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Why Come to Slamdance?

Slamdance Alumni share their experiences and tips for visiting Park City

Ah…Park City in late January. It’s freezing cold, it’s the middle of Utah, and everything’s super expensive. But for just a couple of weeks, the town swells with filmmakers, film lovers, press, industry folks and celebrities. The potential for opportunities when you have a group of people like this gathered together in a small, freezing cold ski town… are endless.

If your film is selected to screen at Slamdance, there are a million reasons to brave the cold, start another crowdfund, book an international flight and do whatever it takes to get yourself to Park City. Here are some first hand insights and advice on why you should come and how to navigate the experience, from Slamdance alumni who’ve done it before.

Because it’s worth the effort.

Icy outside, warm inside.

As a foreign (French here) filmmaker, the idea to go to Park City was a bit daunting. It’s far; it’s cold; distances and accessibility seemed somewhat uncertain… but having attended, I must say that the result was worth the effort. By far one of the most communal, immersive and genuinely cinephilic festivals I’ve experienced. As a filmmaker going to Park City, you get the very nuanced impression that you don’t merely attend Slamdance but that you become Slamdance. — Sébastien Simon, One-Minded(2017) & The Troubled Troubadour(2018)

Because it’s seriously one of the best possible networking opportunities

Park City during Slamdance/Sundance is an incredible place to meet people who could really elevate your career. Pretty much everyone you meet is involved in the industry in one way or another. Use it as a giant networking event. I think even just making an appearance at Park City in January adds credibility to your work/career. — Ashley Seering, Renewed(2015) & Sanctuary (2016)

If you haven’t attended a festival or only attend festivals near where you’re located, you tend to see the same people, which is great for making local connections. But traveling to a festival like Slamdance can really expand your connections and expose you to a bigger variety of artists and their work. —Cory Byers, Renewed(2015) & Sanctuary (2016)

The Russo Brothers receive the Founder’s Award and choose one Slamdance Filmmaker for their Fellowship. Photo: Lauren Desberg.

There’s a lot of festival cross-pollination going on at Slamdance. Both times I had a film there I met other festival reps who asked to program it at their festival. I help curate a festival here in Boise, ID (Filmfort) and I get tons of work from Slamdance for it because I like a film and (sometimes more the case) I dig the filmmaker behind it. — Matthew Wade, It Shines and Laughs(2009) & Plena Stellarum(2017)

What to expect? At the opening ceremony, expect initiation via a one-by-one self introduction. Immediately you will understand that the “Slamdance family” is no joke. Many of the films selected have back stories of direct or indirect heavy lifting by Slamdance alumni. Slamdance co-founders Peter Baxter and Dan Mirvish are two of the most usual suspects. Whatever your endgame — sales, distribution, connections for future projects, shoptalk, watching great films, etc. — Slamdance has it all, and the staff, programmers, and alumni will do all they can to help.

Personally, I’ve found that attending Slamdance offers much more than a tremendous opportunity for professional hustle. The benefits of joining Slamdance’s cross-section of “right now” independent world cinema stay with you months and years after that fateful week in Park City, Utah. — Forest Ian Etsler, One-Minded(2017) & The Troubled Troubadour(2018)

Sebastien Simon and Forest Ian Etsler. Photo Credit: Lauren Desberg.

Because to make the most of the opportunity, you need to self-promote.

You spent all the money to make your film now it’s time to get a first-hand seat at a screening that can actually take your movie to the next level. Meeting people and encouraging them to come to check out your screening helps solidify a packed house and always remember you are your film’s best advocate. Hitting the streets prior to the premiere and on social media meant that distributors in the audience sat inside a packed screening room…. In the end, my film received a distribution deal that resulted in a national theatrical release, Netflix deal, and numerous streaming and VOD options for folks to see what I worked so hard and long to direct and produce. — Suzanne Mitchell, Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde (2013)

Promoting my movie likely helped secure distribution, a small theatrical/VOD/SVOD release…pretty good for a film with a $45,000 budget and no movie stars. Down the line going to future film festivals directly led to my being hired to direct a second feature film for a significantly larger budget. — Blake Robbins, The Sublime and Beautiful (2013)

