Hollywood searches for an indie reboot at Sundance

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The Future. The Sundance Film Festival is in the hot seat as Hollywood grapples with a struggling independent film business. While the fest knows there’s pressure to platform the most commercial titles in the indie space, the organizers stress that its job is simply to support the most-promising voices… meaning the studios themselves may have to start investing again in bringing those voices to the mainstream to create a new generation of hits and hitmakers.

Festival fissures
Is Sundance, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, still the best launching pad to sell an indie film? Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg has some thoughts.

  • First, the economics have changed — indie films that’ve grossed more than $20 million at the box office have cratered 30% since 2019. So, yeah, COVID looms large.
  • But execs, agents, and producers also blame a shift in moviegoing habits (fewer trips to the multiplex, lots of streaming) and the fest allegedly programming fewer movies with commercial potential.
  • The streaming angle is key because streamers were the top buyers out of Sundance for the past decade, buying movies just before the fest or inflating sale prices to the point that traditional theatrical distributors couldn’t compete for the buzziest titles.
  • So, audiences have been trained to expect smaller movies to be watched at home, while studios have scaled back their releases to focus primarily on blockbusters. But, the streamers themselves are now not opening their wallets as much as they used to.

Mix these ingredients, and you have a marketplace where distributors are wary of buying films that don’t feel like surefire moneymakers and of streamers no longer providing golden parachutes, leaving a record number of movies homeless or unable to recoup their budgets.

This narrative isn’t entirely new, and with bonafide hits like Talk to Me (theaters) and Fair Play (streaming) coming out of Sundance last year, there’ll always be breakout exceptions.

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


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