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Is Film Piracy Hurting Sundance Filmmakers? This Eye-Opening Infographic Has the Answer

Is Film Piracy Hurting Sundance Filmmakers? This Eye-Opening Infographic Has the Answer

READ MORE: Sundance 2015 Infographic: Most Festival Films Will Land Distribution Deals

The annual Sundance infographic is back to shed some light into how the films from last year’s festival performed over the past 12 months, and many of the statistics reveal disheartening information.

One notable highlight rapidly occurring in the film industry is the fact that while many feature films get picked up for distribution, they will ultimately fail to see a significant financial return. Could this statistic be attributed to piracy? 

The infographic, created by Adam Leipzig, includes the cost of illegally downloading previous Sundance features this year. The graph includes Oscar winners and nominees like “Whiplash,” “Boyhood” and “Brooklyn.” The statistic hopes to encourage viewers to support indie filmmakers by buying movies instead of illegally downloading them. 

IFC Films and Sundance Selects President Jonathan Sehring, a producer of “Boyhood,” stated in regards to rising film piracy, “Obviously piracy hurts every film company and any owner of intellectual property, regardless of size and scope. It is painful to look at those numbers and try to rationalize why people do this, especially to indie films.”

You can read the full analysis by clicking here to head over to Cultural Weekly. Check out the infographic below for more interesting information about the festival.

READ MORE: Check Out This Awesome Infographic That Breaks Down Sundance Movie Sales

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All this proves is that if the film was available for $3, people might have bought it. They lost money because of windowing, not piracy.


I don’t think that infographic really makes a strong case.

Take the film it shows at the top of the piracy list, ‘whiplash’, with an estimated loss of revenue of $1.825.000.

Now to start this assumes all the illegal downloaders would have bought it or gone to a theater instead if not downloaded it. BIG assumption, probably not true in many many cases. A lot of people who use dowloads don’t pay to go ever, never would, or in some cases use it to check out what they will selectively go to see. But the first cases are far more the norm.

I pick it out because it’s one of the very few that shows up in the box office list too: it shows a sales take of $3.5 million, and US box office of $13.1 million. Box office mojo says it’s taken $13,092,000 domestic now so they rounded up. and it’s foreign box office as of now is an additional $35,890,041 as of 11/9/15. They kind of left that out of the info graphic eh?

Also left out, that film had a Production Budget of $3.3 million.

So after production costs that’s a $45,682,041 net, on box office alone.

Assuming the really lost $1.825.000 on illegal downloads? they are stuck with a paltry $43,857,047.


Several filmmakers have publicly thanked pirates for spreading their films. Among them are Alex Cox, Michael Moore, independent film producer of"The Inner Room", and most notably the makers of Man from Earth, who wrote a long thank you letter to the pirates who helped make the film a success (indiewire even covered it here in an earlier article.)


I wonder if there is any way to track when somebody who downloads a film loves it and recommends it to friends who then go and see it. I vaguely recall a film maker who had a film get a lot of downloads happy about it because it got people talking about it on forums etc and generated a lot of buzz for free.

Dave Barak

What about turning the tables and using "controlled" piracy to our benefit?

If the production budgets are low enough, it seems that releasing a low resolution version with no extra features online for free might prompt viewers (legal downloaders) to later opt for purchasing high-definition versions with extra features.

Could it be that the days of profiting from theatrical runs are coming to a close? Of course, creative accounting has always been a matter of piracy from the other side of the boat, so profits for filmmakers have often been hard to come by. Free downloading could drive revenue through other sources besides the hi-rez downloads – soundtrack sales, for instance, and if you’re a waiting-in-the-wings George Lucas, you could be raking in dough from sources you didn’t even know existed.

Maybe I’m naïve, but it beats trying to swim upstream.


Another fact that would be informative to filmmakers is a graphic showing the number of accepted films that were arranged and championed by sales agents and distributors vs. blind submissions by truly indie filmmakers. Some of the films in Sundance 2016 already have distribution in place and one of the films will be airing on Showtime Network a couple weeks after the festival. It’s OK that the festival has evolved but perhaps it’s time to call it the Sundance Launching Pad.


