Film Threat archive logo


By Hammad Zaidi | February 1, 2011

Having just returned from Park City, I’m pleased to announce there were 24 films sold at Sundance (25 if you count Kevin Smith selling his film Red State to himself for $20).  Twenty-four films sold in less than ten days is a pretty healthy number, especially since it’s 24 more films sold than most other film festivals get in a lifetime.

Some of these “sales” were actually remake rights deals that were closed during Sundance, while others were secured prior to the festival but were announced at Sundance. Regardless of the technicalities, Sundance is America’s premiere platform for bowing new independent cinema. Simply put, they are where all of the major distributors go to acquire American independent films, and no other American film festival is in their area code, zip code, or hemisphere for that matter. Furthermore, the fact that twenty-four filmmakers became soon-to-be-richer at Sundance last week definitely shoots light into the independent cinema tunnel of darkness. Now, while I’m not going to list every sale that occurred at Sundance (because several other articles already have), here are three key deals that just set the bar for indie film values in 2011.

My Idiot Brother – The Weinstein Company bought this Paul Rudd comedy for $7 million, plus a $15 million guaranteed spend on prints and advertising.

The DetailsThe Weinstein Company bought this marriage drama for $7.5 million, plus a $10 million guaranteed spend on prints and advertising budget.

Like CrazyParamount bought this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama winner for $4 million plus a $6 million guaranteed spend on prints and advertising.

The thing that jumps out at me about these deals is that each one guarantees a specific amount of prints and advertising to be spent on the film. Such a move is a far cry from recent years, as it used to be enough just to get a theatrical release on any level. However, today’s distribution deals for major independent films are far more layered, as they combine theatrical releases in multiple countries, VOD sales, and healthy viral campaigns. Of course all of these sales avenues are needed in order for the distributors to justify spending far more money marketing the films than the films cost to make.

Think of it this way: look around where you are right now and locate the nearest pen. Now imagine spending $20 to market that $1 pen that almost nobody cares about. It’s obviously a huge risk, because if the masses don’t buy that your pen is worth $100 as opposed to the $1 it cost to make, you’re dead. Such is the life of a distributor, and so is why it’s so damn hard for independent films to get distribution.  But, since this article is focused on how the 24 sales at Sundance may trigger a brighter 2011 for the world of independent film, here’s a few factors on why 2011 may be looking up for all of us:

The European Buyers Log Jam Of U.S. Films Is Thinning
In 2007 and 2008, when the American Dollar was trading at a very weak exchange against the Euro ($1.64 USD to every 1 Euro at one point), European buyers bought quite a few American Independent films, because our films were just so damn cheap for them to buy. In fact, the Europeans bought such an overabundance of American films, that they didn’t need any new product for a few years. Now that 2011 has rolled around and most of the films bought in ’07 and ’08 have already been released, several European buyers are once again looking to buy American independent films. The offer prices are far lower than they were in 2007 and 2008, (as are all of the prices in every industry) but at least the offers themselves are trickling back in.

The European Film Market In Berlin May Answer Sundance
With 24 films sold at Sundance, the buyers in Europe may have their checkbooks ready to show the world how healthy their ability to purchase films is. The European Film Market (EFM) is concurrent with the Berlin Film Festival, and both start on February 10th.  If film sales stay healthy in Berlin, at both the EFM and the Berlin Film Festival, the value of independent films could be back with a vengeance by the time Cannes rolls around in May.

Studios Find It Cheaper To “Buy” Rather Than To “Make”
With fewer films being made, several actors whom would never have dreamed of being in independent films are now actively seeking them. After all, work is work, right? Thus, the major studios can sit back and watch actors they’d have to pay much more money for, make less money to be in smaller productions. Then, the studios swoop in and buy the indie film with actors they “approve,” all for less than the amount they would have had to spend making the same film themselves.

While the above scenario may seem like a vicious cycle, everyone gets something of value: The filmmaker gets a sale, the studio buys a cheap film and the actors get work. Okay, maybe the actors get screwed on this deal because they take less for their work. But like I said earlier, work is work!

While it’s certainly not time to pop open some champagne, buy a Porsche Turbo and book a 31-day trip to the Seychelles, the “early returns” from Sundance show that 2011 could be a good year for the financial value of independent cinema. Of course, it could also mean that Sundance had a really good run and the rest of the year will lie flat like ’10, and ’09. But, I’m writing this article on my birthday, (January 31) and it comes out on my sister’s birthday (February 1– Happy Birthday, Dolly!) – so I’m going to keep a positive outlook. Besides, distributors aren’t stupid, and if they’re giving indie films millions of dollars in acquisition payouts and P&A guarantees, they must see much healthier returns coming their way for their efforts.

Here’s to them being right, and to all of us reaping the benefits! Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Tom Weaver says:

    Another great year for the independent film industry. I wish last year’s highly-praised South African film, White Wedding, would have been bought by a big distribution company. I just saw it on DVD and thought it was hilarious. Everyone should check it out.

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon