Lean times for 'unofficial' Sundance marketers

Film festival » 'Gifting lounges,' other events scale back.
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When the 2010 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City in January, regulars might notice something missing among the unofficial party sites.

The Queer Lounge, a hangout for gay and lesbian filmmakers to network and relax since 2004, will not open at Sundance this year. The Hollywood Life House, one of the more visible "gifting lounges" where celebrities could pick up free stuff, reportedly is not returning. And TromaDance, the mini-festival staged by schlock-horror label Troma Film Studios, is staying home in New Jersey.

"It's a tough economy," said Christopher Ryan, owner of the Hollywood marketing and talent management company Oceanside Entertainment.

Ryan famously maintains a top-secret list of Sundance parties for publicists. So far, he said, the list is seven pages long -- four pages shorter than it was at the same time last year.

Several of the event planners who usually come to Sundance are skipping this year. Ryan reeled off several "gifting lounges" and other party spaces -- Hollywood Life House being the biggest -- that aren't coming. Also, many event producers are combining forces.

The Queer Lounge announced on its Web site in mid-December that it will "not have a physical venue" in Park City.

Maintaining the lounge is "an expensive undertaking" that can cost around $200,000 annually, due to space rental, paying staff and overseeing volunteers, said Rashad Robinson, senior director of programs for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which has managed the lounge since August 2007.

In a sour economy, that's a hard number for a nonprofit group to hit. "We went into last year, got into the middle of our fund-raising cycle and saw the world was changing," Robinson said.

Instead, GLAAD has formed a partnership with the Sundance Institute, the festival's parent organization, to present three days of panel discussions and other events at Sundance's Filmmakers Lodge. "Our goal is to raise visibility," Robinson said. "Our goals were different than a company setting up a gifting suite."

Ryan expects the "gifting lounges" to fill up before Sundance starts Jan. 21. Companies that used to book with event producers by Thanksgiving are holding out this year to get a cheaper deal. "They're waiting for the after-Christmas specials," he joked.

Fewer lounges, Ryan said, could be an advantage for the companies that market at Sundance. "When there are 15 different venues to get through, there's a lot of marketing noise," he said.


Sundance Film Festival

The 2010 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 21-31 in Park City and in venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort. For information, visit festival.sundance.org/2010/. For news items, view updates at blogs.sltrib.com/sundance.