Film festival season runs from January through May, with a few outliers heading into the fall. This is the busiest and arguably most important time for the acquisitions team as the bulk of our theatrical film slate will be acquired at these events. While most of the work that goes into prepping for film festivals is the same (tracking the films, making schedules for who will see what, organizing slate calls with sales agents, trying to screen films early), each fest has it’s individual set of characteristics and is valuable to us for different reasons.
Sundance Film Festival tops off the year in January and is among the most competitive. Here, LA and NYC, Hollywood types scramble for what they hope will be the best films of the year to fill their theatrical slates. Previous years have included several Oscar contenders. The focus of Sundance is finished films. Our team watches 6 to 8 films a day with a true sense of urgency since bidding wars between distributors tend to begin minutes after the premiere of a good film. For example, Sundance set the stage for the sale of a film with a budget under one million, but the bidding war drove it to a whopping 10.5 million. The bid was closed within 24 hours.
In February, we have the Berlin Film Festival. Unlike Sundance, this does not require that the whole film team go. There’s a similar sense of urgency but our focus is on unfinished films. We set up meetings with international sales agents, watch promo footage and read a lot of scripts. If we respond, we send recaps to the rest of the team in LA and discuss next steps. Bidding can be very competitive even at this earlier stage in the filmmaking process. Unlike Sundance, where most of the films people chase are made by American filmmakers, Berlin has a bit more flare. While we focus on what the big US sales agencies are creating, the real excitement comes from seeing what the hottest international auteur filmmakers are working on i.e. Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Leos Carax and Wim Wenders.
In March, we shift our sites to SXSW. Our team will be heading there next week. In honor of ‘keeping Austin weird,’ this festival prides itself on being anti-industry. It is much more difficult to get tickets for events and there are no P&I (press and industry) screenings. SXSW premieres a lot of first-time feature filmmakers and if you look hard enough, you can find some real gems, like our upcoming New York Times critic’s pick Donald Cried! Mostly though, it is a great opportunity to pick up some direct-to-digital titles and eat some queso.
That is where we are at, for now! In April, we’ll be in NYC for the Tribeca Film Festival and finally Cannes in May. Come June, we’ll take a little break and catch up on all the titles that haven’t made it into the festivals. We’ll also take a short, but needed, vacation.