Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sundance 2012

I posted on my Facebook page that the 2012 Sundance Film Festival might have been my best, yet. And I've had so many people as me why, that I think it's deserving of a fully fleshed-out blog. Also, if you haven't already noticed, my blog activity has fallen off terribly in the last several months. So, it's time to talk about what's been going on with me in my mildly insane filmmaker's life.

First of all, I'd decided firmly against going to Sundance 2012. After many years of never missing the fest, I figured it's a good year to take a break since I had no specific reason to be there. Also, I had submitted my feature script "Hurricane Jane" (first new one in 5 years, thank you very much) to the Sundance Lab where it was taken into the final round of consideration but ultimately didn't make the cut. So, I didn't feel like going to the fest and hearing from Lab participants about how AMAZING it all was. A bit childish, I know. But I can be that just like anybody else, sometimes.

But then, a bunch of filmmakers I know got into the fest - Ava DuVernay with "Middle Of Nowhere", James Ponsoldt with "Smashed", Nicholas McCarthy with "The Pact". And most importantly, one of Filmmakers Alliance's fiscal sponsorship projects, "Debutante Hunters"would be playing there. But this one was done by friend Maria White, whose husband, Matthew Mebane, had done his Slamdance short "Tackle Box" while an FA member.

Also, my good buddy Jim Hoffman was going along with another friend (his Section 101 partner) Liz Leahy and her very cool hubby, Peter. Never want to miss an opportunity to do Sundance with those great peeps. But, also, Jim is a partner in the production fund we are creating and is working actively to help us pull it together. Another wealthy and influential friend of his, whom I've met with previously, was going to be there. So, we thought it would be a good opportunity to hang with him and "close" him, if we could.

So, had to go. I quickly scrounged up some accomodations and began planning. So, here's the secret to a successful Sundance in a nutshell: Two main things. Preparation (even if last minute) and Balance. I define my goals (know what's going on and what I want to go on), then prepare accordingly well in advance of going. Well, in this case, there was no "well in advance". But there was enough time to get shit done. Then, when I get there, I make sure I have a nice, smart balance of movies, biz, parties, and recreation/relaxation - including quiet time. Also, I make sure I have a comfortable, convenient living space and that I always hang with good peeps. Simple. I was confident about most of it, except balance, of course. That's the hardest. But I was determined to get it right this time.

Of course, I decided I wouldn't drive anymore. An 11-hour drive is, of course, wearying. And the fact that I would be bringing very few materials would make flying easy. But a quick check of last-minute flight costs had me scurrying back to my car. At the 11th hour, my friend (and Sundance alum for "Design" in 2002) Davidson Cole decided, if I'm driving, he's in. To further lower gas costs, I posted for any additional peeps who wanted to ride along. I found Jack Tatum, a filmmaker who was on the Slamdance short film jury. And uber-prolific movie critic Robert Koehler. So, we piled in with all of our stuff - including a giant bag courtesy of my friend Vincent Spano who asked if I could take some winter gear up for him so he didn't have to lug it on the plan. From the size of the bag, he was planning on staying for 3 winters along with cross-country skiing and glacier climbing. Nonetheless, the four of us managed to squeeze comfortably into my gas-guzzling Toyota FJ Cruiser.

I knew things were off to a good start when Jack and Robert turned out to be great traveling mates. We had some nice chats, plenty of necessary breaks and, by sharing the driving duties, managed to turn the 11 hour drive into a very pleasant experience. And the normally brutal Park City weather had not hit, yet, as we drove in late on Thursday night.

After dropping our mates off, we passed on the Opening Night Party and took it easy the first night. I had done my party prep work, and got myself on the list of a bunch of fun, meaningful parties. Selecting which parties to go to is like an art in itself. Everybody wants to get into the high-profile parties like HBO, Sundance Channel, Variety and the agency parties - and those can indeed be fun sometimes - but they are such circuses it is hard to really connect with the people you need or want to connect with. Also, you have to be clear about what your goals are - who are the people you need/want to meet? But that is only half of it. You need to think about what you bring to the table. Why would these people want to meet and talk to you? Because you're a brilliant filmmaker, a talented actor, a hot babe? That's not enough. If you are any or all of those things, there are dozens of others like you. There should be some clear, mutually beneficial reason you want to bother the head of acquisitions for HBO. Otherwise, leave them alone unless somebody organically introduces you or you organically work up a conversation with them. They'll be around when you truly have something to bring to the table.

