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2018 Festival Panel Offers a Sneak Peek into Columbus and Unrest Distribution Case Studies

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Jess Fuselier

It’s that time of year when more than a hundred filmmakers hit the mountains of Utah to showcase their work in hopes of landing a dream distribution deal. The Sundance Film Festival is unique compared to other festivals in terms of acquisition offers: last year close to 95% of the films that played the Festival ultimately received distribution (more than 20% of which had distribution going into the Festival). The likelihood of receiving some kind of offer, whether all-rights or split-rights, is extremely high. And with the fast paced nature of the Sundance Film Festival, (and the high altitude) filmmakers and their sales agents will feel the dizzying headspin of deciphering distribution offers on the fly, especially in this rapidly changing market.

Even for filmmakers at Sundance, many distribution offers feature advances or “minimum guarantees” that are far less than the film’s production budget, which puts filmmakers in incredibly complex positions on how to handle their movie’s fate. Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Initiative arms filmmakers with tools that help them navigate this complicated landscape, allowing them to make the best decisions about their work and the sustainability of their careers.

Following last year’s Festival, we launched our inaugural Creative Distribution Fellowship, which supported the filmmakers behind the 2017 Sundance Film Festival titles Columbus and Unrest. Both films spurned their modest all-rights offers in favor of the Fellowship, through which the filmmakers received grants, resources, and other key benefits that powered an alternative approach to building and reaching audiences.

As part of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival Creative Producing Day, we’re excited to let you know that the tireless producers of Columbus and Unrest will be sharing details of their creative distribution experience, including all of the highs and lows, at the second annual “Producer’s Confidential” panel. The panel will be held Friday January 26th, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. MST at the Claim Jumper, and is open to all badge holders. During this panel, the producers will have a candid conversation with Chris Horton, director of the Creative Distribution Initiative, about their decision to roll the dice on themselves, what worked and what didn’t work, and what they wish they had known going into creatively distributing their work.

And the information flow doesn’t stop there. A big theme of our work here at the Creative Distribution Initiative is transparency and because of that we’ll be releasing comprehensive case studies about Columbus’ and Unrest’s distribution journeys in early March. These case studies will provide a deep dive into the entire creative distribution process for both films, from start to finish.

Here’s a brief preview:

  • Both films had a low-six-figure P&A budget
  • Columbus surpassed $1,000,000 in box office revenue
  • Unrest partnered with the CDC on a continuing education event for medical professionals
  • Unrest was named to the Academy Awards shortlist for Best Documentary

Here at the Creative Distribution Initiative, we’re about experimenting and finding answers. Our Fellowship isn’t just about providing support, but about finding innovative distribution and audience-building strategies through collaborative trial and error. Our goal isn’t to convince all independent filmmakers to self-distribute; we aim to peel the curtain back on the distribution process, in order to arm filmmakers with insights and information that can help them make the most informed decisions. We’re eager to share the insights of our first Creative Distribution Fellowship in March. In the meantime, feel free to reach out anytime creativedistribution@sundance.org. See you on the Mountain!

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