It is painful to look at those numbers and try to rationalize why people do this, especially to indie films."

Perhaps it is not available in their area, they are not able to make it to theatres (physically or for psychological reasons), cannot afford the movie ,(a significant portion of Americans are living far below the poverty line), waiting for the preordered DVD, don’t know how to rip their purchased copy onto their conputer, not available in their language, etc.
There are many reasons for downloading.
I download myself, but it has usually ended in me buying the product or holding me through until I could buy it.


What this infographic doesn’t touch upon at all, is how many people went out and bought tickets to a movie, after being recommended it from a pirate. Of course there’s no way of knowing this, but since this infographic estimates 5% of all pirates would have paid 3$, it is only fair to say that 5% of all who paid the ticket price, did so on the recommendation of a pirate. Which means they actually made more money on account of piracy than they lost!

Filmmaker zerobudget

I think many movies are over prized. Thats why people dont wanna pay. I know there are people that never pay for a movie even if it was 1$ but many more would. I have to put my stuff for free and people dont check it out. Its hard to get viewers. Im going to pay to make my zombiemovie this year. I will not get a $ back. And all the fetsivals that wants to view my movie. Many festivals wants to have more money to get a copy of my movie than i paid to make it. That will never happen when there are festivals that have free submissions.


I love Whiplash! One of the best movies of 2015! yeap, piracy hurts Sundance films that do not: a) a marketing budget b) are not available for people to watch in a theater near them.

I wonder how much piracy there would be if Whiplash could be seen a month or two after it’s premiere, or on VOD through the filmmakers website or on netflix shortly after it’s Sundance premiere and not let people wait 9 months to see it! Wasn’t it released in October? So yeah, there is your reason why is was pirated. The studios need to get with the big picture and make sure the audience gets what and not give them 9 months to figure out 12 millions ways to steal it.


I live in a Latin American country. Out of the movies presented under "Sundance Films and Piracy" slide, only 5 of 15 made it to the only independent cinema I have in my country. Maybe if you got your distribution right you wouldn’t be complaining about illegal downloads. One will never be able to replicate the movie theatre experience at home, yet the only way for me to see these films is by other mean.

Adam Leizpig

Hi everyone, I wrote the article in Cultural Weekly, and I appreciate Indiewire sharing the findings and the infographic. In the article I explain how we arrived at our lost revenue estimate. I wrote: "How can we estimate the cost? We decided to be conservative. We’re estimating that if the illegal option were not available, five percent of customers would have paid for downloads and that they would have paid only $3 per transaction, which is a low number for digital downloads. Using this formula, we found that the fourteen films we sampled lost between $57,000 and $1.83 million in revenue." Estimating the cost of piracy is difficult – that’s why I called it an estimate and decided to use what I consider to be minimal numbers. And thank you for the complement on the infographic design.


Von’ argument is, "wouldn’t have bought the TV so don’t count it in the burglary statistics.

Ryan McBride

Liking the Infographics – what programme did you do it with?


But, to offer you a rebuttal, 1,8 million is only 3,8 percent lost revenue on Whiplash’s estimated box office of 49 million USD. Source: a lazy google search


No it doesnt… it’s on the poster. They assume only 5% of the downloaders would have gone to see it in teathers had it not been available.


If you read closely, Von, you’ll see that’s expressly *not* what it’s saying. It’s based on the assumption that *5%* of illegal downloads would have, instead, been a $3 transaction. And while I’d be interested in seeing the research behind that (not that I don’t believe it), it’s a far cry from saying "each illegal download".


Dear Von – you are too stupid to exist. Please go back and read the article/infographic again.


I am against piracy because I believe artists should be paid for their work. However, the infographic is very deceitful – it assumes that each illegal download is the equivalent of a lost sale, but there’s simply no way to know that. It does not follow that someone who happened to illegally download, say, WHIPLASH, because it was available on a torrent site would’ve gone out and bought or rented the movie if it weren’t available to illegal download.

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