Siena Oberman, USC Cinema and Business student as well as DKA Futurist, checks out new media at the New Frontier at Sundance. Her favorite part and personal recommendation was The Martian experience created by Robert Stromberg, Ridley Scott, and Ted Schilowitz. Siena believes transmedia VR experiences like Fox’s The Martian or Paramount’s Paranormal Activity are key in introducing audiences to the quality and storytelling potential of virtual reality.
So it’s my official first day at Sundance, even though the festival kicked off yesterday… It was a long drive and super cold outside.
This year, I’ve decided to change up my video blogging or vlogging style and do reviews/interviews and cool s@!t, basically sharing what I like, encouraging you, the reader/viewer to share in my experience.
Here’s Chris Milk’s Sundance Institute webpage with more info. Sundance Institute New Frontier
Seriously, you guys, I was completely surrounded by the most beautiful sounds, making this piece an audibly and visually, interactive, captivating experience.
If you can read Chris Milk’s Artist Statement, I promise you it will be worth the strain.
Hi all, Doug Blush again, still recovering from last week’s film screenings and reconnections with dozens of longtime filmmaker friends and heroes. The best part of Sundance, as I said in my blog last year, is actually not just the films…seeing premieres here is an incredible experience, to be sure…but the bonds that the independent film community makes at the events, on the streets, and even at the legendary Davanza’s Pizza place on Park Avenue (see photo!)
On Friday January 23rd, we premiered the two films I worked on in the festival this year, THE HUNTING GROUND from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the team behind THE INVISIBLE WAR, and at the same exact time (gee, thanks schedulers!), SEMBENE, from directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, about the life and work of the “father” of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene (if you haven’t seen his films, do yourself a favor and find them!).
The HUNTING GROUND premiere was full of intense emotions, with a number of our campus assault survivor-activists in attendance, along with two US Senators and a completely packed house. We had a long standing ovation at the end as our survivors took the stage and spoke about their work to bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows and up for legislation and new rules. Like THE INVISIBLE WAR, this film was difficult to tackle, but so satisfying to see in the response it received…our second screening on Saturday morning got three standing ovations as the film ended and our survivors took the stage (and standing ovations are not the norm at Sundance, I can say from many years of experience). The film will be released theatrically soon, and will be broadcast on CNN later this year. Many campus screenings will be happening soon as well…one will likely be planned for USC, and you can pass the word on to others at www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com.
SEMBENE has taken almost seven years to come to Sundance, and I was proud to be a consulting editor on the project. The film weaves the parallel stories of Sembene himself and his longtime biographer and friend, co-director Samba Gadjigo. The interplay of these two Senegalese intellectuals is set against the incredible images and ideas of Sembene’s films, which I barely knew about before i first saw the project. With his films and writing, Sembene fought against French colonialism, Islamic extremism, government corruption, racial and gender inequalities and many other issues, all with a uniquely African sense of image, pace and idealism. The Q&A for the film’s Saturday screening also featured Sembene’s adult son Adain, who broke down crying while remembering his late father. These kinds of emotional moments are what make Sundance screenings so special…you truly don’t know what will happen during the first looks at these new independent films.
The big social event of the weekend for us doc filmmakers was the Saturday night IDA/ro*co party in the center of Park City, where nearly all the documentary crew members converge to trade ideas and enjoy a bit of sponsored libation. I probably talked to 40 filmmakers and artists during this event, and traded war stories with lots of personal heroes. This is the Sundance that really resonates for me…much more than a party, this was a meeting of the grand documentary “tribe”, a chance to come out of our various cave-like edit rooms and spend a few hours in the warm glow that Sundance brings us (and yes, the drinks are free!).
