Building A Better Screenwriter: Behind The Scenes At The 2008 Sundance Labs

Go behind the scenes at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute which plays host to eight Fellows, handpicked from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants, for the coveted 5-day Sundance Screenwriters Lab. The guiding idea behind the program is to create a protective environment that’s free of external pressures and vested interests. Sundance will not produce or finance the films that come out of the Lab, though advisers and Fellows will stay in touch afterward, and some Fellows who continue on to the monthlong Directors Lab in June will benefit from a grants program funded by the Annenberg Foundation. If their films get produced with a budget of more than $1 million, the Institute asks for a “tiny” percentage of the budget, which it funnels back into supporting the Labs, otherwise funded by a combination of corporate and festival financing. The Institute has just added a new fellowship for producers, which has always been part of Redford’s dream — and has doubtless become a more urgent priority in a glutted market of independent films whose profits have significantly dropped in the last few years. Here’s an excerpt from the exhaustive look by my LA Weekly colleague, film writer Ella Taylor:

“Anyone who’s been to summer camp could recognize the instant intimacy that springs up in a group of hermetically sealed people rubbing shoulders round the clock in pursuit of the same mission — in this instance, the perfecting of screenplays the Fellows have brought with them. While they are here, each of these writers will have lengthy daily conferences with multiple advisers, most of them Hollywood or independent film heavies. They will be fed and watered by Institute staff — Feature Film Program director Michelle Satter and her associates, and Institute executive director Ken Brecher, who swans around in outsized lime-green glasses, dispensing wit and encouragement. They will screen each other’s short films and watch selected advisers’ movies. (On the bill tonight is Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’sThe Celebration, followed by a Q&A with Vinterberg, who’s advising for the first time.) They will, if they choose to, walk the beautiful trails, ski downhill or cross-country, and wind down very late at the resort bar.

“The one thing they will not do in this cocooned Shangri-La is write.”

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