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At Izkara, we are constantly reminded of what we call "The Hurt Locker Syndrome".
“The Hurt Locker” was a highly acclaimed film festival offering and the Best Picture of 2009. However, the film was highly pirated during its nearly 10-month journey to general release, leading to soft box office receipts.
Because we at Izkara are curious, we undertook a project to determine how long it STUDY BACKGROUND
actually takes film festival movies to be released and the efforts filmmakers take to get attention.
Every Study Has Technical Details. Here Are Ours:
“Released” means that a film was able to be seen in at least one non-festival related movie theater, on TV or on VOD. The earliest occurrence constitutes the release date. Only those films with known release status are included in the release statistics. Thus the remainder are those that were not released or whose release status could not be determined. The intent of this study was to measure the ability for films to gain attention from outside sources. Thus, DVD releases were not considered a release as they can be self-distributed by filmmakers, and discerning the source of the distribution was beyond our available resources. Because the 2010 films have an additional 12 months of elapsed time since their Sundance premier, the majority of this analysis compares the equivalent 19-month post-premier time periods for 2010 (January 2010 – August 2011) and 2011 (January 2011 – August 2012). Unless otherwise noted, this is the time frame referred to in the analysis.
The Sundance Film Festival is one of the premier destinations for independent films and the first major US film festival of the year. Many people consider that if you make it there, you can make it anywhere. We chose to study this festival as it is a major buyers’ market and it is easy to generate a roster of films from past festivals. Our study looked at the outcomes, through August 2012, of Sundance’s feature length films from 2010 and 2011.
FINDINGS Most Sundance Films Eventually Make It to Market
For the comparable 19-month post-festival period, more than 70% of the films at the 2010 and 2011 Sundance Festivals were released in the US, with the 2011 roster of films performing better than the 2010 roster (89% and 72%, respectively). The study did not endeavor to determine the quality of distribution. Qualifying events could range from For the 2010 roster, the most recent 12 months short term releases in a few theaters to major (through August 2012) added another 5 percentage theatrical, TV, or VOD releases. points to the overall 19-month comparable period Our focus on US-only releases reflects a practical release rate (77% for the January 2010 – August 2012 cut-off rather than a US-centric perspective. The expectation is that submissions to a US film festival period versus 72% for January 2010 – August 2011).
are trying to gain attention in the US market.
The data were collected from available online resources (including but not limited to the Sundance Film Festival website, IMDb, and individual Facebook and movie websites). Figures on subsequent festival screenings reflect films with discernible festival status and were collected only for 2010. Film breakdowns for this study are as follows: 2010 = 115 total films/89 with US distribution, 74 of which had known festival status; 2011 = 114 total films/102 with US distribution.
But It Takes a While to Get Released
Among Sundance Festival offerings released within 19 months of their Sundance premier: • It takes an average of 8 months to be released to the US market with no major difference between the 2010 and 2011 roster of films (7.9 and 7.6 months, respectively). • 1 in 10 films are released within 3 months of their Sundance premier. • Within 6 months post-premier, one-third are released and it takes until 9 months out for at least two-thirds to be released. • Eight months post-premier, half of the festival offerings are released.
The Sweet Spot for Film Releases Occurs 6 to 9 Months After the Sundance Premier
• A flurry of releases occurs 6 to 9 months after a film’s Sundance premier. • Four in 10 Sundance films in 2010 were released during that period compared with 3 in 10 of the 2011 roster. • Diminishing returns set in after 9 months.
Meanwhile, Filmmakers Continue to Rack Up Film Festival Screenings
On average, Sundance Film Festival offerings screened at an additional 7 film festivals before their release but, as might be expected, that varies greatly by how quickly they are released. Films released within 6 months of their 2010 Sundance premier screened at an average of 3 additional film festivals before their release, while those released over the following 6 months (up to 1 year later) screened at nearly 6 additional festivals. Once a film takes longer than a year to be released, the average film will have been screened at nearly 16 additional film festivals. Interestingly, films released most quickly (within 6 months) screened at more festivals after release (about 6) than before (3), perhaps in part due to contractual agreements and post-release marketing efforts.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Film festivals are an exciting experience for both filmmakers and attendees. It is a coup for a film and its maker to be selected for a film festival, potentially offering once-in-alifetime access to a broad audience and a springboard for national attention. Fortunately for filmmakers, most Sundance films are released to the viewing public. However, the post-festival experience can be a lengthy path to eventual release. Festival offerings can take a long time to be released to the viewing public; on average 8 months with recent Sundance Festival films. Also, as seen with “The Hurt Locker”, even a highly acclaimed film can take a surprisingly long time to be made broadly available, lending rise to significant economic loss for the filmmaker as piracy takes over from unmet demand. Big distributors typically pluck off the low hanging fruit, the films that will provide a quick return on investment – for example, those with big name talent and timely content. Left in the wake are some great films that are ignored and left to fend for themselves.
Filmmakers can spend a lot of effort to gain the attention of distributors. The average Sundance Festival film will have screened at 7 additional film festivals before being released. The longer a film takes to gain release, the more festival screenings filmmakers’ attempt, averaging an additional 16 festivals with films that take longer than a year to be released. Unfortunately, these increasing attempts are happening at the same time returns are diminishing – after 9 months, public releases are tailing off. Filmmakers should therefore decide how long they want to be on the film festival circuit as it can be a lengthy and expensive journey. Every filmmaker dreams of a blockbuster and a theatrical run. However, most films never make it that far. Filmmakers would be better served by more quickly embracing online or VOD options while festival buzz is still fresh. The best period for press and media attention and word of mouth advertising is shortly after a major festival. This momentum is lost when films languish due to contractual obligations or filmmaker hesitancy to enter into a distribution deal until the final run of festivals. A hungry audience will find a way to watch what they want, legally or not, and it is best to pounce before other fresher offerings take the limelight. Although this study did not assess the issue, the quality of a release also needs to be considered. Is a film that achieves a limited theatrical release and then mothballed better off than one that has a longer-lived online presence? These are challenging questions that need to be addressed.
The dynamics between film, maker, distributor and viewer are fascinating, and among those that we have just begun to dissect.
Izkara is a new online film streaming and distribution company that acquires only the best possible content, assuring audiences that Izkara films are worth the time and money. The Izkara catalog is built with some of the best films that have not received traditional distribution; great films that had been ignored and orphaned, lacking big name talent and left to fend for themselves. This includes many films with enthusiastic followings in minor release which have remained in relative obscurity. Additionally, Izkara provides fair and simple payment to filmmakers to support what they call “sustainable movie practices”, ensuring the next crop of great movies. Further information is available at www.izkara.com.