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I'm back in Los Angeles from a glorious week in wintry Sundance and can say I've seen more movies in a theater setting than combined since the pandemic started. It's incredible how a theater setting impacts how watching a movie is taken to a whole new level of experiencing that movie.
There is a reason why people come together to watch the story unfold on a giant screen. It's an entirely different viewing experience devoid of distractions other than the occasional coughs, sniffles, and loud laughs (or muffled tears) of your fellow theater-goers around you. In this blog, Hollywood Branded brings you behind the scenes to the Sundance Film Festival.
On the flipside, thanks to the massive amounts of content we all consume at home, we take for granted our ability to pause a movie for a bathroom break, munch away on something other than candy and popcorn, not stand in line, and...have (breathing and elbow) room away from that stranger who overflows into the already tight confines of your space.
For any brand who wants an innovative way to get noticed next year, I've created a new award category that will go to the bright, savvy marketer who pays for the replacement of The Library's movie theater's seating, home to the majority of the films I watched this year. That theater location is my own Sundance winner for having the most uncomfortable sprung seating and limited knee room - and I'm only 5' 2" tall.
Sundance has always supported diversity, and while mainstream Hollywood still has significant work to do, of the 101 feature-length films shown this year, it was reported that "53% were directed by a woman and 45% by a director of color." This is a huge increase and a great sign of change that mainstream Hollywood still is working to replicate.
The Academy Awards nominations fell far from that this year, with ZERO women nominated (despite the last two consecutive years of women winning the category), but that's more than just an issue at the Academy. Across Hollywood, women - including directors - get fewer opportunities in general. The bottom line is that it is impossible to be nominated if you are never hired to do the work in the first place. Independent films are helping to get more women into the industry and changing tomorrow's future.
With that said... who do YOU think will win of these five directors nominated this year?
If you are scratching your head on some of these films, you may have some googling and film watching ahead of you before March 12th.
The Sundance Film Festival would not be the same without brand partners. Not only would the festival not exist, as brands help offset overall production costs, but it wouldn't feel like the same experience. There is something about walking down Main Street and seeing branded building takeovers with engaging, interactive onsite activities or offers of a place to hang and take a break from movie watching.
It's not like at a music festival where you have an empty stadium or field space for brands to create branded pop-ups. Sundance is plopped down in the middle of a high-end ski resort town. A brand's only option to have a branded moment is to rent out an entire pre-existing building, allowing building owners to make their yearly mortgage payment in exchange for a single month of takeover. That makes moving everything out so that a brand sponsor can move in each year worthwhile.
There are four primary sponsors of Sundance 2023: Acura, Adobe, Chase Sapphire, and AMC Networks.
AMC Networks is intrinsically tied to the Sundance Film Festival, as Sundance TV is owned by AMC Networks. They are an active supporter and primary sponsor of the week long event, and were also my very gracious host for the second part of Sundance (thank you thank you.) Their networks and platforms are truly hidden gems for authentic and robust content partnerships and integrations. Not only do we love working with their team (I swear it's not because they treated my husband Ian and me to a gloriously phenomenal trip to Sundance), it is because they are genuinely great people. Seriously. The culture they have created from the top down and side to side is unique and not one you often find at the mega networks or with the majority of their competitors (A&E Networks, you get a gold star too). Their team is incredible relationship builders, invested in bringing more value to their partners. Every one of the agency and brand execs they hosted raved to me about the solid relationships and above-and-beyond partnerships the teams endeavored to build.
They have excellent brand-friendly content that is distributed - and enjoyed - internationally. You personally know the high caliber quality of their range at AMC if you've watched Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Killing Eve, Mad Men, or The Walking Dead. You may be less familiar with some of their newer content, which offers excellent partnership options- like soon-to-release Lucky Hank starring Bob Odenkirk. If you are (like me!) a massive fan of Anne Rice, you should be tuning in to watch Interview With a Vampire and Mayfair Witches. I'm such a fan of her books that long ago, I named my (the vet made what was little into a big... mistake) male kitten Akasha, the titular Queen of the Vampires characters from Rice's book series. Many fans like me highly anticipate watching more of her work come to life on screen.
