Amazon has announced a special distribution deal exclusively for Sundance filmmakers, but weighing the pros and cons can be tricky. As a new feature of Amazon Video Direct, the video distribution service launched last May, Amazon is offering all official Sundance selections a one-time cash bonus and increased royalty rates for filmmakers who hand over worldwide streaming VOD rights to their films for 24 months, with the first 12 months exclusive to Amazon.
Under the program, which is called Film Festival Stars, Sundance’s U.S. Premieres and U.S. Dramatic Competition films are eligible to receive $100,000 for their rights, while U.S. Documentary Premieres and U.S. Documentary Competition films will receive $75,000. Films in the World Dramatic, World Documentaries, Next, Spotlight, Kids, Midnight, and New Frontier sections would receive $25,000. The royalty rates offer 30 cents per hour for movies viewed in the U.S. and 12 cents per hour for movies viewed internationally, double the usual rate offered by Amazon Video Direct for Prime Video titles. Royalties are capped at $75,000 per month.
Veteran indie producer Mynette Louie (“The Invitation”) immediately criticized the offer in a Facebook post, describing it as a lowball proposition; even $100,000 won’t approach recouping a feature budget. After speaking with Amazon, however, she clarified that having a distribution outlet is “a good thing for films without distribution or that have gone through the sales cycle and exhausted all distribution possibilities,” but noted that the Amazon arrangement still boxes filmmakers in.
“They want these Sundance films to hit streaming by September, which doesn’t give you time to exploit theatrical distribution opportunities or transactional VOD,” she told IndieWire, adding that some Sundance films take up to six months after the festival to land a distributor. If a Sundance filmmaker doesn’t sell his or her movie to a distributor immediately after the festival and gives Amazon the film’s streaming rights, they could lose more lucrative distribution opportunities elsewhere.
“I would just want filmmakers to really exhaust all of those other distribution possibilities before giving up streaming, because once you give up streaming, that’s it,” Louie said.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the Film Festival Stars program does require films to be available for streaming by September.
“The Sundance Film Festival provides an excellent opportunity to reach filmmakers who are interested in the self-publishing route to getting their films in front of a large and engaged audience – millions of Amazon Prime members,” Amazon Video Direct head Eric Orme told Deadline. “We recognized that the majority of films screened at major film festivals don’t secure full service distribution deals and Amazon Video believes these high-quality films deserve an opportunity to be made available to a large audience.”
However, Louie pointed out that Amazon Video Direct doesn’t equate to self distribution. “It’s not really self distribution if you’re making it exclusive,” she said. “It acts like a licensing fee.”
Amazon said the bonus is designed to help subsidize marketing initiatives like self-funded theatrical distribution. Amazon Video Direct also offers an ad-supported revenue option under which content providers receive 55 percent of net advertising revenue streamed with their titles.
Amazon Studios made its first Sundance acquisition of 2017 Wednesday, acquiring “Long Strange Trip,” the four-hour documentary about the Grateful Dead playing in the Documentary Premieres section. The film is directed by Amir Bar-Lev (“The Tillman Story”) and executive produced by Martin Scorsese.