Filmmakers eye Web, TV as alternate to theaters

Sat Jan 23, 2010 1:02pm EST
 
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By Cameron French

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Here's a plot twist worthy of any Hollywood movie. To save independent films from extinction, the time may be near for some low-budget movies to play outside theaters, instead of in them.

The idea -- alternative distribution of movies via video-on-demand on cable and satellite television systems and the Internet -- is what some "indie" players at this week's major industry event, the Sundance Film Festival, are backing.

The low-budget film arena that produced movies like Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire," has struggled through hard times as low-cost digital equipment and an influx of investors fueled a glut of films at the onset of a recession.

Backers of on-demand releases say alternative distribution presents ways for low-budget filmmakers to profit without having to compete for limited space in movie theaters.

To promote the idea, Sundance is releasing three films, including Michael Winterbottom documentary "The Shock Doctrine," on demand via a new program it calls Sundance Selects. Five more films will be on YouTube.

"The beauty of this (video-on-demand) model is that you take a lot of the voodoo economics of film distribution out of the equation," said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment, who is working with Sundance.

Traditionally, a distributor pays a producer a fee to release a film, often forking over less than the production cost and promising the filmmaker a share of profits that may never be realized if a movie fails at box offices.

Utilizing TV on-demand or Web downloads, indie movies can closely target audiences and avoid millions of dollars spent to market a film in theaters, proponents say. Some filmmakers like it because their movies get seen, and distributors hope for new customers outside traditional art houses in major cities.   Continued...