?
There are a lot of festivals which have a nice website, but no proper screening, no jury etc. On the other side some of the really established and even famous festivals don’t have proper websites! If we add a new festival to our database we always check their previous edition including the program and pictures of the event, and the social media channels. There are a lot mid-range and small festivals with engaged teams, a strong selection, and where you feel that the films are really appreciated. At a later stage of the festival run of your film you might be interested in screening as often as possible, so submitting to smaller festivals would make sense. Our algorithm will suggest the smaller festivals further down the list. If a festival does not reply adequately to our questions, or we experience something that is not of advantage for the filmmaker, we remove the festival from our database. We find it crucial to maintain our independence, so we don’t make deals with festivals. Maybe we are inspired by the famous Swiss Neutrality!
What are your future plans?
In the future, we would like to integrate some usability improvements: fancy dashboards, calendars and maps are all on our bucket list. We ultimately want an application that is easy and intuitive to use. We hope to soon reach a significant amount of users. This would have a truly positive effect, as it would be easier to share experiences that everyone could benefit from.
We hope that we will become a community with its own voice. That would give us a certain power in demanding festivals to be more transparent.
We would also love to integrate more country specific information, depending on where our future clients come from. Well, the wishlist is long… However, our biggest dream for the near future is to help as many filmmakers as possible, to have an exchange about the whole topic, and to see where the journey goes.
by Lilla Puskás
2018 © CUT-UP GmbH, Switzerland. Free for fair use: if you quote, credit.