IFH 197: Sundance Wants to Help You Distribute Your Indie Film



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Sundance Wants to Help You Distribute Your Indie Film…Really!

Yup that’s right the Sundance Institute wants to help you distribute your film. Liz Manashil (listen to her interview here), the manager of the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship reached out to me to get the word out on the fellowship. It turns out that, believe or not, they haven’t been getting a lot of submissions. Crazy I know. My feeling is that when filmmakers see Sundance in the title they feel that their chances are thin.

Well, now is your chance IFH Tribe. SUBMIT NOW! We go over all your questions in the interview. Here’s some info on the program.

The Creative Distribution Fellowship Overview

The Fellowship – inspired by the Institute’s longstanding artist labs and entering its second year – is an immersive, rigorous program for entrepreneurial producers and directors seeking new ways to build and reach audiences with their finished work. We are now accepting applications for films preparing for a 2018 or early 2019 release who are open to a creative release – i.e. without a traditional distributor.

The Fellowship is a curated program that includes grant funds, access to premium pre-negotiated distribution deals, and connections to experienced industry mentors with the Institute’s Creative Distribution team playing a strategic advisory role. We’re currently engaged in the Fellowship’s pilot year, and supporting two films: Columbus, a fiction feature; and Unrest, a documentary. Both films have excelled with the framework provided by the Fellowship and we are thrilled with the results. Case studies will be finalized on each film in early 2018.

We are seeking films at all budget levels featuring distinctive, singular voices. We will select three or four films on a rolling basis, and we will support fellows during their initial release period (6 – 12 months). Films will be selected by a committee comprised of the Creative Distribution team along with key representatives from the Institute’s Feature Film, Documentary, and Festival programs. Our evaluation process will have two stages. We will initially review applications reviewing essay questions and a trailer or clip. After this initial review, we will invite select applicants to submit their feature in its entirety, and notify others that their project has been declined.

Selected Films Receive

  • $25,000 grant for marketing expenses with an emphasis on digital marketing.
  • A mid-five-figure minimum deal from either Amazon, Hulu or Netflix, and preferred access to other Sundance Institute brokered digital distribution opportunities through its relationship with their digital aggregator.
  • Guidance from the Creative Distribution Initiative and leading industry advisors prior to the release.
  • Referral to key marketing and distribution consultants to help execute campaigns.
  • Sundance Institute branding and promotion to support the release of the film.
  • Half-day marketing strategy session with leading industry marketing and distribution executives at Institute offices.
  • Sundance alumni designation and benefits.

What Sundance Needs

  • Fellows participating in the program will be expected to devote significant time and energy to the release of their film.
  • Fellows will be required to be fully transparent about their experience, including audience data and revenue numbers. This information will be turned into detailed case studies that will be publicly released by the Institute.
  • Fellows will be required to participate in weekly calls with Sundance Institute to discuss goals, strategy, and progress.
  • The Creative Distribution team will be available to advise fellows on major marketing and distribution decisions throughout the process.


  • The film has premiered at a 2017 US Film Festival or been accepted to a 2018 US Film Festival. The festival must be continuously operating for five years or longer.
  • Films must be completed and feature-length (minimum 70 minutes).
  • The film’s country of origin is the United States or Canada and the film team lead(s) are based in the United States or Canada.
  • The film has all of its US distribution rights free and clear to exploit. Notable exceptions may be granted in this case – for instance, films that have licensed their educational/non-theatrical rights.
  • The film has not been exploited anywhere in the world (e.g. theatrical, home video, subscription video, broadcast) other than through festival screenings.

Alex Ferrari 1:16
So as promised, I have a special episode completely dedicated to the Sundance distribution fellowship. I'm so excited about this, guys. I wish I would have even known about it before, I don't think they even had it when Meg was being distributed. Because I would have submitted to it because it's such an amazing opportunity to be part of the Sundance tribe, if you will, to be able to get through those ivory doors and, and the manager of the program. Liz Manashil is giving you that opportunity, giving everyday filmmakers the opportunity to get their film out into the world in a big way. So please welcome back Liz Manashil from Sundance. Welcome back to the show. Liz, thanks for coming back. How you doing?

Liz Manashil 2:03
I'm doing all right. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 2:04
No guest in the history of this podcast has been back to back in their releases. The reason why I wanted to bring you back is we skimmed over it. And I know a lot of people listening to the old interview the other interview, we did kind of just skimmed over the fact that you work for Sundance. And, and I purposely did that to torture the tribe. But I just wanted because I wanted to give its own spotlight to what you do at Sundance and how you guys are helping filmmakers. So please talk to me about what you do at Sundance and what you're looking for and how how you can help independent filmmakers.