So, since we had a big party schedule ahead of us, and were exhausted by the drive, we chilled on Thursday night. The opening night party would have been a good one to connect/re-connect with peeps, but gotta listen to da body. That's rule #1. Our condo was nice and located very close to bus lines in the Prospector Area. And we had tons of provisions we picked up in LA at Trader Joe's (although there is one in Salt Lake). It was good to chill.

Hold on!!....I realize as I'm writing this, that I'm rapidly drifting into giving every boring detail (well, boring to a reader, but awesome experience) of the trip. So, I'm going to put the brakes on that and sum up what rocked and what...didn't.

What rocked:
  • Jim, Liz, Peter, Davidson, Alexis, Flo, Mike, Gary, Vera, Christo, Elana, Sherrie, Mike P., Trevor, Mary Kay, Rocco, Steak Abigail, Stephanie, Maria, Matthew, Dan, Marietta, Shane, and more, I'm sure....
  • Closing $$ for production fund
  • Sundance team
  • Alumni Office
  • "Debutante" team
  • New Frontiers
  • Late Night Lounge
  • BlackHouse
  • No Name Bar
  • Reconnecting with soooo many peeps
  • Waitlist lines (sometimes very fun and you always meet peeps)
  • Alcohol-tinged discussions about films and creativity
  • "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present"
  • "Wrong"
  • "An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty"
  • New Frontiers Party
  • Shorts Award and Bowling Party (bowled 3 games!!)
  • Film Independent Party
  • "That's What She Said" Party (didn't see the flick, though)
  • Columbia Alumni Party
  • Telefilm Cananda Party
  • Kickstarter Party
  • Park City buses
  • Snowstorm (the weather in general was mild, but the snowstorm was sooo beautiful)

What didn't rock:
  • Trying to get tickets to films (good for Sundance, though)
  • Couldn't get in to see any films of filmmakers I knew
  • Ridiculously crowded first weekend
  • Ridiculously dead second half (except for films, of course)
  • FA Outreach table in the Filmmaker Lodge (room was packed, but all were watching the seminar on the flat screen). 6 people came to the table. Half were my friends
  • Parties where you RSVP'd and were confirmed, but somehow weren't on the list
  • Very little dancing at parties (except Black House, of course)
  • Gifting suites (when is that gonna die?)
  • Cheezy hubs like Entertainment Weekly, Grey Goose and Bing Bar
  • Closing night Awards party (we missed the actual awards ceremony and just made the party)
  • Parking
  • Post-snowstorm muck
  • Bunk bed for too many nights
There were films I didn't like, but I won't trash any films. I'll leave that to reviewers. Hooray for just getting a film made and programmed at Sundance

Over-all, the positives far, far, far outweighed the negatives. I had clear business goals (raise money, forge biz connections), learning goals (what the hell is a-goin' on out in the indie film world?), creative goals (develop some ideas for my own project and get inspired by other work), social/professional goals (hang with good friends, reconnect with peeps and meet cool new peeps with stuff going on), movie-watching goals (saw 12 films - maybe a record for me) and just generally have a good time without over-doing it (rest when I need it). I accomplished them all. Never done that before. Next year, I plan to do it again. But this time, with a feature film in the fest (have already had two shorts there, time to move on...) or a project in the Lab.

See y'all next year.

Me, Elena Bugaeva, Davidson Cole, Flo Ankah and Jim Hoffman hanging at Sundance's Late Night Lounge

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jacques,

    I'm an independent producer/director, and I've followed your blog for some time. Any possibility of another Sundance recap article, perhaps dealing with the panels and industry 'mood' regarding distribution, etc.?