Writer/director Keith Davis was recently at the Sundance Resort in Utah, developing his screenplay The American People as one of eight fellows at this year’s Directors Lab. Each Fellow has the opportunity to rehearse, shoot and edit selected scenes from his or her screenplay in a workshop environment, where the focus is completely on creative exploration and discovery. We’ve asked Keith to share a glimpse into his process at the Lab in a couple of blog pieces, the second of which is below.
Today is our last full day of the Screenwriters Lab. I have about an hour before I have to head down the mountain for breakfast and a screening (of mine and other Fellows short films). Then I have a final Creative Advisor meeting about my script, a few meetings about next steps for the project, dinner (followed by a goodbye party/dinner), and then sleep before I return to Brooklyn tomorrow.
Keith Davis on the set of The American People. Photo by Fred Hayes.
Wait a minute. What happened here?
Really, I’m asking. I need to know. It’s over and it feels like it just got started. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve been here a month. My body and mind feel it, but man, I don’t want it to end… not yet.
Here’s what I remember:
- Arriving in Utah in June and driving to the Sundance Resort and staring at mountains and clouds and… snow!
- Feeling shocked after hearing the driver had read my script (along with the other Fellow’s scripts) and wanted to talk about the characters and story. It was a great ice breaker for me to share my work and learn about his too. (I love that the Institute lets anyone working at the Labs and who is interested read the projects. It’s a really thoughtful/classy gesture).
- Arriving at the resort again and feeling like I was returning to one of my creative homes, feeling safe and daring all at once.
- Meeting the crews and having them welcome me and the other Fellows in like we were old family. They taught us the real spirit of being here: Be open, gracious, exact, bold, and work hard but also play hard. (I chose to do both. Hard.)
- Meeting the other Fellows, seeing their work, and feeling proud to be in such talented company.
- Meeting Robert Redford and having him mention my hometown and tell me he’d traveled through there for work. (Still can’t believe he’s been to Ozark, Alabama!)
- Acting together with the other Fellows in Joan Darling’s workshop and remembering how acting had led me to filmmaking and storytelling, and feeling grateful for that.
- Falling on my face during the “using the camera” workshop with Gyula Gazdag. That first stumble actually gave me confidence of focus and helped me find my voice as a director on set.
- Realizing how much deeper I could go with my writing after a “freewriting” exercise with Joan Tewkesbury.
- Feeling pumped after shooting my first practice scene with the crew and beginning to find a common language with my director of photography and editor.
- Getting into the heart of the scenes with my actors Yolonda Ross, Dante Clark, and Corwin Tuggles and feeling grateful for their sense of discovery and play. I owe them everything.
- When Brad Silberling came on my set and taught me about “storytelling shots” and how he made directing look like so much fun.
- The burn in my thighs when I decided to walk back home up the hill one day… stopping at least five times to catch my breath. (Be in shape when you come here. You’ll thank me later.)
- When Tim Blake Nelson (here as an Advisor) read the grandfather character in my script reading and brought it to life, allowing me to hear the character in a deep and new way. The same with Tim Guinee, Thank you!
- When we were rocking out in the Owl Bar as Martin Starr (here acting in a project) performed Outkast’s “Rosa Parks.” He killed it!
- Karaoke Nights—and the Advisors singing “Satisfaction”… oh the irony.
- Kicking back with the crew, talking filmmaking, production, and what they were working on back home.
- The food, man. The food. Loved it. (But I like hospital food too. And they feed us constantly here).
- When Sally Field saw a cut of our scene in the edit trailer and she danced around and around singing, “I love it! I love it!” She then dropped down to the ground on her back and said, “I loved it so much, you killed me…” (she’s the greatest).
- When Katori Hall (one of the screenwriting Fellows) got stuck on the ski lift in the rain and called me when it stopped—they had to emergency remove her with a rope.
- Any and every moment I got to talk with and listen to Gyula Gazdag. It was a privilege—he is this place and it is him.
- All of the care, attention, and specificity the Advisors gave to my scenes, my script, and to me as a director, helping me grow. Thank you from the bottom of my heart: Gyula Gazdag, Robert Redford, John August, Scott Burns, Scott Cooper, Joan Darling, Robert Elswit, Sally Field, William Goldenberg, Deena Goldstone, Keith Gordon, Randa Haines, Catherine Hardwicke, Jeremy Kagan, Kasi Lemmons, Denis Lenoir, Walter Mosley, Jessie Nelson, Tim Blake Nelson, Howard Rodman, Brad Silberling, Stewart Stern, Barbara Tulliver, Joan Tewkesbury, and Tyger Williams.
Keith Davis at the 2011 Directors Lab. Photo by Jonathan Hickerson.
Finally, Michelle Satter, Ilyse McKimmie, Anne Lai, Cullen Conly, Keri Putnam, Lee Nersesian, Alesia Weston, Kathleen Broyles, Rachel Chanoff, Laura Leonard, Jarom Rowland, and all the staff and support people… you made it work. I wish you all ran the world. It’d be such a better place, and a much cooler one to make movies in too. Till then, I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing here…