Liz Manashil 2:42
Cool. Okay, well, thank you. So I'm the manager of the creative distribution fellowship at Sundance. Oh, sorry, crap, crap, Alex, I just said it wrong. Okay. I am the manager of the creative distribution initiative at Sundance. And we're like the marketing and distribution consultants for Sundance filmmakers. We do workshops around the country, and we talk with filmmakers about releasing their work. And we have a partnership, this is where it gets a little nerdy before you have a partnership with an aggregator. So we give discounted rates to Sundance alumni to get their films on like iTunes, Amazon, Google, play all that stuff, you know this very well. So traditionally, our department has been kind of inward facing where we just support alumni. But we're changing that where we're doing a lot more educational and public facing things. And the big one is we're launching this fellowship. It's called the creative distribution fellowship. There's no application fee. It's open. It's free. It's public, we have a few requirements for it. But the point is, we're trying to support filmmakers who may be interested in doing self distribution with Sundance. And we only have 30 applications submitted right now and I get the cry. I'm just like, really upset by it.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
And we were talking OFF AIR about this that like, I feel the reason why is well, one you probably haven't had, you didn't get the word out enough yet. But to when you do, whoever does hear it, you're like, Oh, it's Sundance, why should I submit there's going to be 1000s and 1000s of people going after this? Why should I even take the time out? And this is a perfect example for everyone listening. You never know.

Liz Manashil 4:27
If there's 30 guys, there's there's 30. I manage the fellowship, I can see who submits, I can see who's has applications in progress. I know who's not turning in their applications and who are

Alex Ferrari 4:40
Now what is exactly the fellow so what would you be providing to filmmakers who get this fellowship?

Liz Manashil 4:45
It's really cool and I get really, you know, long winded and I'm going to try not to do that because, okay, so basically, we this is our second year, but our first year was inaugural year. It was very, like private So we picked two films that were Sundance supported films. And we gave them a lot of money and support. And those films were Columbus and unrest. So unrest is a documentary Columbus is a fiction feature. They're doing amazing. Columbus is nearing a million at the box office. unrest is in the top 10 of the iTunes charts right now for a documentary. So what we did is we essentially gave them grant money. These were films that decided not to do an all rights distribution deal. We give them grant money. We have an already teed up, made a five figure subscription VOD deal. And that's minimum, it could grow from there. But that's just sort of lower.

Alex Ferrari 5:45
So say that, say that again. You have a five, five, what did you say? A minimum,

Liz Manashil 5:51
A minimum, that made a five figure subscription VOD deal.

Alex Ferrari 5:55
So that means automatically because it's coming through you guys, you're automatically getting a mid figure deal with either Netflix or Hulu or Hulu or

Liz Manashil 6:05
Amazon Prime? Yeah, one of the top three. And they're part of the fellowship. So they have all they've automatically said, the films that we chose, you know, the four films that we choose, they're they're in to make an offer a blind offer.

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Pure? Because they're using it. Yeah, cuz they're using you as the taste that taste maker. And they're like, if it's coming through you guys, we're gonna believe you.

Liz Manashil 6:28
Yes, yeah, it's me again, like I get. I know, this is my job. But like, I this is really cool. So I like to chalk it up. We have discounted rates for, you know, that aggregator I was talking about, so you would get access to Sundance rates to get your film on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, you get Sundance brandy, and you're part of the Sundance family. And then we're pairing you up with mentors, and help, you know, help you strategize things. And then there's the grant money, which is $25,000 per film. And did I mentioned Sundance takes nothing from you know, money, we don't take a distribution fee. But what we do require is we require filmmakers to be transparent with us, we say, Tell us about your budget. Tell us about your net revenue report, US report the grosses report the nuts, and we're gonna take all the information we learned, we're going to package it into a case study, and we're gonna publish it for everyone to see and learn from your experience. It's, it's all an educational initiative. Wow. It's really flippin cool.

Alex Ferrari 7:41
And there's 30. And there's, there's only 30 applicants. And there's four slots, there's four slots,

Liz Manashil 7:47
There's four slots, it's probably gonna end up being two fiction features into nonfiction features. But you know, that's not written in stone. And the only thing we require, it needs to be a recently completed feature with either recent or upcoming festival premiere. So we're saying 2017 or 2018 festival premiere, the festival needs to be it, you know, one that's been around for five years, but we're not saying you have to be at Cannes or Toronto or TIFF.

