Survivors look to forge relationships

Visit the Sundance Online Resource Center.

At last year’s Sundance, journalists were predicting that the dot-com invasion would change the indie landscape forever. Dot-coms ran rampant all over Park City, commandeering screening buses, getting into bidding wars for five-minute shorts, making it harder to get dinner reservations, and generally causing an uproar in the tight-knit and tight-fisted specialty film community.

This year promises to be calmer, saner and, possibly, quite productive, with the help of festival organizers. Putting a stamp of approval on online shorts, the Sundance Online Film Festival premieres this year with 17 shorts selected specifically to play on the Internet. This spirit of cooperation will be augmented by the participating new media orgs, who will emphasize hands-on demonstrations and filmmaker support.

Those who survived the dot-com shakeout, such as AtomFilms, will be looking to forge new filmmaker relationships and acquire shorts. The difference this year is that it’s not just about being online. “We’re a multirevenue platform, where the Web is just one component,” explains AtomFilms VP acquisition and development Jannat Gargi, who will be at the fest supporting filmmakers already featured on Atomfilms.com.

One of the first sites to broaden its reach into syndication, AtomFilms also distributes shorts to TV and airlines worldwide as well as on DVD. “We don’t just have the Web in mind when we’re selecting films, if it has good storytelling, it can work in different media,” she adds.

“The Internet is a great channel, but it’s one of many,” echoes Hypnotic CEO Jeremy Bernard. “We consider ourselves channel-agnostic.”

Bernard will be on hand to announce the winner of Hypnotic’s Million Dollar Film Festival. The contest is a joint venture between Universal Pictures and Hypnotic (formerly Reelshort.com), which will actually provide a production budget of $1 million to the winning short’s director, who also must provide a treatment or screenplay for a feature. Hypnotic will screen the five semi-finalists at Sundance, which will then be voted on by a jury of filmmakers.

All-purpose studio

Hypnotic calls itself a new media film studio, involved in both acquisition and production. Not content to rest on his laurels, Bernard aims to get a head start on the proceedings. “We’re already aggressively in discussion with all the short filmmakers who are going to have their films at Sundance,” he says. “We’re one of the ones left standing, which helps with our credibility. It will definitely be a lot less hectic.”

Not to be outdone, AtomFilms’ Gargi says his company’s staying power translates into less hoopla and more focus. “We’ll have a presence this year, which will be different from last year,” she explains.

The site, which recently merged with Shockwave, is presenting several shorts in the festival’s competition and in the Sundance Online Film Festival. “We want to not only represent (filmmakers’) current work, but build a relationship with them,” Gargi says, “We look at it as a long term partnership.”

Atomfilms will repeat its All Access Lounge next to Harry O’s on Main Street, where it will host three nights of screenings and a cocktail hour for filmmakers, press and fest attendees.

Meanwhile, ShowbizData — a site offering numerous services and resources for film business pros — will host its own Interactive Lounge at Harry O’s. The venue will offer everything from herbal elixirs to Microsoft convergence demonstrations and Yahoo celebrity chats and auctions.

“In broad terms, it will be a climactic year for film companies and technology coming together,” says ShowbizData exec VP development Jim Steele. “But it’s not the same sort of generic outpouring of nonspecific wares. It’s much more focused than last year.”

Filmmaker panels and editing demonstrations also will be featured at the Interactive Lounge. Part of ShowbizData’s agenda will be to promote Cannesmarket.com, a virtual film market. The year-round site offers unrepresented filmmakers the same opportunity to reach international film buyers as they would get by signing with a foreign sales company.

Also debuting this year is the Sundance Online Resource Center, sponsored by Internet Studios, which offers an unprecendented amount of info on fest films and filmmakers. Streaming clips on the site are powered by Net-36, PanAmSat’s recently launched satellite-driven Internet service.

While the frenzy surrounding short film acquisitions has started to die down, allowing the strong to rise to the top, the movement is not without its skeptics in traditional film circles. Artisan chairman Amir Malin, for one, feels Internet opportunities are still unproven. “Content sites are having a hard time proving that there is a real business that can be justified,” he says. “Our feeling is that the Internet as a distribution vehicle is a long way from being reality.”

Instead, Artisan’s Digital Media arm is concentrating on streaming media and business-to-business functions, rather than trying to create content or discover new talent via the Net.

If this is the year where content is no longer king — at least from an Internet business point of view — there will still be those looking for diamonds in the rough.

Online offerings

Each day, starting Thursday, three shorts will be spotlighted at www.sundancefilmfestival.com.

Lending the site marquee value, established names like Nina Menkes and John Rechy will join such Internet favorites as “Fishbar: The Violence of the Lambs” and “Great Big Cartoony Club Show.” The Sundance Online Festival program — not to be confused with the main festival shorts program — will outlast the larger event’s 10-day lifespan, running approximately a month.

Emphasizing the program’s specialized nature, Sundance programmer Shari Friloh, who worked with Trevor Groth to select the shorts, is mindful of the medium: “We’re thinking about the programming as films that are most suitably watched on the web — they’re short; they make use of the small screen.”

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