Does Putting Sundance Shorts Online Harm Movie Makers?

from the the-debate dept

Last week, we noted that the majority of shorts being shown at Sundance this week are viewable for free streaming online. We noted that it would be even smarter if they made them downloadable, so that people could watch them offline, on devices or however they wanted to watch them — and also more easily share them with friends. In the comments, people told us we were being unfair because to offer films for download would make it difficult for filmmakers to earn any money. This seems like a myth — and a dangerous one. Recognize, first of all, that these are short films (often under 20 minutes) that are being made by independent filmmakers who often have absolutely no name recognition in the industry. In other words, the likelihood of anyone ever seeing the film, let alone spending money on it is small, at best. However, by promoting the film for free online, the better quality ones could get the attention of many more people, opening up all sorts of opportunities to make a lot more money down the road. Saying that giving away the film for free ends all revenue possibilities is taking the incredibly short-sighted view that ignores the promotional nature of the work. In fact, it would seem that, if you’re short has been accepted to Sundance, it would almost seem that the real way to “limit” your ability to generate revenue would be to not put the film online, as that would lower your recognition and attention. However, in an article that does discuss the “trade-offs” to letting Sundance put these films online, there is one issue that we were unaware of. Offering the films online takes the films out of the running for the Academy Awards. Why? That’s not at all clear, but they seem to have something against “films published online.”

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Comments on “Does Putting Sundance Shorts Online Harm Movie Makers?”

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BlindSide (user link) says:

Re: No Subject Given

It’s not stupidity, but clearly a tactic to at least delay the progession of professional films to the web. It’s slimy too, as the only ones who fall victim to this are indie filmmakers who could really benefit from the web’s powerful distribution mechanisms. The big guys don’t worry because they have the money of the studios to promote them.

Now the film industry is not onyl alienating their customers, but their members as well. Genius. Bah, who needs movies right now, anyway? Just grab some popcorn and huddle up at your computer to watch the death throes of the RIAA and MPAA. 🙂

Tyshaun says:

BOundless optimism


I was one of those last week who had issue with your basic premise of using the net and “grassroots” word-of-mouth to generate buzz for up-and-coming talent. However, even your piece this week makes me think that your living more in a hippie commune than in reality. Reality is that the amount of potential funding of any film project, in the current market, is usually related to the investors ability to project how well a given project will due in terms of money making. Whether that projection is based on pass performance of the talent involved or reactions from pre-screening, there aren’t too many investors or studios that are going to commit money to a project (for production, distribution, or advertising) unless they have some degree of assurance that they will have return on investment.

The problem I see with your proposal is the same that exists with all file sharing, you can’t accurately track how well a particular file has been distributed across the system (actually, I guess this isn’t a problem if you don’t want certain people like *cough* *cough* RIAA to be able to track such things). That’s why I guess I would think a more limited release schema using some sort of streaming format on a website linked to a statistics capturing tool would be more useful (keeping it free to stream of course). That way you can still captitalize on the synergy of word of mouth and you can also have quantifiable metrics that investors can use to gauge the potential “marketability” of a given filmaker/project, and therefore potential revenue from future projects.

In the end, I am a big fan of independent cinema, I think it has a lot more to offer than mainstream fair. However, no matter if the film is meant to be a summer blackbuster or a nice “boutique” movie, someone who is paying for it and they normally want a return on investment. So yeah, offer the shorts for free, but do it in a way so you can track and count whos watchin it.

George says:

Re: Boundless optimism

I would have to agree to some degree with you Tyshaun.
All investors would like to see a return on their money, but not all want capitol returns.
Many investors would rather put capitol in creating a name for a director or a production crew thus creating W.O.M. or buzz.
A nice (cheap) way to do this is free downloads of Sundance style shorts.
Here in lies the problem Sundance is all about independant film not usally funded by uber investors.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: BOundless optimism

Reality is that the amount of potential funding of any film project, in the current market, is usually related to the investors ability to project how well a given project will due in terms of money making.

