January 5, 2012

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE: The Amityville Film Festival

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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SHOWBUZZDAILY is only 2 weeks away from traveling to Park City, Utah for the 2012 Sundance Filim Festival, so the time seems right for a rant about the nightmare that is obtaining tickets for Sundance screenings.  Every festival has its quirks, and all cater especially to wealthy contributors who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for full-access passes, but no festival abuses its audiences quite like Sundance.  It’s a festival that greets its ordinary attendees much as the house in The Amityville Horror greeted its new owners, with brutality and a booming cry of “Get Out!!!!”

The Sundance Experience starts with a (free) pre-registration for the right to order tickets, which must be filed months ahead of anything else.  Having earned his or her right to that privilege, an attendee is given a time slot half an hour long in which orders for ticket passes or packages may be filled.  (This is just for the pass or package in general–the movies being shown are weeks away from even being announced.)  These appointments are spaced along several days, and anyone who doesn’t get an early slot will find that only wildly expensive “Express Passes” and oddball choices like the “Adrenaline Pass”  (9AM and midnight shows only) are available.
A few weeks later, the movies are announced, and those who were able to purchase a ticket package are given another specific half-hour timeslot in which to actually order tickets.  (Those who couldn’t get a package at all have to pre-register for the right to order individual tickets, for which there is yet another assigned half-hour slot.)
And this is where it gets fun.  Because although, technically, one can order tickets either online or over the phone, the festival strongly discourages phone orders by charging a $25 surcharge for that privilege.  And although, given that fact, as well as the success and worldwide attention paid to Sundance over the years, one would think this policy would prompt the festival to have an effective, cutting-edge online ticket-buying system, that just wouldn’t be The Sundance Experience.  Unlike Toronto, the Sundance site has no reliable page that says which screenings are available and which are sold out–some sell-outs are noted, but other screenings that are equally sold out are listed as still open.  (And still other presumably sold-out films simply vanish from the site entirely.)  
Choosing a screening that’s listed as available but is actually sold out doesn’t just result in a message saying that those particular film orders haven’t gone through (again, unlike Toronto)–instead, it invalidates the entire package order. And meanwhile the clock is still ticking on the bare half-hour allotted to search for and order 10-20 films.  And even if the film has been successfully put in one’s online shopping cart, those tickets aren’t reserved for the remainder of the half-hour–the screening can sell out while the attendee is still ordering, and then hitting “Checkout”–you guessed it–invalidates the entire order.  This requires re-inputting the full order again–and again, the allotted time is rushing by, and any film chosen may at that moment be selling out.  
The upshot of all this is, despite the money spent on ticket packages, a lot of hours on Sundance Wait List lines.  In January.  With minimal heat lamp protection.  And the rules of that system require lines to form hours in advance, just to get a precious designated number.  But that’s a nightmare for another day…

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."