What’s the Big Deal About Sundance?

what's sundance

Nearly every day I see posts on the Utah Filmmakers’ page and various other casting spots-

CASTING- Short film to be submitted to film festivals. Unpaid. “Craft services” will be provided.

So you read between the lines. Someone’s passion project that maybe has enough $$ to pay for post production and some festival entry fees and probably won’t make it beyond the LDS or LA online film festivals. But, still, there is that carrot. Maybe my film will make it into Sundance.

The Sundance Film Festival is regarded as the largest American independent film festival in the land; attended by more than 120,000 people and 1,300 accredited press. Broadcast world wide on TV and Youtube. And every filmmaker seems to think they have a “Sundance film.”

This year, Sundance organizers sifted through a record-breaking 15,100 submissions including 3,853 feature-length films and 10,397 short film submissions. Guess how many are chosen to screen? 118 feature-length films and 74 shorts. I’m not a whiz at math but 74 out of 10k seems like nasty odds to me.

Don’t let that stop you. Why not strike out for the Holy Grail? Crazier things have been known to happen. I had an editor once tell me that I should write as if I’m going to enter the article into a competition. Translation: Give it your all even if you have a snowflake’s shot in hell.

Sundance on Main Street

In two weeks, the Sundance Film Festival will bombard little Park City, Utah, and those in the film industry, press and general public will have a chance to see what “giving it your all” looks like to Fest organizers. To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of terrible films at Sundance. One in particular involved seeing Dennis Hopper in full frontal. No one should ever have to see that. But I’ve also seen gems like High Tension, Marjorie Prime, Winter’s Bone, Garden State, Whiplash, Reservoir Dogs, Memento, Before Sunrise. Sorry, Napoleon Dynamite fans. Not my fave. See? Here’s the thing. One girl’s dog is another’s diamond.

Sundance Swag

Is Sundance Worth the Hype

People come to Sundance for a thousand different reasons.

Invited filmmakers obviously come for the accolades, to sell their babies and network with those who can further their career. They have the honor of walking a red carpet, seeing their film play out onscreen in front of a packed house of press, cinephiles and distributors and they get to party like they’re Prince in 1999.

Distributors come for that “first look” and set up frantic phone calls and meetings at all hours during the Fest, deciding whether to snag a film and have it announced to the world right then and there.

Festival Sponsors and Brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their name and message in front of those 120,000. Dell, Stella Artois, AT&T, Acura, Lyft, Chase Sapphire are some of the “official sponsors” but then there are the “unofficial ones” who save serious $$$ and piggy back on the parade by hosting their own lounges and parties along Main Street and off. Brands like Grey Goose, LegionM, Google, Sony, National Geographic, ICM work their magic for celeb and industry attention but more on the sly. Who could forget when Uber tried to have a private launch pad within city limits for a VIP helicopter. Their events are primarily “VIP only” while most of the official Sundance sponsors welcome the general public.

The circle completes with print and online media who not only benefit financially from the interviews, panels and red carpet walks by the filmmakers but also establish key relationships with brand sponsors who might shower them with swag to write about or endorse their future projects.

Where Do You Fit In

You’re not a brand, a journalist or invited filmmaker so what’s in it for you? The average Joe may attend Sundance to catch a peek of their favorite actor, see a film before anyone else, hear some of the best live music in Utah at various venues up and down Main, take a virtual test spin in an Acura, participate in giveaways, grab a free beer at the Canada Goose Basecamp happy hours and just take in the Hollywood scene. If you wind up talking to the right crowd you might even get invited to one of those late night VIP parties. My boyfriend was friends with bouncers all over town and they would let us in while others lined up for hours.

Or maybe you are a nascent actor, screenwriter or director looking to meet someone to further your career dreams?  Let me tell you an anecdote. Prior to the Fest, I was handed a brilliant script to peddle that would have been a killer vehicle for my daughter as the lead and, of course, a “Sundance film”. Despite meeting agents, producers, directors, and other writers, not a single one read that script. Ever. You don’t go to Sundance hoping to be discovered. These industry folk have better things to do with their limited Sundance time.

Why I Do Sundance

I often dream that one day either my daughter or I will have a film that premieres at Sundance, not because we’ll be “seen”, be handed larger roles, or walk through town laden with shopping bags teeming with swag. Because we would get to explore Sundance as a whole other dimension. It seems like such a brilliant world.

But that isn’t why I go. I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Utah in 1990. Once a year, I get a little taste of home. The long lines for film premieres, the Q and As with filmmakers, paparazzi/celeb sightings, coffee with an old friend, the showcasing of latest trends, the sting of gridlock traffic and the joy of knowing the circus leaves at the end of the month. For two weeks out of the year, Park City turns into little Hollywood. It’s pretty f*^%ing cool.


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