I wanted to share some of my experiences from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab last month. It was a genuinely life-changing experience, and one that has fundamentally changed the prospects for this film. Here was our great group of fellows:
It takes a village to make an independent film, and there are few villages as important and supportive as the Sundance Institute. If you don’t know the institute and its programs, you certainly know the films that have been helped by the Institute -- like Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Dee Rees’ Pariah, Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Half Nelson, Josh Marston’s Maria Full of Grace, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
For more about what the Lab is, exactly, here's a brief video:
The Institute does so much that extends beyond the five days of the lab, however, providing continual support and connections that help a film get made and find an audience. It has already drastically changed the future for this project and hopefully these updates will start coming much more quickly -- and contain more major news -- as we approach our late-summer shoot.
Now, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to get a bit more personal and speak to how the lab affected me personally.
During the last day of the lab, as I walked the grounds of the beautiful Sundance Resort, there was a particular moment where I realized it had changed my life. The advisors had dove so deeply into my script that they had exposed flaws in my screenplay that were not just flaws with my writing – they were flaws with ME. While my MANCHILD draft was polished, intellectual, and precise – every single thing in the script was there for a reason, and I believed I’d painted a convincing portrait of a rich world – the overall project was opaque when it came to matters of the heart. As a result it lacked emotional availability – the same emotional availability that has been missing in my own life at times, due to my own faults. (There are plenty of other issues with the script, but this was the global one!). Ultimately, the Lab is all about dropping your shields and allowing yourself to be vulnerable: vulnerable to your material, to your experiences, to your weaknesses, to others. As the week unfolds you can see everyone lower their shields – I certainly did, and as a result I couldn’t be more excited about the next draft of my screenplay, and the next draft of me.
Throughout the experience I forgot the rest of the world existed. This feeling carried on when the festival began (my first Sundance!) and tens of thousands of festivalgoers descended on Park City – because even then, everyone you meet is focused on Sundance. But a few days later, as I was walking up Main Street, I saw through the window of a bar a football game on TV. The idea that this sport was being played, live, somewhere else in the world, and millions of people cared about the result – it seemed almost absurd to me, that time had not stopped during the lab, and that the world had gone about its business, apathetic to such a formative, inspiring experience for me and my little movie. And so I enjoyed the rest of the festival, saw some great films, met a lot of talented people, and got very little sleep. And then I came home, opened my notebook, and returned mentally to a place that I’ll be coming back to for the rest of my life: the Sundance Lab.
I'll have the next draft of the script finished in a couple of weeks -- applying the things I learned from the lab -- and then things should really get going! After so many years of work, it's an understatement to say that I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for all your continued support!
P.S.: if you're a writer yourself, I added some takeaways from the Lab to the middle of this version of the update at No Film School.