Sundance is the biggest brand in independent film, but its movies face the same challenges: How do filmmakers get themselves seen? That's the driving force behind the Sundance Institute's Artist Services program.
And, as Putnam, Beyer, and Horton readily admit: Sundance doesn't have all the answers. However, the core mission of Artist Services -- which offers all Sundance Institute alums with the infrastructure to support funding, distribution and marketing -- is figuring it out. "It was launched not as a business but as a program," said Putnam, who cites the sponsorship of the Bertha Foundation as being key to the program's development. "We wanted to get involved in a space that's transforming quickly."
While much of that transformation is in the digital realm, Sundance recognizes that it's the entire ecosystem that's demanding examination. "We're doing a lot of R&D in the theatrical space," said Horton. "We're starting to examine how consumers and audiences see movies in all of their spaces."
Since its launch at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Artist Services has helped its filmmakers raise $4.5 million on Kickstarter and overseen the release of over a dozen titles. Added Beyer, "Each and every film is a unique trajectory. Sometimes it's just about closure -- it's dynamic, because every film takes its own course. But we haven't had a challenge we haven't been able to meet."
"Realizing we've evolved this to a place we can open it to other nonprofits -- IFP, San Francisco Film Society, Cinereach," said Putnam. "We're able to qualify some more films and get great minds from other organizations. We're working together rather than competing."
Sometimes the progress doesn't happen fast enough. "I'd always imagined that we could move into cable, VOD, theatrical," said Putnam. "It's proved quite challenging."
Horton added, “I asked Heidi and Rachel (Ewing and Grady, the filmmakers of Detropia) once if they had any regrets about distributing Detropia on their own. They said ‘None whatsoever, we’re so glad we chose to do it this way and it was the right thing to do. We just don’t know if we’d do it again.’ That shows just how much work and dedication is required.”
Figuring out how to make the thousands of indie films produced each year more accessible to users. "It's incredible that it's still so difficult," said Beyer. "The way that films can be distributed has changed so radically and there's still no consumer-friendly way to find them. I'm surprised that there's no innovation."
It's a long list. There's increasing education around nontheatrical distribution, better integration with more partners, redoing the website and figuring out how they might create a digital replication of Sundance Institute workshops.