Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Sundance Diary - Part 1

So, I returned to Park City, Utah for my third trip to the Sundance/Slamdance festivals. As always, it was a worthwhile pilgrimmage. I doubt that there's anyplace in the world with a greater mix of networking, parties, indie filmmakers, and movies all in one place at one time. It's like the Oscars for indies.

Even if you don't have a project to promote, I think it's well worth the trip for bonding with fellow indie filmmakers, inspirational success stories, and networking alone. It makes you realize that:

  1. You aren't the only person crazy enough to make a go of it in this industry.
  2. You can be recognized for your work.
  3. Almost every filmmaker in the festivals overcame the same hardships that you face.
I went down primarily to promote "The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide" and just to spend some time vibing with fellow filmmakers. Met and partied with some of my favorite people in the industry and connected and reconnected with a bunch of fellow Down and Dirty DV filmmakers from all over the world. Here's my Sundance Diary 2008...

Day 1 - Slamdance Opening Night Party w/ Dead Prez

Kicked off the festival with the Slamdance crew at the Star Bar on Main St. The Slamdance events are always fun and down-to-earth with an ample supply of genuine characters.

I may be a bit biased, because Shelter premiered there a few years ago, but Slamdance is always good times and good peeps to me. Hung out with old friends and met some cool new ones.

I had no clue that there was gonna be a performance, so imagine my surprise when I heard Dead Prez was gonna hit the stage. Activist emcees M-1 and of Dead Prez turned out the party for those that stuck around a little later.

They played some tracks from their latest album, RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta. Partook of the open bar. Shook what my mama gave me. Partied with friends after the show. Things were off to a good start.

...and later that night a guy falls off a building

As I left the club, I saw some guy who had just fallen a good 40 feet - landing first on a slanted glass ceiling then down onto the concrete. He was bloody but still conscious, although motionless on the pavement on a 14 degree night... Talk about a buzz kill.

Depending on who you want to believe he was:

a) very drunk and fell off a balcony at a party
b) very drunk and trying to scale between two snow-covered buildings
c) a very dumb cat burglar who slipped off the roof of the mall in a botched burglary

I feel for the guy, but any which way you slice it, you can be sure that there was a significant lack of judgement involved in the incident. Snow, rooftops, alcohol and/or idiocy are always a bad combination kids. It was a good reminder to party responsibly (and at low altitudes).

Day 2 - Some Good Seminars

Attended a Sundance seminar on "How to Talk to the Big Guys When You're a Little Guy" which gave advice on programs at various companies that offer film, equipment and services grants to indie filmmakers. The panel consisted of Ric Halpern from Panavision, Lorette Bayle of Kodak, Steve-O of Deluxe Laboratories, David Hays of Efilm, and Allan Tudzin of Fotokem.

They didn't have a rep on this panel, but since this site is about digital filmmaking, I should also tell you that Panasonic and AbelCineTech also offer a Digital Filmmakers Grant consisting of an AJ-SDX-900 Camera (standard def/24P/DVCPRO50) and Editing Rental Package.

The gist that I got from the panel, apart from don't be a jerk to deal with, was that you should demonstrate that you are passionate about your project and equally important, you'll need to demonstrate a solid plan on paper which means, script, shooting schedule, budget, talent and crew attachments, as well as DVD's of previous work. (Funny, it's almost as if they want filmmakers that apply for these grants and programs to actually be prepared to make their movie!)

Sony brought out some of it's latest guerrilla- friendly HD cameras. The XDCam EX and the brand new soon to be released HVR-V1U which
I think it's Sony's first pro-sumer HDV camera with a detachable lens, so naturally the early production model on display was pimped out with a beautiful and no doubt pricey Zeiss Digiprime lens.

Went to "Creating a Low-Budget Film with High Production Value" seminar at the New Frontier . It was given by Norm Hollyn the editor of the new horror flick, "Jack in the Box" and a Post-Production professor at USC. (Check out Norm's Blog.)

Since I'm generally a production guy, it was nice to learn about some of the tools and recent advances in post-production. Norm schooled me to an AVID tool called ScriptSnyc that allows you to import your script into AVID, phonetically scrubs the audio and then it graphically matches your video clips up with the dialogue from your script by drawing lines down the script to represent the dialogue covered by that particular take. (No $#:+!)

Maybe ScriptSync is old hat to some of you, but it blew my mind. This feature allows you to graphically see how much coverage you have for a given scene and easily audition various takes side-by-side. I'm continuously amazed at the new digital tools that are making our lives easier.

Norm also went on to demostrate how simple it is to color-correct footage using MacBeth color charts recorded on location and how they used the recently released Magic Bullet Looks program to customize the look of the "Jack-in-the-Box".

Narrowly dodged a row of PETA protesters hatin' on my endangered Great Grizzly bear fur coat. (Just kidding, my coat is faux Great Grizzly fur.)

Swung through Black House one of several filmmaker lounges up and down Main Street. They were running a trailer of the new documentary, Len Bias, about the tragic story of a would-be basketball great that could've rivaled Michael Jordan.

Also saw some beautiful portraits from the new documentary, The Black List. Producer/Photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and film critic, Elvis Mitchell, teamed up to do a series of interviews with some of the most influential Black figures in America on Black culture. It was recently picked up by HBO Films, so stay tuned.


Kicked it at the Slamdance Happy Hour where my man Howie was serving up drinks (left). Met a cool cast of filmmakers including Jack Truman, who was there with his new film, Outhouse. Jack's previous Slamdance film was the provacatively-titled Phone Sex Grandma.

Also chatted it up with Tucker Dryden who wrote the equally catchy title, "There's a Werewolf in My Attic" directed by Sam Thompson.

Met and kicked it with fellow NYC filmmaker, Benedict Hadley, who was there with hip-hop artist, Analyze, star of Benedict's new feature, The End is the Beginning. I've got a feeling you'll be hearing both their names again.

It always bugs me out how this industry really is very small. In just a few minutes of talking with someone who was up until that moment a total stranger, we discover that we have at least three people in the industry that we both know and/or have worked with.

If there are six degrees of separation between any two ordinary people, I really believe that there are only 2-3 degrees of separation between any two people who've been in indie film game for a minute. Met more good people. Had more good times.

Here's the trailer for Benedict's new feature, "The End is the Beginning":

Peep the music video Benedict directed for Analyze:

Went back to the condo early and crashed out despite a tempting invitation to a 50 Cent Concert after party...that started at 2am. After 2 days of humping up and down mainstreet with a bag full of books and camera gear in cold-ass 14-25 degree temperatures I was already exhausted. (With a few previous Slamdance/Sundance's under my belt, I learned to pace myself.) I was just recharging for the next day's adventure...