15 Celebrated Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab Alumni

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Fellows at the 1995 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. Photo by Sandria Miller.

There is a well-known refrain imparting that it takes some “breaking down” to build something (or someone) up—figuratively speaking, of course. At the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, that notion is nothing short of creed. It’s become a not-so-veiled secret of the lab that, contrary to its name, writing is strongly discouraged, if not altogether forbidden.

Instead, the five-day writer’s workshop is a chance for independent screenwriters to rigorously and honestly explore their feature film scripts with the support of established writers and without the pressure of producing any new writing. It’s a formula that would surely attract skeptics if it weren’t so effective, though it’s undoubtedly raised the eyebrows of more than a few fellows.

Our summer labs are just around the corner. To get you inspired—and just for the sake of nostalgia—let’s take a look at 20 filmmakers who cut their teeth at the Screenwriters Lab.


1. Ryan Fleck and 2. Anna Boden

The Project: Half Nelson (2004 Lab, 2006 Festival)

Since Then: Sugar (2008 Festival), Mississippi Grind (2015 Festival)

3. Tamara Jenkins

The Project: Slums of Beverly Hills (1995 Lab)

Since Then: The Savages (2007 Festival), Private Life (2018 Festival)

4. Andrea Arnold

The Project: Red Road (2005 Lab)

Since Then: Fish Tank, American Honey

5. Miranda July

The Project: Me and You and Everyone We Know (2003 Lab, 2005 Festival)

Since Then: The Future (2007 Festival), Kajillionaire (2020 Festival)

6. Gregg Araki

The Project: Totally F***ed Up (1992 Lab)

Since Then: The Doom Generation (1995 Festival), Splendor (1999 Festival), Smiley Face (2007 Festival), White Bird in a Blizzard (2014 Festival)

8. Debra Granik

The Project: Down to the Bone (1999 Lab)

Since Then: Winter's Bone (2010 Festival), Leave No Trace (2018 Festival)

9. Kimberly Pierce

The Project: Boys Don't Cry (1997 Lab)

Since Then: Stop-Loss, Carrie

10. James Mangold

The Project: Cop Land (1994 Lab)

Since Then: Girl, Interrupted; Walk the Line; 3:10 to Yuma;

11. Eliza Hittman

The Project: Beach Rats (2015 Lab, 2017 Festival)

Since Then: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020 Festival)

12. Darren Aronofsky

The Project: Requiem for a Dream (1999 Lab)

Since Then: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Mother!

13. Wes Anderson

The Project: Bottle Rocket (1993 Lab)

Since Then: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

14. Ryan Coogler

The Project: Fruitvale Station (2011 Lab, 2013 Festival)

Since Then: Creed, Black Panther

15. Allison Anders

The Project: Mi Vida Loca (1992 Lab)

Since Then: Four Rooms, Grace of My Heart, Sugar Town, Things Behind the Sun (2001 Festival)


Ed. note: This post was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated.


Lead photo:

Fellows at the 1995 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. Photo by Sandria Miller.