Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Sundance Panels

Another very interesting panel I attend was the new filmmaker panel co-sponsored by Variety and the Illinois Film Office. Eight first-time Sundance directors were there- three were women I am happy to say. All had films in the festival- the two with the biggest names were The Greatest starring Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon, written and directed by Shana Feste and Marc Webb's 500 Days of Summer with Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Some common comments from the panelists.

  • The importance of Film school- everyone went to some film school either as a graduate or undergrad.
  • Be prepared, then really be prepared.
  • You will have a moment when all hell breaks loose. Don't worry about it.
  • There are hundreds of compromises to make. be ready to make them.
  • Scariest thing I have ever done.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, but it rings true to me.

When I saw the panel, only 500 Days had distribution- it has a $7 million budget. Low by Hollywood standards, but not low by typical Indie Film standards. I think that says a lot about the festival.

Two more Sundance posts on the way from me- One about the Soderbergh panel, the other just on views about the festival and the state of independent film.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Sundance Film Festival-panels

Sundance is over, the awards have been announced-Push won the Dramatic Prize and We Live in Public won for documentary. I saw neither. I had tickets to We Live in Public but I opted to watch Obama instead.

I want to talk about a panel I attended last Sunday. It was about distribution and new ways to get your film seen. There were a series of panelists, filmmakers, distributors, producer reps, etc... but the person who stood out to me was filmmaker Lance Hammer.

Last year at Sundance his film Ballast was in competition and was a hit with audiences. The film failed to get distribution- or at least a deal satisfactory to the filmmakers- so they have been slowly getting the film in front of audiences one market at a time. This DIY (do it yourself) distribution, when done thoughtfully seems like a good direction to go.

I don't have time or space to give all the details, so I will just bullet point some of the key topics discussed.

  • Blogging and social networks. Lance said that if he was starting all over he would hire a blogger and treat him as a key crew member. The blogger would not only blog about the production, but track mentions of the film in other blogs and link to other interested parties. They talked a lot about Facebook and Google Alerts- I am wondering if they get pinged because of this post. (If so, Lance or someone from the Ballast team leave a comment.)
  • There is no money out there for small film distribution. Their suggestion is to include some marketing and distribution money in your production budget. The days of over paying for an indie film are over. Be prepared to hit the streets with your film.
  • Reinvent the distribution model. Arguably, Ballast and Lance Hammer were never as hot as they were last year at Sundance. The film should have been released as close to that date as possible. There was an interesting discussion about Festivals having an on-line component so more people can see films at the time. (In fact if you go to iTunes you can download 10 short films from this year's festival. Look up Sundance Storytime.)
  • Use multiple platforms to get your film seen- both pay for play (itunes) and free distribution. The goal is to get eyeballs on your film. In fact one person even said that piracy is not a bad thing for them, they consider it flattery.
  • Perhaps the one thing I took away from the panel was this: Find your 1000 true fans and market to them. Don't take a wide shotgun approach, but target the people you really think will like the film and aggressively go after them.
There was a lot more, in fact I got more out of this panel than I did the bigger panel two days later with Steven Soderbergh, Barbara Kopple, Tom DeCillo and Gregg Araki- but more on that later.

I have Netflixed Ballast. It is "saved," as there is no distribution date yet. I hope to see it, and I invite anyone who has seen the film to comment.