The Big Sick was the big prize at Sundance Film Festival this year Ã¢Â€Â” and with two fresh, hungry and deep-pocketed heavyweights now slugging it out in Park City, it’s a great time to be an indie darling.
In the end, it was Amazon, just two years ago a small fish in the big Park City pond, that nabbed the Judd Apatow-produced film for a jaw-dropping $12 million. That’s a hefty pricetag for any Sundance film, especially a niche comedy without big stars or awards aspirations.
And by outbidding festival veterans Paramount, Fox Searchlight and Universal/Focus Features, Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet on the indie film world. Also in the running was Netflix, the other half of a mano-a-mano battle of streaming titans that have upended indie festival norms by upping the ante.Ã‚Â
Amazon and Netflix, shut out at Sundance in 2015 because no one was ready to take the leap outside traditional distributors, have emerged as the most powerful buyers of the Park City festival. Period.
“Sundance was the place for small boutique studios,” Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities research analyst, told Mashable.Ã‚Â “Then along came Netflix and Amazon.”
Industry insiders who spoke to Mashable on the condition of anonymity said Amazon and Netflix were more aggressive than ever before in obtaining the top films this year. With higher bids from the streaming giants, it’s getting harder for indie studios to nab their normal haul of films.Ã‚Â
“Netflix and Amazon are driving up prices into a realm where only a couple of companies can buy movies.”
“The indie U.S. distributors are on the precipice of being on a dangerous tipping point because Netflix and Amazon are driving up the prices into a realm where only a couple of companies can buy movies, and they have to buy them on a worldwide basis,” one veteran acquisition executive told Mashable.
Representatives for Amazon and Netflix did not respond to Mashable’s request for comment.Ã‚Â
The race to outspend more traditional players Ã¢Â€Â” and gain prestige in Hollywood Ã¢Â€Â” really kicked off last year, when both streaming services grabbed six movies each.
Notably, Amazon picked up Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s Oscar-nominated drama, for $10 million, as well as Love & Friendship and Wiener-Dog. And among Netflix’s pick-ups: Audrie & Daisy, Tallulah and The Fundamentals of Caring.
This year, in addition to The Big Sick, Amazon picked up Long Strange Trip Ã¢Â€Â” a four-hour Grateful Dead documentary Ã¢Â€Â” for $6 million, and Landline, a family dramedy from Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre (for $3 million).
Meanwhile, Netflix snatched nine films (including a handful of acclaimed documentaries), the most out of any other studio present at the festival. They include: Berlin Syndrome (streaming rights); Casting Jon Benet (worldwide rights); Fun Mom Dinner (streaming rights); Chasing Coral (worldwide rights); The Incredible Jessica James(worldwide rights); Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower(worldwide rights); Icarus (worldwide rights); and To The Bone (worldwide rights).
“Clearly, they [Amazon and Netflix] have deep pockets to go out and purchase films for their audiences,” said Van Toffler, head of digital studio Gunpowder & Sky, which picked up The Little Hours.
Traditional buyers of course did snap up other festival hits. Sony Pictures Classics, like Amazon Studios, picked up three films Call Me By Your Name (Mashable’s top pick out of the fest), Novitiate and Brigsby Bear.
But many arthouse distributors didn’t make as big of a splash.
Notably, Fox Searchlight Ã¢Â€Â” which last year set a Sundance record by spending $17 million for early- awards-contender-turned-controversy-bust The Birth of a Nation Ã¢Â€Â” picked up two films: Patti Cake$ and Step. And A24 and Focus Features picked up one each, A Ghost Story and Thoroughbred, respectively.Ã‚Â
Besides bigger spending budgets, streamers also have the advantage of not having to prove that their sales translate into box office value. Take Cary Fukunag’s Beasts of No Nation, for example, which Netflix spent $12 million on at least year’s festival.
The film was a box-office bomb Ã¢Â€Â” making , according to BoxOfficeMojo Ã¢Â€Â” and was shut out of the Oscars race, but Netflix still deemed it a success for the platform. The streaming service said the film had already racked up 3Ã‚Â million views in the first 11 days after its release inÃ‚Â North America.
‘The most enthusiasm’Ã‚Â
Streaming services may be new additions to the indie film world, but any qualms that filmmakers may have had are long gone. In fact, many are vocal about the perks the digital platforms offer.
Amazon Studios “had the most enthusiasm,Ã¢Â€Â Apatow told IndieWire in an interview. “Loving the film is essential. They are a young film company and we knew we would be an important film for them. It is so easy to get lost out there.”
“We showed this film to a number of people and everyone was excited, but the guys from Amazon really understood the film on a level I hadn’t really experienced,” Long Strange Trip filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev told Reuters.
There are differences between the two: Amazon also has a more traditional release strategy that appeals to many creatives, allowing the usual 90 days between movie theaters and Prime streaming (whereas Netflix is still speeding its titles to the service, which still irks movie theater chains).
“We were also very impressed with the [Amazon] campaign for Manchester By The Sea,” Apatow added. “That is a complex film and their marketing and distribution has been really impressive. Being Amazon, they have many innovative ways to tell people about our movie and we are excited to collaborate with them on the campaign.Ã¢Â€Â
Meanwhile, with 94 million subscribers, Netflix has been lauded by creatives for its global reach.
“I think if you are a filmmaker, actor producer, or a writer you want to get critical acclaim and you want people to see your film,” Pachter said. “Platforms like Amazon and Netflix fuel the indie filmmakers, and keep choice [for consumers] alive. They are a force.”
Streaming is only the beginning of digital domination at Sundance, with more viewers opting to watch movies at home.
“Technology drives so much of content creation and consumption,” Toffler, an ex-MTV exec, said. “YouÃ¢Â€Â™d be foolish not to understand that it enables the audience to consume content on demand at their fingertips, at their convenience.”
“Technology drives so much of content creation and consumption”
Already, other digital players are upping their presence at Sundance, like YouTube, which has been steadily increasing its footprint for the last five years. For the first time ever, the Google video giant held a world premiere for one of its projects Ã¢Â€Â” This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous Ã¢Â€Â” at the festival.Ã‚Â
The platform also returned as the official sponsor of the Shorts ProgramsÃ¢Â€Â‹ for the fifth consecutive year, and brought back its YouTube House on Main StreetÃ¢Â€Â‹.
“WeÃ¢Â€Â™ve always felt aligned to the goals of the Sundance Film Festival because at its core Ã¢Â€Â” both the Festival and YouTube celebrate the independent creator,” YouTube Chief Marketing Officer Danielle Tiedt told Mashable ahead of the festival. “By having a meaningful presence, we hope to show our support for these artists and for innovative storytelling.”
Virtual reality “experiences” also became more prominent at the festival. Companies like Jaunt set up shop on Main Street to give the public the opportunity to experience its VR offerings. Ã‚Â
“It seems like Sundance has figured out a way to marry the new and old platforms,” Toffler said. “In one very snowy space.”