Notes from Sundance: Diving Into Digital

By 01/31/2010
Notes from Sundance: Diving Into Digital
Sundance - Digital Dive

Julia Oh and Rudy Adler from Wieden + Kennedy at Digital Dive at Sundance Film Festival

Snowy greetings from Park City, Utah, home of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival!

This year, in addition to introducing the world to many of the independent films we’ll be talking about for the next 12 months, Sundance embraced new media. Through official programs and partnerships as well as non-official events, the possibilities and promise of the Internets as a creative and distribution medium was the subject of much discussion.


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Digital Dive

Sundance - Digital Dive partyOn Friday, January 22nd, the fest kicked off with Digital Dive, an all-day, immersive event aimed at upping the digital media literacy of attending filmmakers. Jigsaw Global produced the event in tandem with the Festival. Panels were held at the New Frontier on Main (NFOM), the home venue for the New Frontier strand of the fest, which focuses on experimental work that “explores the limits of traditional aesthetics and the narrative structure of filmmaking.” In other words, the section features lots of cool, site-specific pieces that embrace everything from art installations to Google Earth to multimedia performances.

Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival senior programmer and curator of the NFOM exhibition, told me that Sundance decided to do the Digital Dive in response to Festival filmmakers’ queries about new media. She said that in talking with them, many were curious about taking advantage of online opportunities, but didn’t feel they had a proper understanding of the digital tools at their disposal.

Panels focused on building websites, using social media, iPhone apps and the digital development process. Lisa Osborne, founder, Jigsaw Media, was thrilled with the turnout for the event, and with Sundance’s commitment to keeping the festival relevant and modern. “A snowstorm hit the night before the workshop, so we were shocked when we opened the doors at 10:30 am the next day and there was a crowd of people waiting to get in,” says Osborne. “By the time the social media panel started at noon, we had to add more seats to the 115 that were already in the room and turn away a long line of people. So, yeah, I think that filmmakers are hungry for digital media training and advice. They want to know what works, how much it costs, and who are the best in the business. I can’t wait to do this again at another festival.”

I attended “Cross-Platform Storytelling for Filmmakers,” which showcased several innovative projects that made use of both online and real-world elements. Julia Oh and Rudy Adler from Wieden + Kennedy presented the marketing strategy for Focus Features’ Coraline; MTV’s EVP of New Media David Gale gave us a sneak peek at Season Two of the channel’s $5 Cover; and Jason Yim, President and Executive Creative Director of Trigger LA, shared the process of creating cutting-edge content for District 9 for Sony Pictures.

Throughout the workshop, several lessons emerged about finding your audience online. The Internet is a system of communities, so don’t be afraid to go small and find your ardent fans. Even though mentions on sites like Boing Boing are invaluable, if you are lucky enough to have a niche, plug into it first. The buzz on the small sites will lead to mentions on larger outlets.

Sundance - cross platformOnce you find those core fans, aka “influencers,” let them know that you are fans of their work, and that’s why you’re reaching out to them to spread the word about your own projects. And once you’ve got them on board, make sure you have additional content to give them. Online audiences are hungry for quality work – keep feeding them things to talk about.

Finally, good digital work is not always digital. When The Simpsons Movie took over 7-11 stores and turned them into Kwick-E-Marts, most people never saw the stores in real life. The promotion spread virally online via pictures and videos posted by users.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Sundance if there weren’t parties involved! Saturday night, Digital Dive ended with a big ol’ wrap shin-dig held at the New Frontier. Content creators, filmmakers and digital execs networked, checked out the exhibitions and got down on the dance floor til the wee hours of the morning.

YouTube Rentals

YouTube rentalsJust because you couldn’t make it up to Park City doesn’t mean you can’t experience the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance and YouTube have partnered to make three world premiere films from the 2010 Festival available for rent on YouTube. Additionally, two popular titles from the 2009 Festival are also available.

John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, said in a statement, “It has been our goal this year to find opportunities for our filmmakers by linking them to our technology partners and YouTube has been a great sponsor and partner. The YouTube commitment to independent film is aligned with ours at Sundance. This begins a new age of connecting our artists directly to audiences.”

The films available via YouTube’s new beta rental product ($3.99) included: Bass Ackwards (Dir/Wtr: Linas Phillips); Homewrecker (Dirs/Wtrs: Todd and Brad Barnes); One Too Many Mornings (Dir: Michael Mohan; Wtr: Anthony Deptula, Michael Mohan, Stephen Hale); The Cove (Dir: Louie Psihoyos); and Children of Invention (Dir/Wtr: Tze Chun).

David Un, Vice President of Content Partnerships at YouTube, said that so far YouTube’s core monetization product has been advertising. Rentals, a new revenue model that they’re trying, fit right in with YouTube’s dual goal of providing unlimited video choice for users and new ways to help content creators connect with worldwide audiences.

For Thomas Woodrow, producer of Bass Ackwards, the YouTube deal was an opportunity to get his film seen by as many people as possible. He’s had the experience of producing films that never make it beyond successful runs on the festival circuit, and was game for trying something different this time around. He said, “Sundance has done an amazing job of saying, ‘Look at these films that might not get seen otherwise.’ We can help them by doing this.”

Mynette Louie, producer of Children of Invention, expressed worries that the YouTube deal could potentially jeopardize a cable or VOD deal for her film. However, she decided to try this in the spirit of experimentation. “Filmmakers need to take responsibility for their films,” she said. “They know them best.”

As of Thursday, January 28th, the films ranged between 250 – 350 views each. While that’s not a ton of revenue, it’ll be interesting to see if the PR generated by the deal leads to other forms of distribution.

Slamdance and Microsoft

Sundance isn’t the only festival that takes place in Park City in January. At the top of Main Street, Slamdance runs concurrently with Sundance, and features films by first-time directors with budgets of under one million dollars. Titles that have premiered there include Paranormal Activity, Seth Gordon’s King of Kong and Chris Nolan’s Following.

This year, Slamdance and Microsoft collaborated to make four films available on both Zune and Xbox platforms via Zune video Marketplace. Beginning January 27th, 2010, users will be able to rent four films being screened at Slamdance 2010 on their computers or through Xbox Live. Price per film rental ranges from 600-880 Microsoft Points. Titles available include Mark Claywell’s American Jihadist; Adam Barker’s Mind of the Demon: The Larry Linkogle Story; Todd Berger’s The Scenesters; and Alexandre Franchi’s The Wild Hunt.

Slamdance President and Co-founder Peter Baxter said in a statement, “Slamdance has a true independent identity and proven track record of unearthing great films. It’s time now to be progressive and unleash our film programs outside of the festival and directly help filmmakers find popular, worldwide audiences.”

Tamara KrinskyTamara Krinsky is an actress, journalist and new media producer. Fave web series appearances: BACK ON TOPPS and THE SHAMAN. She hosted the weekly tech show THE SPOTLIGHT for, was a correspondent for PBS’s WIRED SCIENCE, and was a Webby honoree for the independent film show AT THE FEST. In addition to her adventures on camera, Krinsky became intimately acquainted with the business of web video while working for 2.5 years at the entertainment marketing firm Crew Creative, where she strategized and produced online content for clients including the Discovery Channel, TLC, Warner Independent Pictures, Picture People and Overture Films. She currently serves as the New Media Project Manager for the Writers Guild of America West, and as the Associate Editor of DOCUMENTARY Magazine.

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