Especially if you’re coming with a doc short, or in one of those blocks that happen earlier in the day, go there to be a face to the film to get people to your screening. There’s nothing like the human connection that happens at festivals to evoke organic cross-pollination. — Beth Prouty (2010)

Because you can connect directly with your audience

At a festival you get to present and talk about your work to your audience. I think that opportunity alone is incredible. —Ashley Seering

Sometimes as filmmakers, we forget that there’s another part of filmmaking that you don’t always get the opportunity to experience: audience reaction. The actual audience reaction to your film is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. — Bomani Story, Rock Steady Row 2018

The actual audience reaction to your film is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. — Bomani Story. Photo Credit: Lauren Desberg

Because there is A LOT of press in town

I highly recommend investing a bit and hire a good and affordable PR agency as the best press coverage we received for our film on the circuit was in Park City.

Having your film play at Slamdance allows you to take advantage of the press in town for Sundance as well, so you get the press that’s in town for two important festivals for the price of one. We were able to get lots of press for our film including reviews, interviews with film media outlets and TV, and some photos shoots. — Steven Richter, Birds of Neptune (2015)

The moment you are accepted to Slamdance put together a press kit and begin to reach out to media. Develop a hook to get your film noticed by journalists who cover the festivals and the surrounding region. Don’t forget to follow-up after sending media outlets your press info, a little gentle nudging can put your story on the front burner. And if you haven’t done this already, consider who your core audience is for your particular film and it’s subject matter, do your research and reach out. Target your core audience through social media and don’t be too shy to make phone calls inviting people from your core audience to attend your film. Let them know your film speaks to their interests. Email invites work too but there’s nothing like following up with a good old fashioned phone call. Now get to work. — Suzanne Mitchell

For our community of DIY weirdos

Slamdance’s commitment to truly independent cinema is 100% real spit. From all across the US, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and beyond, Slamdance gathers some of the world’s best outlier, independent films and filmmakers and cozily crams everyone into its venue on Park City’s main strip. This puts you elbow-to-elbow with a filmmaker peer group whose members are all blazing individual trails, creating unique cinematic ecosystems, and doing legit innovation — something the goliath down the street can’t offer. Slamdance is committed to growing outlier cinematic voices and ecosystems. Almost every Slamdance alumni I met these past two years has a story of professional collaboration with other alums. Personally, I later met fellow alums in England, South Korea, and Japan, and I’m collaborating on projects with several of them now.— Forest Ian Etsler

The team behind Clipping.’s Back Up music video, at the notorious Slamdance Anarchy Screening.

Don’t worry, it’s easy to make friends at Slamdance

Slamdance was the first major festival I got into. I felt intimidated. Even after I made it to the festival I had many moments of self-doubt showing among the talented and established filmmakers there. However, I wouldn’t trade the experience in Park City with anything else because by going there I met the most humble filmmakers and artists. My constant feeling of being too inexperienced was filled with encouragement and empowerment from those who gave me a smile back, a warmest hug or a few simple words saying how they resonated with my short film although we share different cultural backgrounds. —Cecilia Hua, Where Are You From? (2018)

It gets VERY PACKED at the Treasure Mountain Inn. It’s almost impossible not to meet people.— Beth Prouty

When someone can get up and talk after their work, then sees you do the same, it’s an instant ice-breaker. Your evening starts with polite admiration for each others’ work and ends with admissions of love after a tequila-soaked evening of too many parties and too little sleep. Some of my best filmmaker friends live nowhere near me, yet we keep in touch and show each other works-in-progress all year, after spending only a couple of days together in Park City. Same with the festival staff and programmers. I’m friends with lots of them now. You can also just as easily meet and hang with your punk rock film idols. Everyone is equal at Slamdance and that is super rare. —Matthew Wade

Filmmakers making friends.