The title of this entry includes the “(plus one!)”, not due to a party RSVP, but because I found out literally with a day left at the festival that ANOTHER film I had edited last year, called BENDING THE LIGHT, was showing at the New Frontiers Microcinema on Main Street. I had worked on this project with legendary director Michael Apted, who has crafted everything from THE UP SERIES to a James Bond film and episodes of the series MASTERS OF SEX. The film tells the parallel stories of five master photographers and the craftsmen who make Canon optical lenses for still photography and cinematic use. I was pretty blown away to stumble into the finished film at Sundance (I hadn’t seen the final color corrected version) and we had a full house for the screening and Q&A. Here’s the trailer: https://vimeo.com/101762811
Finishing that event, I literally had long enough to run over to the USC Alumni and Filmmaker event on Main Street, say hello to some SCA folks, and get in the van for the airport! A great finish to a whirlwind Sundance, but I could have used another week to see the ridiculously great slate of films packed into Park City. Next time…
Careers are made at the Sundance Film Festival. Across generations, filmmakers from Bryan Singer to Ryan Coogler have started their storied careers at the Park City Festival. This year, 33 films with Trojans in key positions were shown at Sundance/Slamdance and 5 films were sold including Diary of a Teenage Girl, Results, Dope, Cop Car, and Finders Keepers. In addition, Red Om Films, a production company founded by actress Julia Roberts, Lisa Gillan, and Marisa Yeres Gill, will be producing a narrative version of the documentary, Batkid Begins.
Several SCA alums also received honors at the festivals. At Sundance, Dope was awarded the U.S. Excellence in Editing Award in the dramatic feature category. In the Slamdance Festival, Hench-DADA alum Einar Baldvin’s MFA thesis project, The Pride of Strathmoor, won Jury Award for Animation Short, and 20 Years of Madness received a Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature.
“It is inspiring to see Park City audiences discover the many unique voices among our alumni and student filmmakers” said Director of Alumni Relations Justin Wilson. “I look forward to seeing as many of these films as possible on campus as part of our screening series.”
USC was “live” from the Park City with coverage on the Sundance Blog. Bloggers included Doug Blush, Ross Putman, Tchavdar Georgiev, and Natalie Qasabian. You can read their entries here:
- Sundance 2015: A Tale of Two Films
- Alum Ross Putman from Park City
- Finders Keepers at Sundance
- A Sundance Education: 5 Lessons Learned
The following films were also part of the festival:
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
Foley Edited by Kimberly Patrick ‘12
Written & Directed by Rick Famuyiwa ‘96
Produced by Forest Whitaker
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi
Production Sound Mixed by Mary Jo Devenney
I SMILE BACK
Directed by Adam Salky
Executive Produced by Sev Ohanian ‘12
SONGS MY BROTHER TAUGHT ME
Produced by Forest Whitaker
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi
Z FOR ZACHARIAH
Produced by Joni Sighvatsson ‘85
Produced by Andrew Kortschak ‘13
Written & Produced by Felipe Marino ‘04
Produced by Joe Neurauter ‘04
Produced by Ross Dinerstein ‘05
Cinematography by Bridger Nielson ‘04
Produced by Shannon Blake Gans
Directed by Nonny de La Peña ‘09
Art Direction by Michael Murdock ‘14
A WALK IN THE WOODS
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Cinematography by John Bailey
Directed & Produced by Bryan Carberry ‘09
Produced by Adam Gibbs ‘08
Co-produced by Greg Lanesey ‘95
Co-produced by Matt Radecki ‘94
Edited by Tchavdar Georgiev ’01
THE HUNTING GROUND
Edited & Associate Produced by Doug Blush ‘88
Edited by Derek Boonstra ‘07
Cinematography by Ayana Baraka
Production Coordinated by Chao Thao ‘14
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
Assistant Edited by Barb Steele
Executive Produced by Brian Grazer ‘74
Edited by Jason Zeldes ‘09
Directed by Ashley York ‘06
Consulting Editing by Doug Blush ‘88
Edited by Brian Scofield ‘11
MYRNA THE MONSTER
Assistant Edited by Jeffrey Glaser
THE COLLECTORS: BEEKEEPING
Directed by Steven Cantor ‘95
SHAUN THE SHEEP THE MOVIE
Produced by Paul Kewley ‘97
Written & Directed by Ryan Gillis ‘14
THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST
Written by Marc Smerling
Written & Produced by Paloma Martinez ‘13
Edited by Monica Salazar ‘13
20 YEARS OF MADNESS
Directed, Produced, Edited & Cinematography by Jeremy Royce ‘13
Produced by Jerry White Jr. ‘13
Produced by Kaveh Taherian ‘12
Cinematography by Will Jobe ‘13
Production Sound & Supervising Sound Edited by Kimberly Patrick ‘12
Post-production Sound & Supervising Sound Edited by Qianbaihui Yang ‘12
Line Produced by Michael Newman ‘12
Associate Produced by Lindsay Villarreal ‘13
FX Edited by Marcello Dubaz ‘12
Composed by Alexis Marsh ‘11
Composed by Samuel Jones ‘11
BATKID BEGINS: THE WISH HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
Written, Edited, & Sound Designed by Kurt Kuenne ‘95
Written & Produced by Bubba Fish ‘13
Sound Design by Ankur Agrawal ‘14
Written & Directed by Miguel Jiron ‘13
THE PRIDE OF STRATHMOOR
Written & Directed by Einar Baldvin ‘14
SOMEWHERE IN THE VALLEY
Written & Directed by David Greenspan ‘01
Produced by Clara Aranovich ’10
Produced by Nicolaas Bertelsen ’11
Produced by Sev Ohanian ’12
Natalie Qasabian here, SCA alum class of 2014 and newcomer to the Sundance Film Festival.
