More than 200 filmmakers gathered at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent Theatre this past Saturday in an attempt take over the world of film. Together, with enough experts and mentors to start a world class film school, they became the first graduates of Sundance Institute’s ShortsLab: L.A. From Australia to Amsterdam, New York to Nevada, attendees came from pockets around the world to be inspired, encouraged, and educated about the short form—Sundance style.
It should come as no surprise that the Sundance Film Festival is obsessed with short film. Festival Director John Cooper started at Sundance as a short film programmer, as did Director of Programming Trevor Groth. The number of shorts they have seen is so massive that it would make your eyes twitch. But, as Cooper said during his opening remarks, in the 20 years since he began watching, “what’s changed is what a short can do.”
With this new, vital role of shorts as a guide, the real work of the day began. The first session focused on story and featured filmmakers Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Miguel Arteta (Youth In Revolt, The Good Girl), and Jay Duplass (Cyrus, Baghead). Each Sundance Film Festival alumnus shared a film with the participants and then joined Trevor for a rollicking, honest, and illuminating look at the creative process. Despite representing very different perspectives as filmmakers, the panelists were in complete agreement that the best way to improve in short film is by practicing—a lot. After cracking everyone up with his woeful account of an early failure, Arteta challenged the participants to make 12 films over the next year, one every month. Duplass went further, arguing that given the state of current technology, “There’s no excuse for not making a film every weekend.”
After a bustling lunch filled with conversation about the morning’s session, the focus shifted to production. Filmmakers Alliance’s Jacques Thelemaque, SAGindie’s Darrien Gipson, and Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program Director Peter Golub all shared their invaluable expertise in the nuts and bolts of getting a film together. Speaking with regard to the early stages of adding music to film, “Most editors now cut to music even in rough state, for better or worse…Scoring a rough cut is like trying to fit clothes on a running man,” said Golub. Corky Quakenbush, a director who has brought a record nine short films to the Sundance Film Festival, regaled the participants with his perspective on the ‘little miracles’ that production requires. “Trust your passion and let the miracles flow,” he said.
Rounding out the toolkit of tips and tricks was a very lively solo presentation by Kickstarter.com co-founder Yancey Strickler, who was visiting from Brooklyn. Kickstarter’s mission was clear to most participants (A New Way to Fund and Follow Creativity) but most had never had a chance to ask specifics about this new crowdfunding service. Strickler held hands on all inquiries ending with the “5 Tips for Success” he had outlined on a napkin the night before after meeting 80 Kickstarter creators at a meet-up in Los Angeles: 1) Have a realistic funding goal. 2) Set a short duration for your funding. 3) Take time to make a kick-ass video for your pitch. 4) Be creative with your rewards system. 5) Don’t be shy in promoting your project. “What you are doing on Kickstarter is a passionate narrative, as an artist you are part of the story,” added Strickler.
The afternoon rolled on as moderator Brent Hoff of Wholphin joined with YouTube’s Nate Weinstein, Funny or Die’s Chrus Buss, Topspin Media’s Bob Moczydlowsky, WithoutABox/IMDB’s Christian Gaines, and Kim Yutani of the Sundance Film Festival and Outfest for a fascinating look at the current state of short film exhibition. Yutani set the tone by reminding everyone that neither Sundance nor Outfest have restrictions for short film submissions that have appeared on the Internet. Moczydlowsky charged the participants to recognize that the digital world means they must move from thinking like ‘wholesalers’ to thinking like retailers. Buss, Weinstein, and Gaines shared some of the many ways that their sites can help short films find audiences, support, and even—gasp!—revenue.
It’s only appropriate that the final panel of the day was called, simply, ‘Beyond.’ Geoff Stier of Paramonut Pictures, Bec Smith of United Talent Agency, David Worthen Brooks of Fox Digital Studios, and Lana Kim from The Directors Bureau—together with moderator and Sundance Institute Feature Film Program Producer Anne Lai—offered the ShortsLab participants some guidance as to all that has to happen after their film is completed. Smith offered the example of writer/director David Michod, who has shown two shorts at Sundance prior to his debut feature Animal Kingdom, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Festival. Apart from being a stunning talent, Michod smartly used his shorts to build his bona fides within the industry, thereby creating the opportunity he needed to get funding for his feature film. An encouraging story to end the day, plus with the cocktail party and award winners screening for more spirit boosts, the attendees were well fortified to tackle making short films. As one ShortsLab participant looking ahead tweeted, ‘We listened hard. Now it's time to work hard.”
Submit your short film to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo credit: Top panel photograph by Benjamin Hoste and participants photograph by Valerie Macon / WireImage.