Animated Video Production

YouTube Goes Indie

Shawn 01.21.2014

Last week saw the launch of YouTube’s Sundance Film Festival Channel aimed at attracting indie filmmakers to the popular video hosting site. Featuring fifteen short films, including Christopher Kezelos’ powerful stop-motion offering The Maker, YouTube is looking to shed it’s “viral video” image and borrow a little cinematic street cred from their smaller but artsy competitor, Vimeo On Demand.

“Most people don’t think of this amazing content when they think of YouTube,” said YouTube’s VP of Marketing, Danielle Tiedt.

Sundance isn’t YouTube’s first attempt at curating original content. In 2013 they launched a series of “Theme weeks” including “Comedy Week” and “Geek Week,” which encouraged mainstream comedians and niche nerds alike to create fresh content exclusively for the platform. The results were mixed.

YouTube’s upped their game this year. Last year they hosted events, this year they’re an official sponsor of the Sundance Shorts Program, and are producing a live daily show from Sundance’s main strip called “Live@Sundance.” They will also present the YouTube Audience Award to the film with the most views during the festival.

Has the effort been successful? Sort of.

One common reason for YouTube holdouts is the reliance on incentivizing artistic content with pre-roll ads – something no filmmaker enjoys, especially when they can’t control the content of that advertising. In contrast, Vimeo offered 150 top indie filmmakers at the Toronto Film Festival $10,000 to premiere their work exclusively on Vimeo On Demand. They had thirteen takers including, Alexandre Rockwell’s Little Feet, Rashid Mashawari’s Palestine Stereo, and René Sampaio’s Faroeste Caboclo.

The only stipulations are 30 days of exclusivity/or enough time to recoup the $10,000 advance. After that, it’s a 90/10 split (in favor of the filmmaker) and the film can pursue other distribution methods.

“The primary focus for most independent creators in the beginning is building an audience and fan base for their voice,” Ms. Tiedt said. The jury is still out on how well YouTube is accomplishing this latest tactic, but sadly like most creative endeavours, the final word will most likely be financial rather than artistic.


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

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