December 21, 2009, New York, NY — “Doing it the old way really doesn’t work,” according to film producer Thomas Woodrow, “So few films actually succeed that way.” It’s a sentiment that’s been shared in countless panel discussions and private conversations in 2009. Now, with a new year and another cycle of the annual film festival circuit nearly upon us, Woodrow is forging ahead with a plan aimed at changing the way that smaller independent films find an audience. Namely, he’s taking his 2010 Sundance Film Festival production — Linas Philips’ “Bass Ackwards” — directly from the festival into national distribution the day after the Park City event ends.
If you make, market, or simply care about the future of indie movies, keep an eye on Woodrow’s approach. This is a first for a Sundance Film Festival movie. Will it be a defining moment for a new decade of film distribution and give emerging and established filmmakers new models to explore outside the system?
Dec. 14, 2009: The Future of Festivals?
“Rather than going into Sundance hoping to sell the film, we’ve put together a couple of key partnerships so that we’ll actually be able to release it nationwide on February 1st,” Woodrow said, in a YouTube video that he posted this weekend to tease his emerging alternative distribution approach. He’s working with digital and DVD distributor New Video and veteran marketer Marian Koltai-Levine’s Zipline Entertainment on this new model. “If you hear about the film in the press at Sundance, you can actually go see it the next day,” said Woodrow, who also produced “True Adolescents” at SXSW earlier this year.
Screening in Sundance’s new NEXT section for lower-budget movies, “Bass Ackwards” is the sort of film — essentially a quirky and lyrical road movie without name actors — that can find a nearly impossible time in the marketplace today. The new festival section could become a central place for exploring new models of distribution. Expect this emerging digital market strategy at Sundance, and the experiments being developed, to be an important part of the upcoming festival.
“Because our film cost only $30,000, we feel we can take the risk of doing something totally idiotic that goes against the way things have normally been done,” Woodrow said in the YouTube video this weekend.
Some of the specifics of his plan are still coming together and he’s not ready to announce the scope of the “Bass Ackwards” distribution strategy until early in the new year, but in recent conversations, Woodrow assured me that the model for generating revenue will make the movie available to tens of millions of people digitally and perhaps also include a theatrical component.
“We are going to go as big as we possibly can,” Woodrow told me in an email message this morning, reiterating that he has to keep the specifics close to the vest for the time being. He’s aiming to have a teaser trailer on the film’s website by the end of this week.
Numerous filmmakers and producers are talking about these sorts of alternative approaches right now, from a recent creative Summit hosted by MoMA, indieWIRE and Zipline earlier this month that we’ll report on extensively in the new year, to coalitions and initiatives being developed by others at this very moment. There is a lot going on and I find it reassuring that months of talking about and experimenting with new models in 2009 will lead to more direct action among even bigger players in 2010.
During a round of conversations and meetings in the wake of a recent weekly column on these topics, I’ve learned a lot about the next wave of movie distribution from individuals and institutions alike.
More films will pursue a path like Woodrow’s in 2010, taking films directly from festivals into immediate distribution, either driven by individual producers and filmmakers or working directly with the fests themselves. As I said last week, keep an eye on the upcoming Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca festivals.
“Basically it’s an experiment to see what will happen,” Woodrow said, “Rather than using Sundance as a market and being part of that old dream, we just make it available immediately in as many ways as we can.”
PREVIOUS WEEKLY COLUMNS:
12.14.09: Tracking the Critics | 12.07.09: The Future of Festivals? |11.30.09: Paris, City of Cinema (or, In Bed with Agnes) | 11.23.09: Frederick Wiseman = The Greatest | 11.16.09: For The Love of Movies | 11.09.09: Building Buzz | 11.02.09: I want it like I wrote it. | 10.26.09: “Precious,” $1 Million or $100 Million? | 10.12.09: Critics (still) Matter | 10.05.09: Is There a Doctor in the House? | 09.28.09: The Indie Summit | 09.21.09: The Oscar Marathon | 09.14.09: DIY v. DIWO | 09.08.09: SPC v. IFC | 08.30.09: Saving Cinema | 08.23.09: Nadie Sabe Nada | 08.16.09: Movies, Now More Than Ever | 08.09.09: It Came From The 80s