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The Sundance Diaries Part 6: The Festival, Start To Finish (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post   Mallika Rao First Posted: 01/30/2012 10:59 am Updated: 01/30/2012 10:59 am

Stephen Neary

In our sixth and final installment of our month-long series "The Sundance Diaries," we witness five shorts filmmakers before, during and after the festival. Some -- such as Grant Orchard, who directed "A Morning Stroll," and Jessie Ennis, co-director of "The Arm" -- win the big prizes. Others go home to life as usual, save one big festival invitation notched on their belt.

For a full list of all the diary entries, from start to finish, click "More" at the bottom of the liveblog. To access individual posts from this installment, click on any filmmaker's name below.


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Jan. 19, 2012

Soon, I will be heading to the airport to fly off Sundance. Yes, the festival started Thursday the 19th, but I had to teach my students After Effects and show them animations made from old films and appropriated images today. Class just ended, and now I’m typing one last post before I start packing. Currently it’s 70 degrees and muggy here in Texas. Tomorrow, I’ll be 8000 ft up a mountain and the weather will be somewhere in the 20s. I have an open suitcase on the floor and a pile of thermals and wool socks and boots and a parka dug out of the back of my closet nearby. There is a wardrobe transformation that is unique to Sundance. All attendees don the required gear to be in cold weather and endure a marathon of films from 9 AM to 2 AM daily. Everyone is puffy with layers, trudging up and down Main Street, riding the shuttles around, trying to score tickets to movies. No one looks great, but everyone looks warm, which is the point. We’re here to see some films and are equipped with the gear needed to do so. Additionally, into the suitcase goes postcards announcing my film’s screenings and DVD screeners to share. However, one special item is coming with me this year and it’s a custom made hat. My boyfriend’s mother knit my boyfriend and I hats for Sundance this year. I’m not sure if she is aware, but it’s the most perfect hat I’ve ever worn. It fits magnificently; it’s warm and soft. Hats have always been a point of contention for me, never fitting quite right, feeling scratchy, and not being protective enough. This one is top shelf material. And with this exceptional item in tow, I’m ready to depart for film camp, which is how I fondly think of Sundance. Where else can you watch movies all day long and never leave the cinema universe? Over each meal, on every shuttle, at all the parties, people are talking about all the films they have been watching or hope to see.

My film is playing in the Midnight Movie category this year, so all my screenings will be at the end of the day. Sundance does a fantastic job of pairing short films with features for a lot of the screenings. I’m excited to be screening with Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact, a family centric ghost story that is rooted in adolescence terror. Our first screening is Friday night…at midnight!

Is it time to Sundance yet?

-- Kelly Sears

WATCH a preview for "Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise":

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Jan. 22, 2012

I've seen "Dr Breakfast" maybe a million times. I've watched it through storyboards, through finished animation, through sound design. And even before I made the film, I saw it over and over again in my head, each time a little different.

But watching "Dr Breakfast" with an audience at Sundance is pretty nuts. Just because I'd seen the short so many times didn't make me want to vomit any less out of nervousness. When it screened for the first time on Saturday, my brain was peppered with questions like, "Did I remember to wear deodorant?" and "Am I wearing enough deodorant?"

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Everything was fine. The audience laughed. I held my lunch. And after my film played first, I got to concentrate on the other wonderful films screening in the Animation Spotlight program:

"38-39˚C," Kangmin Kim "663114," Isamu Hirabayashi "Avocados," Kataneh Vahdani "Belly," Julia Pott "It's Such a Beautiful Day," Don Hertzfeldt "Night Hunter," Stacey Steers "Robots of Brixton," Kibwe Tavares

"Slow Derek," Dan Ojari

The program is thoroughly creative and compelling. You might think from the subject sampling and execution that all animation directors are mentally unstable, we're all pretty chill people. I promise!

Just getting around Park City has been another adventure. The snow has slowed bus travel, and my best bet is usually hoofing around in Sundance-provided snow boots. It's been almost like having a festival at the north pole. Connie crocheted me a formidable scarf before I left New York. Well, more of a giant warm loop than a scarf. It's like a toasty Mobius strip minus the twist:

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After just 10 minutes walking outside, this is what you'll look like.

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Good thing we're all too hopped up on film to care!

WATCH a preview for Neary's Sundance entrant, "Dr. Breakfast":

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Jan. 27, 2012

So firstly – boo hoo hoo. I’m not going to Sundance. Whaa whaa the big baby cries.

Being chronically short sighted I never considered the need to book ahead. Being busy I thought I’d wait and see how work panned out before committing myself. Now listening to the tales of people who have ‘luckily’ managed to rent half a sofa for the week I fear the opportunity may have passed. I’ve comforted myself in the thought that I might get to go out there again when I next make a film, but the rate it takes to get an independent animated short done (well, the ones I make anyway), it might be quite a while.

