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Sundance Institute to Partner With Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and Netflix

The Artist Services program would help provide exposure to the work of independent filmmakers that have gone through Sundance programs.

Indie filmmakers’ potential audience is about to get a lot bigger.

As part of its recently launched Artist Services Initiative, the Sundance Institute has partnered with Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, SundanceNOW and YouTube to provide exposure to work from Sundance alumni. Institute executive director Keri Putnam, with festival directors John Cooper and Trevor Groth in attendance, announced the effort at a presentation held at the Pacific Design Center Wednesday morning.

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“The landscape has changed a lot,” said Putnam, noting that many movies that come through Sundance programs have trouble finding a home. “So we built this new initiative to support the filmmakers who want to find new opportunities. We heard from our community that they needed help.”

Sundance has partnered with indie distributor New Video, which will serve as the portal for filmmakers’ access to these digital platforms. New Video and the Institute would take a small percentage of any revenue, but the rest would go to the filmmakers, who retain ownership and all licensing rights to their work.

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“The goal is for them to do as well or better than they would on the open market,” said Putnam.

“They’re on board with the mission of providing maximum exposure for the films, providing new revenue streams and bringing these very important films to new audiences for the first time,” said New Video’s Susan Margolin. “I see this as nothing short of revolutionary.”

A concurrent partnership with Topspin Media will provide filmmakers with merchandising, marketing and promotional tools to connect directly with fans. The Bertha Foundation has awarded a major grant to the initiative to support the creation and distribution of social impact media projects as well as build audiences for documentary content, nurture talent and cultivate partnerships in the media.

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Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (On the Ice) and Tiffany Shlain (Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death & Technology), who showed films at the 2011 Sundance film festival, both referred to the program's ability to "empower" indie filmmakers. “Everyone wants to try this, and there’s finally a revenue model that exists," said Shlain.

The new initiative will be active as early as the fall and continue through the 2012 festival and year-round. It represents the second phase of the Artist Services effort that began in January with the launch of the Institute's Kickstarter collaboration. That fundraising program has thus far raised $650,000 for 21 successfully funded projects, including one filmmaker who raised $80,000 to make her film.

The new digital distribution partnership allows the high-profile web platforms to leverage the Sundance brand for its hand-picked curation of the best of indie film. But Putnam made clear that the Institute itself is not muscling into the distribution game to compete with its traditional distribution partners.

“We do not want to become a distributor," Putnam said. "We’re helping individual voices be heard. We want to protect the artists. We want to be complimentary and not competitive."

Also Wednesday, the Institute launched a new website in beta mode devoted to Artist Services available to Sundance alumni only. The hub includes sections on best practices, case studies, resources, advice, creative funding, digital distribution, marketing and writing from contributors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse, Ted Hope, Magnolia’s Tom Quinn and Laura Kim and Paul Federbush of Red Flag Releasing. The organizers’ stated aim is to encourage “sharing and transparency” in a filmmaking community struggling to find ways to sustain careers.