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Friday, January 26, 2007

Quick Sundance dispatch

I arrived at Sundance Tuesday evening, and have mostly been focused this year on seeing movies and doing the networking thing, as opposed to going to lots of panels, as I did in 2006. (Movies so far: "Hot House," "Chasing Ghosts," "Starting Out in the Evening," "Crossing the Line," "The Unforeseen." )

The panel I moderated on rights and new distribution platforms was Wednesday at noon, in the New Frontier on Main Street. There was a full house for it, which was nice. Sundance panel organizer Jeffrey Winter kicked things off by noting that he'd invited a number of studio execs to join the panel, and all demurred, saying that they didn't quite grok the way that new media were changing the rights landscape (at least enough to talk publicly.)

I wasn't taking notes, since I was busy directing traffic among five very talkative and opinionated panelists. But there was some interesting discussion of leverage: filmmakers who have a track record, or who have made a movie that everyone wants, will have an easier time managing their rights, rather than tossing them all to the party that buys US theatrical, or home video. (Some things never change.) The panelists seemed to agree that while older distribution avenues can supply more reliable, easily-estimated revenue streams, new media avenues tend to be riskier, and very rarely offer up-front payments -- but the royalty structures can be more favorable. We emphasized the issue of being able to audit the numbers with download sites and other new distribution venues...since reliable third-party stats aren't available. And David Straus from Withoutabox said that his company plans to launch, later this year, an online rights marketplace similar to INDPlay.

At the end, I got the chance to chat with a lot of filmmakers who are dealing with these rights issues first-hand, which was great...also handed out a few free copies of The Future of Web Video that I'd brought along.