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Episodic Story Lab

September 27–October 2, 2014

Over the past five years, we have witnessed an explosion in the opportunities available for writers developing episodic content for cable and online platforms. We have also seen audiences and critics embrace the bold vision and complex characters that are thriving in drama and comedy with a business landscape that is continuing to evolve. Additionally, the development of web series has become both a place to pilot stories and create content for the expanding global audience consuming entertainment on mobile devices.

Although the opportunities are growing, there are still few training grounds for writers with independent and diverse voices who want to work in this changing landscape of episodic writing. Sundance Institute’s Episodic Story Lab will provide independent and underrepresented writers the opportunity to learn how to develop stories and characters that play out over multiple episodes, working in a setting where they can hone their writing skills and gain insight into navigating the business with accomplished creative and strategic mentors. Our world-renowned Screenwriters Lab will serve as a model as we identify and develop new writers, compelling stories, and showrunners/creators for the burgeoning opportunities for episodic storytelling on all platforms.

The Lab will be organized as an immersive experience for ten writers over a five-day period at the Sundance Resort in Utah, home of our Feature Film Program and Documentary Film Program Labs. Although drama and comedy writing (single camera half hour comedy) are considered different skill-sets in episodic storytelling, the Lab will include writers and advisors from both areas of focus, divided into separate tracks for the first three days of one-on-one creative story sessions. The full group will come together for late afternoon and evening screenings and conversations and for the remainder of the Lab. The second half of the Lab will include extended in-depth sessions focused on navigating the key creative and tactical elements that are central to any writer/showrunner’s success. The activities of the Lab will include the following components:

  • One-on-one sessions with Creative Advisors, providing focused feedback on pilot scripts and season one story arcs – Day 1 and 2
  • The Writers’ Room, Breaking Story: Small group sessions with Creative Advisors focusing on breaking the story of several projects' second episode – Day 3
  • Presentations/Conversations: Business of Developing and Selling Episodic TV, Producing Responsibilities and Politics, Importance of Collaboration, Succeeding as a Showrunner, Business of Developing Serial Content – Day 4
  • Pitching, followed by small group feedback sessions – Day 4
  • Strategy/Road Map sessions on next steps for each writer – Day 5
  • Presentations/Case Studies/Conversations about breakthrough series and pilots – every day in the late afternoon and evening


Ten writing fellows will be chosen through a rigorous outreach and selection process focusing on an original or adapted (from optioned source material) pilot script and a brief treatment describing the story/character arc for Season One of a ten episode order. The ten projects chosen will include both one-hour dramas and single-camera half-hour comedies.


  • Emerging writers and writer/directors from all mediums, including independent narrative features, documentary, theatre, and fiction, who are developing an episodic series. Applicants must have at minimum a completed script for the pilot episode and a treatment for the story and character arcs for ten episodes.
  • Emerging writers in the episodic space who have not yet sold a pilot to a studio/network or online platform.
  • A priority of the program is to identify and support writers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the television industry.

Creative Advisors

Sundance Institute has traditionally brought together many of the most accomplished writers and directors as Creative Advisors. Our Labs are distinguished by a culture of generosity and the creation of a lasting community of new writers, established professionals and Sundance staff.

For this new Lab, we will bring together showrunners, non-writing producers and television executives, all at a high level of creativity, innovation and success in episodic storytelling.

Year Round Continuum of Support

The Feature Film Program has distinguished its program by offering a customized and robust suite of support which extends from script development to connecting with worldwide audiences. This year-round support system includes creative and tactical support post-Labs, and is key to the success of our alumni in films produced, audiences reached and significant awards and recognition on the US and world stage.

The Feature Film Program model of year-round support for writers and projects will also be a central feature of the Sundance Institute Episodic Story Initiative. This support system will include ongoing mentorship, providing creative and strategic guidance about getting projects developed and produced as pilots and series. The support will be customized and focused on when it is most needed and will have the greatest impact.

Application Guidelines

For the inaugural year of the Lab, the Institute will consider applicants by invitation only. Institute staff will source applicants through extensive outreach to a network of alumni, mentors, industry sources and other artist support programs and diversity initiatives. An open application process will be considered for future years.


If you have additional questions about the Episodic Story Lab, click here for our FAQ.