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An S&A Sundance Mini Guide From 3 POVs: A Promoter, A Producer & A Programmer

Features
by Kiratiana Freelon
January 14, 2014 4:52 PM
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Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our most popular pieces published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the second of many to come, which I thought was perfectly timed, as the 2014 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in 2 days, and I'm sure those of you who are going (whether for the first time, or if you're a veteran) have already planned out your trips. This was written for the 2013 festival, but still applies. Happy New Year to you all! 

Official Website - http://www.sundance.org/festival/
Dates  10 Days usually starting the second Thursday in January
Type of Film Festival - Independently made films, mainly from U.S.
Type of PeopleFilmmakers, Industry heavy hitters, Buyers, Film enthusiasts 
Deadline for Film Submission - As early as mid-summer and as late as end of September

I’ve written guides to being black at Harvard, and travel guides to Paris and London. So as I delve into filmmaking, I decided to start researching and writing about film festivals across the world. For the first installation, I interviewed three different types of people you’ll typically find at the Sundance Film Festival – the programmer who helps to select the festival’s official films, the producer who wants to sell her film, and the marketer/promoter on the lookout for a good project.

Basic Background – [For the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, 118 feature-length films were selected, representing 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers, including 34 in competition. These films were selected from 12,218 submissions (72 more than for 2013), including 4,057 feature-length films and 8,161 short films. Of the feature film submissions, 2,014 were from the U.S. and 2,043 were international. 97 feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.] Since its first incarnation as the US/Utah film festival in 1978, and reincarnation as the Sundance Film Festival in 1984/85, the festival has emerged as one of the most respected and largest film festivals in the United States. Today, almost 50,000 people travel to the Utah area every January for films, panel discussions, parties, and if they can fit it in, some great skiing. 

Miles Maker – A 2013 Film Independent Project: Involve Fellow, Maker is known in the film industry for his ability to connect films with their audiences through social networking, a skill he perfected with the Pariah film. The 2013 Sundance Film Festival will be his second and this time he’s on the lookout for some great screenplays to bring to the screen.

On Why You Might Not Want To Go To Sundance 

"I was the social marketing producer for the movie Pariah, which premiered in 2011. The film couldn't afford for me to go in 2011. I was bummed I couldn't go but I was very pleased. Cell phone reception is very spotty at Sundance and it's hard to keep a laptop charged. By not being at Sundance, I was able to remain plugged in and focus on twitter streams and mentions. Once the movie premiered, I was able to amplify the buzz online while not being there." 

On Who Should Attend Sundance

"When you don't have a film in the festival you can benefit the most from being there. When you are there with a film that is all you can do. You're setting up interviews, dealing with your publicists. When you are there on your own, you can watch some great films and you can be engaged and be inspired. Your objective is to make relationships."

"You are going to meet people you will ultimately fall back on. But if you go, make sure you have a project to talk about because if you don't, it's not the easiest way to get conversation. 'What do you do? What are you working on?'  Part of your conversational appeal is having something in the works."

On How To Prepare for Sundance

"There needs to be a great deal of prep. Even though things are constantly morphing, you need to connect online and get a full understanding of every event. Getting yourself RSVPs. Creating a calendar with reminders to your phone. It's very easy to forget what is happening. You need to understand what your objectives each day."

On Partying at Sundance

"Partying is about becoming a familiar face. If you are going to a party to have meaningful conversation, then forget it. People are trying to unwind at Sundance… Be fun and be fun to be around and people will remember you as a result."

Katie Naylon – Independent directors and producers dream of Naylon's Sundance Film Festival story—premiering their first feature film during the first Sunday and landing a distribution deal by Tuesday. Focus features bought Naylor's first film (that she wrote and produced), For a Good Time, Call.. () and released it in the fall of last year. 

On Marketing a Film at Sundance

"We made a poster to our film. Literally my co-writers and I and put our own posters up when we got to Utah. We made cocktail napkins that had a hotline number and on the back was a listing of the showtimes. We swiped all the napkins at the parties and replaced them with our napkins. When you called the hotline number you got a recording joking about the movie coming out. That helped boost our team's morale. It probably didn't have a huge influence on who bought, though." 

On Selling a Film at Sundance 

"It happened within 24 hours after it premiered at Sundance. We kind of didn't know what would happen and how quickly. A few different people reached out to us. We met with one of the interested reps for a few minutes. Then the guys from Focus Features crashed our team dinner. One of them was sitting behind our table. We talked about our mutual love of film. The negotiations begin that day and by three am that was done." 

On How to Treat People at Sundance 

"Go to everything that you can get into and invited to. Treat everyone with the same respect whether they are head of company or assistant. The people are just like me, and now we are filmmakers. I would never strive for the most important guy in the room."

Roberta Munroe Munroe programmed short films for five year at Sundance—so she's seen the best and the worst of budding filmmakers. Every short filmmaker should buy her book - How Not to Make a Short Film. This will be her 11th year Sundance and she offered up some practical advice for the uninitiated. 

On How to Act at Sundance 

"Have a good time. Pack well. Don't worry about parties. Be nice because people remember. Don't talk poorly about films publicly because the director could be on the shuttle with you. Be respectful because the fact is you could be sitting next to someone who worked on that movie. Be nice because people can be cranky because it's freezing and it can get hard to get into stuff."

On How to Get In Without a Badge or Reservation at Sundance

"If you don't have a badge, and you are just going, and you want to watch movies… most of the time except for big huge premieres, people end up bailing.  If you arrive a couple of hours in advance and you are the first 10 or 15 you will get in. Bring cash. You are not going to see as many movies if you don't have cash for tickets. The same goes for restaurant reservations. Just show up early and some people usually bail on their reservations."

"There are a number of venues that are open to people without badges. You can go and hang out. There is excellent skiing. There is an amazing shuttle service that takes you everywhere."

On How to Enjoy Sundance

"Stay in the best mood you can. Find the things you can to keep you in a good mood. Focus on what make you happy. If it isn't going to make you happy then don't do it. If going to a cocktail party and standing up isn't fun then don't do it. Don't feel like you have to network and be invited to everything." 

What advice do you have for people attending Sundance this year? We want to hear it all!

Also, do you know anyone who has attended the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso?


Check out Kiratiana’s travels at Kiratianatravels.com and hit her up on twitter at @kiratiana.

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