Back to IndieWire

DISPATCH FROM NYC | Pondering the Future at Independent Film Week: Festivals and Distribution

DISPATCH FROM NYC | Pondering the Future at Independent Film Week: Festivals and Distribution

Dedicated to the theme “Filmmaking 2.0,” the first weekday of Independent Film Week ’08 explored changes emerging in the film business at F.I.T. in New York City. Sundance’s Geoff Gilmore spoke out about the state of festivals and imagined what such events might be like in a decade, while Rainbow Media chief Josh Sapan elaborated on his companies growing strategy to bring indie, foreign and doc features to home theaters via video-on-demand.

Rainbow’s Sundance Selects

Just hours after announcing the launch of Sundance Selects, another VOD distribution platform for the company, Rainbow Media president and CEO Josh Sapan took to the stage to elaborate on the plans for the venture. “When we acquired Sundance Channel, what we wanted to do is bring new life to non-fiction,” explained Sapan in front of a crowded auditorium for an hour-long keynote discussion moderated by indieWIRE‘s Eugene Hernandez.

Under the new initiative, approximately 50 new features per year will be released through the Sundance Selects banner and about half of those titles will be documentaries. This is in addition to the 100 films available via Rainbow’s IFC unit on the IFC In Theaters and Festival Direct VOD platforms that also include day and date theatrical distribution. The Sundance releases will vary, with some receiving theatrical in addition to an on demand release, while others will forgo the traditional cinema opening.

IFC Jonathan Sehring and Lisa Schwartz with Rainbow president and CEO Josh Sapan. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

“This brings life to some films that would otherwise languish or not be seen at all,” Sapan said. “If you live in a part of the country where there is no [art house] theater, then you will have access to these great films.” While not detailing exact figures for past releases, Sapan added that the company wouldn’t be expanding the number of VOD releases if the strategy wasn’t profitable for both the company and its filmmakers.

Addressing the fundamental desire for many filmmakers to have a theatrical component to their overall distribution strategy, Sapan urged directors and producers to re-think the fundamentals and consider the rapidly evolving ways that economics and technology are affecting how films are being presented.

“What’s occurring today is there is [indeed] a malaise,” Sapan noted, “But what is also happening is too many filmmakers are pursuing an anachronistic definition of success… There are millions of people in our country who love what we do — love the films we show and have been deprived of them.”

Addressing some of the nitty gritty of the economics behind the day and date platform, Sapan predicted that within five years VOD will be the primary revenue stream for films, relegating theatrical to second or even third tier on the financials for most titles. “Over a five year period, we’ll see commonly a VOD revenue stream of $5 million, and that excludes iTunes and streaming online. It’s not just the three-day average of theatrical anymore… There’s a whole new world.” [Brian Brooks]

Figuring Festivals

While Rainbow is expanding business models aimed at building revenue streams around films for niche audiences, festival organizers today talked about getting events back to their roots and keeping the business side in check.

“We have to take festivals back from a simple business model that says we are here to sell your work,” explained Sundance Film Festival director Geoff Gilmore during Monday evening’s session about the future of festivals. “We have to do that over the next decade. It can’t be all about numbers.” He reiterated that festivals need to be about showcasing quality work first and then letting the market emerge from there.

“Festivals are too long, they are too crowded, they are overwhelmed by people who want their faces to be photographed, they are overwhelmed by agents,” Gilmore noted, taking his and other fests to task. “There is too much mediocrity at film festivals.” Reinforcing the point he noted that what used to be exciting about fests was the phrase “that was a great fucking film,” rather than “how much do you think its going to make…”

“Film festivals have become this ad hoc distributon infrastructure for films that will never get seen,” noted Christian Gaines from Withoutabox, elaborating on a point that has become reality for a number of acclaimed fest films that only screen in theaters, to paying audineces, on the circuit. “The busines model behind it is uncertain.”

Looking into the future, Gilmore and Gaines imagined a not too distant future when festivals would evolve into hybrid events that take place both in person and online. “The film biz is changing dramatically,” Geoff Gilmore explained, not only because of the abundance of film festivals but because of the abundance of films.” He added that its only natural that fests would expand into cyberspace to accomodate demand for curated work.

“You can’t become cynical,” he implored the audience, “Which is very easy to become in this business.” Concluding the thought he noted, “We need to have a diverse set of platforms and we need to have to have a range of ways to see [these films].” [Eugene Hernandez]

indieWIRE’s coverage of IFP’s 208 Independent Film Week continues throughout the week in our special New York section.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox