For indie filmmakers theatrical release is an avenue to digital success

For indie filmmakers theatrical release is an avenue to digital success
Writer and director brothers Jay (L) and Mark Duplass participate in a panel for the HBO television show ''Togetherness'' during the TCA presentations in Pasadena, California, January 8, 2015.

PARK CITY, Utah - Amid the snow-covered streets of Park City, Utah, the fates of numerous films lie in the hands of film executives as they place bets on which movies screened at the annual Sundance Film Festival will be the next big box office hit.

For independent filmmakers, the big screen still holds supreme. But it can also be used to drum up a larger audience on digital platforms.

The trend comes as digital companies such as Amazon.com Inc and IAC/InterActiveCorp's Vimeo are looking to acquire movies as they compete, or partner with, film studios for a bigger audience share.

Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, known for movies such as "Jeff Who Lives At Home," sold three films at Sundance this year, including "Tangerine" and "The Overnight," and all are heading to the big screen.

The cost of a theatrical release, including distribution and spending on press and advertising, raises the threshold for achieving success. By comparison, a digital release is less costly for filmmakers and could offer a bigger payout if a movie becomes a hit.

While "Tangerine" doesn't have big stars, it can grow through strong reviews, Mark Duplass said. "The Overnight," starring Adam Scott and Jason, could have gone straight to digital release, but Duplass said it was worth "taking a risk" on the cost of a theatrical release.

"When I see a movie that can really break out at the movie theatres, I feel like I do want to give it a chance," he said.

But a digital release can work alongside a theatrical release and capitalise on the box office.

The Duplass brothers last week signed a deal to produce four films exclusively for Netflix Inc's subscription-based digital streaming service, but with an option to show them at movie theatres beforehand.

Similarly, talent agency William Morris Endeavor is opting for theatrical releases in most cases, while also finding ways to pair with the digital world.

Out of the 16 films that William Morris Endeavor has for sale at Sundance this year, only two so far have been sold in a multi-platform deal, in which a film is released simultaneously in theatres and on digital and VOD platforms.

The rest are all theatrical releases, though Graham Taylor, head of film financing and distribution at William Morris Endeavor, is an advocate of narrowing the window between a film's theatrical release and subsequent digital, VOD and home entertainment release.

"There is a cost efficiency" to using the money spent ahead of a movie's debut at theatres to tie into digital release soon after, he said.

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