Social Media Presence at Sundance 2014

social-media-in-the-movie-industry-1

While attending the festival, I conducted my research on the social media presence at Sundance 2014. Coming into the event, I was planning on mainly focusing on the social media of the films and filmmakers, and how they are used to promote the film and increase the number of audience members. However, after being at the festival for a few days, I noticed that social media had an even larger presence here. I decided to focus on the social media of three different entities: films, sponsors, and the festival/Sundance Institute itself.

Many films had a large social media presence while others did not have an online existence at all. Some had Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts leading up to the festival and during the actual week of the festival, others were only active during the festival, and some simply did not utilize social media at all. Social media can be helpful for independent films because they are often not as well known and do not always get the same high level of attention as mainstream movies. However, according to the social media manager for the film Infinitely Polar Bear, publicity from press coverage is arguably more important than social media, but social media outlets can be helpful for distributing literal information, such as screening times and locations.

Almost all of the sponsors heavily used social media while at the festival and encouraged “attendees to tweet with hashtags and join the Sundance conversation” (Mashable.com, 2014). Aside from the typical promotion posts and interactions with followers, three major sponsors of the 2014 festival (Acura, HP, and YouTube) especially embraced various social media outlets to connect with festival attendees on an even higher level, with different social media “activities” and outlets featured at their official Sundance locations. Similar to the films, the sponsors took advantage of social media to directly connect with fans and attendees and increase their brand’s public image.

e19887SundanceHQ_012011_14

Finally, the festival itself and the Sundance Institute employed heavy social media tactics. There were several official Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube accounts pertaining to the Sundance Film Festival or Sundance Institute/Channel itself. Sundance also had a partnership with Instagram, which allowed fans to be ableto see behind-the-scenes content from the festival and celebrities. There was a high level of crowdsourcing of photos through hashtags, and Instagram cutouts were found at theaters for fans and celebrities to take photos with. Additionally, #Sundance Spark hubs were found at 18 different official Sundance venues which featured digital monitors that displayed social media conversations in real-time and highlighted social stats.

url

I also gave a survey to our class to get some insight on what everyone thought about social media while we were here. According to a survey given to our class, on average most of us noticed social media a lot whole attending the festival, the most popular outlets being Twitter and Instagram. The class felt the most social media activity was from the festival/Sundance Institute, with the filmmakers being the second highest. On a whole, almost everyone agreed it is important for indie films to use social media to gain attention.

All in all, Twitter and Instagram are taking over the social media world. Facebook is slowly being pushed out, since it is typically not as effective or preferred by most users. One interesting statistic: In 2012 Facebook revealed that on average a page’s post only reaches about 12% of followers (Mashable.com, 2012).

Social media played a large and important role at this year’s festival. It even was a reoccurring theme in a few films. As a strategic communications major, I believe it is very important to keep up with the constantly changing social media trends of our culture. If used properly and strategically, social media can be a very helpful tool within the media industry.

YouTubeSundance2

Here is a great article from Mashable.com for further information about this year’s social media at the festival.

Actor-Directors at Sundance 2014

Since the earliest days of cinema, directors have pulled double duty as both directors and actors in films. French director George Méliès starred in nearly all of his films in some capacity. The great Orson Welles starred in several of his films, including his debut, Citizen Kane, now considered one of the greatest movies ever made. These two directors in particular often served in both roles.

But one of the increasingly prominent trends in Hollywood today is the famous actor turning to directing. Some actors, like Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood, made their names as actors before taking the director’s chair. The latter has become one of the most prolific actor-directors, aside from Woody Allen. These actors become directors for a variety of reasons and they develop various styles of directing based on their experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Three major actors called the shots on films at Sundance this year (pictured above). Zach Braff, of Scrubs fame, premiered his second feature film, Wish I Was Here, at the festival. This came 10 years after he directed his first feature, Garden State, which was also selected for Sundance. After directing two features and 7 episodes of the sitcom that made him famous, Braff learned that directing takes “strong opinions” and that his opinions are difficult to control under a director that isn’t himself. He likes directing for the control it gives him over a project.

Unlike Braff, John Slattery takes a hands-off approach to directing. This was especially easy with the phenomenal cast of his film, God’s Pocket. Veteran actors like Philip Seymour-Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, and Jon Turturro made Slattery’s job easy on set. The film was his feature directing debut, but he had experience directing 5 episodes of Mad Men, the show that made him famous as the witty, cool Roger Sterling. Slattery was surrounded by talent when directing that show as well. In a panel in the early days of Sundance, Slattery said his best advice for directing actors is “just get out of the way.” Pretty easy to say when your reputation can attract top-notch actors to your film.

