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Andrew Ahn Gleans Insights From Coogler, Tewkesbury at the Screenwriters Intensive

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Andrew Ahn’s 2012 Sundance Film Festival selection Dol (First Birthday).

Andrew Ahn, Filmmaker

Andrew Ahn is a Los Angeles-based Korean-American filmmaker whose short film Dol (First Birthday) screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Below he shares his experience at the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program’s Screenwriters Intensive held Friday, February 15.

By the end of the day, I knew I was ill. It was as if my body couldn’t handle the intensity of the Screenwriters Intensive. My muscles ached, my head throbbed, and I felt that telltale tickle in the back of my throat.

A pilot program supported by the Sundance Institute Diversity Initiative, the Screenwriters Intensive brought together a group of 15 filmmakers to hone their craft. The group was as diverse as the stories we wanted to tell. Each one of us had a different background, perspective, and insight into filmmaking, but we all shared the passion for storytelling.

The day began with a three-hour writing workshop led by the Joan Tewkesbury (Nashville, The Guardian). We wrote spontaneously – lists, character bios, and entire scenes. We had no time to second-guess ourselves. My hand cramped as I tried to get the final lines of dialogue on the page. And even though my scene made absolutely no sense, the exercise made so much sense. As a writer, I often stop myself before I even put something down on the page. But Joan told us to “be ridiculous” and to get out of our own way in order to express our ideas. Many of these ideas will be ridiculous, but every now and then something will click. We just have to keep writing to find the ones that work.

By mid-afternoon, I could feel my body start to shut down. I wrapped myself in my coat while we watched Fruitvale, the 2013 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story and forgot about my achy body. The film has this inescapable narrative thrust and suspense, despite the fact that you already know what’s going to happen. Writer/director Ryan Coogler spoke with the group after the screening and talked about the process of making of the film. I was really inspired by the way he talked about how he decided to represent Oscar Grant on screen, the Bay Area man who was shot dead by BART Police. Ryan’s research was thorough but sensitive, always respectful to Oscar’s friends and family.

After the screening, the group participated in a writers roundtable with Ryan, Joan, Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere), and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball). The highlight of the roundtable for me was when Ryan asked the group “who feels like they have to write?” Half the group raised their hands. But Miguel answered, “Writing is like puking. I don’t want to, but I feel better when I do.” So disgusting, so insightful, so true.

I crawled right into bed after an 11-hour day in the Sundance offices in Los Angeles. And even though my body may have failed me, my creative soul felt invigorated, fearless, and alive.

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