Alex Ferrari 8:18
There's a lot. There's a lot of festivals. I've been around for five years

Liz Manashil 8:22
And then, you know, we asked for a US or Canada, Canada based crew just so we can like talk to you once a week and help you. And it's just like for time zones. And so we I think originally we were really worried that we would get an influx of applications and we're like, let's just keep this North America.

Alex Ferrari 8:41
Because that's how many how many submissions are there to the festival itself every year?

Liz Manashil 8:46
Yeah, like 1000 30,000. There's some insane amount. So we thought we were treading in that territory. But I'm like the one woman marketer for the fellowship. Like we have an amazing marketing department at Sundance, who has definitely tried to spread the word. But beyond that, it's just me writing emails to people.

Alex Ferrari 9:04
I just think I just think people don't believe you. I think that's honestly, I honestly think because if you've got the the marketing might have Sundance and and obviously the credibility of Sundance behind you, you're giving money away, you're giving distribution away. Right. And and yet people just like now that this is a scam. This is this is absolutely no way this is true.

Liz Manashil 9:24
You're right. I'm really trying to figure it out. I don't understand. It's very bizarre to me, because I think I think the real uphill battle for us, is explaining distribution within the context of what we're offering. So like, I think a lot of filmmakers don't really understand what what they could be getting with a distributor and what they most likely will be getting with a distributor. I don't know if that makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Yeah. So it's like with us, a lot of the filmmakers we talked to who have already made one film, they look at our deal and they're like, Oh, that's a that's a really awesome deal. That's pretty amazing. But the filmmakers who have not experienced distribution yet, they don't really know that this is just like,

Alex Ferrari 10:09
This is like the most amazing thing ever. That's the thing. And that's it. For everyone listening, I want I want to be very clear about this, because I've gone through this process now with my film, the deal that, that Sundance is offering is pretty remarkable and pretty amazing, if you can get involved with that, even just to be in the Sundance family is, is you've gone past the pearly gates. At that point, a lot of people who have their movie and they haven't gone out to the distributors yet or haven't gotten gone through this process yet. Until like, Oh, it's only like mid five figures. I'm like, dude, like, dude, if you get minifies license fee, yeah, are you kidding me? Like, unless you have a million dollar movie, that's a different conversation. But you're talking about 100,000 200,000 or below, you know, low budget, micro budget films, this is insane. Like, this is an insane deal.

Liz Manashil 11:03
And there's different parts to it. So like, I'm a micro budget feature filmmaker, as you know. So I'm really trying to get the word out to my people, because I know that we're hustlers. And I know that we could really do a lot with $25,000.

Alex Ferrari 11:21
But like, make another movie? No. Don't tell us that. No, that's for the marketing.

Liz Manashil 11:29
Encouraging people to do with filmmakers to do is take the $25,000. And just make that your digital marketing budget. Pick this, it's like we're all about I think what we're really we're interested in is like what a 24 is doing right now, or what these major distributors are doing, where they're testing trailers and testing ad spots, they're growing audiences, they're targeting and hyper targeting who the audience is for each film. And then they're going all at that specific audience with those marketing opportunities. So that you can make the most amount of money and maximize your return. Those are a lot of like really annoying distribution marketing terms. But basically, we're just saying, We want to help people grow their audience and make the most amount of money possible.

Alex Ferrari 12:15
And that's such a thing, because now with, with the technology that we have with Facebook and Google, you can target ads to the audience that you're trying to hit, and do test marketing with 50 bucks, 100 bucks, you can test a trailer. Yeah, you can see exactly what we're talking about. Yeah, and like, and then as soon as you see something that hits, boom, just pump, pump the gasoline on the fire and then go, and that's but a lot of times filmmakers just don't have that money to go and 25 grand is a lot of money for digital art, digital marketing, I mean, it is in a micro in a micro budget, small niche way, it is a lot of money.

Liz Manashil 12:52
Yeah. And if you wanted to do with theatrical run, and you were $25,000 shy of doing a theatrical run, you could maybe talk with us about using that money to do that. I mean, we're fairly flexible, because the whole thing is that we want you to get your film out into the world and the way you feel is appropriate. We don't make the decisions. We just offer the opportunities, and then maybe some guidance. So ultimately, it still remains the filmmakers film. It's their strategy. We're just there for support.

Alex Ferrari 13:24
That's amazing. And once the deadline of this, this,

Liz Manashil 13:27
There's no deadline.

Alex Ferrari 13:28
Oh, you gotta be kidding.

