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Women to Watch: Sundance’s Rosie Wong, Senior Manager, Sundance Industry Office

Festivals
by Sydney Levine
September 19, 2013 8:30 AM
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Sundace's Rosie Wong

Rosie graduated film school and worked briefly with a small film production company for 3 years where she learned the basics of creative and commerce on the studio side and TV side of the business. Big studio fare was not exactly the kind of films she favored, and she wanted to be involved with the sort of films she wanted to see herself.

You can see her credits on short films were more in line with her next job at Sundance Institute where she was recruited by festival programmers Caroline Libresco and John Nein. She began in 2004 as Geoff Gilmore’s assistant. John Cooper had joined Sundance in 1989 and in 2001 he initiated the idea for someone be a liaison/consultant to help industry folks during the Festival. By 2006, that idea became more official and the Sundance Industry Office (SIO) was born. The SIO became a one-stop-shop for the sales and industry representatives who had been attending Sundance for years and offered a members-only access to purchase passes and ticket packages. In addition, screenings and attendance were going up so Press and Industry Screenings were introduced as well.

Space at Sundance Film Festival is however always at a premium. Screening rooms are limited (unlike Toronto which also had to face this issue earlier in its own history). The trade can be quite demanding as we in the industry well know. We get anxious and we want instant help when we are pressed for time to see and do all me must during these top festivals. I remember a time when Sam Kitt and others were shut out of a screening in Toronto and we caused such a fuss that then next year they started the Sales and Industry Office. But Sundance resisted our attempts to “label” the festival as a trade event. It was a festival; it did not cater to “the trade”; it catered to filmmakers whose independence from the studios, from the trade was prized by Robert Redford himself.

However, as we all know, trade is essential if filmmakers want to recoup their investments. In 1989 when Sex, Lies and Videotape hit Sundance, the trade was alerted that not only were there great films that could supplement the new video industry but there were careers to be made.

In Rosie’s early days running the SIO, seven years ago, there were 800 to 900 industry attendees. Today there are 1,300 and there are many reasons for their attending Sundance. Back in the early 90s, primarily buyers were there looking for new acquisitions for theatrical and home video. Most films did not even have international sales agents. Now, there are festival people, especially regional programmers looking beyond the Competition and Premieres for highlighting new talent or more focused on their regional audience desires; there are distributors also looking for new digital platforms, there are casting agents looking for talent, agents looking for talent, post-production houses looking for business from directors and producers, film commissions – especially during these days of runaway production – offering tax credits, non-profits looking for films or making films to hit their cause-oriented constituencies. There are even TV executives looking at shorts for future TV directors. Having international sales agents standing at the theater entrance noting which distributors are attending needs to be explained to the theater operators.

With such a broad range of industry sites, Rosie and her staff of 3 (they just hired a 3rd), still must hold the limit on passes (without spare room, there is a limited number of passes available). Their first duty is to help the filmmakers with films needing to be seen by those who can help the filmmaker the most. Calming stressed out executives is key to smooth operations too, and both the volunteers and the industry folk have commented on a marked improvement in their mutual dealings with one another over the past few years.

(Now if we could just get the “townies” to stop referring to us as “the people in black”, we would have an even better time in Sundance.)

One of Rosie’s favorite activities is getting to know each person in the trade, many of whom are her heroes, and educating key staff, whether the “carnie lifestyle” seasonal workers or the volunteers, so that they can meet the demands which industry sites will make. Speaking of this “carnie lifestyle”, Rosie’s new Associate Manager who was hired two weeks ago, was at Telluride.

Another interesting activity is educating the new filmmakers on the importance of international distribution. Debuting filmmakers often do not understand that if a film does not get a U.S. distribution deal, it does not mean there is no audience for that film. Understanding that international market and understanding that international sales can make a huge difference for their films and fir their careers. Understanding “splitting rights” between U.S. and international is a concept that often does not occur to them.

I asked Rosie how the NEXT Weekend expansion of Sundance worked this past summer in L.A. Out of 10 features, all but four had already shown at Sundance. Those world premiering films had no U.S. or international sales agents attached, so there was something for the trade to watch. However 8 of them had distribution and were being shown locally in L.A. to introduce local audiences to the next generation of indie filmmakers. This brain child of John Cooper and Trevor Groth was more of a community oriented affair.

Emily Glassman (Left) & Rosie Wong (Right)

Sundance does have some interesting alliances, for instance, with Cinando. Last year Rosie and Jerome Paillard the director of the Cannes Market met at AFM and she saw the value of filmmakers having the option to show their films online on the Cannes website, Cinando, to the international film trade. Filmmakers can choose how, when and to whom to show their films – whether after Sundance, or after Berlin where they are also invited to screen, thanks to Caroline Libresco and other programmers. They can show only to international sales agents or to distributors or only to festival programmers. The choice is theirs or, if they have an international sales agent, it is often left to them to decide. Sundance filmmakers can also show on Festivalscope, which is a B2B internet platform for film professionals worldwide that has partnered with more than 80 international film festivals.

This international trade-only online platform is important because attending Sundance for the international crowd is cost-prohibitive. There is a core group which comes every year like Michael Weber of The Match Factory, or sales agents like Fortissimo whose films show in the festival, distribution executives Karin Beyens of Diaphana, an important French distributor, and a few others, but most of them would prefer to see films online through Cinando which is market connected.

Filmmakers need to know that once producers are on Cinando, they can use phone apps as well and have access to the P&I screening schedules of other TIFF as well as other top festivals, like Berlin, Cannes Festival and Cannes Market, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Ventana Sur, etc. with its 2,500 films on offer. Sundance’s own P&I (Press and Industry) schedule is only available on Cinando. It also shows who in the industry is where…both online and on iphone.

Cooper (John Cooper) also came up with the idea of the Art House Project, which now has blossomed into the now quite important Art House Convergence, held just before Sundance, where art house theater owners can discuss common issues, often with the art house distributors who now attend as well.

Rosie’s industry office needs to stay aware of all these aspects of the industry to serve them so that Sundance can continue to serve a broad and ever growing community!

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