The Sundance Film Festival increasingly has been opening its doors to television, with new TV series making their premiere there and independently produced pilots getting screenings alongside independent movies in search of a buyer.
But there is a first at this year’s indie festival with When the Street Lights Go On, a pilot commissioned by Hulu that was passed on by the streaming service and has been looking for a new home. The project, produced by Paramount TV and Anonymous Content, will have its world premiere today at 2:30 PM at the the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, with a second screening tomorrow in Salt Lake City.
The idea to bring When the Street Lights Go On to Sundance came from the pilot’s director and executive producer, documentary helmer Brett Morgen, who is a Sundance regular and previously had his 2007 Sundance Channel docu series Nimrod Nation do a preview screening at the festival the same year his Chicago 10 was the opening-night film.
While Morgen called the Nimrod Nation Sundance premiere “a low-key affair,” things have changed during the past 10 years, with both When the Street Lights Go On screenings sold out. He will be joined at the Street Lights premiere by the pilot’s stars Odessa Young and Nicola Peltz.
Hulu late last year passed on its remaining pilots, including When the Street Lights Go On and Citizen, both from Paramount TV, and Crushed from Lionsgate TV. As Paramount TV was shopping Street Lights to other outlets, Morgen, with the company’s blessing, reached out to the Sundance festival’s longtime programmer Trevor Groth, sending him a copy of the busted pilot, and it was taken in as part of the festival’s Independent Pilot Showcase. The relatively new program presents independently developed and financed projects. Two years ago, the showcase featured Animals, a privately financed animated series from fellow Sundance darlings, the Duplass brothers. The screenings drew interest and led to a two-season pickup by HBO.
Morgen is looking for a similar outcome for Street Lights, which comes to Sundance without a network.
“I think for all of us involved, it was such a rewarding creative experience,” he said. “Most pilots that don’t get picked up get buried and are never seen, and we are ecstatic that we will be able to share this work with the public. We are hoping that the audience would respond and that someone would pick up the show.”
Morgen also feels that When the Street Lights Go On‘s pedigree makes it a perfect fit for Sundance.
“I think it’s really appropriate that Sundance has started to embrace independent television in part because I believe the lines between independent film and television are blurred and Street Lights is a great example of that,” he said.
The project was written years ago as a feature script by Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe, then-21-year-old students at AFI. Morgen, with Anonymous, optioned the script. In 2012, they developed it as a $7 million feature but, despite attaching a name young star and the script ranking second on the 2011 Black List only behind The Imitation Game, they couldn’t secure financing.
“This is in essence what happens in independent cinema,” Morgen said.
In 2013, Paramount TV, which has a deal with Anonymous, offered to develop the project as a TV series. The script was tweaked and sold to Hulu, but there were no major changes.
“We really approached it as movie, it is very cinematic” Morgen said, noting that for him and his core crew on the pilot, which he directed, this was their first TV shoot having done only movies before. They all agreed on the last day of filming that there was nothing they would’ve done differently if this was a movie rather than a TV show.
In the vein of Stand by Me, When the Street Lights Go On is a coming-of-age thriller about a sleepy, suburban town that is rocked by the brutal murder of a high school girl and her teacher in summer 1983. Morgen, Hutton and O’Keefe executive produce alongside Anonymous Content’s Chad Hamilton, Tariq Merhab, Michael Sugar and Steve Golin.
Upcoming TV series that are getting Sundance premieres this year include Fox’s Shots Fired, Amazon’s I Love Dick and ABC’s Downward Dog.