80% of Films That Make It into Sundance Get Distribution Deals

Sundance Film Festival
That's no typo; that's real life. 4 out of 5 films that, by some divine and gracious mercy, happen to make it into Sundance also manage to snag distribution deals.

CEO David Larkin, and his team over at GoWatchIt.com, which lets users check the availability of movies or television shows across all platforms, released a study today on "how the Sundance class of 2014 fared in terms of getting distribution." Their findings were pretty incredible.

This is a guest post by David Larkin.

Combine a culture that increasingly encourages self-expression, an economy that generates considerable surplus capital with low interest rates, Moore's Law-like improvements in performance per dollar in production technology, proliferating on-demand distribution outlets for digital media, and persistent underemployment for liberal arts graduates, and what do you get? More films being made!

Sundance receives approximately 4,000 feature films submissions each year for about 120 slots. Short films face even more daunting odds. In 2014, the festival selected only half as many shorts out of more than twice as many candidates.

Some of those 120 films will get a lot of attention. Several of this year’s Oscar nominees, including Boyhood and Whiplash, were first screened at Sundance. After defending the planet from aliens and zombies, the Festival is increasingly where the Hollywood community washes it’s mouth out with artisanal soap. This year's films features A-Listers like Michael Fassbender, Nicole Kidman, Jonah Hill and of course, James Franco.

For first time filmmakers, there is an immense amount of competition, both in terms of the sheer number of films being shown, and in the difficulty of getting anyone to pay attention to you when the Sundance Kid himself is in the room. So when you ask your friends and family for money to film the story that is bursting irresistibly out of you, the question inevitably arises, “Who’s going to see your little indie film, anyway?”

Well take heart, because the odds are in your favor! Our company, GoWatchIt.com, works with the Sundance Institute to help connect its films with audiences. As part of that, we kept track of all of last year’s feature films, the Sundance class of 2014.

Our collaborator Liam Boluk has analyzed how the proliferation of digital technology has upended the economics of the film industry, but as with any industry in transition, new players are emerging. These companies such as Radius, the Orchard, Amplify and Broadgreen, are unburdened by legacy cost structures and org charts -- and savvy in the use of digital tools to find indie audiences. The Sundance Institute’s artist services program, led by Joseph Beyer, Chris Horton and Missy Laney, has also created a robust in-house resource for filmmakers to craft and execute distribution plans. More films than ever are getting distributed -- but some people think that is a not a good thing.

Filmmaking is a curious fusion of art and business, and each film is both a business that aspires to be a work of art and a work of art that hopes to be a business. At Sundance, art is the emphasis and that is how it should be. In this spirit, we were not as interested in how much money the films made -- although some did pretty darn well -- but rather how many of the films got seen.

The answer? Most of them! But as you’ll see, it can take a while.

Credit: GoWatchIt

David Larkin is the CEO of  GoWatchIt.com.

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1 Comment

The 65% grossing less than 500k is an alarming figure. That's gross! Meaning if your distributor is feeling a tinge of honesty that day maybe you'll get a token check. I've found getting distribution is easy, seeing any cash beyond your initial advance, if you're lucky enough to get one, is the key. I'm hoping filmmakers distributing their own films digitally will will be the future. Getting 90% from sites like Vimeo, Yekra etc. may finally give the content creators control and not the distributors who almost always end up with the lions share of any indie film.

January 26, 2015 at 8:14PM

Lance Bachelder

The NoFilmSchool headline and the intro text to this article confuse and conflate "gets distribution deal" with "is eventually released (on some technology platform)". The GoWatchIt infographic states that "4/5 Sundance films have been released in theaters and/or video on demand", not "4/5 Sundance films get a distribution deal". Anybody can put their film onto Vimeo and try to monetize it, but that's not a distribution deal.

Indiewire writer Steve Beer estimated in 2012 that the success rate at getting a distribution deal for films accepted at Sundance is under 40%:


"Based on the festival's history, it's fair to say that less than 40 of those films will be acquired by established, full-service film distributors. At best, this translates to a 1% success rate for aspiring Sundance filmmakers."

Jonathan Wolf of American Film Market is also on record as saying that "more pictures die at Sundance than find distribution at Sundance." - from my blog notes from his 2011 talk, here: http://2011afm.blogspot.com/2011/11/saturday-training-talk-how-to-work-a...

- Bruce

January 29, 2015 at 12:52PM