William H. Macy seems to be leaning toward a similar approach with his directing. Rudderless, his directing debut, stars Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman (Macy’s wife), Selena Gomez, and others. In the Q&A after a screening of the film, Macy said the biggest thing he learned is that actors are “insane.” He wonders if he’s been a jerk this whole time, through his 120+ credits as an actor. Luckily, according to producer Keith Kjarval, “Bill” is a natural storyteller with strong directing instincts, no doubt developed over his many years in the business. It will be interesting to see how his directing career pans out, especially since Macy seems reinvigorated by his first directing experience (which was a terrific film I might add).

Writer/Directors at Sundance

Writer/Directors at Sundance

For my research project, I am looking into the importance of writer/directors at Sundance. So far, I have talked to Kat Candler, writer/director of Hellion. I was interested in speaking to her after I learned that she had worked on a short version of her film—she stressed the importance of “owning a story.” I also talked to Justin Simien, the writer/director of Dear White People and Jeff Preiss, director (not writer) of Low Down. They were both helpful in my understanding of how a screenplay and the direction of that screenplay work together—in the case of Low Down, because Preiss did not write the screenplay, Preiss had to work closely with his source material (an autobiography) and his screenwriters to create the film.

Out of the sixteen films in the US Dramatic Competition, only one film was not directed by the writer of the screenplay. This trend is not uncommon at Sundance. IndieWire published their top 25 picks for the most influential Sundance films. Out of those 25, 3 were documentaries. Of the remaining 22, only three were not made by writer/directors—Precious, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Usual Suspects.

IndieWire’s 25 Most Influential Sundance Films

Finally, in 2013, the top 5 films to make the most in the global box offices were all made by directors who did not write the screenplay. I believe that this is indicative of the current trends in cinema. I also believe this is what the Sundance Institute is seeking to combat:

“Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work.”

This is the mission statement of the Institute. It is evident that the Institute and the festival are encouraging more filmmakers to take ownership of their films by becoming writer/directors.

Platform Distribution Viewing

Image

While at Sundance I researched viewing platforms and how they are changing the way independent movies are being made and how we see them.

The Sundance Film Festival is the gateway for many filmmakers to making more films. It is highly competitive, thus it generates the highest caliber work in the independent film world. Getting your film into the festival is only half the battle. Once the film is in the festival one of the next steps is getting it seen on a wider level. 

Distribution companies have been making deals with these filmmakers over the years with theatrical viewings; however, with the advancement of streaming technologies the distribution market is changing. More and more films are getting picked up for streaming sites like Netflix. Mark Duplass, writer, director, actor, and producer, has had ten features at the Sundance Film Festival in some capacity says, “the most important part of making a movie is making sure that film streams on Netflix”, (Variety). He believes that the more people that see your work can help in the fight for getting that next film made.

Another indicator of how the platform distribution viewing is helping young filmmakers can be seen in the film ‘Fishing Without Nets’. The film started out as a short and was picked up by VICE to be made into a feature. The film was seen by the company on Vimeo where a viewer could watch the short for $1. ‘Fishing Without Nets’ went on to win the U.S. Drama Directing award.

The future of the independent film market is an exciting one. Opportunities for young filmmakers and business people are becoming more prominent and fulfilling with every coming festival. 

Locke

Image

 

The creators of ‘Locke’ succeeded in doing something that many filmmakers fail to achieve. Completely centered on a man driving in a car, the camera never strayed from Tom Hardy’s side. The film is focused on a man who had made miserable decisions in his life, but had decided to take responsibility for his actions. By quitting his job and driving to London to see through with the birth of his illegitimate child, Ivan Locke lost his career, wife, and his mind in a span of ninety minutes.

