Is Streaming Still the Mortal Enemy of Traditional Film Distribution? Sundance Panelists Say No

“I like the idea that there is a variety there for filmmakers,” says Darren Dean, executive producer on “The Florida Project”

Amazon’s big buys at the Sundance Film Festival no longer seem like the clear threat to traditional film distribution that they seemed to be a few years ago — and even the idea that streaming services are dangerous feels dated.

That was the key takeaway from TheWrap’s panel “Innovation in Indie Film: From Content Creation to Discovery,” presented Monday at the Sundance Film Festival by ChooseATL and THEA.

“The streaming services are good and as distributors. It’s fuzzy how you put movies out,” said Van Toffler, CEO of Gunpowder & Sky. He noted that Sundance “is much more diverse this year with the comedies and docs, and it’s more diverse to make content now because there are so many buyers and companies that have their own streaming platforms — it’s a good time to make stuff.”

“There are many ways to sell and buy films across the landscape,” added Darren Dean, executive producer on “The Florida Project.” “I like the idea that there is a variety there for filmmakers. It is very competitive.”

A.M. Lukas, who debuted as a writer-director on “Hollidaysburg” and is now at the festival with  Refinery29’s “One Cambodian Family Please For My Pleasure,” agreed. “Five years ago, the landscape was different and now it’s getting exciting again. There are more opportunities, and you can find ways to get movies out there.”

Amazon’s two Sundance acquisitions total nearly $30 million. Marti Hines, co-founder of luxury concierge company Wanderluxxe and founder of Dique Pic Productions, said movies don’t have to debut in theaters anymore — and that many filmmakers actually prefer a release on a streaming platform.

“You don’t just have to be in theaters,” she explained. “There are many ways to get your story out now as opposed to five years ago.”

ChooseATL which aims to attract and retain talent by showcasing Atlanta’s culture, has launched a streaming platform called THEA — the first city-based curated streamer.

“Rather than trying to compete with the upper-level streamers, what we’ve been able to do with THEA is to find a market we know that there is a demand for product to be developed and we feel like there is great talent in emerging markets,” Executive Director of ChooseATL and Founder of THEA, Kate Atwood, said. “The question is, how do we innovate around the systems to get these creators to the next level?”

Panelists also noted that TV and film projects are becoming so similar that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. The prominence of Netflix and Amazon has only helped blur the lines.

D.W. Moffett, an actor with credits like “Friday Night Lights” who now teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), said that his students often ask why they learn about TV while taking film classes.

“I ask them, ‘Tell me what the difference is,’” he said. “In an HBO show vs. an indie movie, everyone’s jobs are the same — HBO will probably have better craft services. It’s writing a story over 12 chapters rather than one… I think in terms of film making, it’s the same thing.”

“I don’t think the term ‘television’ is going to be around in 15 years,” said Lukas. “The number of people who are watching TV is getting smaller and smaller and older and older.”

Overall, the state of filmmaking looks very different today than it did ten years ago, in terms of distribution methods and filmmaking technology. Dean also worked on 2015’s “Tangerine,” which was shot entirely on an iPhone.

Xan Parker, a producer on shorts, features and documentaries, explained that she left the doc space for a while but has since come back because of the changing landscape.

“And my children got old enough,” Parker explained, laughing.

TheWrap also hosted another panel at the Wanderluxxe space in Park City, Utah, on Monday, about women in film. Panelists included “Animals” star Alia Shawkat, Apple’s “The Elephant Queen” co-producer and co-director Victoria Stone, Refinery29 CCO Amy Emmerich, director Hannah Pearl Utt, director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, USC Cinematic Arts Dean Elizabeth Daley, content queen and producer Diana Madison and “Troop Zero” directors Bert & Bertie.

All the women agreed that this year’s Sundance is a lot more diverse than in previous years.

“Everyone is more welcoming this year, and more open to work with me, and more open to talk about collaborating,” Madison said. “Ten years ago, I felt there was a barrier because I’m a woman and I’m Armenian. 10 years ago, being a woman and working, you had to pick. It’s just beautiful that people are open to seeing woman filmmakers, behind and in front of the scenes. It’s a beautiful time for women.”

“It’s a great moment for us as female storytellers,” Bertie added.

“As a European filmmaker, this is such a great model for festivals around the world, where women are still such a minority,” de Clermont-Tonnerre. “Sundance [includes women] intentionally and I’m very grateful for that.”

Shawkat, who has starred in “Arrested Development” and is now at the festival with “Animals,” said she was also aware of how many female filmmakers were present at this festival.

“It’s interesting how things change before you are even aware of it,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t feel it’s fast enough, although you have to appreciate it. The majority of films I’ve seen here have been directed by women — the majority is shifting and hopefully this keeps happening with people in power who are agreeing to make these films.”