Sundance: Jim Gaffigan, David Oyelowo Weigh Pros and Cons of Streaming, Theatrical Releases

During a panel discussion at SundanceTV HQ, THR sat down with some of the fest's onscreen talent and asked if they are concerned whether their work ends up at a streamer or with a traditional theatrical distributor.

As Netflix and Amazon return to Park City, and players like Apple, WarnerMedia, Disney and NBCUniversal plan 2019 entries into the streaming space, filmmakers, execs and industry players at the Sundance Film Festival are weighing the costs and benefits of streaming and theatrical.

During a panel discussion at SundanceTV HQ, THR's Rebecca Keegan sat down with some of the fest's onscreen talent — Jim Gaffigan (Troupe Zero), Jillian Bell (Brittany Runs a Marathon), David Oyelowo (Relive), Rhianne Barreto (Share), Griffin Gluck (Big Time Adolescence) and Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) — and asked if they are concerned whether their work ends up at a streamer or with a traditional theatrical distributor.

"To me personally, no," said Gluck. "[Big Time Adolescence] was an indie film that wasn't guaranteed to go anywhere, and then we made it to Sundance and I still don't know where it is going to go." (The coming-of-age story is looking for a distributor at the fest). Gluck surmises that, no matter where the project ends up, "people get to see your work."

"I wish I was still like you," said Oyelowo to big laughs from the audience. "I really care where it goes." He added: "The truth of the matter is that we are at an amazing time in our business. There are so many ways to watch content. I have had films that didn't do so great theatrically but did huge streaming."

The Selma actor, who stars in and produces Sundance sci-fi thriller Relive, notes the importance that box office performance still holds in entertainment. "I am not going to lie and say everyone doesn't want the brass ring of, 'Oh, [a movie] did that at the box office.' Because as a producer, that's what enables you to do another one and another one and do them on a bigger scale." 

Gaffigan jumped in to offer that not all streamers are created equal, saying, "It also depends which streaming service, because one of them that starts with an 'A' does a theatrical release." Amazon had the biggest buy of the fest this year, nabbing the Mindy Kaling/Emma Thompson-starrer Late Night for $13 million, and two years ago picked up future Oscar nominee The Big Sick for $12.5 million.

The comedian also offered an alternative observation: "I also want them on airplanes. Because I travel so much that is when I get to consume things. Because even if a movie is on Netflix or Amazon Prime people still have to make a commitment to look for it, whereas when it is on an airplane it is right there."