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Dispatches from Sundance Institute’s YouTube Creators Intensive

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Andrew Gregory (second from left) attends the Sundance Institute | YouTube Creators Intensive.

Andrew Gregory

For some reason, staring at the lamp on my desk doesn’t always get me jazzed for a long night of writing. Despite the pleasing geometry of its triangular IKEA frame, it’s always been a rather underwhelming view. It’s a sad reality here in Brooklyn that home offices are crammed with a clutter of things that didn’t make the grade for the rest of your apartment: futons, art that wasn’t quite nice enough to put up in your living room, a corner full of guitars, and a bookshelf that you just gave up on and started stuffing books into horizontally.

But often these lamp-staring moments have turned out to be surprisingly productive for me. I’m always amazed at how many dishes I am suddenly willing to wash after watching a couple writing warm-up YouTube videos, how many toenails I find the wherewithal to trim (usually between nine and eleven), and hey, wouldn’t now be a great time to set up my stationary bike and watch several episodes of Parks and Recreation while checking to see if anyone else is live-tweeting this episode from five years ago?

I am happy to report that attending the first ever Sundance Institute YouTube Creators Intensive with my brothers (and writing partners) Michael and Evan has changed that for me. Except for the dishes thing, obviously I always do my dishes immediately after I eat, because my mom has a google alert set up for my name and is reading this sentence with her eyes right now.

Sure, I may be staring at the same ol’ HÅRTE (honestly, a steal for $15—this is a great looking lamp!), but now I can close my eyes and picture the beatific faces of the three Creative Advisors who seemed to magically appear (thanks Sundance!) to give us volumes worth of remarkably potent feedback on our project—a high school comedy set in rural Virginia—in what seemed a matter of minutes.

We were fortunate to sit down with three amazing writers to look over our project: Dave Iserson (SNL, Mr. Robot), Roberto Patino (Sons of Anarchy), and Jen Celotta (The Office). It was almost as if they had dedicated their entire professional careers to making great television shows (SPOILER ALERT: they had). The efficiency with which they were able to isolate what really mattered in our show, what was fluff, and what we had accidentally ripped off from our favorite high school movies was truly astonishing.

They are TV savants, and we were lucky to be in a room with them. We were even more grateful that they treated us as (much!) less experienced colleagues, hashing out ideas with us, brainstorming, and giving our treatment some tough love where it needed it.

Their feedback ultimately helped us to get to the heart of our show. They were able to see where the story really was, and even better, where it deserved to be and could eventually go. The hard work of writing and revising and rewriting takes weeks and months, but they showed us that committing to the best version of our work could happen in a matter of minutes. We just had to ignore the fact that actually getting to that best version takes a couple more months worth of elbow grease.

But with months of elbow grease in front of us, we’re in luck. Seeing from these creative advisors what our show truly is—and truly can be—has also transformed my writing desk since I’ve returned from the Intensive, namely, into a place where I actually write. Really the only downside is I’m not doing my dishes more often, unless you are my mom, in which case I definitely am.

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