Don’t worry; I’ve been kept abreast of what’s going on out there. Jill Soloway and Fred Casella, who are in the same program as I, were beautiful enough to email me and try to organise a Program 1 wonder-bus for us all to go out to Robert Redford’s ranch for a film makers brunch. The thought of missing such a snazzy late breakfast filled me with regret, especially as London is currently grey, drizzly and germ spreadingly warm; but mostly it was the brief inclusion in the joy and camaraderie that seems to spread amongst filmmakers at festivals.

Again I don’t know about feature film festivals, but the experience I have of short film festivals are that it induces a rather lovely sense of community amongst the directors who have usually travelled far and wide to attend. I think it’s to do with love, yes love baby! As far as I can tell no one seems to make a short film for financial gain - to make a quick buck. There’s no mad eyed money man at a giant gleaming golden abacus totting up the prospective profit margin of this new fifteen minute blockbuster. There might be some sort of investment in developing emerging talent through short film, in the form of a limited budget, but mostly the herculean task of making one of these little critters is with your own money or your own time, or both; and I suppose you do that because you love it so much. Whether it’s to do with kudos, a first step towards bigger things, or an inexplicable need to entertain or engage people for just a few minutes, all of it is done with passion. Yeah passion baby!

So when an invite arrives asking you and an equally thrilled number of directors to get together for a festival, there always seems to be a heady mix of relief, excitement and a genuine shared interest that enables everyone to get along so well, and I’ve missed it! What a Muppet. I bet some people have walked, dodged an avalanche, sacrificed a limb to a hungry wolf, and then finally crawled on their raw and freezing bellies to get to Sundance. Well I salute you, and your now racked and ruined torso.

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Yet while I’ve had comfort, I have also been inflicted with great envy. Its one thing to miss the buzz and the love, yeah love baby, that envelopes a rip roaring festival, but I now realise you miss it that much more if you win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic and in no way complaining. You should have seen me jumping around my bedroom at 7 o’clock in the morning in my unsightly and soon to be soiled boxer shorts after being texted by my producer saying we’d won at Sundance. Still, I’d much rather have been jumping up and down in Park City next to host and hero Mike Judge (Although he might not have been too happy, what with the state of my underpants).

Anyway, thanks very much to Sundance for the award, and congratulations to everyone else; a special nod and a wink to Kibwe Tavares for making it all the way from my locale in Sarf London.

I hope you all have a wonderful last weekend you lucky, intrepid and beautiful people.

-- Grant Orchard

WATCH a preview for Orchard's "A Morning Stroll" below:

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Jan. 27, 2012

Most people get sensitive or pissy when they sense they’re being used…but if you tell them it’s for a film, they’ll be real eager to “help out” / get raped of their resources. When Brie [Larson], Sarah [Ramos], and I asked a bunch of our friends and family to dress all in black for a teen’s funeral we were creating, they were totally gung-ho to show up at the Seal Beach pier at 5am. And when we asked Brie’s mom, who is a party planner, to design a funeral brochure for the funeral of the character that her youngest daughter was playing, she did it happily. And when we asked Sarah’s family and extended family if we could use their homes for a weekend to shoot in, they were fine with it…well, we didn’t really ask.

That’s an important part of it too: don’t ask if you don’t have to. For instance, steal your 13 year-old sister’s slutty clothes to use as costumes. Her distressed American flag bikini is funny, everyone will agree. I’m not saying you should blatantly take take take…but when these resources present themselves and you’re trying to make a movie for free, DO IT!

We filled our cast with friends, family, and friends of friends and family. Miles Heizer, our story’s hero and our real-life hero, had a couple friends he suggested that were spot-on fits and meant he was surrounded by familiar faces while shooting. Because we had never been in charge of anything before, we wanted to insure ourselves with as much ease and comfort possible. Working with people we’re used to hanging out with or having Christmas dinner with made our set’s atmosphere much more casual.

As we reminded people of their 5 am call time, we kept giggling in amazement, “We just came up with this idea, and now we can get people to do what we want? We can do that?! And people are gonna come? Are they actually going to come? Fuck, what if no one comes?!” I was worried the way I was worried about my 9th birthday party. Oh god, my 9th birthday…ice skating. My classmate’s mom called a few nights beforehand to inform us that she too would be having an ice skating birthday party, on that same day, at that same time. She also extended an invitation and asked me to RSVP. People are psychotic.

But unlike my 9th birthday (thanks, Mom, for skating with me), everyone came!! Sure, there was some arm twisting and bribery in the form of breakfast burritos…but we got a cast and crew together and successfully shot our entire film in two and a half days. Which is also key: don’t make people commit to long periods of time. Trick them into thinking it’s not going to take anytime at all, and then make sure it actually takes very little time.

We wanted to cast people who would immediately make the audience recognize the character; we needed to fulfill stereotypes. Part of the process of directing as a threesome meant we needed to be entirely on the same page. We fleshed out how we felt about each character, who they reminded us of, who would play them in their bio-pic…and then tried to fill spots with our friends and family. In a few cases we were writing the characters with the friend in mind.