Liz Manashil 13:31
What we're trying to I'm trying to encourage applications to really file in now because the applications open until we pick for films. Oh, and it's a dance. So like, they're going to be films who are applying to Sundance are applying to try back are south by and they may be interested in our fellowship, but they may be like, well, I want to see if a 24 wants me or whatever it is just gonna like always reference a 24.

Alex Ferrari 13:58
Because, again, they're the cheerleader that the job of the high school everybody wants to view. It's

Liz Manashil 14:05
Like, I guess our theories or our practice is you can you can apply to us and then just say we're holding now, as well, for other opportunities. You don't have to sit you don't have to go all in and be like I'm doing self distribution or bust. But when you get too far enough in your application where I need to schedule a screening with Michelle sadder and Carrie Putnam and Tabitha Jackson and all these fancy people. That's where we want that commitment. So it's, it's always a conversation and I'm basically giving out our email address for our department, which is creative [email protected] so that I could feel some of these questions where if you feel like you may not be right for the fellowship, I can tell you I can say whether you should apply or not.

Alex Ferrari 14:53
Well, I will put that in the show notes. So is there a website that people can go to? Well, it's just the email

Liz Manashil 15:00
If you go to applicationsfive.sundance.org, that's the location. We have a Department website. But it's like not the easiest route to get there. It's sundance.org slash programs slash creative dash distribution dash initiative, which I can send to you. But I'll put,

Alex Ferrari 15:23
I'll put the link in the show notes, guys, thank you. Don't worry,

Liz Manashil 15:27
There's so many routes to get to us. Our big thing is that we know how Sundance may be perceived sometimes. At least our department, we want to, we want to open those gates a little bit. We want people we want to collaborate with filmmakers outside of the Sundance bubble. We want to be a service to filmmakers, we want to help educate other filmmakers. And it's hard to do that when when the walls and the doors are locked shut, right. So we're trying to open up communication as best as we can. And, and the first thing to that is becoming available to chat with people. So chat with us,

Alex Ferrari 16:07
Liz, thank you so much. And thank you for what you're doing for filmmakers. And guys, I will put all of this information in the show notes. So if I if it was me, and I at that point in time with Meg, I would have so submitted would have so submitted back, you know, before our premiere, and all that stuff, but if I would have known about it, but is now my job, I'm taking the I'm taking the mantle, and I'm going to the torch and I will market this from the top of the the mountain to all filmmakers, as many as that will listen to me. So I will do my part, I will do my part Liz. Thank you so much again, for everything you're doing for filmmakers. I really appreciate it.

Liz Manashil 16:47
Yeah, thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 16:50
I hope somebody in the tribe submit right now and get that fellowship. If you guys do have anybody in the tribe, submits their application and get the fellowship at Sundance, you have an obligation to call me and let me know. And I want you to tell me all about it and share it with the rest of the tribe. I hope one of us gets it, it would be amazing, an amazing experience for anybody, any filmmaker, but more so for the tribe, anybody in the tribe, I really would just make me feel so, so happy. So go to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/197, to get all the links and all the information about the fellowship and how you can submit. And I really want to thank Liz so so much for being such a champion for independent filmmakers, and helping artists to get their work out into the world. So thank you, Liz, from the bottom of my indie film heart, I truly, truly appreciate it. So you heard, go to indie film hustle.com for slash one night seven, and apply if you've got a movie, do it. And speaking of Sundance, I will be at Sundance this year. Again, I'm going to be talking over at slam dance again this year for Blackmagic Design, talking about my my adventures with the DaVinci Resolve with my Blackmagic Ursa cameras and how I used it to shoot my Legendary Pictures, digital series, the space program, as we'll talk about a little bit of mag, also talking a little bit about dimension 404 and how I worked with that. So I'll be at slam dance. I'll give you more information about that. Once it's all settled in. And but I will be at Sundance, I'm going to be doing a ton of stuff at Sundance this year, it's going to be epic, epic. So I cannot wait to give you guys all the lowdown on all the cool stuff. We're going to be shooting, content events, all sorts of cool stuff. So if you guys are going to Sundance, please reach out to me, I'm going to be there probably the first part, the first half of Sundance generally when I go, I don't go to the second half because I can't do it. It's just too much. But I do have the first half. And please reach out to me. I'd love to catch a coffee with you guys. You know party with you guys do whatever, Jane, I'd love to meet up with a bunch of the tribe at Sundance, that would be absolutely epic. So please reach out to me guys. You can always email me at [email protected]. And also don't forget, I'm still looking for more questions for the Ask Alex show. So please email me those questions, so I can answer them live in the show and just help some more filmmakers and get some more great content out there to you guys. So as always keep that also going keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.



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