For as long as I can remember, the Sundance Film Festival was pretty much a beta test for the indie darlings that would later grace the screens of mainstream audiences. It’s there that studios would go in purchase films created by promising young talent, and where they would get into bidding wars to own the next big thing in Hollywood. It’s clear that’s what Hollywood still wants Sundance to be…but it’s not really working out as they want it to.
I don’t think I’m breaking any minds by saying that we’re in a time of great change in the entertainment industry. We’re at the start of the next phase of streaming wars. The theatrical release slate is more packed full of tentpole films than ever before, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for original, low-to-mid-budget I.P. that isn’t horror to succeed in theaters.
If you look at the recent track record of films, things aren’t looking too hot. Amazon spent a reported $41 million at the festival, and while there is still plenty of chance for them to make some big bucks, at least one of its purchases, Late Night, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, only made $15 million, which is just $2 million north of what was spent acquiring it.
The latest disappointment comes in the form of New Line’s Blinded by the Light, a Bruce Springsteen love letter that likely wanted to be the next big hit comedy-drama musical. The studio spent $15 million on it, only for it to debut with $4 million and so far make $8 million. Whoops.
“You’re seeing pretty clearly that movies coming out of the festivals are really being challenged,” Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein said to Variety. “Unfortunately, audiences are spending money on the bigger spectacle films. The smaller niche movies are having a harder time finding their way when competition from content providers is making it harder to break through with an audience.”
Another huge problem is that because of Sundance’s reputation of being THE place for studios to spend their money, they’re spending EVEN MORE money than they would otherwise be spending.
“That’s the biggest issue facing companies, which are buying movies at too high of a price in order to lock down filmmaker relations,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with ComScore. “You’re stuck chasing the profits that are never going to come. It’s a really expensive lesson being learned right now.”
Of course, there are still plenty of films left to release, but as it stands, it does seem like studios will have to change their strategy going forward. In our current age of tentpoles, going forward with Sundance in the future as if it’s business as usual may not be the way to go.
“This summer, counterprogramming didn’t always work,” Dergarabedian said. “There’s going to be a lot of re-strategizing. We’re in a term of flux, and this is another area we are going to see changes.”
I, for one, am excited to see what those changes are. What do you think Hollywood should do to adapt to these new circumstances, and are you sad to see these original ideas falling to the wayside? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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