Sharon Waxman explores the Sundance freebie culture and encounters bewildered filmmakers
I went in search of what they were giving away for free at Sundance this year. The swag suites have become a regular, if rather gross, part of Sundance culture. But it's come way down in scale since several years ago when they gave away fur pieces, $300 jeans and high-end jewelry.
I went wandering through the Village at the Lift to see what was on display, but in fact it was so crowded you could barely see the goods. There was anti-corporate do-gooder Morgan Spurlock ("Supersize Me") finding things near the jewelry counter. And before I could move an inch, that Constantine guy from American Idol was in my face looking for stuff to grab.
I then came across a pair of bewildered-looking filmmakers, Amber Benson and her lead actor, Jonathan Woodward ("Drones"). They were stranded between the belts and leather handbags and the Puma shoelaces specially designed by African and Italian didn't-catch-the-name. They needed guidance. This always happens to newcomers to Sundance; they are allowed into the swag suites because they're in the competition, but then they don't get the whole just-take-it-it's-free vibe. Sigh. Have a look at the video, you'll see what I mean.(Wait, still uploading on a very slow connection.)
But more to the point, Benson and Woodward, whose film they describe as "The Office meets Close Encounters," are thinking hard about whether they would like to sell their film to a distributor.
They wouldn't really, and they're smart for rethinking this formula.
"I feel like if I sell to a distributor, you're guaranteed a DVD release and one minute in the theater," said Benson.
Woodward added, "Yes, and everything hinges on that one minute in the theater."
They would both rather see the movie given away for free on the Internet, and find a model in which some people have to – or choose to – pay for it, and they keep all the money.
"We want to distribute it ourselves," said Benson. "Because if people like something, they don't just want to see it once, they want to own a piece of it, they want the DVD, they want extras."
Woodward: "Our aim is to get the word out. And a distribution deal, oddly, might work against that."
Ok, here's that video: