Creative advisor/producer MaryJane Skalski and Lauren McBride at the 2017 Creative Producing Lab.
© 2017 Sundance Institute | Brandon Cruz
Lauren McBride is an independent film producer based in New York City and a 2017 producing fellow with her project “Selah and the Spades.” Learn more and apply for the Creative Producing Lab & Fellowship or the Documentary Creative Producing Lab & Fellowship.
I nearly didn’t apply to the lab. I submitted my application hours before the deadline. I obsessed over every word and knew it wasn’t good enough. I thought that even if I did get in, with my full-time job as a program manager at Google, I’d feel like an outsider who didn’t belong. I’d been working on the film I brought to the lab for years: helping with script and story, looking for financial support, building the team of filmmakers that could help us bring the film into the world. Yet, I didn’t really consider myself a producer.
And then Anne Lai called me.
Going through the Sundance Creative Producing Lab and Fellowship was transformative. Here are five things about the lab that changed my career and my life:
1. The new perspective you’ll get on building a career in producing. Sitting in a room (and in the grass and in the movie theater and at the lunch table and at the bar) with some of the most esteemed and successful independent film producers in the industry changed how I think about the possibilities for my career. Their insight and candor were unparalleled. I was able to see how they each made their career path their own. They each made a series of choices that reflected their values, and that is what defined their trajectory. There’s no one way to get there. And my path to producing, through a career at Google, has come to feel more authentically me.
2. The (near) total disconnectedness. There’s reliable wi-fi in a few key locations, and pro tip: there’s a small triangle between Rehearsal Hall and the path to the deli that has decent cell service if you have AT&T. That said, we were pretty much off the grid. It was the longest I’d ever been away from work without checking email once. It was also the longest I’d gone without thinking of anything but the film I was making. Analyzing character and story and strategizing a plan for production, all of my mental energy was directed toward one thing, and it was one of the most productive weeks I’ve had in ages.
3. The accidental family you’ll build. It’s often said that producing is a lonely job, but coming out of the lab I know now that it doesn’t have to be. The creative advisors, fellows, and Sundance staff became something of a family, both on and off the mountain. We read (and re-read) each other’s work, practiced pitching together, and even (plan to) have spaghetti dinners. The lab taught me that I have people rooting for me and my project, willing to offer help and guidance (even if that’s in the shape of a bottle of wine and a box of tissues). It’s made producing a lot less lonely.
4. The confidence to take risks with greater faith that the universe will catch you. So this is a bit more esoteric, so bear with me. I am a relatively risk averse person (which makes it surprising that I am choosing a career in film producing). Yet, somehow, that week on the mountain has left me more willing to take leaps of faith: to submit an application when the odds seem low, make the cold call that may never be returned, or completely change career paths. The Lab taught me that the universe answers “yes” more often than not. We just need to ask.
5. The mountain air. I grew up in Atlanta, and I live in Manhattan now, so the closest I’ve been to anything really resembling a mountain is Stone Mountain in Georgia (which is technically a hill). Spending a week on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos, hearing the running stream, and picking wildflowers on morning walks was rejuvenating. Of course, the Sundance staff had the foresight to put us in the most stunning environment possible before completely deconstructing our work and pushing us to question who we are as producers. And there’s no more beautiful place to have an existential crisis. However, confidence is easily rebuilt by thinking of the other brilliant filmmakers that breathed that same air, walked those same paths, and went through the same life-changing experience.