Sundance Parties Take a Hit This Year

My feet throb. I hit the ground trudging yesterday after picking up my Sundance Press Pass. The credential gets me into films. My moxie gets me into everything else. And for me, Sundance is mostly “everything else.”

Parties, gifting houses, elaborate VIP dinners transform Park City’s Main Street into this urban Hollywood movie set. It’s a 10-day infusion of fashion, style and attitude that Utah rarely sees the rest of the year. Where people dressed in black crawl over each other while talking or texting on cell phones, trying to make it to some gallery or restaurant that’s been converted into a VIP lounge. (BTW, if you don’t have a black puffy you’re slacking. I got mine from Timberland at last year’s Sundance.)

Variety Lounge

IMG_1401Speaking of which, the regular cast of characters have returned- Village at the Lift, Grey Goose Lounge, TR Suites, Eco Hideaway, Fender Music Lodge, Sundance Channel HQ, Variety, AFI, Samsung, Sorel, Stella Artois Lounge, Oakley/Hyde Lounge, Chefdance- with some noticeable exceptions. Bye Bye Bing Bar although Bing is still a Fest sponsor. So long Timberland and Gibson; and the Fred Segal swag suite has yet to return as the premier gifting spot. TR Suites has subsequently supplanted them, offering an innovative mix of glam and technology that changes every year.
TR Suites Explained

We also have some newcomers to the scene – The Zen Den for holistic retreating, the PAX cabin, Google +, the Rock and Rally, The RedTouch Media Lounge, and the Social Lodge. Some companies had such a great time last year, they beefed up their presence (Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, Miami Lounge); and others like House of Minerva and Saga skiwear who got their start at smaller pop-ups like the Flight Boutique on Main have joined up with some of the bigger Lounges. But the one thing everyone will agree on is that Sundance is late this year. Maybe because the Christmas break went late into January?

The spaces were rented with only a few days to spare. Many VIP invitations didn’t go out until the week of the Film Fest. As proof, Chris Ryan’s notorious “List” of parties and lounges that is kept under super stealth, password protection and non- downloadable form debuted just last week with only about half the projected shindigs listed along with RSVP names and emails. “No one was ready,” said Ryan who runs the film promotions firm Oceanside Entertainment. Being late to plan your lounge or party could spell what’s akin to death in the PR biz- an empty house. “It’s hard to get people there if no one knows about it,” explains Ryan. “That’s if you can even open. There are payments to make, city approvals to get. Thirty additional venues could have happened if they had sponsorship.”

Ryan’s seven-year-old List benefits sponsors because they get the right people in the door. “People started depending on me,” he said. Press who cover parties not film, film publicists, talent publicists and their celebs are the only ones access to the List.

Last year, Ryan had the Bing List, sponsored by Bing. It was this mysterious Holy Grail of access. The minute someone shared it with a plebe, it was yanked off the internet and a new password created for only the worthy to see. Ryan will sometimes put fake parties on the List so the RSVP goes back to him and he can check to see if that person should have had the List in the first place.

The List lists only VIP and extremely private parties and they’re rarely events officially sponsored by Sundance. If the general public can pay to get in it’s not on the list. Sundance hates this form of “ambush marketing”. They’ve spent thousands of dollars putting on a world-class film festival and they have a right to get proprietary. They ask a lot of their sponsors and, here, other companies come in and benefit from the exposure without giving a cent to the Sundance Institute.

But the reality is that indie filmmakers don’t have that kind of money Sundance asks from their sponsors and yet someone has to pay for that promotional party that could attract acquisitions and buyers said Ryan. “They find ‘unofficial’ sponsors who can reap the benefit of celebrity and press attention.”  Unfortunately, for us media types a story is a story no matter who sponsors what. So yes, my feet hurt, my arms are heavy and my eyes tired. This Sundance VIP thing is grueling. Cue fake whine. Fade out.

So now you know.  :)