S U N D A N C E F I L M F E S T I V A L
by Jak Genie
story influence was Frank Daniel, head of the film All the film-makers I met from the Labs had
ndependent film-makers have been school in Czechoslovakia, who brought his some connection to the festival or had been
responsible for some of the most innovative expertise as an educator.' Their mission was to recommended by a past fellow (the Institute's
and iconoclastic cinema in recent years. support new, artistic voices in film. 'We sought to term for Lab participants). Michelle Satter was
From Reservoir Dogs, Clerks and Memento to find emerging artists who had real talent, to keen to point out that they also undertake an
Boys Don't Cry and Me, You & Everyone We Know, assist them at an early stage in their work and to aggressive search for material and at least half
these breakthrough movies have one thing in help them further develop their stories and craft the scripts come from open submission. 'We're
common: Robert Redford's Sundance. as screenwriters.' much more interested in discovery, in finding
After Cannes, Sundance is one of the most This differed from the normal position of scripts, the diamonds in the rough.' Writers
important film festivals in the world and perhaps writers working with a production company. should apply with a covering letter, résumé and
the number one for independents. Held every 'Firstly, we bring them to the Sundance Lab's synopsis plus the first five pages of a screenplay
January in Park City, Utah, it's a cinephile's resort, getting them out of their environments, in before the deadline of 1 May.
paradise with over 120 dramatic and a remote place with no distractions. Secondly, Of the thousands of scripts that flood in, only
documentary features and an extensive array of this is about process, not result. We bring in twelve are chosen for the Lab, which is held in
shorts from more than thirty countries, not to writers, not executives, so there is the January one week before the festival.
mention a host of panel discussions, industry opportunity to work directly with a working Writer/director So Kim was the first writer ever to
workshops, music events and parties. have one film in competition and
It is a little-known fact that Sundance 'Sundance is about another in the Lab simultaneously.
began not with the festival but with the Kim's Lab advisors included
training Labs. This year marks the 25th storytelling. Storytellers can screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie
anniversary of the Sundance Institute, broaden our minds: engage, and the Chocolate Factory). 'The best
responsible for developing some of the advice I had was not to take the script
most successful independent films. In provoke, inspire and, from the beginning but to go to the
June 1981, four years before the festival ultimately, connect us.' heart of the story and start from there,
began, Redford invited ten first-time film- to take different elements and work
makers to develop their projects alongside Robert Redford outwards. John recommended that I
a prestigious company of advisors break down the notes I received from
including Frank Daniel (founder of the screenwriter who both has the knowledge of various advisors and read through my script again
USC screenwriting programme), producer what it's like to face the page every day and the to see where they apply. Everyone gave me advice
Michael Hausman (Brokeback Mountain), generosity to support the next generation.' but did not force me to use it. They left it to me.'
cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (Easy Rider), So how does a writer apply to the programme? It is telling that they are termed advisors
director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie) and screenwriter Taika Waititi, who had just finished this year's rather than teachers. Michelle Satter feels there
Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy). At his ranch in Lab, described how he was accepted. 'I made a are as many ways to write a script as there are
Provo Canyon, Utah, set within 3000 acres of short film that was entered into Sundance 2004 stories. 'There is not a mandate from Sundance in
sheep-rearing territory, the Sundance Institute and the shorts programmer told me that if I had terms of how to write a screenplay, no specific
was born. a feature script, I should submit it to the Labs, pedagogy. The starting point is a story that we
Michelle Satter, the Lab's founding director, which I did.' Laurie Collyer had previously feel hasn't been told before or which is told in a
explained the initial inspiration: 'In the early years screened a documentary at Sundance: 'I came to specific new way. Our job is to help each writer
we followed a model that had been used very the festival with a screenplay in my pocket as really embrace their vision and get to the most
successfully in theatre, particularly at the Eugene they always say you should have and it was compelling version of the story they want to tell.'