This year, I was lucky enough to make my way to Sundance with Electric City Entertainment, the production company behind Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, and most recently Mississippi Grind, which premiered Saturday January 24th at Eccles Theater. I’ve been production coordinating for the company on their documentaries since July and was ecstatic when asked to ride along during Sundance.
Since I’ve been lucky enough to come to the festival in conjunction with a film and with some amazing producers and executives who are all Park City veterans, I was able to avoid a huge number of amateur mistakes during my festival experience. Inevitably, I still had a couple of “oops” moments. So whether you’re a newbie or a veteran coming to Sundance, hopefully there’s a lesson or two in here that you’ll find helpful (or, at the very least, entertaining).
LESSON #1: You Never Know Who is Behind You
HOW I LEARNED: The Hard Way
After any screening, and especially on the opening night of a film where executives, buyers, and the filmmakers themselves are present, if someone asks you, “So what did you think?” near the theater, answer very, very quietly.
After The Bronze premiered Thursday night at Eccles, an agent friend of my boss asked me the expected, “What did you think?” I responded animatedly, but was quick to remark what I didn’t love about the film – apparently way too loudly. I was immediately shushed by my boss who was quick to point out one of the producers standing right behind me. Lucky for me he didn’t hear (or at least acted like he didn’t), but anyways, critique with caution!
LESSON #2: RSVP RSVP RSVP
HOW I LEARNED: The Easy way
RSVP for every party you can get a link or an invite to. If you know anyone in the industry and can get your hands on to the coveted party / event grid, I have three words for you: RSVP, RSVP, RSVP. As much as you plan at Sundance, things will shift and change when you get here. Get on all the lists, regardless of it clashing with other plans or parties. You never know where you’ll end up, so play it safe and RSVP for everything.
I thought I’d be working all night on Saturday (the premiere day for Mississippi Grind) only to find myself relieved of Electric City obligations around 10:30pm. My first thought was,
“good thing the Trojan family takes care of their own.” Sev Ohanian (Producer of Results, which was in Competition this year at Sundance) offered me some Sundance event wisdom and helped me get on some exciting lists this year; one of which was James Franco’s Saturday night party hosted by The Art of Elysium and Black Label Media in Deer Valley.
LESSON #3: Falling
HOW I LEARNED: The Hard Way
You will fall. Accept it. If it happens at the start, hey, at least you get it over with. If you should fall particularly hard, there is a clinic on 1665 Bonanza Dr. Park City, Utah 84068.
Unluckily for me, I learned this one the hard way on day 1 of my festival experience. At around 6pm I took a nasty fall on some undetectable black ice leaving my right wrist sprained. The positive in this, and my lesson learned was that a sprained wrist clad with a black splint makes a good icebreaker during interactions with new people.
LESSON #4 – Network / Mingle First, Movies Later
HOW I LEARNED: The easy way
The first weekend of Sundance is when the important events and parties happen. Plan on attending as many as possible during those first couple days. Don’t be heartbroken about not getting into premieres the first weekend. By week B, or the halfway mark of Sundance, tickets to films become way easier to score. Maximize your time by networking and attending the important parties first, catching films second.
