Hits & Misses 2019: Surveying the Success of the Sundance Film Festival’s Theatrical Releases
The times, they keep a-changin’. In its immediate aftermath, the story out of Sundance 2019 was its bounteous acquisition market and record-setting sales numbers—from New Line’s $15 million purchase of Blinded by the Light to Amazon Studios’ $27 million splurge on Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon. By the summer, a different narrative began to emerge. While these top acquisition titles earned millions of dollars at the box office, they all still under-performed in theatrical release. Then, Amazon Studios’ veteran head of theatrical distribution Bob Berney left the company, a departure that potentially signaled shifting priorities at what had… Read more
The Business Cycle: Anthony Kaufman On the Legacy of Jay Van Hoy and Lars Knudsen’s Production Company Parts & Labor.
“What always attracted me to the work is that there’s something impossible about it,” says Jay Van Hoy, cofounder of Parts & Labor, the New York–based independent film production company that helped develop a wave of new auteurs over the past 15 years, from Kelly Reichardt to David Lowery to Robert Eggers. While Parts & Labor no longer exists as it once did as a partnership between Van Hoy and producer Lars Knudsen (the two split in 2016, with Van Hoy retaining the brand), its legacy lives on, as one of the most prolific independent film companies of its time,… Read more
Crisis of Representation: Why Independent Filmmakers Still Need Agents and Managers
“If you want to work in Hollywood, you must have representation,” says one industry veteran. That’s been a longstanding rule in the entertainment business for the past several decades. Despite the battle between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Hollywood’s big talent agencies over packaging fees, and the thousands of writers who subsequently fired their agents, and even amidst the plethora of new outlets and disruptive distribution technologies, independent filmmakers are still largely subject to the traditional forms of gatekeeping. (And directors haven’t had to fire their agents—at least, not yet.) So, that leaves emerging filmmakers still dependent on… Read more
Digital Haves and Have-Nots: Disappearing SVOD Deals and Independent Film
Subscription streaming services are dominating the independent film marketplace—in more ways than you think. Yes, Amazon dropped nearly $50 million at Sundance to buy several movies, and Netflix spent another $25 million in the days and weeks that followed. Beyond inflating acquisition costs over industry norms, the outsized influence of the over-the-top new media giants are affecting all sectors of the distribution business. Some industry veterans suggest this isn’t so different from previous bullish markets when well-heeled specialty divisions like the Weinstein Company or Fox Searchlight drove up prices. “Sundance has been competitive for years, so I’m not sure it’s… Read more
Can Critics’s Awards and Top Ten Mentions Boost Revenues for Independent Films?
Do critics matter? Maybe. But do critics’ top ten lists matter? There’s little doubt within the industry that an Academy Award nomination (or win) can provide an extraordinary boost to a film’s profile, especially smaller independent films who need the long tail of awards recognition more than most. Think of last year’s The Florida Project or Faces Places. But what about all those year-end numerical rankings and lists, proffered by that dwindling professional entity known as the film critic? He’s no Oscar, but when the New York Times’ A.O. Scott puts your little film at the top of his year-end… Read more
Sundance Hits and Misses: How MoviePass, Politics and Streaming Boosted the Indie Theatrical Box Office of 2018
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. After theatrical box office numbers for indies looked hopeless last year, 2018 proved all the doomsayers wrong. That’s thanks to such non-Hollywood hits as Hereditary, a Sundance Midnight entry partially financed and released by A24, which grossed more than $44 million in the United States and $35 million internationally. And it’s thanks to Searching, a Screen Gems acquisition out of the NEXT section, which grossed $26 million domestically and another $42 million abroad. Even Sundance’s 16-film Dramatic Competition — which offers a decent test sample of the overall truly indie marketplace — saw… Read more
Checkpoints: Independent Film’s Gatekeeper Problem
The good news: Film festivals and film-support organizations in the United States have never been more vocal in their support of underrepresented filmmakers. At Sundance 2018, the number of films made by women (37%) and people of color (more than 30 projects) was at an all-time high. And other events are following suit. But the bad news is that the independent film business’s gatekeepers—the programmers and critics who have the power to make or break these films in the marketplace—remain an #IndustrySoWhiteandMale. To be sure, there have been gains in these areas. This May, Sundance hired Kim Yutani as its… Read more
Wide Open or Ajar: Theatrical Windows in the VOD Age
It used to be so simple: Release a movie in theaters and, several months later, it would come to your local video store. Nowadays, each and every film’s release pattern and chosen distribution platforms are—or, at least, should be—idiosyncratic, unique, and specifically tailored. “The first thing you have to ask yourself,” distribution consultant Michael Tuckman says, “is who is your audience, and work backwards from there to figure out what windowing you’re going to do.” If the target audience is a young demographic who spend most of their time on devices, then, according to The Orchard’s Paul Davidson, “a SVOD… Read more
Was 2018 the Year of the Woman at the Sundance Film Festival?
After the Sundance Film Festival’s awards ceremony, when female directors swept all the top categories, the response was ecstatic. “Women dominated Sundance,” cried the headlines. Social media blew up with congratulatory hashtags #womeninfilm and #femalefilmmakerfriday. “It felt like a revolutionary moment,” says Celine Rattray, who produced Sara Colangelo’s directing-award winner The Kindergarten Teacher. At the festival’s opening press conference, Robert Redford’s most memorable line was: “The role of men right now is to listen.” But did the film industry hear that? More than two weeks after Sundance concluded, five of the festival’s female-led jury winners had still not closed distribution… Read more
Hits and Misses: Anthony Kaufman Surveys the Sundance Class of ’17
The headlines said it all: “Hollywood Faces August Death March,” “Bummer Summer” and “Beleaguered Box Office.” OK, Hollywood had a tough year, but does that necessarily apply to independent films? Well, as the saying goes, a receding tide sinks all boats. And so it was in 2017: If people were going out to fewer movies and streaming more episodic content at home, it affected both indie films and tentpoles. But if we look back at the films that premiered at Sundance 2017, there are a few instances to inspire hope: The Big Sick, of course, was the big one; Wind… Read more