Memo to Sundance filmmakers: Be distinct

Tue Jan 26, 2010 8:01pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Only a few years ago, a first-time filmmaker might bring a good movie or fresh idea to the Sundance Film Festival and, simply because they made it into the event, walk away with a paycheck. But not anymore.

Sundance, the top U.S. gathering for independent film, headed into the second-half of its 10-day run on Tuesday with only a few titles, including thriller "Buried," having been acquired by distributors.

Gone are the days when headlines trumpeted record-breaking sales ("Little Miss Sunshine" in 2006), and distributors bought movies here just to be a player in the market for low-budget dramas and comedies made outside Hollywood's studios.

Those heady times of the late 1990s and 2000s have been replaced by a greater focus on what makes a film unique and more business savvy about production costs and marketing.

"There's just a greater sense of having to be smart," said Jason Constantine, president of acquisitions and co-productions of independent studio Lionsgate, which acquired "Buried."

That thriller stars Ryan Reynolds as a U.S. contractor in Iraq who is buried alive. Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, it takes place entirely in a coffin and becomes a race against time for the contractor to meet a ransom demand using a cellphone.

After two years of tough times, optimism held sway over the industry coming into Sundance 2010. A glut of films had slowly worked off meaning fewer films at box offices, and several companies had closed their doors making for fewer competitors.

An overall rise in box office receipts for 2009 bolstered hopes. Movies that worked well amid the recession were lighthearted comedies, adventures and even musicals. Even Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire," an indie film of 2008, had an ultimately uplifting tale of a poor boy overcoming huge odds.   Continued...