Sundance 2014: Movies, Marketers Work To Produce Online Buzz

Sundance Film Festival Park City Utah The annual 10-day Sundance Film Festival has officially kicked off in Park City, Utah, which means hordes of film industry execs, Hollywood talent and documentary makers from around the world have taken over the ski town’s Main St.

While the festival continues to stick to its core values and vision set forth by founder Robert Redford in 1985, there’s no denying that the marketing industry and digital platforms are playing a key role in the festival these days.

For films trying to be picked up for widespread distribution, the festival itself and corresponding online buzz goes a long way to becoming the next Little Miss Sunshine or other Oscar-worthy and critically acclaimed films.

Here’s a preview of what’s on tap for this year’s event, and an early look at how some Silicon Valley stars are trying to steal the spotlight in social media. Per the norm, the entertainment industry’s love affair Twitter means much of the conversation is taking place under the main hashtag, #Sundance and secondary #Sundance2014.

As the festival happens, we’ll be tracking other hashtags and promoted tweets that pop up from brands looking to leverage the buzz of the crowd and films being screened at the festival.

SundanceFilmFestival  sundancefest  on Twitter

YouTube @ Sundance

Not surprisingly, YouTube is back as a leading sponsor of the festival for the fourth year,  hosting the official YouTube Sundance Film Festival Channel which will air the Live @ Sundance daily show at 11am Mountain Time from its festival headquarters on Park City’s Main Street.

The Live@Sundance show is a joint partnership with the well-known creative agency, Weber Shandwick, and as pointed out in a NY Times article about the partnership, signals a major shift in content creation and content marketing strategy from Madison Avenue agencies:

The goal is to respond to the increasing ability among consumers to avoid traditional advertising by becoming “channel agnostic” – that is, objective about the various kinds of communication, whether paid, owned, earned or shared, to reflect how media is now being consumed.

The temporary YouTube on Main Street  setup will be open  January 16-25, 2014 at various times, the place for the creative community to convene for must-see panels, happy hours, film receptions, screenings, talks and DJ sets. Free Wi-Fi and drinks are available to badge holders when programs are not in session.

More events happening at YouTube on Main:

  • Google Glass demonstrations Jan17-18th, 10-3pm
  • Official YouTube Sundance Parties (Invite Only)
  • To Be Takei, Official Film Reception – a documentary about the life of Star Trek actor and social media icon George Takei.
  • Official Google+ Hangouts happening live from YouTube on Main St., featuring Takei, Outkast’s Big Boi, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.

Several discussion panels that are taking place are aimed at helping filmmakers understand the value of

  • How to Break Through the Digital Clutter and Your Movie Pop
  • How and Why to Use YouTube Panel
  • Fundraising and YouTube

Finally, YouTube is showcasing the official short film program, and has created the “Audience Award” o a short film in competition that garners the most amount of views onYouTube between January 16-24, 2014.


Crowdfunded Films & Crowdsourced Content

One of the more interesting stories coming out of the Sundance Film Festival is the rise of online fundraising sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, who are now playing a big role in how films and other creative content works get financed.

Two of this year’s highly anticipated Sundance entries leveraged the IndieGoGo platform. Life Itself, a documentary based on film critic Roger Ebert’s memoir,  marks the first time a film has premiered at Sundance while being simultaneously streamed, via VHX, to fans who pre-purchased the perk online.

Dear White People, which got its start going viral as a satirical trailer on YouTube, and support of its talent like Outkast’s Big Boi is helping the feature film generate buzz on several social media channels.  YouTube is hosting a related discussion panel during Sundance with star Freddie Wong, creator and star of the Video Game High School series, Marc Hofstatter from Indiegogo and Justin Simien, Director of Dear White People to learn how they have used their YouTube audience to fund projects.  