O'Neill centre that was headed by George White, accepted.' The finished film Sherrybaby premiered Hilary Brougher, whose film Stephanie Daley
who was on our original board. The other big at Sundance 2006. played at this year's festival, took her script to the
May 2006 59
S U N D A N C E F I L M F E S T I V A L
Lab back in 2001. 'Unlike the studios, the reminds you of why you went into the business in part of that. If I ever bump into any of the
independents don't have the development the first place.' advisors or film-makers, we always catch up.'
process. Sundance fills that gap.' When the film-makers first arrive at the Lab, Hilary Brougher said, 'It made me realise that I am
Taika Waititi revealed: 'It is really five days of Michelle Satter advises, 'This is a place where you not on my own but am now part of a community
intense criticism of your script which is good for will make a lot of mistakes and it is OK. The worst of film-makers.'
you because you need to feel that pain. Some of day that you have here will be your best day The Sundance Institute has had remarkable
it you agree with, some of it you don't. The because that is the day that you will learn the success not just in developing scripts but actually
advisors bombard you with feedback and it is up most.' Advisor Aaron Matzkin (Invisible getting the films made. After the Director's Lab,
to you to decide how you want to use it. They Mountains) adds: 'The first week is getting used the film-makers face the business with an
recommend that you don't start rewriting to everyone, getting used to your crew and how International Producers Conference, featuring
straight away but give yourself a few weeks to things work. As you get more comfortable and approximately thirty movers and shakers from
gather your thoughts.' On the final evening there build up to more difficult scenes and you work the independent marketplace.
is even a script burning ritual to give the writers with your actors and DPs, things get more For three days in August, film-makers meet
a sense of a fresh, new start. intense.' producers with a proven record of working with
Once the script has been through the Laurie Collyer described the experience: 'Each emerging artists. 'Sundance introduced me to my
Screenwriter's Labs, the film-makers can re- week you rehearse for one day, shoot for two producer and set up meetings for me,' Hilary
apply for the Director's Labs. For three weeks then cut for two. Your advisors are constantly Brougher explained. They also recommended
every June, film-makers rehearse, shoot Laurie Collyer to a producer: 'That makes
and edit 4-6 scenes from their Sundance is about process, a huge difference. As a Sundance fellow,
screenplays under a mentor's guidance, I can call people up and they will take my
with a cast of professional actors not result. call, but to be recommended by someone
assembled by a casting director and from Sundance adds priority to your call.
small crews made up of experienced DPs and with you and give you feedback at the end of the There is a sense that once you have got into the
editors. week. You learn a lot about yourself and they can Sundance Institute you have arrived.'
What could be better for a young film-maker be very harsh at times. I was criticised for being a Croatian film-maker Goran Duckic understood
than having famous actors and directors stand by, lazy film-maker because I was relying on the vital importance of these contacts. 'It has
helping set up the shots? Past advisors include beautiful backdrops to hide my poor shot given me great credibility; people are always
Alan Pakula (All The President's Men), Terry selections and I knew deep inside that they were interested in your script if you have been to the
Gilliam (Brazil), John Schlesinger (Marathon right. It was very intense, like a shot of tequila to Sundance Lab.' His darkly comic Wristcutters - A
Man), Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank the head.' Love Story was an audience favourite at the
Redemption), David Cronenberg (Videodrome), All the film-makers appreciated the supportive festival. Sundance approval can help attach A-list
Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter) and Alexander nature of the Institute. 'It makes you feel part of talent: Montiel's film A Guide To Recognising Your
Payne (Sideways). 'All artists need a place to fall a community as opposed to competing for the Saints (Best Director 2006) starred Robert
on their faces, really go out on a limb and not same thing,' says Laurie Collyer. The feeling didn't Downey Junior, Dianne Wiest and Chazz
worry about results,' says advisor Sigourney go away at the end of the Lab. 'We're pretty much Palminteri; Hilary Brougher's cast included Tilda
Weaver. 'For everyone it's incredibly inspiring and the same family and you always feel like you are Swinton, and Wristcutters featured Tom Waits as
It doesn't stop there. The Institute's support
Don’t worry about the number of takes!
continues beyond the Labs throughout the entire
film-making process. Hilary Brougher, who won
Best Screenplay, admitted, 'I don't know if I would
have been able to sustain work on the script
without Sundance. They didn't give up on me.
Just one five-minute-call from Michelle Satter
can keep you going: she is a great enabler.' The
advisors gave Goran Duckic feedback all the way
through the rough cuts of his film right up until
the night before its premiere at this year's festival.
Not content with revolutionising the
American independents, Sundance aims to
support new voices worldwide. In 1986, the
Me, You & Everyone We Know: FilmFour
Institute initiated the Latin American Exchange
Program to facilitate the creative work of Latin
American film-makers. In 1995, they expanded
the International Producers Conferences and held
Screenwriters’ Labs in Mexico, Brazil and Chile.
