Bootleg DVDs bedevil Sundance filmmakers

Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:45am EST
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Juno" star Michael Cera's documentary comedy "Paper Heart" will have its big unveiling at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah next month, screening as a world premiere in a key Saturday slot.

Well, the term "world premiere" might be a misnomer. A bootlegged copy of the movie has been making the rounds within the industry, allowing even prospective buyers to vet the film ahead of its Sundance showing.

"Heart" is hardly the only title to draw reports of leaked copies. The Kevin Spacey drama "Shrink," Cherien Dabis' immigration saga "Amreeka" and the Robin Williams starrer "World's Greatest Dad" are among the movies for which screeners might precede screenings.

Sundance DVDs and tapes have long been the open secret of the indie world. This year, though, there's more noise about them, with some sellers saying that bootlegs are being traded faster than tapes at a Grateful Dead concert.

A hot market can sometimes ignite the black market, as buyers, eager to gain an edge, spare no effort in landing screeners. But a chillier finished-film market like the current one also can drive interest, with distributors scoping out films to determine how to deploy their more limited resources after they land on the ground.

Sales agents say that though the interest is flattering, there are plenty of dangers to this shadow economy.

"There are films where it could virtually kill the market for a movie," said movie dealmaker John Sloss, head of Cinetic Media. "From our perspective, this is war, and you're at your peril if you don't treat it that way."

Sellers say that part of the problem is that films aren't completed, leading buyers to make potentially erroneous decisions.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Michael Cera poses at the premiere of "Juno" at the Village theatre in Westwood, California, December 3, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>