If you’re at the festival with credentials or know someone with them, get your tickets at Festival Headquarters. Festival HQ opens at 8am (line up at 7:45am to get a better spot) and you can score tickets for the same day or the next day. Planning ahead and buying for the next day is the best way to ensure you’ll get to see what you want.
I learned this one the easy way courtesy of my bosses and Trojan friends who were quick to share this advice. Standing at line at HQ is also a great place to meet people and network!
LESSON #5 – Getting Around
HOW I LEARNED: The hard way
Avoid Main Street with a car especially after the sun goes down. Main Street is less than a mile long, but it can take you 20 minutes to drive through during certain hours, especially during week 1. If you have a car, buy a parking spot in advance and navigate the back roads to get there. Park it and walk – it’s the best way to get somewhere.
I learned this one the hard way one day 1 when I was supposed to pick up someone on Main Street. I quickly learned that “pick me up on main” is code for find a back road that leads close by.
If you don’t have a car, Sundance has a great free shuttle system that will get you to all the theaters and to Main Street. Just make sure to plan ahead and budget enough time to get to screenings. You want to be between 15 to 45 minutes early too to ensure a seat.
A huge Fight On! to Hench-DADA MFA alum Einar Baldvin, whose master’s thesis project, The Pride of Strathmoor, just took home the Jury Award for Animation Short at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival!
And check out the trailer for The Pride of Strathmoor below!
A big shout out to everyone who came out to USC’s 2015 Sundance Film Festival Cocktail Party at the Riverhorse in Park City! Here are some snapshots of the event. Thank you all for making it one to remember.
By Tchavdar Georgiev
As filmmakers we often hear the saying that documentaries are “stranger than fiction” and that if you wrote this as a narrative script no one would ever believe you.
FINDERS KEEPERS that I had the privilege of editing together with directors Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel, takes the term “stranger than fiction” to a new high. It is by far the funniest and most bizarre tale that has ever come my way involving a pitched legal battle over the ownership of a severed leg.
As a die-hard Sundancer, I always look forward to getting onto Main Street and start meeting my friends as well as total strangers wondering what are the films they enjoyed the most so far. Usually the response is: “Go see this and this film. I cried my heart out.”
Well this year I would proudly tell them: “Come see FINDERS KEEPERS, you will laugh all the way through.” And yet, it was the humor that I found the most challenging in shaping how to tell this story that was born out of tragedy for the family of the main character and amputee John Wood. As an editor you spend endless hours in front of the computer getting to know in an intimate way the inner workings of your character, whom you have never met in person. It is usually at the premiere after all is said and done you get to spend some time together. I was so excited to finally meet John Wood and ask his impressions of the film. He bit his lip, took a sip out of his non-alcoholic drink, looked into the distance and only then replied that he originally thought that the filmmakers are no different than any news or reality tv crew that has come out to interview him interested only in how to make the wackiest freak show out of him. But gradually as the shooting stretched over six years, him and his family started to develop a special bond with the filmmakers, where they would open up more and more on camera and speak freely about the tragedy of the plane crash in which John lost his leg and his father, as well as the dark fall into the years of alcoholism and addiction.
It was incredibly gratifying that both John and the family were deeply touched by the film. And then John tore up and said that he was never able to get himself to apologize to his father while he was still alive for all the grieve he caused him as an addict, but the film that we have made is in a way his apology, his closure and his memorial to his Dad. He also hoped that other people would be inspired by it in their understanding of how to fight addiction.
As for me, I am grateful for being part of John Wood’s journey and working together with such an incredible team of Oscar winning producers Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon, director Clay Tweel, as well as the many Trojans involved in the project – Bryan Carberry (director,producer, editor), Adam Gibbs (producer), Matt Radecki and Greg Lanesey (co-producers). It was also a special treat to be sitting at the premiere next to my USC mentor and teacher Lisa Leeman who taught me quite a bit about storytelling and documentary editing.
Ross Putman from Sundance
I just met a llama (pictured).
