The Creative Distribution Fellowship: How Sundance Institute Is Working to Build Moviemakers From the Ground Up

Here’s something I’ve noticed in our world of storytelling: There are tons of fellowships out there.

There are fellowships for screenwriting. There are fellowships for development, production and post. Fellowships for poets and painters. Fellowships where they take you to a totally-not-creepy cabin in the woods and isolate you from your troubles and worries to jumpstart the creative mojo. Fellowships for everything under the sun.

But what about a fellowship for the processes in independent storytelling that very few understand: marketing and distribution?

I’ve got a fellowship I’ve been itching to tell you about: It’s called the Creative Distribution Fellowship.

There is a small but mighty group of people in the fields of marketing and distribution who are shouting from cliffs and rooftops. They’re yelling out things like “Grow your audience,” “Learn data analytics” and “Take control of your distribution,” and not enough independent storytellers are listening… or, they are listening, but are too exhausted to act. Making art is a long and arduous process. Sometimes we’re spent by the time we lock the cut. But, these screamers are doing it for a purpose :  to make sure artists are not cut out of the distribution and marketing conversation.

Where am I going with this? Well, I’ve become one of these crazy rooftop yellers ever since I came to Sundance Institute to work in our newly minted Creative Distribution Initiative along with teammates Jess and Chris. I’ll try to spare you too many acronyms and complicated program names, but Sundance is really pushing to support producers right now. The CDI is part of this new grouping of Sundance Institute departments called the Creative Producing Program.

CDI’s whole deal is to provide distribution and audience-building support for Sundance Filmmakers. A big new goal for us is to provide as many free and available resources to the public that we can ,  and to provide intimate distribution and marketing support for a limited number of films every year through our new fellowship.

We technically launched our fellowship in January 2017. Maybe you haven’t heard of it? That’s because we’ve been operating in semi-secret these past few months.

We started our pilot year with an invitation-only application process around the time of last year’s Sundance Film Festival. We selected these two films:

We’ve been working closely with the filmmaking teams on how best to release their films. We’ve been there from their teaming up with social media partners and publicists to planting the seeds for their theatrical and digital releases.

Crowds lined outside Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre for the Columbus theatrical premiere. Photograph by Christina Larson

Huge news — we’re actually already at the theatrical release of the first of these two films. Columbus has premiered at the IFC Center in NYC as well as the Nuart in Los Angeles on August 4, 2017.

As the films release theatrically and digitally, (and plan their semi-theatrical events) we’re going to be with them the whole way — reporting and supporting.

As a filmmaker, I see what we’re doing to support these films and I am psyched. I think this is a service filmmakers everywhere could use. Equally huge news: This year we’re making the application publicly available.

More on our Creative Distribution Fellowship…

It’s Unique

It’s rare that filmmakers are encouraged and financially supported to get involved in the marketing and distribution of their films. There are consultants out there, but what about filmmakers doing the work themselves? We’re here to provide resources to support filmmakers getting involved and taking ownership of the release of their work. We also want to share all we’ve learned far and wide.

Teach a Filmmaker to Fish…

Yes, we’re giving out cash grants ,  but ultimately it’s about educating the field. All participants in this year’s fellowship and all years to come will be encouraged to be transparent throughout the process and with the actual data they gather as they release their film (revenue, box office numbers, social media growth). The information we all learn will be turned into case studies that will be shared from Sundance with the world.

Sustainability

We’re working with filmmakers to more efficiently spend marketing dollars and to retain more control of their film so more money comes back to them. We’re hoping this will contribute to a world where filmmakers are being compensated fairly for their work. After we succeed with Columbus and Unrest, we may be working on your film next. More details about the fellowship will be released soon when the application is live. To follow along ,  sign up hereMM

The application for Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Fellowship, free and open to the public, is now live. For more info, visit here. To apply, visit here.

Unrest premieres in U.S. theaters September 22, 2017 and U.K. theaters October 20, 2017 (find screening information here). Visit here for more details on Unrest and here for Columbus. On Facebook, like Unrest here and Columbus here. On Twitter, follow Unrest here and Columbus here. Featured image photograph courtesy of Sundance Institute and the Unrest team. 

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