On the Kickstarter* front, 20 feature films, documentaries, shorts and other crowdfunding projects are launching at this year’s Sundance festival (accounting for 10% of the programming on the 2014 schedule) all of which are chronicled in the Kickstarter Sundance Guide

Of the twenty, one of the most commercially anticipated is Wish I Was Herewritten and directed by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) raised over $3.1 million with over 46,000 backers. Just prior to the official world premiere at Sundance, here’s how the film’s followers were stacking up on Facebook and Twitter, but how many tweets #WishIWasHere receives after the Sundance screenings may be an indicator of how likely this film is to be picked up by a major distributor.

Wish I Was Here Facebook

Wish I Was Here - Kickstarter Funded Film @Sundancefest 2014 Follow:

On the more serious side, the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, the story of internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz (remembered by Danny Sullivan as one of the first Google bloggers after his passing in 2013) will also be premiering at the festival – by contrast, raised $93K+ with just over 1,500 backers.


Collaboration & Crowdsourcing in the New Frontier of Film, TV & Digital Media

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt may be better known for his role as an actor, but his passion project,, an open source/open collaborative production company for writers, filmmakers, musicians and artists was launched in 2010 at Sundance’s “New Frontier” program.

In 2014,# HitRecordonTV will premiere during Sundance and Gordon-Leavitt will participate in the #LessonsLearned panel on January 17th featuring moderator Jason Hirschhorn (CEO, Media REDEF), journalist Evan Ratliff (CEO, Atavist), Chet Kanojia(CEO, Aereo), Bob Moczydlowsky (head of music, Twitter), to discuss the challenges in today’s media landscape and look at how disruptors are changing the game in  music, publishing, and media distribution.

HitRECordonTV Joseph Gordon-Leavitt Sundance 2014

Photo Courtesy of 2014 Sundance Film Festival


Consumer Facing Brands Try To Make A Splash

While these types of festival events thrive on red-carpet premieres and private cast parties, hosted marketing events, special services, hospitality setups, swag bags and gifting suites are pretty standard. This year, consumer brands are seemingly doing a better job not just capitalizing on the #Sundance buzz, but trying to build out some brand recognition in concert.

For the second year in a row, the car service Uber returns to Utah for the 10-day period (as it does not normally operate in SLC or Park City) which helps ease the logistics of getting around during the festival. This year, Uber has partnered with Acura Insider to provide rides around the mountain town in the new MDX models.

Meanwhile, competing driver service Lyft has appeared as the new ride in town, bringing in its Top 10 most liked drivers, aka #LyftCreatives:


Also at the leadership sponsor level, new to the Sundance Film Festival this year is the creative lodging service AirBnb – who has setup a special “AirBnb Haus” at 628 Park Ave, just off Main St. featuring a cozy lodge atmosphere with board games, live entertainment, hot toddys and fireside chats with Sundance staples like actor Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold). 

airbnb haus


Food and beverage is a core component to the social activities at Sundance, with pop-up restaurants like #ChefDance and free food stops provided by sponsors such as Udi’s Gluten Free and MorningStar Farms.

Liquor brands host VIP events such as the Grey Goose lounge and Stella Artois is using Sundance as the coming out party for its newest foray, hard cidre with an official launch party, featuring an appearance by Elizabeth Banks and a surprise musical guest.

Noting the brand’s preferred spelling of the product, we’ll see if that hashtag sticks within tweets. Also of interest, is that Stella Artois asks for age verification (21+) for those following them on Twitter.

stellaartois cidre


Stay tuned for more features to see what’s #trending throughout Sundance and follow me on Twitter @elisabethos and Google+ for updates #throughglass.


The first version of this story was published without details about the highlighted Kickstarter projects promised in crowdfunded section, updated to include Wish I Was Here, The Internet’s Own Boy on January 18, 2014.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Sundance Film Festival


About The Author: is Director of Audience Development for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She is responsible for increasing readership through owned, earned and paid media channels. In addition, she assists in programming sessions at Third Door Media's Search Marketing Expo conference series and manages speaking engagements for editorial staff. Follow her on Twitter @elisabethos.

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