And yet, we all hear stories about some hot online property getting picked up because of word of mouth buzz.

The problem I see with your proposal is the same that exists with all file sharing, you can’t accurately track how well a particular file has been distributed across the system

There actually are companies, like BigChampagne, who did a pretty good job tracking this info. Besides, the point is that these free movies are just to build up buzz, and there are lots of ways to determine buzz without knowing the exact number of downloads.

If the point is just to pick up on the next potential director or writer, recognizing that they come pre-wrapped with buzz is a big help. That’s the point of this, and a specific count on downloads isn’t needed for that.

When tons of blogs and forums are chatting about something, and it’s getting passed around like crazy, people know that the buzz exists — and that’s often all that’s needed to get them a deal. So, the effort should go into creating that buzz, not limiting it.

Tyshaun says:

Re: Re: BOundless optimism


Not saying I completely disagree with what you’re saying (in fact most times I agree highly), I just don’t think that most internet users are all that sophisticated to even hear about “the buzz”, so I say maximize the effects of those that do hear about it by making sure you track how many people look at the clip (which I think would be hard to do if it is distributable as a standalone file).

Let’s face reality, I don’t have stats in front of me but I think it’s safe to say that most people are not nearly as informed as folks who haunt this site. I asked my girlfriend what she thought about DRM, and she goes “DR what?”, then I said “that Sony thing” and she had an incling of what I meant, but not that much (and she’s a very intelligent person who just happens not to be online that much). My point in saying this is that most people who frequent techdirt tend to be exposed to more of the “buzzworthy” things happening on the internet than most, and as such I think we loose perspective on the fact that most internet users just check their e-mail, go to porn sites, and maybe google something every so often.

I still would love to see an article from you Mike, or anyone, giving a concrete process on generating internet “buzz” effective enough so that it infiltrates mainstream non-techie users in a measurable way.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: BOundless optimism


I think you’re missing the point I was trying to make, which may be my fault for not explaining it clearly. I’m not saying that there’s a concrete process for generating buzz. There isn’t. However, things that DO generate buzz tend to generate a lot of it. Think about things like the “This Land…” parody by the jibjab guys or the “Lonely Sunday” skit by the Lonely Island/SNL guys.

It doesn’t have to interest everyone (so your example of one person not knowing isn’t exactly conclusive). Just a bunch of people, and it’s usually pretty easy to see what’s attracting the buzz just by looking at sites like, Digg and various blogs.

With that in mind, you want to remove as many barriers as possible to make sure it influences more people, not fewer. The cost of “tracking” is much higher than the benefit from getting the buzz to spread further.

Jim McCoy says:

It is not just online distribution that eliminates

It is not just putting a file “online” that removes it from consideration by the Academy. If the film is shown on broadcast television it is also no longer eligible to receive an Oscar. These rules existed before you were born, so perhaps this has a lot less to do with online distribution than you might think….

Tyshaun says:

Re: It is not just online distribution that elimin

Thanks for that info, I was wondering why the academy would make a rule like that but it does seem more reasonable when put in the context of them viewing the material as being broadcast.

Hey, so that’s why they have television Oscars hugh, because no TV show is eligible for the other one?

Darrylxxx says:

Filmmaker choice

One point that you seem not to take account of – it should be up to the filmmakers to decide if it should be downloadable or not, not Sundance. You can give all the reasons you want, many of which I share, but it is a matter of choice and frankly it just doesn’t always suit to just “give it away”…

haggie says:

No Subject Given

Here’s the reality for the average consumer. I don’t know what short films play at Sundance. I don’t CARE what short films play at Sundance. I wouldn’t move my lazy ass off my couch to see a Sundance short or probabaly even move my index finger to change channels to watch a Sundance short.

BUT, if one of my friends sends me a link to and he raves about this short, I might actually click on that link. And from that slim possibility, there are infinite new revenue possibilities where none existed.

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