SUNDANCE 2011: Five Ways to Survive


By Anthony Kaufman

Now that the indie finance model has collapsed, with foreign presales and hedge funds scarce, intrepid helmers have been forced to come up with new ways of survival, everything from slashing budgets to cultivating well-heeled allies and tapping crowd-funding websites. Scrappier than in the past, this year’s incoming crop of Sundancers are emblematic of a changing landscape.

Egyptian Fest programming head Trevor Groth notes one of the obvious shifts at the Fest this year is that the high-profile Premieres section “has fewer films with distribution in place than it ever has.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Groth points to the festival’s new Next section, devoted to low- and no-budget filmmaking. “I believe the films represent the true innovation in American independent filmmaking,” he says. “They give me encouragement about where we are right now.”

From independently financed star-studded entries to micro-budget indies, then, here are the new paradigms.

Myidiotbrother 1. The Leaner, Meaner Agency Package

Back when distribs were snatching up indies at seven-figure prices, helmers could afford to cast stars and spend a small fortune on the production, though it was hard to package such a project without the aid of a tenpercentery. While the agency-supported Sundance indie (i.e. this year’s “My Idiot Brother” (below left), “Margin Call,” “Salvation Boulevard,” “The Details”) may be a continuation of the industry’s earlier model, the changing nature of Hollywood is impacting the way these films are made today — and maybe for the good, according to Rena Ronson, co-head of UTA’s Indie Film Group.

“What’s been better for us is that we’re able to access material that’s often well-developed, coming into turnaround from the studios, or writer-directors with projects that the studios don’t want to make,” she says. “And financiers are not shying away from good movies with reasonable budgets that they believe can be successful, such as ‘The Kids Are All Right,’ ‘Blue Valentine’ or ‘The Fighter.’ “

While the budgets of such pics may be scaling down — “Maybe you get it financed for $8 million rather than $20 million,” says one producer — the money is out there if the package is right.