Sundance Panel: NEXT Waves of Distribution


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Joe Beyer, Director for Digital Initiatives at Sundance, moderated the panel and kicked it off by proclaiming that thinking creatively about distribution is key for any artist or creative team, as we now have the option to self-distribute our work, as an oft-imperative alternative to the traditional acquisition.  I believe that, though it’s overwhelming in terms of the demands it puts on an artist to be an entrepreneur, we are living at a very exciting time due to the increasingly democratized landscape of distribution.  The Internet has brought about a virtual reinvention of the Wild West, so while the rules are as of yet unwritten, you may as well write them.  Film lovers who used seek out positions as middle men at large companies that took your film for 15 year windows with minimal transparency, are now founding their own startup companies to assist YOU – the artist/entrepreneur – in your quest to find and galvanize an audience for your work. Other companies, like Topspin, represented on the panel by head of product development and marketing, Bob Moczydlowski, have developed tools to help creators build lasting communities around our body of work, something we can do now for the first time in history.  Chris Horton of #ARTISTSERVICES commented on the collaborative nature of independent film – not only on set but long into the life of the film as it plays out in the world in increasingly innovative ways.

Increased accessibility to audience comes at a price, of course, and the corresponding challenge is more content of varying degrees quality (aka “noise factor”- as Paul Snow, manager on YouTube’s content partnership’s team, stated 100 hours of video are uploaded to that platform alone every minute.  David Larkin, creator of GoWatchIt, commented, “I guess the issue is there is a lot more stuff to be distributed now. It used to be that there were all these gatekeepers and they sort of selected [you] and put capital behind you. Now you can distribute without a lot of capital… the trick is not to go begging to the gatekeepers but to chart your own path which is scary in a whole different way.”  I maintain that we need to think about the release of our film how we will connect with our audience from the inception of the project, and that we should share as we go.

Lucy Walker, director of the Crash Reel and Wasteland, pointed out that she’s excited to start making money.. and who isn’t?! She said that “It’s so exciting now that [distribution] is opening up more intelligently at the documentary and independent end of the business and I think we are leading the way because we are so desperate… times have changed I think some of the stigma of self-distribution is finally cracking.”   Madeline Olnek, director of “The Foxy Merkins” and CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME, offered the astute insight that as the distribution process is demystified, we filmmakers are the best resources to help each other navigate these waters.

The very next day after the panel I was off to mentor entrepreneurs in Las Vegas at the SXSW V2V Fest – the first-ever extension of their famed SXSW festival that takes place in March in Austin, TX.  V2V is dedicated to stoking innovative entrepreneurial ventures of the 21st century.  I was surprised to find that neither the folks at SXSW V2V or the Sundance NEXT WEEKEND crew seemed to know about each other’s back-to-back events (while I thought they must have coordinated them that way!)  Yet, here I was talking about entrepreneurship at a Sundance event and talking about storytelling and alternative methods of crowd mobilization at a tech-focused SXSW event.  I realized that there is still a long way to go in connecting these two worlds, and how much good will come from that dialogue.  ATD is here to bridge that gap and help arm independent content creators to take full advantage of the new opportunities as they emerge out of this unprecedented “tech”-tonic shift.

If this subject speaks to you, check out our series CEA (Chief Executive Artist) and pre-buy the first-ever online course for content creators, Lean Content, coming this fall at our Store.  This course is co-written by yours truly and Eric Ries, the best-selling author of The Lean Startup.  It will challenge you and train you up, while introducing you to the founders of the most innovative platforms in existence that are here to help you harness the power at your fingertips to get your work funded and seen.

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