One of my long-standing favorite partnerships we built with AMC was for Canadian Club and Mad Men, where we made the whisky brand become Don Draper's drink of choice throughout the series and then worked with the teams to build out digital and bar promotions (watch it). Their team is also open to very innovative partnerships – we created an integration for the music group Elephant Kind to have their song become the theme for Cooper's Bar (see and hear it), which is about to start shooting its next season on IFC (really check it out – Rhea Seehorn won an Emmy for Outstanding Actress last season).
Beyond AMC, they have a number of networks with excellent properties for partnerships, including Acorn TV, Allblk, IFC, Shudder, SundanceTV, WE tv, and BBC AMERICA (and more!). Whatever your target, they have a network or production that likely aligns.
A big big thank you to Ilene Danuff for always listening to my sometimes wacky brand partnership ideas and to the whole of the AMC team who repeatedly make us feel so welcome at events, including (but not limited to) Kim Kelleher, Todd Schwartzman, Heather Dowd, Kim Granito, and so many more...
For 13 years, Acura has been the Presenting Sponsor and Official Automotive Partner of the Sundance Film Festival and the presenting sponsor of two highly coveted awards. Nestled in the center of town on Main Street, Acura Festival Village provided panels, entertainment, and a location for filmmakers to host parties. At the same time, their vehicles were showcased while driving VIPs and Talent in town. Interestingly enough, hard seltzer alcohol beverage brand White Claw served as Acura's co-sponsor – a bit of a divergence as you rarely see an alcohol and automotive partnership, for all the obvious reasons. However – the last thing any Sundance festival goer is going to do during Sundance is drive. Especially in the snow, with limited parking. Shuttle busses abound, as do Lyft, another festival sponsor.
For the 5th year, Adobe partnered with indieWire to create branded interview content with filmmakers, producers, and casts about their projects. It's an authentic partnership, as 67 percent of this year's films use Adobe Premiere Pro or their Frame.io product, and 74 percent of the 2023 films were made using Adobe Creative Cloud tools to create, cut, and review footage collaboratively with anyone, anywhere in the world. As part of the festival, the Sundance Institute used Adobe software to produce daily festival recaps and videos for its social media channels that ran each day before the films.
With every credit card company vying for paid membership sign-up and seeking to offer unique VIP experiences to cardholders, Chase Sapphire again took over a coveted spot on Main Street. Sapphire cardmembers could stop by for coffee, a bite to eat, or even one night, an exclusive DJ Pee .Wee (aka Anderson .Paak) show.
Did this post pique your interest in Hollywood film events? Then you'll love these blog posts from our Hollywood Branded team!
Interested in product placement? Get our Product Placement 101 guide to how your brand can work with films - from independents that will be at the next Sundance, to major blockbusters.
Stacy Jones, Hollywood Branded's founder and CEO, has over twenty six years of leadership experience building global entertainment branding campaigns for top Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of brands. Her career started after receiving her BFA in Theater Production & Scenic Design from the University of Arizona. Acknowledged as an expert in the field, she has appeared on CNN and MSNBC; spoken at conferences around the globe from Germany to Beijing; and has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, Financial Times, The Economist, Brandweek, Advertising Age, Variety, B&C and Mediaweek amongst others. Originally from Texas, you will still hear her ya’ll as she gathers the team for strategy planning sessions. Like all true entrepreneurs, Stacy is an adventurer at her core – having sky dived, hang glided off bi-planes, swam with crocs while rafting the Zambezi in Africa, photographed grizzly bears in Alaska, trekked Mayan ruins in Belize, explored the ocean as an avid scuba diver, and who loves owning an advertising agency where she swims with a different type of Hollywood shark on a daily basis.