© 2011 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson
Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis participated at the Directors Lab with his project The Storm King. Each fellow had the opportunity to rehearse, shoot, and edit selected scenes from his or her screenplay in a workshop environment, where the focus was completely on creative exploration and discovery. Below, Carlo chronicles his experience at Sundance and discusses the magic of this storytellers community.
When I was 12, my homeroom teacher gave us an assignment: Write two short stories a paragraph long and read them in front of the class. The next day, I ascended the podium eager to broadcast the seething fruit of my young mind. My first story was about a housewife who commits suicide by careening her 1974 Buick Skylark off an embankment. The second featured a decrepit jukebox in the back of a bar that ran on human blood.
The response of my peers was mostly confusion and disgust. Apparently, my concerns were not their concerns. Was I the only one reading Eightball comics and collecting dead bugs off my windowsill? Evidently so. Later, in high school, every organization I started was quickly dismantled by the administration. My precious film club was banned by the principle for screening a double feature of Tetsuo, the Iron Man and Blue Velvet. Gradually, refuge in imagination became more than a knee-jerk survival mechanism. Reality was fully vanquished, tail between its legs
I never dreamed that 15 years later my writing would be fostered, nurtured, challenged, honed, and encouraged at an arcane sanctuary like Sundance Institute.
Only here, at the Institute, does reality compete with imagination. A pervasive sense of equality. A magnetic community of artists, thinkers, challengers, storytellers, and madcap oddballs. A tribe of exceptional Advisors, crewmembers, administrators, drivers, and personnel. Such a wealth of talent and devotion to art is rarely amassed in one place. The effect is palpable. Everyone is a devotee of cinema, a follower of the flickering light. Everything radiates productivity and endless possibility.
Artistic director Gyula Gazdag is the warrior-poet of the Institute, a rare visionary with an eye for beauty, truth, and everything in between. We talked for hours in an unscheduled meeting, gushing over Czech new wave cinema. What a delight to pour over the brain of a marvelous, renowned director like Gyula. A high priest of celluloid. That conversation was one of the best afternoons of my life. What a gift.
Later on, Michelle Satter walked me up the sunlit path past a roaring stream. Some people pass through the net of your soul like minnows. Never to impact. Others remain and resonate with a profound grace and clarity. Michelle is the latter. A true prophet of the silver screen, she cuts to the heart of your film. Michelle gently guided me through the importance of clear emotional beats, of defined subtext, of counterpoint, of knowing each character’s overwhelming need. The next scene I shot, I applied her philosophies and was delighted to discover a drastic improvement in my work.
So many other brilliant outsiders to adore. Joan Darling’s marvelous classes on personalization. Joan Tewkesbury’s raw, wrenching writing exercises. Kasi Lemmons’ astounding directing and on-set guidance. The way Peter Medak walked up to me and said: “I read your screenplay, you clever fuck.” How Tim Blake Nelson surgically dissected my script to find its elusive life force. Catherine Hardwicke dispensing epic producing tips while sifting through the prop room looking for the perfect rug for my scene. Jeremy Kagan’s miraculous rehearsal techniques. Robert Elswit’s cosmic visual tapestry. Howard Rodman’s wicked wit. Scott Burns’ investigation of character. Dana Stevens’ pitch-perfect mastery of storytelling. The list is endless.
To any kid, fleeing into the maelstrom of her/his mind. Filling notebooks with drawings and pressed flowers and screwed-up ideas for radio plays. To anyone with bad hair and bad skin and bad posture. To any misfit who gets their fanny pack stolen at BB gun point. Hang in there, because some day you may find yourself having a script conference with Robert Redford, discussing psychological movement and narrative structure. Gleefully watching Bob train his eagle-eyed perception upon your characters, divining the hearthstone of your cosmology, looking up, lost in thought, speaking. “So Carlo, tell me… What’s your film really all about?”