A Sundance campaign is a license to lose money.
Lots of it!
- Let’s assume that the average production cost of all 1,774 Sundance submissions for 2020 is $500,000.
- Actual budgets range from around $200,000 up to $5+ million.
- $500K is a conservative average for a feature, according to D-Word‘s Doug Block.
- 1,725 documentaries were “Not Accepted” in 2020.
- The production expense of all the “Not Accepted” films would be $863 million!
- And that doesn’t include marketing, press and all the other outreach costs.
Source: Sundance Film Festival,
Takeaways: Zeitgeist versus Economics
- The documentary feature gains ever more popularity and prestige as a medium of creative expression and investigation.
- It attracts funding from broadcasters, cablers and platforms, governments, foundations, corporate sponsors, the hyper- hyper-wealthy, U.S. presidents, A-list celebs, crowd-funders, BF’s, the mortgage on grandma’s beach cottage, personal overdrafts, and more.
- Few productions ever recoup these ‘investments’ from later commercial distribution efforts.
- However many projects do succeed by non-commercial measures: for example by exposing injustice, inspiring social change, or advancing the careers of their filmmakers.
- And BTW, some of the terrific films that are not accepted at Sundance later find recognition and acclaim at other festivals and markets.
Channels: A Different Risk
- Realscreen Summit opens soon in New Orleans, reminding me that producing for channels involves a different type of funding risk than for feature docs.
- Producers create sizzle reels to pitch their projects to network buyers.
- These trailers typically cost in the tens of thousands, a fraction of the cost of a completed feature documentary.
- The cost of each pitch is rising as channels shift development costs to the producers.
- Discovery is also moving the cost of financing production to producers, paying them for completed films instead of for phased deliveries, e.g. for the rough cut.
- Listen to my podcast on the “Pitching Arms Race” with veteran factual producer Michael Hoff.
More on the Sundance Economy
- Sundance Selections 2020: What are the Odds for Documentaries?
- Sundance 2019: Women Filmmakers Crash Through the Celluloid Ceiling, by Peter Broderick
- Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and comments