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By Hammad Zaidi | January 14, 2014

Welcome to Going Bionic #194. With Sundance turning 30 this week, I thought today I would fill you in on some trends to follow through Sundance 2014, and how those trends will shape independent cinema in 2014 and beyond. But first, let me share a few reasons why more than ever, Sundance matters on the international stage.

Sundance Showcases Several International Films
For years, international buyers saw Sundance as a source for America’s best independent films, but felt the festival offered little else. However, in 2005, Sundance then created a World Cinema division, which wrangles films from throughout the globe. This year 12 of the 121 feature films programmed are showcased in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, which is a touch under one out of every ten films programmed this year.

While these numbers may seem small to you, trust me; they’re not. By selecting one dozen films helmed by directors internationally, Sundance is giving international film buyers a very good reason to pay very close attention to their programming slate. Of course, such a move exposes film buyers to all of the films on the Sundance slate, which is good news for all filmmakers who are programmed at Sundance.

Sundance London
The third annual Sundance London takes place from April 25-27 in one of my favorite cities, London, England. With the superb name brand that Sundance already is, this event will continue to increase Sundance’s international footprint.

Okay, filmmakers. Now let’s take a look at a few growing trends that will only mushroom at Sundance 2014.

 Most Films Will Get Distributed On The Small Screen
While it’s the dream of most indie filmmakers dream to a) get into Sundance and b) sell their film there to a major studio for millions and millions of dollars, and c) get theatrical distribution, the reality today is a bit different than the traditional dream. These days, filmmakers should be focused on getting into Sundance, but they shouldn’t worry about getting theatrical distribution. In fact, of the 121 feature films programmed this year, it’s believed that about half of them will receive distribution – but only a handful will receive a theatrical release.

Should you be wondering what happens to the others, the answer lies on the small screen(s). Thus, we can expect several features out of Sundance to be sold to major VOD entities and cable stations. This is because, most indie films released theatrically fail to generate enough money to justify the P&A (prints and advertising) costs that major studios spend on their release. Thus, if you, the filmmaker, are more concerned about advancing your career and being able to call your film a financial triumph, then you should be open to all forms of distribution. This is because all distribution outside of theatrical cost a lot less – which puts your film in a much better situation to achieve profitability.

 Budgets Will Adjust Downward To What Distributors Are Paying
Don’t get me wrong; As America’s premiere film festival, Sundance will always have a nice slice of star-riddled feature films. However, with most of the sold films headed to the small screen, it simply doesn’t make sense for filmmakers to spend more money than the distribution medium they’re most likely headed to can support. Thus, before you budget your next indie film, you should look into how much digital distribution are paying. While those numbers are usually not reported, because they are so low, studios can’t brag about them like then can when they pay $10 million for a film, I’m sure you can get someone to give you a general idea of how much you can expect to earn from digital and or small screen distribution, i.e. cable or television.

Side Note: I’m not mentioning the DVD market as a viable place to sell your film, because the sale of DVD’s are on life support, and they are only waiting for the entertainment industry to pull their collective plug and allow them to die a painless death.

Look For Self-Distribution Opportunities To Emerge
Since Sundance kicks off the 2014 festival season, you can expect a big push from VOD aggregators to offer their services to filmmakers. While these companies can be valuable assets in your film’s release strategy, they are usually not great sources of income for indie films that lack a star cast. Furthermore, with the thousands of indie film titles that you’ve never heard of already on VOD, how are you going to garner interest in your film if you don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars to spend on promoting your film?

You can always self-distribute DVD’s from your own website, or at your screenings at film festivals, but those sales probably won’t be significant either. Remember, it’s not you, or your film. It’s just that the market is in continuous flux, and indie film values are shifting again.

That’s what I have for you today. To all of you who are heading to Sundance, have a tremendous time and stay warm! As always, I thank all of you for lending me your eyes, (not just those who are heading to Park City), and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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