Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it.
In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy for navigating the fierce headwinds of the indie film space and shares some tips for surviving and thriving at Sundance.
He speaks from experience. The indie studio has been a major buyer in the past at Sundance, picking up the likes of “The Hero” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” at the festival, and enjoying strong box office results for their efforts. But that thin mountain air can be dangerous and plenty of companies have lost millions after buying a film that played through the roof at Sundance only to fail to connect with broader audiences.
“You can’t get caught up in the buzz and the business of it all,” said Davidson. “You have to stay true to what you think a film is going to do [at the box office].”
On paper, Davidson thinks this year’s Sundance has some potential hits. He’s interested in “Late Night,” a comedy about diversity in a TV writer’s room that pairs Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, and he’s also intrigued by “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller with Naomi Watts.
“There’s not a huge amount of “Big Sick” type films this year, but the slate of films is a little broader than last year,” said Davidson.
There’s one genre that may quickly grow too rich for his blood — documentaries. Some of the biggest successes to emerge from Sundance last year were in the non-fiction space, a group of winners that included “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “Three Identical Strangers,” and “RBG.”
Davidson believes that prices will “regulate” at this year’s festival now that companies such as Netflix are making more of their own movies in-house and other players such as Amazon are moving away from the indie space. But when it comes to some of those all-night Sundance bidding wars, the “wild card,” he believes, is documentaries.
“The sales agents will be coming to town with the expectation to get much higher value for documentaries based on the potential opportunity for docs to explode again,” said Davidson.
Strictly Business is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring comedian/actor/producer Kevin Hart, CBS’ David Nevins, HBO’s Richard Plepler, 10 By 10’s Tyra Banks, AMC Networks’ Josh Sapan, FX Networks’ John Landgraf, Spotify’s Dawn Ostroff, Snap’s Nick Bell and others. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.