Sundance Industry Panel: Indie Filmmakers Embrace Streaming Dollars

TheWrap’s annual indie film business discussion draws execs from Broad Green, Vimeo, Gersh and director Penny Lane and producer Liz Destro

The streaming invasion of Sundance 2016 has expanded the indie film ecosystem rather than damaged it, a panel of leading film and technology executives and filmmakers told TheWrap on Monday.

The heavyweights discussed companies like Amazon and Netflix dropping millions on pre-festival acquisitions, and how the streaming giants have driven film prices higher than Park City altitudes, during a conversation hosted by TheWrap CEO and Founder Sharon Waxman.

Watch the full panel on video above.

“I wouldn’t call it a bubble, but they’re in a growth phase right now,” said Jay Cohen, partner and head of film finance and distribution at The Gersh Agency.

“Netflix is a growth stock, Amazon is a growth stock. They don’t care about a [profit and loss statement]. They’re just trying to get subscribers,” Cohen said of purchases like Amazon’s $10 million for Kenneth Lonergan’s “Machester by the Sea” and Netflix’s $7 million for SVOD rights to Paul Rudd‘s “The Fundamentals of Caring.”

TheWrap Sundance Panel

In addition to Cohen, the Main Street event sponsored by UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television included Broad Green CCO Daniel Hammond, “Nuts!” director Penny Lane, “Yoga Hosers” producer Liz Destro and Vimeo VP Sam Toles.

“It’s really kind of a fascinating thing,” said Hammond, who founded Broad Green in 2014 with his brother Gabriel. “Amazon has doubled down in terms of where they fit. But that said, we believe in the theatrical release of films.”

Filmmakers like Destro, who has three titles in the competition, including Kevin Smith‘s “Hosers,” had less interest in a buyer’s perspective, and was candid about the offers she was fielding.

“We had a huge discussion, but it’s really about the money and what kind of platform you want,” Destro said.

Sundance TheWrap Industry Panel

“I would rather do an Amazon or Netflix deal where I know everyone is getting their money back — that’s success in itself — than [to] try do theatrical with the wrong partner.”

Toles was quick to point out that while Vimeo isn’t nearly as wealthy an online distribution platform, his model is different — and much more transparent with its data.

“We don’t have the same budgets, but our model is a transactional model. The thing I’m most proud of is that we give filmmakers 90 percent of the revenue and, more importantly, we give them the data,” Sales said.

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“The one thing Netflix doesn’t do — you give them your film, they give you a check and that’s the end of it. You don’t ever see see who your audience is, where they’re coming from — filmmakers want to understand who is watching and why they’re watching, how they’re engaging. For a distributor? Same thing. What should we invest in? How should we use our money?”

Lane, who is in town with the partially animated documentary “Nuts!”, considered the emerging distribution dynamic as a consumer.

“Not everybody lives in a big city where there is cool art cinema,” she said. “I live in the countryside and thank God for Vimeo — that’s how I see amazing cinema. There is no movie theater there, and if there is it’s just ‘Star Wars’ all the time.”