It’s been more than 30 years since Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” (despite eschewing the Oxford comma) took the Cannes Film Festival by storm, winning the Palme d’Or and upending the independent film scene as the world knew it. In the decades since, particularly since the transformation of TV’s image into a medium capable of producing art that meets — or succeeds — that of cinema, a conversation has sprouted up around the idea of independent TV and the feasibility of fostering an environment that showcases talented creators anxious to break into the industry, without the backing from Hollywood’s deep pockets.
To aid their collective credit, several establish film festivals have attempted to incorporate independent TV into their lineups, with varying degrees of success. Showtime’s brilliant “Work in Progress” started as a Sundance submission in 2018 and eventually became the platonic ideal for an independent pilot: Get funding, get made, retain creative vision, and make something great. Still, as prestigious as the Sundance name remains, its attempts to launch independent TV projects through an already crowded film festival program hasn’t been easy.
There are a whole host of reasons why independent TV hasn’t become a sustainable, standalone marketplace, starting with the reality that there isn’t a prominent place for creatives to unite and pitch their wares. The Sundance Film Festival is still the Sundance Film Festival, and while several TV-focused festivals exist — including NYTVF, ATX, and SeriesFest — their target audiences differ.
For one thing, it’s difficult to build an event around independent television that is both profitable and prestigious, one that can woo both legitimately unique talent, as well as the interest and (eventual) investment from Hollywood power players. Instead of boosting independently made projects, TV festivals often opt to turn their attention to TV fans, anxious for access to their favorite shows and stars, and who will pay for the opportunity. While big names and marketing opportunities can help make a festival profitable, those same efforts can overshadow unknown artists making new, indie TV shows — it creates a catch-22.
The result: None have established a brand as easily identifiable or reputable as any number of hot ticket film festivals. But part of the problem with the idea of independent TV at any festival is that TV and film are profoundly different mediums. An indie film is self-contained, a single story crafted and delivered as a single unit. For television, an independent TV offering would be a pilot, which is far from being representative of all the elements necessary to weave a story that would ideally last for multiple hours, across several seasons.
To hear more about the complexities challenging the indie TV market, check out this week’s episode of “Millions of Screens,” with TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, TV Deputy Editor Ben Travers, and Creative Producer Leo Garcia. Plus, check out the latest updates from Libby’s adventures in the winter awards circuit, complete with a shady review Judd Apatow’s DGA opening monologue. Also, Leo returns from the Colorado wilds to give us the inside scoop on Sundance, and Ben bemoans the state of Super Bowl commercials these days. And don’t miss the latest sandwich bet, as we find out if the guys are any better at predicting sports than they are at predicting awards shows.
“Millions of Screens” is available on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.
This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia