PARK CITY, Utah — Ad-supported streaming service Tubi is making its first Sundance Film Festival appearance a memorable one, announcing an exclusive deal with writer-director Robert Rodriguez to stream his next movie beginning this summer.
The film, Red 11, was the product of Rodriguez wanting to commemorate his first Sundance project, El Mariachi, an action thriller that famously cost just $7,000 to make. It became a big hit at the 1992 Sundance festival and launched a career that has included such film and video franchises as From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids and Sin City.
The Tubi deal covers both Red 11 and a related docu-series, The Robert Rodriguez Film School, which is focused on how to make movies on a tight budget. Both will be available on Tubi this summer in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
First, however, the film will get a world premiere at Rodriguez’ “home” film gathering in his Austin hometown at South By Southwest, followed by an official screening at the Directors Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival in June.
Rodriguez said in a press release that the projects were designed to commemorate the 25th anniversary (more or less) of that first low-budget foray.
He used inspiration from the first project’s fundraising efforts – being a human guinea pig for medical testing – as a jumping-off spot for Red 11, which follows a student trying to pay off a huge debt by undergoing testing he suspects may be trying to kill him. It too was made on a $7,000 budget.
“These are both dream projects of mine, an entertaining culmination of ideas and ruminations on the creative process that also highlight the heightened sense of spirituality that comes from dancing with creativity when there is an absence of the usual financial resources,” Rodriguez said in a release. “In other words, ‘low budg fun.’”
The Film School is a series of videos about “truly actionable methods using my no-crew, micro-budget filmmaking style that will inspire others to make their own films and have their voices be heard,” Rodriguez said.
The deal was announced as part of Tubi’s first official appearance at Sundance, the Mecca for indie filmmaking. Tubi also sponsored a Sundance panel on getting films on streaming services, called “They Stream Indies, Don’t They?” followed by an evening party on Monday.
It all makes for seemingly an unusual fit for the ad-supported streaming service. Tubi claims 20,000 feature and episodic titles, roughly double the Netflix catalog.
But Tubi chief content officer Adam Lewinson said in an interview at Sundance that the fit between Sundance and Tubi isn’t as surprising as it may appear.
“We’ve been doing indie film deals for years under the radar,” Lewinson said. Tubi representatives are fanning out across Sundance, attending screenings and scouting for other potential content deals before the festival ends this weekend.=
But Tubi has been lower-key than the big SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon, who’ve made numerous splashy deals with Sundance projects to fill out their libraries. =
Last year, Amazon spent a reported $45 million acquiring rights to films such as the Mindy Kaling/Emma Thompson comedy Late Night. This year, dealmaking at Sundance has been notably more subdued through the festival’s first five days, though Amazon has made a couple of purchases, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Lewinson said offering free access as the ad-supported service does makes it much easier for viewers to sample a wide range of lesser-known shows with little downside.
This year, the company is looking to enhance its offerings in Spanish-language and anime content, Lewinson said. Tubi already has a section focused on African-American cinema that is among its most popular niches.
“I like to say Tubi exists to super-serve the underserved,” Lewinson said. “I feel like we’re uniquely positioned for indie film. This is where we use content personalization. The knock about indie content is that it’s niche, it’s hard to monetize. Theatrical releases are built for scale.”
Given Tubi’s significant scale, it can now use its tools to target indie films to specific niche audiences that couldn’t profitably be reached in traditional theatrical distribution, Lewinson said.
Tubi also recently announced a partnership with TV Azteca to launch in Mexico, and with Hisense, the world’s No. 6 TV maker, for prime position on its connected TV screens. The company also celebrated the one-year anniversary of its deal with Comcast’s xFinity video platform, the first of the AVOD services to be featured there.
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