When my film THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL was chosen in 2014 to play the Slamdance Film Festival, I felt I had to be there…and this should be a simple thing but the catch for me however is that I struggle with social anxiety disorder therefore any social event is more complicated than I’d like it to be. But I wanted to celebrate the achievement — our film has just been picked from a group of hundreds perhaps a thousand. So why did I overcome my anxiety and go? — To celebrate. To see first hand an audience react to art that we’d created. I took it slow on the party side of things going to only two — those are for others to enjoy. I saw 3 or 4 films a day, I went to the seminars which were informative and truly inspiring. I’ve made lifetime friends and collaborators and exposed myself to hundred of films I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. So while I still struggle to put myself in social situations like a film festival, being able to do so has improved the quality of my life a hundred fold, maybe even a thousand. So when asked do I think people should go to the film festival that screens their film — my answer is a resounding yes. Just do it in a manner that feels authentic to you. — Blake Robbins

Because you’re part of the Slamfam

The Slamdance experience for me was something reminiscent of how a family Christmas holiday must feel — it’s the middle of winter, you’re welcomed with open arms and the Slamdance community is pretty much like a family — I for one don’t find it easy to engage with new people, but at Slamdance it all came so naturally.— Ricky Everett, After Arcadia (2013)

Some people I met have moved on in their careers or onto other things, but it’s great to think that we all met once in crowded-ass Treasure Mountain Inn. To be able to say, “We were there.” That’s not a feeling you get at bigger fests; they can feel much more impersonal. — Beth Prouty

Because…you just might find out you inspired Lady Gaga.

I sit at the bar of a Japanese restaurant almost everyday to have hot miso soup ramen while in cold Park City. I have some surprising conversations with the different people who sit down next to me. One lunch time, I chatted with a guy next to me about our favorite music videos. I said one of the exciting music videos I liked was Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I mentioned that in 2009, I had a film called “An Unquiet Mind” at Slamdance. After Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was released in 2011, some of my friends congratulated me for directing her music video because they thought the “Born This Way” video looked a lot like “An Unquiet Mind”. The guy sitting next to me (who turned out to be a renowned cinematographer) said his best friend Nick Knight directed “Born This Way” and that he’d check out my film. The next day, we ran into each other at another party. He said he had watched “An Unquiet Mind”and called up the director, who explained that Lady Gaga saw my film and they used it as a reference to make “Born This Way.” He said the director apologized and said he would take me to dinner if I’m ever in London. —Rob Lo, An Unquiet Mind (2009) & A Doll’s Hug (2017)

The cast of My Name is Myeisha.

Because sometimes we all need to feel a little encouragement to keep going

My first time getting into Slamdance was the gleaming light of restored hope on a long road clouded with festival rejections so, obviously I was elated beyond any doubts of attending.

The feeling of being in Slamdance was like finding a secret clubhouse in the woods you were somehow already a member of. A graduation thesis party where someone who didn’t go to school can shoot the shit with PHDs and film school rejects, as well as those that had nothing to do with film until they made whatever brought them here, all without any pretentious feeling of academic (or any other) superiority tainting the air.

Even though there were no direct “deals” or anything on the 12 min doc that got me in the door, many good things have since transpired and I attribute them all in part to that first trip out to Utah. If nothing else, the energy and feeling of support it gave me has carried me on until now, four years later, working on the first feature length project I have ever ventured on independently. —Sasha Gransjean, N6–4Q: Born Free (2015) & clip-135–02–05 (2017)

Go to Slamdance. Absolutely go. Don’t stay up a mountain unless you have a car built to get down it. But yes, absolutely go. I got to spend a weekend watching movies, taking about movies, watching more movies, dreaming about more movies I wanted to make. I met incredibly talented and friendly people who I’m still in touch with. And I got to spend quality time with dear friends. It was a supportive and inspiring fest, the kind of place that makes you want to keep making things. — Caitlin Craggs, Are You Tired of Forever? (2018)

Because it’s fun!

This is a great city with so much to offer: food, downhill and cross-country skiing, a whole host of parties and music. Slamdancers get a chance to meet each other through cleverly crafted activities designed by the festival organizers to create a real bonding experience. Cafeteria tray slay riding anyone? — Suzanne Mitchell

Goofing off at the Opening Night Filmmaker Party.

