BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Sundance Film Festival closes this weekend in Park City, Utah. Each year the filmmakers come to see movies and to sell movies. And in the recent past they've been placing their faith in the Internet as the ultimate publicist and multiplex where their films could be financed and screened at the click of a mouse. But in film, as in everywhere else, the dot.com economy is faltering and taking its own pulse. David D'Arcy took a firsthand look in Park City.
DAVID D'ARCY: If there's been a place to measure the Internet's influence in independent film, it's Sundance. Last year the Festival was a carnival of dot.com brand promotion. Now the clutter's gone, as are most of those brands, and the expectation that the Web and film could make anybody a fortune. Sundance Festival Director Geoff Gilmore says he never thought the computer screen was the right fit for feature films, either aesthetically or economically.
GEOFF GILMORE: I've seem really relatively limited ventures put out there. I do think that what it means is that the hype is gone and that the hype is gone goes back to the idea that okay, let's look at what dot.coms as, as either distribution networks or in terms of the Internet or in terms of what will really happen once broad band and fiber optics comes in as a network, then that may increase opportunities for--for distribution of work that's really going to change the way the business is.
DAVID D'ARCY: But Oliver Eberly [?] isn't giving up, even though his firm Show Biz Data has yet to make a profit. He's back at Sundance with a trade show of web services and a web listing of films in search of distributors that he's assembled in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival market.
OLIVER EBERLY: Those films will be promoted to the actual buyers in the marketplace. Down the road, obviously, we want to, you know, give them the opportunity to have private screening rooms and things like that where they can actually screen the entire film ultimately on line. But I think ultimately the Internet--you know, in the next two, three years will develop into the main, main delivery mechanism for entertainment content. You know, it's just--you know, my complete belief. [LAUGHS]
DAVID D'ARCY: The Internet is already an everyday tool promoting films and filmmakers, and even a venue for showing certain kinds of films. The films that tend to work best on the Net are short, given the public's attention span, and web image quality, and animation seems to match up well with the medium. As one cartoonist put it, we don't have to explain why our characters' heads look weird. Few filmmakers make the cut at Sundance. Even fewer make it on to commercial screens, so getting on the Web gives filmmakers what they crave, a place for their work to be seen. Morgan Lolly's 11-minute coming of age story, Little Man on Campus, premiered this week on the site Atomfilms.com. [CLIP]
MORGAN LOLLY: At this juncture it's about exposure for me and--f--and I'd rather have as many people possible seeing this story. And, and, you know, whatever that format is I'm happy that it's being shown and being seen. So I think it's great. I'm excited about it. I'm happy to have done it and I'm happy to, you know, to have as many people log on as possible.
DAVID D'ARCY: Web firms are not pouring money into the films they show, although studios and cable outlets like the Sundance Channel are buying them from companies like Atom Films, one of the surviving distributors specializing in shorts. Atom Films has not made money yet. And filmmakers are paid little or nothing to put their films on the Atom Films site, says Seth Levinson (Levenstein?), Vice President of Sales.
SETH LEVENSTEIN: No one is getting really rich right now, but if you can license a film to Atom and generate enough revenue that after a year or in some cases less you've more than paid for the cost to produce the film, that seems to me it's a kind of a good deal all around.
DAVID D'ARCY: Even when filmmakers do get paid up front by a web site, they tend to fall victim to show biz realities, says Frank Chindamo, who's shown dozens of his short films on the Net.
FRANK CHINDAMO: It's been an all or nothing sort of a thing. The people who don't have a name, if they're lucky they're being offered 500 dollars, if they're lucky. And that's after going through a selection process where your film is one out of a thousand films.
DAVID D'ARCY: Chindamo has found a way around that. He's making short sit com films called Lovebytestheshow.com about Internet dating. [CLIP] Chindamo links the films to a million-member dating service, Peopletopeople.com. His funding is based on the number of people his sit coms bring to the site.
FRANK CHINDAMO: Hollywood is just a bunch of, you know, scared fearful executives who don't always have an inner sense of how to pick from Project A and Project B and the other 500 projects that came across their desk that day. But if Project A has an attachment of like my thing does of 1.2 million people already on line, already able to watch this show, well that's a validification.
DAVID D'ARCY: Another approach developed by Angus Bievers of Emovielog.com takes product placement to what he calls its logical conclusion. Everything on the screen in his films, from the clothes to the cars, is for sale. The movie becomes a catalog to generate instant cash.
ANGUS BIEVERS: Everything, garden products, the magnum--I have a gun in it, that's for sale, antiques, one-of-a-kind antiques. And hopefully I'll go get a deal Museum Store to do knockoffs. And if--and real estate. There's j--it was shot mostly in the Caribbean.
DAVID D'ARCY: This scheme isn't so far from what large corporations are doing on the Net. Just this week Atom Films launched a collaboration with Ford Motor Company which funded three short films, one by Morgan Lolly, each of which showed the new Ford Focus, which Ford hopes to market to hip young buyers who surf the Net and watch independent movies. Product placement is a long way from Sundance's genesis as an anti-corporate event, but all filmmakers need money. And they need a dose of reality, says Noah Cowan of the small New York distribution film Cowboy Booking. The Internet isn't the panacea that many thought it would be, but it can help a film that's already in the marketplace recoup some of its costs.
NOAH COWAN: Where the Internet is going to make a big difference in going to be important is as a--a new ancillary market. Probably something like a video on demand, pay per view situation that the Internet is--is particularly useful for.
DAVID D'ARCY: Sundance considered more than 1700 feature films this year, and at least twice that many shorts. Most of those that weren't selected for this year's program are elbowing each other for space on the Internet. It may be the screen of last resort, but for most filmmakers it's the only screen they've got. For On the Media, I'm David D'Arcy.