questionmarkWhat exactly do you discuss at Sundance? They’re entering with completed scripts, which I assume are perfect to them at the beginning, so where to next? And if you participate in the Screenwriting Lab are you automatically given a Directors Lab spot, if that is what you so choose to do with your completed work?

— Christina Shaver

The scripts the Fellows are bringing to Sundance are completed drafts, but they’re still works in progress. The advisor meetings aren’t notes sessions, but rather a chance to talk through ideas with experienced writers, whose fresh eyes can identify problems and opportunities. It’s like therapy for your script.

Over the last two days, I met with Braden King and Dani Valent, whose script HERE is a road movie set in Armenia, and Sophie Bartes, whose COLD SOULS is an existential comedy.1 Both projects went through the Directors Lab, so the filmmakers had a chance to see how the scenes worked when put up on their feet, which left them with new questions and ideas.

Over the course of the lab, each writer has five meetings with different advisors. In some meetings, I’ve gone page by page with the fellows, looking at how this line on page 19 is setting up an expectation that never really pays off. In other meetings, I’ve left the script in my backpack, instead talking in broad terms about character POV, balancing tones, and the rewriting process. It’s a conversation, and all based on what the Fellow needs. One of the smartest innovations in the Sundance Labs experience is that the advisors meet each morning to talk through the previous day’s sessions, thus building on each other’s work.

I screened THE NINES last night for the group. It was strange to see it in one of same theaters as January, but with a completely different crowd and set of expectations. (And a new, vastly better digital projector.) Atom Egoyan had screened THE SWEET HEREAFTER the second night, and it was terrific to finally be able to ask him questions about his movie and his process.

Sundance doesn’t change much year-to-year, but there have been a few adjustments this time:

  • There’s a documentary lab running concurrently, so we’ve gotten to mingle with some editorially-oriented folks.
  • There’s wireless, and thus blogging.
  • In an effort to reduce waste, they handed out water bottles and coffee mugs upon arrival to use instead of paper cups and disposable bottles. It’s been remarkably effective. Because you’re at altitude, you have to drink a lot of water, and having a container with your name on it makes it simple.2
  • They got rid of wine at dinner, but added receptions to (partially) make up for it. Again, you’re at altitude, so it doesn’t take much.
  1. My final project is Richard Montoya’s WATER AND POWER, adapted from his acclaimed play. I lucked out this year in that all of my assigned projects feel like Actual Movies I Would Pay to See.
  2. We recently banned bottled water at home. Our water cooler was using $145 worth of electricity each year, and that’s not counting all the energy wasted packaging and delivering the giant bottles. It’s surprisingly easy to adjust.