Because you NEED to.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, especially your first-time low-budget feature. Park City during the festival(s) is a madhouse. People are rushing around trying to catch the must-see film of the hour or trying to get into some party they’re not invited to. Chances are your film is starting off at a disadvantage. I mean, is it chock-a-block with movie stars? What? No? But your film is really good, right? Ground-breaking? Cutting edge and potentially genius?

Great, but the truth is, you’re probably fucked. It’s going to get lost in the onslaught. There is just too much going on for it to stand out. That is, stand out without you. Seriously, you absolutely must be in Park City to wallpaper the town with the world’s most beautiful and inventive movie poster and to pound the pavement with your charm offensive and postcard sized invites. Even if you have the bucks for a PR agent, you will still need to do as much publicity as you can and that means boots on the ground — shaking hands and being excited about your elevator pitch even after you’ve told it 2000+ times to eyes-glazed-over-festival-attendees who are so burned out they just want an open bar and for people to stop talking for five-fucking-seconds. So, something is going to have to differentiate your film from the million others playing and that most probably is going to be you.

You are your film! Who knows it better than you? Who can tell people why they absolutely must see it? Besides, do you really want to miss your screening? Hey! You’re in Slamdance! Don’t you want to be there as you are showered in rose petals and accolades and/or potentially rotten fruit and vegetables?

And if you’re like most of us, perhaps you have the desire to make a second or even third film. Just how the fuck are you going to pull that off after all your relatives have learned not to put their hands back into the film finance meat grinder? You’re going to need to expand your base of suckers. And that means industry people or rich douchebags looking to get a producer’s credit. And just where are you going to find them? Trust me, they’re not hanging outside your local Walmart. That’s right! They’re in PC looking to become something their parents warned them against wasting their trust fund on. Which leads me to my next piece of advice — when you get there, have your next script (or slick pitch) fresh off the press and ready in your dirty, sweaty, little (non-Trumpian) hands.

Look, this may seem cynical and on the surface it is, but I’m on my third glass of boxed wine and I want you to be realistic. You’re going to have a blast. You’re going to love this once in a lifetime experience. It will be burned into your brain stem for all eternity. You’re going to meet people who will be your friends and mortal enemies for the remainder of your pathetic life.

And should you be marginally successful, you’re going to need a long list of compatriots to complain to when things aren’t going your way or to ask advice from when things do go your way but you have absolutely no idea how to proceed because who the fuck else has been through the giant spanking machine that is the film industry? You’re going to need these people and with a little luck and talent they’re going to need you too. So, remember, Slamdance is a community. “For Filmmakers by Filmmakers.” You’re not an island and you really aren’t that good. You’re going to need some help. Join us. We’ll help you bury the bodies and pin the murder on someone else. And if that doesn’t work out, Dan Mirvish has perfected the art of baking a file into a cake. Be there AND be square. —Frank Hudec, Low (1995)

PRACTICAL TIPS

  • Read what the office sends you!
  • Have business cards and postcards with the name of your film to pass out. Put stickers with the screening times so you can reuse them for other festivals.
  • Find the other filmmakers in your block and promote together. Reach out before the fest and make a group poster or postcards.
  • Bring lots of Emergen-C and get your flu shot.
  • Go easy on the booze and caffeine your first couple days and bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. The weather and altitude tend to sneak up on you.
  • It’s cold outside and hot inside so wear lots of layers.
  • Stay on the bus line if possible. Cabs and Lyfts are expensive and will have long wait times.
  • If cost is an issue, find lodging at one of the nearby towns. You’ll need a car to get around but you will save significantly.
  • Bring snacks.
  • The Slamdance Welcome Toast (at the DGA Filmmaker Welcome) is TOTALLY WORTH IT. You get to a chance to make a strong impression even if you can’t stay for the whole festival.
It’s so cold but so worth it.

Edited by Adele Han Li.

All photos by Lauren Desberg.

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