When it came to the mother character, we joked about the moms at my high school. I went to a very progressive and nurturing private school in Santa Monica where fake tits, Berkin bags, and BMWs crowd PTA functions. The mix between “finding yourself” and “get rich quick” is intoxicating. But casting a woman nothing like them was key in getting the right performance. Jessica Hecht, a very strong actress and mother to two sweet kids I baby-sit, was pleased to be asked to do it. And I was a bit surprised..but thrilled and very thankful.

Then the dynamic and negative elements of casting friends started to show themselves. People felt so casual about the whole thing that they didn’t feel too bad dropping out a few days before we were set on shooting. I’m talking about one person in particular. Her role was pretty much to look cute and young and make-out with a stranger for an hour or so. Those were the requirements. And we were running out of friends. I was frantically asking everyone and leaving the bit out about the kissing. “She’s a sassy, young, popular girl. The boys love her” Did I want to flatter them? It wasn’t working. No one was free. I called my friend’s younger brother in a panic and said, “Joe, I need your help. I’m shooting a short film in a couple days and I need a young girl who is obviously hot. I need a sexy baby.” He sent me a bunch of numbers and I felt sick.

With the film cast, we realized we were going to need the actual equipment and brains to MAKE this thing. We started calling everyone we knew, searching for a Director of Photography and a Sound Engineer. Sarah coincidentally met Blake McClure at a party a week before we were planning on filming, and he said he’d be willing to be our DP and he had his own Canon 5D that we could shoot it on. We rented a few lenses and illegally borrowed sound equipment from a family member who works in film production for a popular chain restaurant (they make instructional videos for their staff so that the business’s kagillion locations have a uniform taste and atmosphere).

But it’s not over! I’ve realized that even people I don’t know want to be my friend via the internet. That’s cool? Maybe not safe..but I can use it to my advantage: INTERNET FRIENDS EVERYWHERE! The Arm is in this Yahoo competition for $5000 and needs your votes! We made The Arm on $800. With this prize money we could make The Arm x 6.25!! PLUS, you’re my friend and I need your help. IT’S FOR MY FILM!

Vote away! Voting closes tonight.

-- Jessie Ennis

WATCH a preview for Ennis' "The Arm," a short about love and texting, at prescreen.com.

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Jan. 29, 2012

The party’s over. It’s on a par with returning from summer camp where you’re really nervous before you go, and then leave a week later having exchanged numbers and addresses with your new best friends and promised to write as soon as you got home. There is no better inspiration to make a new film like the thought of being allowed back into the Snowy, Christmas card world of Sundance, so I’ve already started mulling things over whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.

The advice I always try to follow is don’t make your film for other people, make it for yourself. It’s great advice. However whenever I am sitting alone in my room, drawing the same creature for the 400th time, I’m usually thinking something along the lines of, ‘I hope my dad likes this.’

I have been lucky enough to have a brilliant support system of friends and family who make sure I’m fed and sane when in the throws of my latest animation. When something like Sundance comes around, it brings with it the opportunity to win an award, and therefore leap up on stage and say gushing thank yous to all those people who flew a flag for you when you were at your lowest, most unwashed moment. Now you may think this paragraph is leading to the joyous tale of how I won, ‘the most brilliant and fantastic animator’ award and everyone showered me with love and money. Not so dear reader - I won bupkis. I’m sure there was some kind of oversight and they’ll ring me up soon (denial), but in the meantime I’m using this blog to say the words I would have said…had I won.

My family suffered a great loss last week, in the passing of my aunt. I’m not a big crier, but when I was told of the news I couldn’t hold it together. She was one you migrate to on holidays and special occasions…the family glue, for want of a better expression. I am the family member who will always feels like the baby. Even now, when my only slightly older cousins have created very small adorable children, I feel like I’m about to be found out and placed back on the kid's table where I belong. I feel out of my element during discussions of politics or sports, and often find myself nodding quietly along, hoping not to be called on to contribute anything coherent. My aunt fell into a different category – wiser, calmer and wittier than most. She was one of the rare gems of a person who, when asked for her opinion, would give you her opinion. I fear these people, because I often worry that I am in the midst of doing something stupid. However, when it came to my work, my aunt was one of my biggest supporters. This baffled me…my work by all accounts is a little bit out there. Nevertheless she would watch it all and vehemently defend my career choice to enquiring family members. This thrilled me. The last time I really saw her was at my graduation show, where she had come up to London from Hampshire just to watch my 7 minute animation play out on the big screen. As she left she told me ‘I loved it…but I’m not sure I understood it.'

I think we’re all feeling our way without her, and being so far away from my family has never felt as huge as it does now. So in a small homage to a woman who will be so greatly missed - this one’s for you aunt.

-- Julia Pott

WATCH a trailer for Potts' "Belly" below:

Belly - trailer from Julia Pott on Vimeo.

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