            One of my favorite aspects of the film was the real time in which the film took place. Forty more minutes in the car meant forty more minutes watching the story play out before the audience’s eyes. Furthermore, the best aspect of the film was the fact that it was able to keep the audience at the edge of their seat throughout the entire film even though we were simply watching a man drive in a car. ‘Locke’ was an extremely compelling and impressive film that truly makes one think about one’s life and one’s future life choices

 

This Festival Was Made Possible By…

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 4.38.12 PM

Since its inception in 1985, The Sundance Film festival has seen immense growth over its short lifespan, as both the number of film submissions and attendees has continued to rise.  This year alone, there were over twelve thousand film submissions, all of which were sifted through to produce a program consisting of only a couple hundred films.  This process in addition to the immense of amount of work put into the festival’s planning to accommodate the thousands of attendees, not only takes a great amount of time, but also requires a great deal of resources.  But, considering the fact that the Sundance Institute is a not for profit institution, how they are able to orchestrate such a successful event comes to question.  A by-product of the Sundance Institute, the festival receives funds by means of donations, government funding and grants, and corporate support. Considering the incredible presence that particular brands have had throughout the duration of the festival, I chose to focus on the corporate support or sponsorship aspect of Sundance’s funding.  Specifically, I wanted to research the role that the sponsor’s play and the reason for their involvement in the festival.

Through my research I found that the four presenting sponsors, including Hewlett-Packard, Acura, The Sundance Channel, and Chase Sapphire Preferred, act primarily as the hosts of the entire event.  These corporations not only provide the resources that are required for the festival to operate, but they also are the primary providers that ensure the Sundance programs are successfully run year-round.

Taking into account the demographics of the festival attendees, it is very clear that there are just as many perks for the sponsoring companies as there are for the Sundance Institute.  The Sundance Film Festival is a rare opportunity for luxury brands to directly meet the needs and provide for their target demographic.  In doing so, these companies are able to significantly increase brand recognition as well as showcase their products and services to potential clients.  Additionally, they are able to show-off to their own executives the progress the company has made and the influence it has had on the arts and entertainment industry as a whole.

Overall, I noticed that the companies that sponsor the festival have found themselves in a mutually beneficial relationship.  They are able to provide funds and services towards a cause they support, while promoting their own brand, all in an effort to create a positive experience for film people and festival attendees alike.  It is incredible to see just how much of an influence these sponsoring brands can have on festival goers, as without paying much attention, polls have shown increased brand recognition and heightened brand interest by the end of the festival.

Judging Sundance

Image

As an avid film goer/watcher I am used to seeing the prestigious leaves that frame the winners of the Sundance film festival awards. It always seemed that if a film had that Sundance award attached to its name it was sure to be going places. This eventual and almost guaranteed success peaked my interest. What determines which films are the best? Who decides who wins? Most importantly, how do they decide?

            For my research I decided to take a look into how each of the films admitted into the Sundance competitions were judged. Within the festival there are four different competition categories with four corresponding juries. The categories include: US Dramatic Competition, US Documentary Competition, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, and the Shorts Competition. The juries are created by the festival heads of Sundance with the goal of creating a balanced panel. Jurors can be anyone within the entertainment industry.

            After speaking with Dana Stevens, a film critic and jury member for the US Dramatic competition, I gained some insight on the judging process. The US Dramatic competition Jury was required to see sixteen films throughout the festival. The panel was only allowed to speak about the films to each other in secure settings. Judges were forbidden to write, blog, or tweet about any of the films. When it came to what she looks for in a winning film, it was the same as what any moviegoer searches for in a good film. She wants to have her breath taken away, she wants to see a film with a strong story and the voice of the filmmaker should shine through his work. If a film meets these criteria she and the other jurors are glad to call it a winner.

Making Good Choices: Finding the Right Music for Your Film

rudderless-billy-crudup-anton-yelchin

Going to Sundance was my first time experiencing the film industry in its full capacity.  As someone who works mostly with music, I was able to enjoy many aspects of the festival purely as a fan of cinema.  That being said, I also wanted to be able to make academic use of my time so I chose to look at music in film and how the choices directors make positively or negatively affect their picture.

I chose three Sundance films that were heavily influenced by music in some way: Under The Electric Sky, Frank, and Rudderless.  Next I looked at the director’s choices in terms of creating a score or soundtrack by commissioning original production/composition, licensing existing material, or both.

To provide the class with an example I tried to contact two Grammy-nominated artists for album of the year, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.  I got in contact with their manager and their record label to obtain the rights to their song “Can’t Hold Us” for an independent picture.

Then I looked at these three films and analyzed them based on the following criteria: audience the film is made for, the role of music in the film, and critical reception.

I researched online reviews, blog posts, and general news coverage of these three pictures and pulled the best words or phrases to sum up the audience’s reaction to the music choice and how it overall affected the film’s performance.  Finally, I looked at the choices made in each of the three films and assessed whether or not the director’s tactics were successful.  I attended Q&As for each of the films and took down notes and quotations from the Director’s comments.

