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Monday, January 26, 2009

'Panic Button' Panel on Indie Film, and Post-Sundance Analyses

IndieWire offers up a summary of one of the Sundance panels I was sad to miss last week, 'Panic Button: Push or Ponder?', which looked at the future of the independent film business.

Producer Ted Hope, who was on the panel, offers his perspective, and links to the YouTube videos of the session.

(Sundance has also just posted video of my panel on new distribution strategies, along with most of the other panels from the 2009 fest.)

Here's the NY Times assessment of film acquisitions at Sundance this year. Total sales seem like they'll hit about $15 million, essentially the same as 2008.

And the Boston Globe's Ty Burr has a piece today headlined, 'The Magic Fades Away at Sundance.'

Interesting tidbit from Burr's piece:

    Everyone agrees that the standard models of indie theatrical distribution and exhibition are broken; everyone at Sundance and in the industry is grappling with how best to replace them.

    Some are even sure they have answers. Consultant and panelist Peter Broderick touted a brave new world of "hybrid distribution," controlled directly by the filmmaker that combines website direct sales, video on demand, Internet and TV deals, cellphone distribution - and, yes, a theatrical release when and if necessary. Much of this is already in place, Broderick pointed out, and, in some cases, has proven successful. What look like microprofits to a studio can be extremely macro to an independent director.

    The most unsettling thought, though - the real game-changer - is that the movie theater audience may have gone away for good. Said panelist Mark Gill, head of the independent production company the Film Department, "My son doesn't care what format [a movie] comes in. He cares how fast he can get it and if it can come to where he is."

Do we want to treat that as a problem, or an opportunity?

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  • Scott -

    You know as well as I do that once upon a time, being an independent meant screening your film in a tent at a traveling circus or sideshow.

    Let's treat this as the opportunity it is - to get our movies and other media directly to our audience and reaping the rewards for it.

    If we keep holding "theatrical" up as some sort of golden benchmark for distribution (despite the fact that everyone knows theatrical is only there as an ad to sell the DVD) then we will always be at the mercy of someone else, paying out exorbitant percentage fees for little to no actual work.

    Does that make good business sense?

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 11:25 AM  

  • As far as shrinking revenue goes, it's a problem. Or at least a giant challenge. To suggest otherwise would be absolutely disingenuous.

    For the most part, the long-tail theory hasn't held up in the world of digital music distribution, and there's no reason (based on any numbers we've seen) to believe that won't be the case with film too.

    By Blogger andyb, at 4:52 PM  

  • In response to both comments as well as your posted comment Scott:

    1. Theatrical IS the benchmark and it where most filmmakers try and get to in their careers. It costs money to run a theater, a print factory and a marketing firm and YES....its expensive. If you don't like it...make another home video and water down the market for people who are making good films that are not being seen as a result of....

    2. The long tail. Great for aggregators - terrible for investors and filmmakers. I think once set top downloads become household you will see college groups and clubs supporting these types of films.

    I still think structuring of ownership and revenue is the key to making films successful. There a few people doing some good work right now in this realm, but this is where you the big change will occur.

    By Blogger David Geertz, at 7:17 PM  

  • Hey, what choice but to make the best of it!

    By Blogger Jack Cabbage, at 5:41 PM  

  • Glad to see your Sundance video is finally posted.

    In another New Frontier panel, one panelist maintained that when it comes to marketing a film, theatrical distribution is still king--even if you have to book limited engagements. It sounds right, but I'd like to see some stats to back it up.

    And while we're all worried about how filmmakers could possibly make money on the long tail, I think its odd how no one is discussing the lack of prestige for online distribution. Sure, there are awards for online content, but there's nothing that comes close to an Academy Award in terms of prestige and industry support.

    IMO, more filmmakers have a low opinion of online-only distribution because they won't get the kudos that motivate them--not because of they can't find a way to make money. Solve that issue, and I think they'd move your Sundance panel out from the dark basement at the New Frontier on Main and into the Eccles Theater.

    And I look forward to that day.

    By Blogger Brooks Briggs, at 12:21 PM  

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