Selling at Sundance: What Factors Do/Don't Affect the Indie Film Market

SundanceBecoming a successful filmmaker is easy. right? All you have to do is make a movie, get it into Sundance, sell it, and then spend the rest of your days jackknifing into your millions like Scrooge McDuck. Um -- no. Making a movie is relatively straightforward compared to somehow getting your film screened at Sundance -- let alone finding a buyer. But, if you're one of the lucky few to be looking for one at the festival this year, Emily Best and her team at Seed&Spark have collaborated with information design company Accurat to develop an infographic that sheds light on this rather obscure part of the filmmaking process in hopes that their data will help you take some informed steps as you go about selling your film at Sundance. 

As a fledgling filmmaker, I remember being offered a job as a ticket taker for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and thinking, "This is my chance." (It's okay to point and laugh at me.) Obviously it takes much more than your (literal) box office cred to get your film shown at Sundance -- let alone bought -- let alone make a profit on the sale.

What Best and her crew have done is broken down complex sets of data and developed them into an informative infographic that takes a closer look at factors, like budget, sale price, genre, even duration, that have influenced the sale and box office of films that have sold at Sundance in the last 3 years.

Check it out below:

If you managed to get your film into Sundance, that's an amazing accomplishment all on its own, but what if your film sells for less than it cost to make it? As the infographic shows, films like The Way, Way Back -- ones that sell for a great deal more than their budget -- are few and far between. But that's only scratching the surface. The graph also measures different factors that affect box office gross, like genre, duration, setting, and the number of awards a film wins (which strangely doesn't seem to have much of an affect).

Be sure to check out Seed&Spark's publication Bright Ideas Magazine for more.

What conclusions have you come to after digesting all of that data? Do you have any insight into the Sundance indie film market? Let us know in the comments below.

[Infographic courtesy of Flickr user Seed&Spark]

Link: Selling at Sundance -- Seed&Spark

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Honestly if I was able to sell at Sundance for any amount at all, it would be an accomplishment and at the very least an "in" to the industry. Many directors that not only made it into Sundance but were able to sell their films at a loss went on to real directing opportunities.

I think pretty much everyone accepts the fact that their independent film will likely not garner an acquisition price beyond their budget. I mean it does happen... but it's certainly the exception and not the rule.

I think what's on a lot of first time indie filmmaker's minds, is the potential to get noticed and to build future relationships in the industry. Hoping to make a profit, even at a festival like Sundance, is really not an ideal goal.

January 23, 2014 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Yeah, sometimes rep is worth more than cold hard cash.

January 24, 2014 at 12:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Couldn't have said it better.

January 24, 2014 at 1:41AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Interesting stats further highlighting higher risks with bigger budget productions. (Puzzled why someone would make an infographic so feint it becomes difficult/awkward/unpleasant to read?)

January 24, 2014 at 3:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I like what this guy says. How I Made $2 Million Dollars Off My First Independent Movie by Amar .

January 24, 2014 at 5:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Michael Bishop

This is a pretty good graph, but it leaves out some key factors.

1) Foreign sales. I'm not positive on the distribution deals listed in the graph, but I would imagine most are for domestic rights only. I would imagine that many of these movies sold for quite a bit more when foreign sales were factored in.

2) Advertising. Look at DON JON. Cost $6 million, sold for $4 mil, and made $17 mil on that. Seems like a successful purchase for the distributor until you factor in the $20 million P&A commitment they made (and likely spent).

3) VOD. ARBITRAGE's total is fairly high, so I'm assuming that is either a worldwide gross or factors in VOD. Granted, most VOD numbers aren't released. However, films like AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, LOVELACE, and PRINCE AVALANCHE were largely promoted on VOD versus theatrical, therefore while those films look like huge losses, they may not be.

Admittedly, the data on these three factors would be very difficult to acquire, but it is worth keeping in mind.

January 24, 2014 at 8:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Wow. This is, hands down, the worst infographic I have ever seen. Hard to read, counterintuitive, obfuscating. It is the opposite of informative. It's as though the goal was to make the information as difficult as possible to understand.

Serious fail.

January 25, 2014 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Crap infographic. Had to scroll down to the key every second. Bear in mind not all that sell, sell their entire film, some sell but maintain an equity / profit share in future earnings.

January 26, 2014 at 10:24AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


So I'm fresh out of underground and still pretty ignorant on the business side of things, but I'm not entirely clear how it's possible to be a filmmaker with these kinds of sales debits? Unless you have a rich uncle willing to sink a couple of million in the project, how do these things even get off the ground? I'm speaking from a lack of education here, so I'm asking sincerely for an answer because I don't understand.

Of course the filmmaker is not often sticking their own money in the bin, but if these kinds of numbers are true, how on earth could you convince a financier to back you? It just seems like a very hard road to get a leg up on. Any thoughts?

January 30, 2014 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM