Amazon attempts to woo Sundance filmmakers with $100k bonus
Staff Reporter | On 19, Jan 2017
As the Sundance Film Festival gets underway, the online giants are already out in force to find the next Manchester by the Sea. Both Netflix and Amazon have already made their first acquisitions ahead of the festival, but while the bidding battles are usually kept behind closed doors, Amazon is trying something different this year, with an open offer to any film interested in signing on Jeff Bezos’ dotted line.
Amazon has launched what it calls “Film Festival Stars”, a scheme that offers indie films a bonus for distributing their film exclusively with Amazon Video Direct. AVD, you may recall, is Amazon’s rival to YouTube and Vimeo, allowing anyone to upload videos to its Amazon Instant Video store and its Amazon Prime Video subscription service. While there are royalties offered to films that are published through Amazon, the service is paying extra bucks to Sundance entries willing to give Amazon the streaming rights worldwide (or US plus other available territories).
Films screening in Sundance’s US Dramatic or Premiere strand will get a $100,000 bonus for signing their rights to Amaon, while those in the US Documentary or Documentary Premiere strand will get a bonus of $75,000. Titles screening under the World Dramatic, World Documentary, Next, Spotlight, Kids, Midnight and New Frontier strands will receive a bonus of $25,000. In addition, films will earn double the usual AVD royalties, earning $0.30 per hour (for views inside the US) and $0.12 per hour (for views outside the US), up to a maximum of $75,000 per month.
“Prime Video customers have shown an affinity for independent film and we want to increase our depth of selection in this category,” AVD boss Eric Orme told Deadline. “We recognized that the majority of films screened at major film festivals don’t secure full service distribution deals and Amazon Video believes these high-quality films deserve an opportunity to be made available to a large audience.”
“The Sundance Film Festival provides an excellent opportunity to reach filmmakers who are interested in the self-publishing route to getting their films in front of a large and engaged audience – millions of Amazon Prime members,” he added.
While such an open offer is a game-changer in the world of festival acquisitions, film-makers have not been overly positive in receiving the scheme. Indie producer Mynette Louie (The Invitation) pointed out that she has never managed to make a film under $100,000, which means Amazon’s bonus would not come close to covering a typical budget – while the deal would also limit the opportunity for a film to find a theatrical release.
“They want these Sundance films to hit streaming by September, which doesn’t give you time to exploit theatrical distribution opportunities or transactional VOD,” she told IndieWire in an interview, after her initial comments on Facebook drew attention. Indeed, she noted that some films at Sundance can take half a year to find a distribution dela, which means that anyone signing up to Amazon’s scheme could miss out on better distribution opportunities.
Amazon has emphasised that its scheme is designed to help filmmakers subsiside self-funded distribution. While Louie noted that Amazon’s exclusive terms mean that it’s “not really self distribution”, it added that the scheme is a good last resort for “films without distribution or that have gone through the sales cycle and exhausted all distribution possibilities”.
“I would just want filmmakers to really exhaust all of those other distribution possibilities before giving up streaming, because once you give up streaming, that’s it,” she concluded.
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