(Corrects magazine Vice to media company Vice in paragraph 2)
By Piya Sinha-Roy
PARK CITY, Utah Jan 23 When newcomer filmmaker
Cutter Hodierne won the Sundance Film Festival special jury
prize for his short film on Somali pirates in 2012, he decided
to release the movie on video-hosting site Vimeo, charging
The film caught the attention of the immersive journalism
media company Vice, which teamed up with Hodierne to co-produce
and co-finance a feature-length version of "Fishing Without
Nets." This year he returned to Sundance with that film and
entered the highly selective U.S. drama competition.
Hodierne's successful exposure illustrates how companies
such as Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo are stepping in to provide
filmmakers with a new platform for distributing films, expanding
alongside the traditional path of theatrical release.
This year, movie studios have been slow to snap up some of
the buzzed-about Sundance films. So far, only a handful of films
have been acquired by studios. The hot film of the festival was
opening night movie "Whiplash," which attracted strong bidding
and was finally bought by Sony Pictures Classics for $3 million,
according to a source with knowledge of the deal.
None of the films acquired yet have hit the eight-figure
level, unlike last year when Fox Searchlight purchased quirky
Steve Carell comedy "The Way, Way Back" for $10 million.
Netflix, a video rental and online streaming platform,
premiered documentary "Mitt" at Sundance a week ahead of the
film being released on the website, drastically cutting down the
time between a festival premiere and subsequent release.
For independent filmmakers, who often debut at Sundance,
Netflix offers an opportunity to capitalize on the buzz
generated from the festival and release to a wide audience
without having to wait for a studio to distribute to theaters.
"It's an unreasonable request to expect independent films to
continue playing in the cinemas as the primary source to connect
with the audience," said Keith Kjarval, producer of closing
night film "Rudderless."
"People are always more impressed with the theatrical
release, but in reality, you see more money back if your film
makes $3 million digitally."
Actor and filmmaker Mark Duplass, who was at Sundance to
promote his latest film "The One I Love," told Variety that "the
most important part of making a movie is making sure the film
streams on Netflix," adding that it "made my career" and urging
filmmakers to do the same.
Sundance films have often found a lease of life through
video-on-demand platforms such those provided by RADiUS-TWC, a
pioneering multi-platform boutique offspring of The Weinstein
Co. Last year, RADiUS snapped up five Sundance films including
two Oscar-nominated documentaries, often finding an audience
through non-traditional media.
RADiUS co-presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego said that
while not all of their films would suit the VOD model, it has
proven to be a successful one for some films.
"Great movies are available also at home, for the same price
as a movie ticket," Quinn said. "We like that our eclectic
approach to distribution is as equally eclectic as our slate of
RADiUS has yet to acquire a Sundance film this year, but was
chasing a documentary and drama as of Wednesday.
NEW DISTRIBUTION MODELS
Digital media platforms were a prominent feature on Park
City's Main Street, the central hub of the Sundance Film
Festival where companies hire out spaces for the week and hold
events for filmmakers and the public.
Video-hosting site YouTube, owned by Google Inc,
set up a large space on Main Street, with events and panels on
how to use the platform to build an audience. YouTube sponsors
Sundance Film Festival's short film program, hosting the
"The short film format is really innovative. That's where we
help creators understand the different stages of their campaign
to build their film," said Derek Callow, director of creator
marketing at YouTube.
Callow said the company was not concerned with having
filmmakers release exclusive content through YouTube - rather,
"exclusivity for us is not really central to our strategy. We
often remove the exclusivity clause in contracts," he said.
Vimeo, a video-hosting site that is a competitor to YouTube
but focuses on attracting longer videos such as short or feature
films, is also making a concerted effort to connect with the
Vimeo, which has around 400,000 paying subscribers who
generate $40 million for the website, is offering a platform for
filmmakers to host their films and charge for it directly
through the website, with Vimeo taking a 10 percent cut.
Kerry Trainor, CEO of Vimeo, also said the platform was not
trying to compete with Netflix, but rather wanted to bring
up-and-coming filmmakers like Hodierne to its roster.
Vimeo has also been involved with crowd-funding sites such
as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, hosting videos and allowing
project starters to seek funding through the Vimeo audience.
Kickstarter has funded 20 films that are at Sundance this
year, including Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here" and documentary
"The Internet's Own Boy." Braff's film, which raised $3 million
from more than 46,000 backers, was purchased by Focus Features
for $2.7 million, Variety said.
"With crowd-funding, you're not just buying the film, you're
buying the experience," said Greg Clayman, Vimeo's general
manager of audience networks.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)