Sundance ’18: Digital distribution takes center stage

PARK CITY, UTAH – The evolving world of digital distribution and the ways filmmakers can get their projects noticed was the subject of a panel session at the 2018 Sundance Film ...
January 22, 2018

PARK CITY, UTAH – The evolving world of digital distribution and the ways filmmakers can get their projects noticed was the subject of a panel session at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on Saturday afternoon (Jan. 20).

The session, moderated by The Wrap‘s CEO and editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman, featured executives from across the entertainment industry, including Angela Courtin (pictured, left), YouTube’s global head of marketing for YouTube TV and Originals; United Talent Agency (UTA) agent Bec Smith (right); and Joe Pichirallo, producer and chair of undergrad film and TV department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Filmmakers and talent involved in the session were YouTube influencer and filmmaker Anna Akana; and director Aneesh Chaganty, who is at the mountainside festival with his doc short Search.

Together, the group examined how to best develop, sell and distribute film across all genres in the digital age. Here are some takeaways from “How To Get Your Film Out There — The Digital Experts Weigh In”

Agency representation isn’t mandatory to success

One of the session’s most interesting debates surrounded how the digital revolution, through digital transition and digital distribution, has altered the availability of the independent film landscape.

“You can now get discovered without an agent by creating content that is distinct and original, and taking advantage of digital social media to build an audience that is receptive to your content,” said Pichirallo.

Courtin responded that taking advantage of the digital players in the space could ultimately be a filmmaker’s best option if they want to build out a community with long-lasting opportunities. “It’s been exciting to watch so many filmmakers with niche films grow into big filmmakers that can create a career out of that with a fan base that will follow them and actually translate between all different media, whether it’s TV, film or music,” she said. “It’s never been better time to be filmmaker.”

Akana matched the sentiment put forth by Courtin, noting that she’s seen a stark difference between fans of her television work and those that follow her YouTube channel. “I really saw the power of YouTube and really wanted to stick with it because these are people who are going to follow me and root for me my entire career,” she said. “They feel like they know an intimate part of myself, and that’s where the longevity lives.”

Nurture and grow your online community

As YouTube’s global head of marketing, Courtin advised the room of filmmakers to ensure they’re not only relying on their creative output to get results, but to think as a marketer would by uploading their idea, in some form, onto a video sharing platform in order to begin developing a fan base.

“If you’ve thought both as a filmmaker and a marketer, by the time you’re ready to release that [project], you’ll have a whole community who wants to celebrate that with you,” she said. “If you’re not building your community when you finally have that film, who’s going to show up and watch it?”

Chaganty, the director of Search, echoed Courtin, noting that he approaches the creative aspect of filmmaking by honing in on the attention of the person or entity he is seeking. “If you figure it out going backwards, you can create something that’s still artistic and valuable to you as a person, but also has some very strategic elements that will get the attention of that one person to bring you up to the next level.”

Talent agencies are here to stay

Though filmmakers and talent can cultivate their community and gain credibility as a storyteller largely on their own accord, but once a certain critical mass is reached in terms of fan base, creators will typically want to expand their opportunities. It’s here that agencies will guide independent projects by locating financing from untraditional sources to help films that wouldn’t ordinarily get made.

“Once you’ve built that fan base, that’s real currency and real capital, and you can take it to an agency who will help continue to build on that following and turn it into a career,” Smith explained. “In that moment when artists have a lot of people following their ascent, you really want to capitalize on the opportunities available to you, and agencies can still be incredibly helpful in that respect.”

“I don’t want to focus on business deals and numbers all day; I want to focus on the creative,” Akana added. “It’s great that there are people who thrive on negotiation. There will always be a place for business next to creative.”

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