Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Sundance Dance... Too Fancy to Dance?

Our resident Sundance expert Jason Siner tells it like it is from the snowy trenches of Park City...

I'm a six-time veteran of the Sundance film festival. I’ve written enthusiastic articles and blogs on how to get into the most exclusive parties, meet the
Hollywood gatekeepers and do the whole festival on the cheap. I’ve promoted Sundance as a must-attend, and well-worth the investment, to anyone who’s seriously pursuing a career in The Biz.

This year I began to have doubts.

When I first started attending the festival years ago, tickets were eight dollars, and if you found some local voucher spots you could get them for five. This year, the cost was fifteen bucks a film! When you figure in that I usually see about twenty-five films during my ten-day stay, that’s quite a difference in cost. I don’t mind supporting budding filmmakers, but, come on, I’m paying more than the entire budget on some of their films.

Okay, that’s of course an exaggeration, especially at this “festival of the stars”. Each year, the films are more like polished studio pictures, instead of the scrappy independents made on a shoestring budget that are the staple of most every other film festival across the country. You can really tell the focus has shifted away from newer filmmakers when it comes to the panels. You won’t find seminars like “How to Get an Agent” here. Oh no. You’re more likely to find the topics like, “When Six Figures Is Not Enough.” or “How to Take On Disney Like You’re Harvey Weinstein”. Informative? Yes. Useful? Not for someone outside the system.

So, is that it? Do I now believe that Sundance is only for the industry insider or vacationing playboy? Well… no.

Okay, gone are the days when I did Sundance for $220 (that included the gas to drive up there!) However, for a director or screenwriter, this is the one time all those agents, managers, and development execs who wouldn’t give you the time of day in Los Angeles or New York, will welcome you with open arms. I have a very reputable agent I met up here reading my latest script right now. In fact, I’ve never had anyone I met here take longer than a week to get back to me, and I imagine it won’t be different this time.

See, the flip side of it being so difficult for someone outside the system to attend is that all the industry people up here consider any attendee to be worthy of their attention. There’s an actual interest when you state you’re a screenwriter. Have something that would be great for HBO? Play your cards right, and you’ll have the VP of development reading it in no time. Looking for a better agent (or even a first one)? Get into the right party and you’ll have them fighting over your card. This has all happened to me and could just as easily happen to you.

So it costs much more now than it used to, but if the outcome is the jumpstart of that successful career you’ve been striving for, isn’t it worth it? The real difference now is that you better be ready before you head up there. Your scripts need to be polished if you’re a screenwriter (I know this great service called Coverage, Ink...) (Gosh, thanks, Jason! Your payola is in the mail – Jim) or your demo reel needs to be professional if you’re a director. You’ll get your chance, but be ready.

And look, it will cost you a pretty penny, but it’s a good investment. At the very least, you’ll see some great films, meet great people, and maybe even score some great swag. So, until they build a security wall around Park City, the festival and all its opportunities are still accessible by us struggling artists. It’s just now, more than ever, you need to be ready to dance the dance.

Jason Siner kicked everyone’s butt when he won the CS Open at the Screenwriting Expo three years ago. He is a poker playin’,sword-fightin’ screenwriter based in Los Angeles. His article “Jason Siner’s 18+ Ways To Do Sundance” was published in the National Film Commission newsletter nationwide.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't they have made it somewhere WARM? Did this thing have to be in bloody Colorado in the middle of winter? What kind of craziness is that? I know--why not a film festival in a place like... oh, Los Angeles?

Signman said...

Well, when they first started this festival, it was actually warm there...

Okay, that's not true, but the fact that this huge festival is in the small skiing town of Park City (which is in Utah, btw) is part of what makes it work so well.

If the festival was in Los Angeles, along with the scores of others, (there are plenty already, trust me) you wouldn't have the access to the industry that you do in Park City. In L.A., all the industry people you want to meet would drive their fancy cars and limos to the screenings and then retreat back to their homes and offices for the parties. Plus, even while they were in the vicinity of the festival, they would still have their normal "struggling-artist radar" up and deflector shields on full (I'm being influenced by Jim's article on Takei).

The nice thing about everyone dressing for winter and being away from their home base is that everyone is much more likely to treat you as an equal, and as such open up to seeing what you have to offer. Everyone is trying to stay someplace warm or go skiing or go to a good party or meet new talent or, fancy this, watch some films...