The Sundance Film Festival has long been a must-attend event for the film crowd, valued as both as a schmooze-fest and a venue to see and acquire the hottest indies for theatrical release.
But with brick and mortar exhibition opportunities contracting and online release platforms multiplying at a rapid pace, Sundance is becoming an increasingly important destination for digital players.
Netflix and Amazon are in Park City, UT, for the festival, checkbooks open and ready. Netflix has already preemptively purchased festival entries “Fundamentals of Caring,” “Tallulah” and “Under the Shadow,” while Amazon snatched up director Joshua Marston’s “Complete Unknown,” starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon, ahead of its Sundance premiere.
While Netflix and Amazon are having a significant impact on the marketplace, they’re merely new outlets for the same old content. More interesting is the influx of digital-first companies and execs scouting for talent to create work for the growing collection of online outlets, including new mobile video platforms such as Go90, Watchable and Seeso.
“I’ve heard from all the people I’m working with that this is the first year that there’s going to be a substantial digital presence,” said Kevin Herrera, a talent manager whose clients include creators Sawyer Hartman, Danika L. Massey (a.k.a Comic Book Girl 19) and Christopher Ballinger (brother and frequent collaborator of Colleen Ballenger Evans, a.k.a. Miranda Sings). “I want to find those people who are ready to go, who might not be getting the attention they deserve so we can create some really great stuff. To quote someone at one of the really big investment firms, there’s a lot of pipe, but not a lot of content to fill the pipe.”
The big event for next generation media types at Sundance has been the single-day Digital Storytelling Conference, which kicked off on Wednesday night at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City. Designed to bring together creators, influencers, brands and agencies, its sponsors include Above Average, CNN’s Courageous content studio, Fox Network Group’s True(x), Fullscreen, The Huffington Post, Hulu, Maker, Naritiv, Twitter and Zefr.
YouTube is back again this year with two panels, “YouTube & The Rise of Virtual Reality Panel Discussion” on Saturday and the “YouTube Red Originals Showcase & Panel” on Sunday.
But more significant for YouTube are its initiatives in partnership with the Sundance Institute, including YouTube Creators Intensive, a two-part program to help creators develop new series and films that begins on-site at the festival and will be followed by a three-day workshop at YouTube Space LA from March 31 to April 2, 2016. Upon completion, participants may be eligible for a first-look deal with YouTube Originals. Workshop participants include Anna Akana, The Gregory Brothers, Devin Graham of DevinSupertramp, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn of Just Between Us, Yulin Kuang of YulinIsWorking, Nikki Limo, Franchesca Ramsey, Jus Reign (Jasmeet), and Adande Thorne (a.k.a. sWooZie).
It will also host the YouTube New Voices Lab at YouTube Space LA from Nov. 16 to 18, 2016, where participating fellows will work with experienced creators, showrunners and episodic producers to develop projects in an environment that encourages risk-taking, experimentation and innovation. Afterwards, Fellows will have access to Sundance Institute’s alumni community, along with customized, year-round creative and strategic support.
The 2016 Sundance Film Festival runs through Jan. 31 in Park City, UT.