Under The Electric Sky

  • Featured original production from EDM artist Kaskade
  • Licensed material from Tiësto, Afrojack, Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Gareth Emery
  • Great choices made keeping the audience in mind
  • Budget was high so they had lots of money to work with and relationships with artists because of the festival
  • Still for sale, but will serve as valuable promotion before the festival next June

Frank

  • Completely original production
  • No licensed material
  • Music was not uniform and isolated the audience
  • Songs from the movie were inspired by actual events
  • Result was not great, but not terrible
  • Critics like Indiewire.com are predicting a moderately successful limited release but no long-term success

Rudderless

  • Featured original songs from Charlton Pettus and Simon Steadman
  • “Dozens of songs were sent to me, but we heard this one and liked it and heard another one and liked it and so we said the hell with it lets just have them write all the songs” – William H. Macy
  • Role of music in the film was obviously a huge driving force and added unprecedented value to the picture only rivaled by Whiplash.
  • Result was fantastic
  • The music would make or break this film and it made it spectacular, reviews from the Hollywood Reported among others are anticipating a wide release and an extremely successful soundtrack

As you can see, depending on the director’s choice of production and style the music has the potential to greatly influence a film both positively and negatively.  A fan favorite at the festival like Rudderless would have been nothing without a tremendous soundtrack composed by Charlton Pettus and Simon Steadman, just as an initially hyped film like Frank can isolate audience members with an eccentric composition.

The biggest takeaway from my research would be that every song, composer, or license you put to use in your film will have direct consequences with an audience –  some good and some bad. While music will always be considered subjective, that same subjectivity is nearly unanimous in some forums, especially film.  Original composition was invaluable for the makers of Rudderless and Under The Electric Sky but Frank was not so lucky.  If their director made different choices I wholeheartedly believe that the picture would have met much greater success.

Day Ten: Music at Sundance

IMG_9422

While at Sundance I decided to research the music at the Sundance, specifically how the movie affected the films.

Three ways music affected the films at Sundance

  1. Creating atmosphere and mood before the screening
  2. Music as a centerpiece to the storyline
  3. Music as a promotional tool

1. Music Creating an Atmosphere and Mood 

There were essentially three ways music was used before a screening of a film, there was either no music playing in the theatre before, generic music playing before, or specific music tailored towards the film playing. Films typically either had specific music playing or no music playing, while two films had generic music. Here are my takeways from these observations.

- Having no music is nothing out of the ordinary, and didn’t feel odd or like the film was lacking something

- Generic music added for a nice background noise but nothing more and nothing less

- Specific music tailored towards the film helped initiate a mood before the films even began rolling, which added something extra to the viewing experience as a GodHelpwhole. Films that did this the best were Song One playing an indie singer songwriter soundtrack previous to the screening, and God Help the Girl playing the soundtrack to the film before the screening.


2. Music as a Centerpiece to the Story

Out of the 11 films that I got to see at Sundance, 8 of them had music as a centerpiece to the storyline. I have a theory that music in film was certainly a theme at Sundance this year as there were many more films about music that I did not get to see. Specifically “Music and healing” were very prevalent storylines presented. Here are my takeaways from music being the centerpiece to the story

- Music is something everyone can relate to, making it a reasonable story to chase after

- Filmmakers with music experience helped create films that were very realistic in their musical portrayals. Specifically Whiplash with Damien Chazelle and Miles Teller

Image courtesy of http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/2014/01/Whiplash.jpg

both having drumming experience, and Frank with Jon Ronson, a keyboard player in a band, helping write the script and the songs in the films

Song One had the most genuine songwriting of all the films as songwriters Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice were in charge of all the songwriting in the film.

3. Music as a Promotional tool

Music was used to promote films in a few different ways during and before the festival. Here are the most notable examples of this

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 5.37.34 PMLaggies and No No: A Dockumentary received an article from IndieWire highlighting the composers of their films, Ben Gibbard for Laggies and Adam Horovitz (Ad-rock) for No No. The article can be found HERE

- Willis Earl Belle of Memphis used the films showing to promote his new EP and scored an interview with Rolling Stone while at the festival. The article can be found HERE

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory used music to help others relate to their film. They employed the tagline “What is your favorite song” on teeshirts and Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 5.40.09 PMnametags that they wore and passed out during the festival. This technique was very successful as it causes every person to think and connect with music in the same way the subjects in their documentary do.

