Sundance Infographic Reveals Some Promising and Not So Promising Numbers in Independent Film

With Sundance '14 being only four days away, independent filmmakers, studios, and buyers are gearing up for another festival year of screenings, bidding, passing, as well as contemplation over the current state of independent cinema. Cultural Weekly and Entertainment Media Partners CEO Adam Leipzig have released an in-depth infographic compiling key data from Sundance, namely on spending, which analyzes how these numbers stack up against those of the major studios. Their findings are a mixed bag of encouraging stats and disheartening truths.

Cultural Weekly and Leipzig decided to use Sundance as a representation of independent cinema as a whole, because "with more than 4,000 feature-length films submitted each year, Sundance certainly represents a healthy sample of the industry," especially since the higher profile films tend to be submitted to the festival. Leipzig says, "Sundance submission numbers represent a good statistical estimate of the most viable indie movies produced each year."

The study collected data from top indie film producers, sales agents and indie financiers and found several interesting stats. For one, with an annual production budget of over $3 billion, the study found that independent film spending "rivals" that of major studios'. The average budget for an independent film was found to be $750,000 per movie, a number that was rounded down to be conservative. They also took a look at distribution and biggest sales, finding that thanks in part to streaming and digital platforms, more than half of the films screened at Sundance received distribution deals -- though figures also show that investors usually don't make much (or anything) on their investments, less than 2% to be exact.

Check out Cultural Weekly's infographic below to see more stats:

[Editor's note: the infographic has been removed]

So according to the study's findings, there are some good things and bad things going on in independent film. Money is being exchanged in independent film -- about as much as in Hollywood, however the number of films being invested in is much higher in the indie sphere. That can be seen as a positive or a negative depending on how you see it; more films being financed means money is more thinly spread, but more films being financed means -- more films.

And with less than 2% of investments being recouped, it appears that investments may not be being made wisely. With solid distribution plans hatched in advance, as well as filmmakers being more dedicated to producing better films, Leipzig believes the money hemorrhaging would begin to lessen.

Be sure to give Culture Weekly's post for more information, as well as Leipzig's thoughts and take-aways.

What do you think about the data from the infographic? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: Sundance Infographic 2014: Are Indies the “8th Studio”? -- Cultural Weekly

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Your Comment


Is Weinstein or Fox Searchlight really, truly an independent? To me, they are more like the subsidiaries of the major studios.

January 12, 2014 at 6:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


FOX Searchlight yes, Weinsteins very definitely no.

January 12, 2014 at 7:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Interesting distinction you're choosing to draw. Weinstein company has no monolithic parent company behind it... they're thus "independent" from the major studios. Fox Searchlight has News Corp, one of the three largest media conglomerates around, to answer to. Not at all "independent" from anything.

Nonetheless, the distinction is irrelevant to the conversation at hand, because, as pertains to Sundance, these films are all made independently and later purchased and distributed by these companies.But the independence is in the making, not the distribution.

January 13, 2014 at 9:01AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


The Golden Globes Neflix/Weinstein Co. after-party was filled with superstars. Harvey is definitely an insider, even if he has to negotiate separate distribution deals, depending on the project. I would call him a mini-major rather than a true independent. IMO, Sundance ought to create separate budget categories for its participants - nothing above $5M, then $1M-$5M, sub-$1M, $500K and under. Otherwise, they're comparing films too different in scope.

January 13, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

You voted '+1'.

I think of Searchlight as an independent because of the films they distribute; also their marketing and distribution folks are separate from Big Fox. Weinstein Co. is a mixed bag. They certainly make very expensive movies, but they also pick up true indies and have been doing some disruptive distribution work via Radius.

January 12, 2014 at 7:22PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


The chances of getting your SHORT FILM shown at the 2014 Festival: 0.8%.
The chances of getting your FEATURE FILM shown at the 2014 festival: 2.9%

Those are some interesting stats right there.

Also, another thing that I find interesting is how the US manages to closely match the amount of international films submitted every year. Once again, proving that everything in America is truly bigger.

January 12, 2014 at 8:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I don't see it like that. If your film is not "great", then you have a 0% of getting in. If you have a "great" film (be honest and do some soul searching), then your chances are much much higher than 3%. So many people fall in love with their films (regardless if they are actually any good or not) and submit to Sundance. To be honest, these numbers are pretty encouraging.

January 14, 2014 at 9:58AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Well, I'm coming from a purely objective angle here. Producers like numbers, there's more numbers for you to crunch down on.

January 14, 2014 at 7:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I understand what you are saying, but those numbers won't tell you a truthful story. A better metric would be "if I am in the top 10% of filmmakers submitting at Sundance, what is the likelihood I'll be chosen?"

Then you have to ask yourself, "Is my film in the top 10% of submitted films?"

January 15, 2014 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


What is truly amazing is that year after year the number of people willing and able to simple make a feature film increases. Being a believer in the power of story telling and creativity to transforms lives (of the maker for sure if not the audience), for me this is a truly phenominal cultural movement. Almost no one is making money doing this. For sure this is driven to some extant by the fatansy of fame, success and a shot at the big time but that can't explain it entirely. Telling our own stories is clearly central to humanity and technology is turbo charging this impulse. If we also look at the explosion of social media and see that it is also driven by this same impulse to chronicle our lives and tell our stories then perhaps the rise of personal storytelling can be seen as a defining force of the moment and potentialy the future. I read a quote by a SXSW programmer who siad it appears that telling our stories seems to be surpassing the impulse to watch/listen to our stories. That is an amazing statement. I know to many this is also terrifying as so many of these films are probably barely watchable and when you are one of the story tellers you fear that after all that hard work your voice may be drown out in the crowd. But zooming out to the 10,000 foot view I think this bodes well for humanity. Empathy, campasion and a truly deeper understanding of what human experience and action can be will only make the world a better more tolerant place. Storytelling is the leading edge of social transformation and it appears there is an army of humans spending every cent they can get their hands on and putting all their spare time into this endevour. How to have a career and how to make money off this is the least interesting question. How this will change who we are as a species is a much more interesting question. Sounds like a good topic for a movie. Anyone?

January 13, 2014 at 7:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM



January 14, 2014 at 10:00AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


the main thing can also be the investor has almost zero chance of recouping

January 15, 2014 at 12:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Does anyone know if or when Sundance will ever accept TV or web episodes?

January 16, 2014 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Good question. I wonder myself

January 19, 2014 at 8:05AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM