When Paige Williams launched Audience Awards from Missoula in 2013, the upstart company relied upon a handful of YouTube channels before growing to allow viewers to vote on submissions.
But the film industry has changed over the last seven years and the business, now branded as AudPop, has changed along with it.
“We kept the name Audience Awards and kept operating under that, but as we grew and scaled, the name confused people,” Williams said. “It didn’t make sense because Audience Awards meant voting at film festivals, or they thought it was like the Oscars or something. We kind of hit a roadblock when we were selling because people didn’t understand or assumed we were something we we weren’t.”
Staying ahead of the trends, AudPop has transitioned from video contests to video campaigns. The shift has positioned AudPop as a leading video marketing platform, connecting agencies, brands and studios to thousands of filmmakers.
Among those efforts, AudPop recently offered its growing online platform to capture video stories based on economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19, and the impact those dollars have had on small businesses across the country.
It also launched a film challenge in partnership with Women in Film and IMDB, the later owned by Amazon. The Curbside Shorts Film Challenge asked female filmmakers to address issues around COVID-19 and sheltering in place, and how the pandemic has changed their lives.
Filmmakers had seven days to make a two-minute film. The challenge netted 509 submissions.
“Of those, 200 were accepted to compete and we just moved the top 20 to the finalist round,” Williams said. “The 10 with the most votes and the 10 selected by Women in Film moved to the finalists. These celebrity juries will pick the winners and the winners will go on IMDB, which is pretty cool. They’re going to award $10,000 to five female filmmakers.”
The jury includes household names like Maria Bello of NCIS, Cara Buono of Stranger Things and Kim Yutani, the director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival, among others.
“It gives filmmakers a start in their career, and we have established filmmakers as well,” said Williams. “But it also captures the relevant cultural stories of the day. During this crisis, we’re proud to offer a video platform that gives creatives and organizations opportunities to continue to tell their stories to audiences around the world.”
Past campaigns launched by AudPop and its partners have netted equal success, including topics of diversity for Fox Studios and a focus on the world’s oceans. The later challenge saw winning submissions screen nationally and air on several different networks.
Running an international business from Missoula though Los Angeles and beyond has its challenges and rewards, Williams said. She has addressed the issue in the past, citing challenges around air travel and the lack of venture capital needed to grow promising businesses.
But while opportunities to secure venture capital in Montana are few, bootstrapping the business for seven years has given Williams autonomy over operations, and it has kept AudPop nimble in changing times.
AudPop now claims more than 250,000 users, including 75,000 filmmakers. More than 11,000 films live on its platform, including “staff picks,” like one’s favorite bookstore. The brand also includes AudTV, AudFest and AudNews.
“I’m so glad I’m in Missoula Montana today. There’s so much less noise here, which is really nice,” Williams said. “Maybe we only have one VC fund in Montana, but that’s okay. It’s worth the trade off. I’d rather build a business that doesn’t need VC money. It’s a fun challenge to accept.”
With current events and American culture in mind, AudPop is now turning its focus to diversity. It has partnered with TwentyOne14 media out of Los Angeles to target a multi-cultural audience.
Williams believes the partnership will help expand minority opportunities within the industry. The films must star people of color or be produced, written or directed by a person of color. Winning submissions will receive a distribution deal.
“The video landscape is really different than it was seven years ago, especially for short videos,” Williams said. “We were a little early and now everyone is catching up. Video content is everything and it drives engagement. We grow every week and our users grow and it all happens organically.”