Opening Doors at the New Jersey Web Festival

Ned Donovan
6 min readNov 18, 2022
Source: @NJWebFest on Twitter

When I partnered with the New Jersey Web Festival to expand their content offerings to include podcasts and actual play projects my goal was to empower the indie content creator community. I had found success on the international film festival circuit with my web series that jumpstarted my career, and I didn’t see anything similar existing for audio.

Fast forward to the 2022 NJ WebFest and the experience was better than I ever could have imagined. Watching these creators celebrate each others’ work, network, take part in professional development workshops and panels, and witness their work on the big screen in front of an audience is truly the most incredible feeling. It was at this year’s festival that multiple creators took Neem and I aside and said, “this is an incredible experience and we need to try and make it more accessible for 2023. Especially for historically underrepresented creators. How ever we can help the festival do that, we’re in.”

There’s a sense of elation when a project that you pour your heart and soul into works. There’s a different feeling when it connects with people in such a way that they want to share that experience with others. Immediately after the festival (like…within 36 hours), Neem and I got to work on what that could look like. And now, less than 2 months removed from the 2022 festival, I’m so proud to announce the New Jersey Web Festival Scholarship Program and Judging Sponsorship.

These programs are designed to solve two separate issues in the space that boil down to Access and Confidence.

Introducing our Scholarship Program

The most pressing barrier-to-entry facing creators looking to submit to the festival is the cost of submission and/or attendance. The Scholarship Program helps to address this by partnering with companies to offer submission fee waivers to BIPOC, female-identifying, and/or LGBTQIA creators, as well as creators with disabilities. Creators will now be able to apply for a fee waiver, which will be offered out of a pot of money created by the sponsors of this program.

At launch we have three incredible sponsors: podcast host Pinecast, TTRPG digital tools platform Demiplane, and collaboration network Polywork have created the initial pool of money for the Scholarship Program. So long as there is money in the program, we will randomly draw roughly every two weeks from every project that has applied for a fee waiver. Over the course of the next 7 months, we will be actively working to increase the sponsors of this program and ensure that we are able to cover the fees for as many projects as are hoping to submit to our festival.

Source: @NJWebFest on Twitter

I want to thank Matt Basta and the whole team at Pinecast, Adam Bradford and the whole team at Demiplane, and Meg Mahoney and the whole team at Polywork for joining us in launching this endeavor. Their leadership and partnership means the world and have helped us kick off these very important programs for our 2023 festival. All three of these companies have dedicated themselves to supporting indie creators and are truly putting their money behind that belief.

Additionally, we will be creating a pool of money in partnership with our sponsors to help us cover the cost of attending our festival by funding VIP Passes for creators who are accepted. Every accepted project receives a single three-day pass to all workshops and screenings at no additional cost to the creator. This program will give projects the opportunity to get a free VIP all-access passes, which includes our world-renowned Awards Gala.

In these two ways we hope to increase Access for creators at our 2023 festival.

Creators who would like to apply for our Scholarship Program can do so at

Companies who would like to support our Scholarship Program can learn more at

Creating a Robust and Equitable Judging Process

We have worked hard to create one of the most robust and fair judging processes in the world. Every submission we receive is considered by multiple judges who are professionals in their field who by consensus select the shows that will be programmed in the fall. Once the acceptances have been set, those judges additionally set the awards nominations across the projects. Lastly, we have judges who specialize in those categories who select the final winners which are announced and celebrated at our awards gala. We do not require in-person attendance to win awards; anyone who’s attended our festival knows that many winners send us videos in lieu of an in-person acceptance. In this way, everyone’s single submission fee makes them just as eligible for consideration as everyone else.

However, it’s important to us that we not ask people to work for us for free. We work hard to provide an honorarium to our judges for their work. We also work hard to keep our submission fees low for creators. The combination of lower fees, and multiple judges, means there’s not much money available and so we have been limited in the past from having as many judges as we would like consider the work. We also believe our judging process can only be fairer, more equitable, and more representative the more people we have considering every single submission.

We have created our Judging Sponsorship to help us add three times as many judges per submission to our judging pool from years past. This is a critical step in establishing a judging process that creators can be confident in the results of. No single judge will have a more or less weighted opinion on content and each show will have enough judges that we are truly able to form a consensus for acceptances in 2023.

This is how we hope to improve Confidence in our festival for each creator who submits this year and in the years to follow.

In addition to being a Scholarship sponsor, Pinecast has joined us as our first Judging Sponsor. I’m so excited for their leadership and partnership and can’t thank them enough for believing in our mission and sharing our goals.

Source: @NJWebFest on Twitter

Companies who would like to be a Judging Sponsor can learn more at

Building a New Infrastructure for Fiction Podcasts and Actual Play Programs

Both of these programs are available to any project that our festival considers. I, however, am the head of the Fiction Podcast and Actual Play wings of the festival. In 2021, we were the first webfest to include a complete fiction podcast and actual play wing. In 2022, we saw 6 additional festivals join us, using our model as the blueprint. In 2023 I hope to continue that trend and see more than 10 festivals offering Fiction Podcast and Actual Play wings at their festivals. We are working on some really exciting opportunities in conjunction with these international festivals that we will announce a little later this year.

All of this is to say that in 2023 we are looking to expand the number of shows being considered and celebrated at these festivals. Increasing awareness around these incredible projects and vibrant communities can only serve to help individual creators and increase awareness worldwide.

All I’ve ever wanted is to make things that matter to the communities I care about. I’m just so proud that the New Jersey Web Festival has surpassed anything I could have possibly imagined.

Please Support Our Launch Partners

These programs would not be possible without the support of Pinecast, Polywork, and Demiplane. Please head over to their websites (click the images below), sign up for their services, and shoutout their support of indie content creators worldwide!

The logo for podcast host Pinecast
Pinecast is the best way for podcasters to start and manage their shows for a single flat fee.
The logo for collaboration network Polywork
Polywork is your place to discover opportunities to collaborate with other professionals.
Demiplane is the place for digital tools, content, and services to discover, prep, and play all your favorite tabletop roleplaying games.



Ned Donovan

He/Him • Actor • Producer • Co-Founder Audition Cat, Charging Moose Media, Play+1 • Board Member New Jersey Web Festival •