on January 27, 2016 Opinion Good Reads

Is Sundance Dead?

Subscribe to Email Updates

Before you go crazy, we’ll preface by saying no, we don’t think it’s dead. However, as the indie market seemingly dries up--blockbuster or bust right-- it isn’t hard for many to equate the film festival to something akin to an art showing where buyers place bets on the next Monet that ultimately turns out to be the next Marla Olmstead.


Once burnt, twice shy studios have been spinning their wheels at film festivals for years trying to get actual non-monopoly money out of their Oscar bait indie films.  Year after year, beautiful, pensive films starring George Clooney or Jonah Hill get critical acclaim and a big studio signs their box office death certificate by buying them.  In an age where movie theatres are limping through quarters despite major franchises driving record breaking revenue, it’s hard to see a bright future for the “indie” movie and film festivals in general, at least when it comes to securing profitable distribution.

"Still from “Me Earl and the Dying Girl, ” a 2015 Sundance Winner that fell below expectations, generating only around $6 Million dollars at the box office"


However, the tide may be turning for indie films, Sundance, and other festivals of its kind due to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. The big three streaming companies have strapped on their capes to save the fate of the passionate but shallow pocketed film maker.


Yesterday marked what is anticipated to be many deals between indie film makers and the big three. The rights to “Manchester by the Sea” a low budget film with respected character actors and big name producers (think Matt Damon) sold to Amazon for $10 million. Netflix nabbed a few titles of its own, including “Talullah” starring Ellen Page and  Paul Rudd drama “The Fundamentals of Caring”.

“‘Manchester by the Sea’ (seen above), ‘Tallulah’, and more already snagged by Netflix and Amazon’”

Streaming video corporations have a business model that is strikingly different from the studios, which allows them to make bets on movies without needing the movie to perform in a traditional sense. And with streaming-only content increasingly cleaning up at awards shows, filmmakers can still get the glory without obsessing about opening weekend numbers.


Incremental subscribers and lifetime customer values are the new gross ticket sales. If “Manchester By the Sea” can increase Amazon’s brand value as well as lead to a jump in monthly subscribers (or extend the life time value of an existing customer), it will be considered a success.


No longer does an indie movie live and die by potential revenue at the theater theatre or the political barometers of the studios. Streaming companies are breathing new life into festivals by having the bandwidth to take more calculated risks--risks mitigated by tons of content that surrounds the unproven. For young film makers, now is the time to make films that are great, diverse, edgy and aren’t secretly financed by a Weinstein because Sundance isn’t dead, it’s more alive than ever before.


Shannon Hawkins

I'm a content marketing/strategist at MediaSilo. I'm also the first person on record to ever feel "whelmed".