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Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project

Filmmakers, Give Us Your Numbers! Sundance and Cinereach Unveil The Transparency Project

Sundance’s Keri Putnam

The Sundance Institute understands that information is power.

For filmmakers, producers, exhibitors and distributors, knowing how to crunch the numbers can make all the difference in getting films made at the right production level and sold to the right distributor. There’s a lot of guesswork and mystery around the real returns from the multiplatform releases that are so prevalent today.

So the Sundance Institute’s Executive Director Keri Putnam and Chris Horton, Director of Creative Distribution and Artist Services, along with consultant Brian Newman of Sub-Genre are finally presenting The Transparency Project to the industry, first at the Art House Convergence last week, and on Monday at the Sundance Film Festival’s annual Artist Services workshop. Cinereach’s Executive Director Phillip Engelhorn and Producer in Residence Paul Mezey are also involved in the project which launched with a pilot study in December, 2013.

Their goal is to collect and share current data on both revenue and expenses for independent film distribution in order to help filmmakers be more creative and efficient in funding, marketing and releasing their work. The Transparency Project goes live on Monday, January 26. 

Founded and cofinanced by the Sundance Institute and Cinereach, The Transparency Project is also collaborating with a group of non-profit organizations:
Arthouse Convergence |Austin Film Society |Britdoc | IDA | IFP| ITVS | IFP Festival Forum | The Film Collaborative | FIND | POV | San Francisco Film Society | Tribeca Film Institute |WGA East | Film Society of Lincoln Center
Part of the delicacy of this initiative–and why Sundance is finally unveiling the project– is to convince filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors to provide their numbers and participate. A number of for-profit distributors and industry leaders have expressed their support of mission:
Alchemy | Amplify | Bond 360 | Brainstorm | Cinedigm | Cinetic | Film Movement |Ocilliscope |Paladin | Preferred |Premiere Digital Services | Radius | Roco |Tribeca Fims  | Vimeo | VHX
But Transparency needs to continually add collaborators from across the industry and incorporate input from the field. The website is still being designed and updated, but the idea is to fill in your budget and cast levels and genres, and when relevant, reviews and festival exposure, to see what numbers comparable projects obtained using different release platforms. The numbers will not –initially–reflect individual returns on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon etc. but rather throw them all into the same online platform bucket. 

The Transparency Project originally came about, Putnam told me, “because we were listening to our filmmakers struggling to make sense of information about how their films were doing, which they needed in order to seek financing to understand their marketing, particularly when they were dealing with more independent entrepreneurial releases.” 

Who are they serving? “What became clear is in this instance the interest of the filmmakers are actually quite aligned with the interests of the industry. We’re kind of all in it together in terms of needing more standardization and transparency. We don’t look at this as oppositional. There are certain companies with a lot of resources who have the information, but many producers and companies are lacking the information the filmmakers lack so we can all work together to try and share.”

What is the timeline? “We are actively collecting data now, we have all the resources to ingest the data so the time line will be about how quickly we can understand and gather the reports. I expect we will have a beta in three to six months. We’re doing well getting people to join, everybody seems open to it to understand the spirit of it.”

While The Transparency Project is trying to pull out hidden data from the shadows and share it with the people who need it, they are trying to protect privacy by keeping the film titles, filmmaker participation and distributors anonymous.  The data is reported by the genre of distribution so that the effects of budget, genre, cast level, production quality, P&A and windowing styles on revenues and field-wide trends can be useful. 

The website will enable filmmakers and the industry to use the tools themselves and gain simple data analytics that summarize trends in the field. Right now, filmmakers receive confusing and conflicting reports from various distributors. The Transparency Project calls for standardized, real-time reporting to enable individual filmmakers to better understand what’s going on.  

Between February and December 2014, The Transparency Project reached out to more than 300 filmmakers with budgets under $7 million that had been released in the past two years. As of January 8, 2015 they received reporting on 95 films. 

Eventually the Transparency website will continually offer new, simple transparency tools to help filmmakers: they can learn a glossary of distribution terms and how to read and understand distribution reports, along with helpful reports from the field, case studies and a best practices guide.

Making these tools available to the media, academia and the public is not in the offing for now. An international component is under discussion.

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