January 16, 2014
The annual Sundance Film Festival kicked off this week in Park City, but despite the buzz surrounding the event, the indie distribution landscape is changing. Filmmakers are not profiting from festival exposure like they were only a few years ago, and some are choosing to deliver movies directly to an audience on smaller screens. Many independent films, even those that get scooped up at festivals, run the risk of not making it to theatrical distribution.
According to The New York Times, the Sundance economic landscape was very different back in 2006 — films like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Thank You for Smoking,” among others, took in around $250 million at the box office. Last year’s festival features, however, earned only about $160 million.
“The gap may be even wider this year, as digital-leaning distributors like Magnolia, IFC and Radius-TWC, the boutique division of the boutique Weinstein Company, become the most active buyers,” notes NYT. “Perhaps half of the 120 films on the Sundance roster will find distribution, said Adam Leipzig, chief executive of Entertainment Media Partners, a film consultancy, ‘but most of them will not get theatrical distribution.’”
Some filmmakers, like Sundance veteran filmmaker Marco Weber, are choosing to opt out of Sundance and promote and distribute the films themselves.
“From the get-go it was clear I wouldn’t want to depend on festival acceptance,” Weber tells NYT. Instead, he’ll release his newest thriller, “California Scheming,” in 15 cities later this month and make it available on DirecTV. “Having spent less than $1 million on the film, he said he figured he could turn a profit without Sundance,” the article explains.
“Leipzig estimates that filmmakers spent about $3 billion to make the more than 4,000 films submitted to Sundance, but in the aggregate will probably recoup only about 2 percent of their investment,” reports NYT.
Sales have greatly been diminished, and movie buyers are no longer offering money up front to directors for their movies, but rather promise an audience — albeit a small one. “Most of the selections that reach theaters will stay there long enough only to be reviewed by critics, affirming a film’s feature status, before moving to video on demand.”