The Audience Awards: Where We Came From and Where We’re Headed

January 29, 2015

In 2014, The Audience Awards awarded short form filmmakers a total of $14,500. Over the next six months, The Audience Awards will award over $60,000 for audience choice films.


Filmmaker Tom Stagg

Tom Stagg, winner of the Best of 2014 Audience Awards’ Competition has reaped the benefits of competing on The Audience Awards, and they were not solely monetary. “The Audience Awards is just getting started” said Stagg, “and it’s been fascinating to watch the site evolve. I love the game-like quality of the experience, and the camaraderie of the participants. There were only a few other films on the site when I first saw it, made by people of all different experience levels, but very well curated. As with all new things I was wary about taking the plunge, especially with my new baby, Intervals,  just barely standing on its own yet. Ultimately I gave into the urge to share. The feedback from viewers started coming in, and they were getting it! When so much work goes into presenting a story, it’s such a relief to know that the story is reaching people. Festivals are great and will continue to be great, but the film world needed The Audience Awards. So many good films already live there, and I expect to see so many more. I am proud that Montana is home to this brilliant online venue for films. Thank you, Paige Williams, and everyone else who made The Audience Awards a reality.”

Slamdance President Peter Baxter with Audience Awards CEO & Founder, Paige Williams, Slamdance 2015

I sat down with Paige Williams, the CEO & Founder of The Audience Awards, to get the story behind where the came from and where they are headed.

Williams commented “In May of 2013 I was bored. I had made a couple of long form documentaries that did well on the festival circuit and had distribution, so I had a little stamina. But, I needed a break from documentary filmmaking. Docs are hard to fund and the subject matters I chose were especially difficult. I had just gone through some personal changes in my life and I wanted something to sink my teeth into that would benefit a greater good. The week before, I was talking with Montana’s film commissioner Deny Staggs about a great idea he had to create a Montana centric YouTube channel and we brainstormed on how to get content for the channel. I found myself sitting in the cold gym where I worked out when the idea struck. The Audience Awards: Short film showcases where the audience chooses the winners. How simple is that? I looked into it and there was nothing like it. The URL was available so I bought it and started going”

The Audience Awards office, housed in the incubator of Montana startups, Montech, has been action packed since the idea came to Williams in May 2013. The Audience Awards launched their beta site in November 2013 and launched the new website in June 2014 with a Cat vs. Griz (Montana State University vs. University of Montana) film school competition. From the two universities, 29 films competed for $1,500 and it was a great springboard competition for what has become The Audience Awards as we know it today.

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Still from Aaron Roos’ film “Tower 49”

Aaron Roos, director of Tower 49 and second place winner of the Dramatic Shorts competition stated, “I’m just excited. It’s a fun process and being a part of The Audience Awards has been very cool.  To be able to talk to a filmmaker in Vermont, see their film and connect with them immediately, is incredible.  Filmmaker interaction is the best thing The Audience Awards offers up to filmmakers.”

Williams spotted the need for filmmaker connection and provides a solution. “As an independent filmmaker traveling the festival circuit for several years, I saw various needs in our community that weren’t being filled. Here were all of these amazing films – primarily short films that I would fall in love with. I would get home and tell my friends about them, but could never find them again. Film festivals are awesome, but they need a way to get out what they’re doing beyond the festival and to the world. In our film community, we also need a smarter way to monetize what we’re creating. The traditional distribution platform for films is a thing of the past. And no one could really figure out  how to distribute short films and make any money with it. The Audience Awards solves these problems for filmmakers, festivals and audiences. Through our short film competitions, filmmakers have a reason to reach out and ask their friends to support their work. And the friends have a reason to show up and view their buddies’ films. What they all find at The Audience Awards is an engagaed social community with a library stocked full of audience curated powerful short films that they would have not found otherwise. The filmmakers get to walk away with cash and accolades and that’s great. But what’s even better is that they find a supportive community for filmmakers, festivals and film fans who watch, comment and vote for their films. That has proven to be just as valuable for the filmmakers. ”

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Still from Katrina Kinder’s winning short

Katrina Kinder, winner of the Mississippi High School Competition, also found The Audience Awards platform engaging and interactive. “The Audience Awards is an incredible platform for filmmakers. I loved reading all the comments that were made about my film, and watching the films from the other competitions was fun, often educational and inspiring. There are films from all over the world on The Audience Awards, and it’s eye-opening to catch a glimpse of things that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.”



Director Michael Kehoe

Audience Awards users represent 75 different countries, uniting filmmakers and cinephiles from The United States to Mozambique and beyond. The Audience Awards not only gives a voice to filmmakers, it opens the flood gates for each artist to experience another’s work,” said Michael Kehoe, winner of The Audience Awards Horror Shorts Competition. “I was able to screen so many talented filmmakers on The Audience Award site that I would not have been able to otherwise. I applaud the professionalism of the site and the support you express for each and every film. The Audience Awards give the filmmaker a rush of adrenalin from the support of those who vote.”

2015 is gearing up to be a huge year for The Audience Awards. The Montana Office of Tourism is giving away $40,000 for one-minute videos in The Audience Awards’ Real Montana competition. And people from around the world are invited to submit one-minute videos featuring Montana in one of  five categories: Outdoor Adventure; Artist, Events & Culture; Wildlife & Scenery; Montana Places and Food & Beverage. Each category competes for $5,000 and the top two most voted videos advance to a final round to compete for $15,000.

The Audience Awards will also host several top college rivalry competitions and continue hosting competitions for films year round that address many issues including environmental films for Earth Day. They also have hosted competitions with film festivals such as LA Shorts Fest, Level Ground, Festimation, Edinburgh Short Film Festival and are adding more to the docket.


Fusion Doc Challenge filmmakers at their premiere, Slamdance, 2015


Speaking of film festivals, The Audience Awards had a large presence in Park City this January. Doc Challenge, powered by The Audience Awards, co-hosted a weekend party at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival and screened the twelve top films from the Fusion Doc Challenge. These films  also received a television deal with Fusion Media and $3,500 was awarded to the winners. Williams was also a member of the Slamdance shorts and feature documentary jury.

Although the snowfall this winter has been rather minimal in Montana, the birthplace of The Audience Awards , the snowball affect has indeed begun for the company. Their user engagement is right in between the number three (YouTube) and number four ( websites in the world, with the average user spending 8 minutes every time they visit the site. The average site visit for a website is 58 seconds, and hundreds to thousands of people sign up every day to join film’s social network.

The Audience Awards is winning over the hearts of filmmakers, festivals and film lovers. Brian Byers an Audience Awards competing filmmaker attested to the benefit of the platform “Look at the exposure that The Audience Awards gave each of our films! I am grateful for this organization and the amazing people behind the curtain that keep it up to date and fresh.”


Sign up for your Audience Awards account today and find out for yourself what all the buzz is about.

The Audience Awards is film’s social network connecting audiences to films, filmmakers and film festivals. The Audience Awards hosts short film competitions where the audience chooses the best films.


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