Yeppers, you read that headline right. The Sundance Film Festival has become a viable TV market, and this is very significant news, especially for indie creators:
by Ben Travers
It’s a familar story: Caleb Jaffe came to Sundance with nothing but a dream. After spending his college tuition money to make a low-budget indie, the 21-year-old filmmaker finished his project, submitted to the festival, and joined the thousands of hopefuls waiting on a phone call that could lead to the career-making experience of a lifetime.
“I didn’t answer the call because I didn’t recognize the number,” Jaffe said. “I let it go to voicemail, but then I looked at the transcription and saw the word ‘Sundance’ and ‘film’ and I sort of had a moment where I thought, ‘Oh God — maybe I got in!’”
Filmmakers converge on the 10-day festival, hoping it will make their dreams come true. However, Jaffe marks a new kind of talent: He made a pilot, not a movie, and he’s part of a 2019 TV class that saw big gains in attention, exposure, and cold, hard deals.
“That’s been incredible,” he said about the connections he’s made at the festival. “For the past four or five days, I’ve just been walking up and down Main Street meeting people. I met Boots Riley, Kamsai Washington, Terence Nance — I’ve been trying to find Jeff Goldblum, but there’s no luck. I’m really trying.”
Though Jaffe’s pilot, “It’s Not About Jimmy Keene” hasn’t been picked up (yet), he’s walking out of Park City with new contacts like Riley, Nance, and fellow Indie Episodic entrant Richie Mehta — as well as expressed interest from Hollywood’s major talent agencies. Other entries in Sundance’s TV lineup have snagged distribution deals from Netflix, FX, Showtime, and more.
“This is now a Netflix show — officially, as of last night,” “Delhi Crime Story” writer-director Richie Mehta announced before his debut screening Tuesday morning. The seven-episode series was shot in its entirety, allowing Netflix to make a quick turnaround between the Sundance premiere and its global release on March 22. But Mehta had a different reaction to his festival admission than Jaffe.
“When we got in, it was like, ‘…that’s different,’” Mehta said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God!’ It was like, ‘What does that [festival] do for this [show]?’ [And the answer is] it makes us stand out above all the other similar types of things.”