Here in the UK, they helped set up a sister
organisation, Moonstone, which developed Lynne
60 May 2006
Ramsay's Ratcatcher and recently they founded a have been fortunate to work with artists who
new Lab in Jordan. embody the independent spirit and we're grateful
Sundance actively supports women's and to them for sharing their original stories and
cross-cultural voices that wouldn't normally diverse voices.'
reach the screen but such projects may still It is impossible to attend the festival and not
experience difficulty in raising finance and fall under the spell of the Sundance spirit and
gaining distribution. Mia Goldman found herself quaint little Park City, an old silver-mining town
Reservoir Dogs: Miramax
in this position with her hard-hitting Open high in the Utah mountains, knee-deep in snow.
Window. Her mentor, Lawrence Kazdan (Body The cold weather has a wonderful unifying
Heat), warned her that it would be difficult to quality; everyone uses the free shuttle buses to
make as her first film. 'In the end he was right the various venues that are run by the ever-
because it took ten years to get the money. The execs fly back to LA. smiling and helpful volunteers. Unlike Cannes,
Companies are simply not willing to take a there's a great lack of pretentiousness. Even A-
chance.' the creative team that you need to access the list celebrities walk around without make up. It's
What was the big sell of the festival? Off-the- market place.' hard to be glamorous in a Puffa jacket and
wall comedy Little Miss Sunshine, which sold to Mia Goldman found this purity in abundance: bobble hat. After the first weekend, the execs fly
Fox Searchlight for $10.5 million. Although an 'I think that Sundance has a big heart; they do back to LA and the cineastes take over. It's
independent film, the budget was a not- everything that they can to help film-making. The Christmas for film-makers, complete with fairy
insubstantial $8 million. In his book Down and process of choice is a difficult one but they have lights.
Dirty Pictures, Peter Biskind chronicles how, over such great people here who have a deep passion It seems fitting to end with Sundance's most
the past two decades, the Sundance festival itself for film. They try hard to be very thorough and celebrated fellow, Quentin Tarantino, whose
has become more commercial with companies they take their job seriously. On the whole they 1992 Reservoir Dogs was developed at the
like Miramax using aggressive sales Institute and became a worldwide hit.
techniques previously confined to 'The thing that blew me away 'The thing that blew me away was that
Hollywood. all these people were here to help us.
I asked Michelle Satter if she felt that was that all these people All these talented famous people were
this commercialisation in the independent were here to help us. All here, for us. There were all these
sector had influenced the Institute. 'It's interns, for us. All this money was
great that there is an industry to these talented famous people being spent, for us. There was this
potentially get involved with these were here, for us.' Quentin aspect about it. I just couldn't get my
projects but that doesn't affect our mind around it. It was just so
choices. We don't select a script because Tarantino philanthropic.'
we believe at that moment that it's going A trip to the Sundance festival is
to work in the market place. There's real purity in have resisted the temptation to become more essential for any screenwriter interested in
the workshop.' commercial and I think Redford, in particular, independent film and if you are lucky enough to
Is it hard to retain that purity? 'Not at all. It's wants to keep it that way.' Although Mia's last be accepted into the Institute, the chance to
something that I bring as the director. We set a film may struggle in the marketplace, she seems develop your script through the Lab is the best
tone for the Lab and we choose projects and optimistic about her next script - a romance possible launch for your career.
advisors that will focus completely on the telling involving dog walkers. 'I've actually met an
of a story, the craft of screenwriting … which investor here and he wants to help me. That's the More information about the Sundance
doesn't mean to say that we're not interested in amazing thing about Sundance: you never know Institute and film festival can be found at
films being made because so many of our film who you will bump into.' http://www.sundance.org.
projects that start in the Lab are made. But really 'Sundance is about storytelling, said Robert
the starting point is that if you can craft a Redford in his festival opening speech.
Jak Genie is a screenwriter and script
distinctive story as a script, then you actually 'Storytellers can broaden our minds, engage, consultant for the London Script Consultancy.
have the real possibility of finding resources and provoke, inspire and ultimately connect us. We
Moonstone International is proud
to be associated with the
Sundance Institute, and wishes
them every success in the future.
For further information visit our
website - www.moonstone.org.uk
May 2006 61