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Web Savvy Sundance GLAAD Panel on Future of Independent Film

Web Savvy Sundance GLAAD Panel on Future of Independent Film

The internet was all the rage at yesterday’s kick-off to the Sundance 2011 GLAAD panel series, held at the Sundance Filmmaker Lodge on Main Street in Park City.

New York magazine film editor Kyle Buchanan moderated “The E-Cinema Migration: Is the Internet Reshaping Film?,” which focused on how the internet is changing the landscape of independent film. Guests included Christine Vachon (Producer, Killer Films), Joe Swanberg ( IFC.com, Writer/Director “Uncle Kent”), David Courier (Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer), Madeleine Olnek (Writer/Director, “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same”), Bryan Safi (Current TV) and Mark Friedlander (SAG, National Director of New Media).

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

Embrace the web!

Olnek: I love the internet. You don’t have to leave home to watch it. A huge advantage is the SAG contract for internet contracts. Maybe some of the other ones are prohibitive to actors working in the union. I feel like that’s reason in of itself to make such a project.

There’s been such a sea change in how people watch movies. The internet is what renting a movie used to be. In terms of LGBT content, I think the internet is the future. For people not out to their family or coworkers, it’s important for them to see movies online. Once it’s on the internet, then everyone can really see it.

Courier: Theatrical distribution used to be a badge of honor. Now everyone realizes that having people see your movie is better than having a handful of people see your movie in New York or Los Angeles.

Last year I went through the experience of putting films online. We’re trying to do more of it. We learned that we need to convince filmmakers that it’s smart to do this. Everyone, it seems, is still holding out for that hope to get theatrical distribution. Part of what we do is convince filmmakers that this is a really smart thing.

New model, new issues.

Courier: One of the issues I hear from filmmakers is that there is so much content on the internet, so how do we as an audience know what to watch. Filmmakers must have the energy then to promote the film themselves. You’ve got to be creative.

Friedlander: All of them have to become much more aware of the other portions of the business. You have to work as a unit to get your stuff out. To get the audience, you still have to get through all the filtering; it’s just a different kind of filter.

How to make money in the online model.

Friedlander: There are some people making money by using tools like product placement and even brand underwriting. The problem is that it’s going to take a while before viewers will accept that kind of integration. There’s a couple people out there who are getting brands to underwrite content for their shorts and features. Some of that is going to grow.

Short filmmakers, don’t kid yourselves!

Olnek: There is a lot of paranoia among filmmakers about the internet. What’s strange to me as a shorts filmmaker, is I knew shorts filmmakers who turned down Sundance and iTunes deals. I was, like, what better platform can you hope for? You really thing someone’s gonna take your 17-minute foreign drama and put it on YouTube?

Christine Vachon at the GLAAD Panel. Photo by NIgel M. Smith

That whole Netflix issue.

Friedlander: Studios are very wary of it now. They’re concerned it’s going to bite into VOD revenues. I do think it’s sort of a ship that’s left. I also think there’s really a distorted view of how well it’s doing. Cable penetration is significantly higher. There’s a European competitor that was just gobbled up by Amazon. It’s a business model that’s going to take off. How well it’s going to do for the director or actors — the jury is still out. You can certainly extract a lot more money through a viewer from a single watching of the film, via iTunes etc.

Olnek: Netflix doesn’t want to deal with the filmmaker, so it’s going be through a distributor. How well it does or doesn’t do on Netflix doesn’t come back to the filmmaker.

Actors are loving it.

Friedlander: I think actors are in an interesting position. They can write the roles they want to play. It sort of kicks the doors open for tremendous amounts of opportunities. A good example is actress Felicia Day, who’s worked with Joss Whedon. She was really waiting for her career to take hold, but went through a downward spiral where she holed herself up in her room playing video games. She came out of it and eventually wrote a show for herself called “The Guild.” It was picked by Microsoft and Sprint and now she has a fantastic career.

Safi: I worked on a “Funny or Die” video with Kristin Chenoweth, who said, “In this video, I want to be a meth addict.” It gave her the opportunity to reach a completely different audience from her musical fanbase.

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