DIRECTORY: Sundance Institute, Screenwriters Lab

Open to US & International filmmakers; provides support to screenwriters and writer-directors developing their first or second second narrative feature film.

A five-day workshop located at the Sundance Resort, UT. Allows filmmakers to work intensively on their scripts, with fellow established writers encouraging risk-tasking and innovation – through one-on-one sessions with advisors. Exercises include directing and workshopping a tough/struggling scene(s).

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Recent Lab Fellow, Ryan Koo’s 10 takeaways from the Sundance Lab:

  1. Write from the heart out.
  2. Find your joy in the material!
  3. Audiences always respond to something done for pure purpose, and stories that move us emotionally.
  4. You have to write two endings — the ending that comes to pass, and the ending that could be. Therefore the audience is wondering throughout, “what kind of movie is this?”
  5. Your project should take you out of your comfort zone. What is it about the story, the characters, the themes, that make you uncomfortable?
  6. Make sure you’re always using a gray palette — take one lego block from one character and put it in the other.
  7. Wherever you are, think about what your protagonist would be doing and feeling. Let him or her live outside the screenplay, and insert your characters into your real life.
  8. Your act breaks are the least of your concerns. Only in passing did I ever talk about structure with an advisor – anyone can read a screenwriting book and come up with three acts, or fifteen beats, but good structure is not going to be the thing that makes your story unique.
  9. Write down, in a couple of sentences, what you want the audience to feel coming out of your film. What is your statement about what you want to accomplish with this film? Really get that down. Then as you go through the script, ask yourself about each scene — does this accomplish or contribute to that overall goal? If not, it goes.
  10. This final one is an instructive quote that resurfaced in my head during the lab. As William Faulkner said in his inspiring 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech (the audio of the speech is embedded below), “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself … only that is worth writing about.” The human heart. In conflict with itself.

More advice from Ryan Koo

Additionally he wrote an article on how to get into the Lab, of which his “step-by-step approach” was:

  1. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  2. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab with a new script (this one)
  3. Revise the script, submit it again
  4. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  5. Revise the script again
  6. Make a short*
  7. Get selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  8. Attempt to contain excitement!

*The short film he made to get into Sundance:

Amateur – A short prequel film to Manchild, the feature film

It is common in the film industry to make a short version of a feature film to help get funding and generate an audience or online following. Films such as Whiplash, Short Term 12, Mary Last Seen (helped get Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Gownus, Brooklyn (helped Half Nelson get produced).

From what Koo has written about his experience and several other films’ background, to get selected for Sundance Writer’s Lab it helps to produce a short or at least a shorter version of the feature film – showcase your style and what you intend to explore in the feature.

 

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