Sundance is a weird place. It’s a confluence of so many things at one time, it’s often difficult to gain your bearings. And in some ways, it’s as though the festival prefers it that way; your senses off-kilter and unaccustomed, struggling to make sense of the winter wonderland in which you find yourself. There are the massive mansions overlooking the city, designed like one might imagine a mountain-chalet-Vegas-themed casino to look, complete with massive screening rooms, picture windows, and color schemes evincing a particular attachment to shades of brown. There are the theaters, strewn throughout the valley and not easily connected between (or certainly, not with swiftness), holding such varied numbers of people between them that it does not seem inappropriate to read, in the subtext, some prejudice against a particular film built-in to the assignation of a smaller screening venue. Then there are the restaurants, clearly designed almost entirely for the yearly-visiting visiting Angelenos, every guest grumbling at the cost, quietly suspecting that there might, in fact, be a “regular” menu that costs significantly less, distributed literally every day that isn’t during the festival.
And then, there are the movies. I forgot about the movies.
My first year attending Sundance, I was freshly 23 years old, having just started USC’s MFA program. I convinced my beleaguered parents to finance my participation in the USC-sponsored trip, allowing me to attend the film festival to end all film festivals. This was my ticket. I was a narrative screenwriter, dammit, and these narratives were selling to Harvey Weinstein and Fox Searchlight and all those cool indie distributors that released all the cool indie movies I loved and wanted to write.
So I packed my bags, pulled out the winter coat I had been ignoring in the back of my closet, and bought my ticket. And I’ll be damned if my way there didn’t live up to all my over-inflated expectations. I flew Delta! They gave out free peanuts and soda! Jane Lynch was sitting in first class! Yes, I was en route to my destiny, where my newfound matriculation as a USC graduate student would open doors—nay, blow the doors wide open.
Now, never mind the fact that I had zero tickets, no party invites, and absolutely no business being in Park City. Who cares about that? I saw Oprah on Main Street. OPRAH. Yeah. And then I successfully waitlisted a few movies! I saw that Lil’ Wayne documentary about how he drinks a lot of cough syrup. I saw some spring break-themed movie that I think starred Amy Poehler? I saw some shorts! Oh God, did I see shorts!
That was six years ago. Since then, I’ve graduated. I’ve worked with directors, producers, and other filmmakers. I’ve produced a movie, THE YOUNG KIESLOWSKI (which, full disclosure, did not play the Sundance film festival), and went out on my own to make more of the kind of films I love, that I’ve always loved, and that I fall further in love with at every Sundance.
And now, traveling here in 2015, this place looks much different than it did the first time I stepped onto Main Street. Most everything is the same, but my perspective has changed.
After my first trip failed to produce a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers, I refined my strategy. I booked my own condo (way too far out) and bought some tickets (but didn’t get any movies I loved). I went to a few parties (I conned my way in, I guess). Here’s a fun tip: the worst thing that can possibly happen if you try to crash a party is that you won’t get in. Which is what would have happened if you didn’t try in the first place. So don’t lose too much sleep over party-crashing anxiety. Sometimes it actually works.
In the years that followed, I got us even closer to Main street. I got more party invites. I traded them with my friends. I had business cards printed, despite the fact that I barely had any “business” to speak of. I met my future manager, my future lawyer, and countless creative collaborators.
And then I kept coming back.
Six years on, Sundance looks a lot different than it did my first time there. I still haven’t premiered a movie here. I still haven’t seen a movie in the Egyptian theater (It just worked out that way… I promise I have nothing against it). And I still manage to always lose my voice around the third or fourth day of the festival (if you were hearing me read this rather than reading it yourself right now, you’d tell me to stop talking). The friends and colleagues I’ve met over the years at the festival are now making their own movies, getting into Sundance, and selling them to distributors. I’m seeing the people I care about have success at the place that made me feel it was even possible. And it feels pretty great.
I have met some filmmakers who say they’ll only go to Sundance once they have a movie here. I understand the sentiment, but my yearly trips have brought me to believe that those people actually have it backwards. The way I see it, coming to Sundance and experiencing it first hand, is the way you’re going to get your future movie here in the first place.