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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some Big Questions for 2009

I wanted to post a few rough notes from Sunday's Sundance panel on distribution, focusing mainly on some of the challenges that filmmakers and distributors and exhibitors are grappling with in 2009. Your ideas and comments are certainly welcome, below.

- Should festivals be used as a launching pad for new films, making them available immediately afterward? How can filmmakers prepare not just their finished film in time for screening at the festival, but make sure that DVDs and digital downloads/rentals and marketing campaigns are ready to go, too?

- If indie filmmakers experiment with release windows, making films available on DVD and digitally while they are still playing in theaters, will they be frozen out by exhibitors? Will that sort of experimentation -- trying to address by piracy by making films available when audiences want to see them, in whatever format -- kill the art house circuit? Is there a way to ensure that both filmmakers and exhibitors benefit, perhaps by sharing profits?

- If the influence and impact of newspaper reviews is on the wane, in part because of the decline in the number of movie critics on staff at papers around the country, what will supplant that? Will new voices emerge to help viewers sort through the thousands of indie movies that are released every year, to find the gems? Will it be a handful of new influencers, or a thousand bloggers covering a thousand niches? Will "established media" like the New York Times ever start reviewing movies that go directly to DVD or the Internet, without the requisite theatrical run in Manhattan? ("Princess of Nebraska," by Wayne Wang, represented a tentative toe-dip-in-the-water by the paper last year; that film went straight to YouTube.)

- Blogs and Web sites and social networks seem like they work well when a filmmaker is trying to sell DVDs or downloads, or drive online views of a film on a site like SnagFilms or Hulu. But can online work well when it comes to putting butts in seats at a movie theater? That was once the role that newspaper ads and reviews played... but the sense is that we need some new strategies for getting ticket-buyers out of the house and into theaters.

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