OVERALL

  1. Using create atmosphere and mood before a screening is a subtle, but powerful way to initiate the storytelling process.
  2. When filmmakers make a film about music and have previous music experience, or experienced members on their crew, it leads to a much more genuine film.
  3. Music is a wonderful tool for gaining publicity, and films are a wonderful tool to promote music as well.

Disability Representation in Films: Research at Sundance

During my time at Sundance I wanted to explore how people with disabilities, seen or unseen, were represented in film. Typically in mainstream media, a disabled character exists to teach the lead character a lesson and then is either “fixed” or killed off in the end. They are never the heroes of the story.

In mainstream media, audiences see very little diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion. These diversity issues are beginning to be addressed in sitcoms and films but disabled people are still seeing little to no rise in representation in media. To look into this matter I viewed films that featured people with disabilities, seen and unseen, reached out to a community of my peers, and interviewed the director of a documentary focusing on people with a specific disability.

To gauge how the public feels about the quality of representation of disabled characters in media I made a post on my personal blog asking for feedback. More people than the amount of followers I have on my blog reposted or sent in comments regarding my research topic. My followers consist of people from the disability community and those without any connection or knowledge of the disability community making the results seem pretty fair. One of the most thoughtful answers was from Tumblr user fade31415.

“I want abled people to not be able to forget disabled people exist when they turn on the tv, or read a book. I want us to be so visible it’s painstakingly obvious to kids when places aren’t accessible — “But if there’s stairs, how can [my favorite wheelchair using character on TV] eat here?” or “With all this noise, I think [so-and-so with sensory issues] would be really overwhelmed,” said Tumblr user fade31415.

Tumblr user fade31415 went on to say, “When there are disabled characters in media, kids notice. They absorb them as normal”. Disabled people become familiar and more relatable the more we seem them in the media we consume.

Michael Rossato-Bennett, director of the documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says that the best way to approach disabled people in films is to equalize them.

We live in a very narcissistic world so you have to go deep. You can’t just scratch the surface; you have to go really deep. You have to make what you’re passionate about into something that they can relate to. For my film it was music,” Rossato-Bennett said.

Rossato-Bennett believes in finding ways to make people connect to characters that they may not necessarily associate themselves with or relate to. He said that is both a healthy person and a sick person take a pill, only the sick person feels the effect of the pill. However, if the healthy person and sick person both listen to music, they may be impacted in the same way.

I found that most Sundance films do a fantastic job of putting a person with a disability into the film but not letting it define their character. The characters in these films survive to the end and present an accurate portrayal of what life is like for people with disabilities in the real world. If films like these are able to exist in mainstream media, it would reaffirm that persons with disabilities are still people just like everyone else. The more honest and fair representation available in mainstream media, the more familiar people become with persons with disabilities. It also provides the uplifting escape that everyone seeks in the end of a film, even for people with disabilities, instead of leaving an entire group of moviegoers to watch the characters they are supposed to associate with be killed, mocked, or “fixed” in media.

Crowdfunding at Sundance and Beyond

During my time at the Sundance Film Festival, I looked at the use of crowdfunding and the films that used crowdfunding. This year at Sundance, there are 26 films, shorts, and other attractions that used crowdfunding to help fund their projects. The main two sites that these films used for crowdfunding were Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Both sites have had films that used their services in the festival before. For Kickstarter, this is the third year in a row that films have been selected. In total, Kickstarter has seen 73 of their funded projects be selected for Sundance. This year alone, with 20 projects at the festival, they represent 10% of the festival’s program. Indiegogo launched their website at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, intending it for the use of indie filmmakers to be able to help fund their films. This year at Sundance, they had six films funded be selected for the program. One of their biggest announcements though this year was that they would be creating their own film distribution. Through this new feature, Indiegogo is allowing indie filmmakers to have access to free or discounted distribution deals.

Image

Crowdfunding is starting to impact the film industry, giving filmmakers an opportunity to avoid financers who might want to change their projects. Though for most campaigns the money raised will only fund a certain percent of their projects, filmmakers see this as a better option then having to solely rely on these financial backers. Plus, with the use of crowdfunding, they allow their audience to feel as though they are having a direct help into the making of the project. Overall, from interviews I conducted with producers of God Help the Girl and Dear White People, it is obvious that people believe that crowdfunding can only help a film. You can build an immediate audience that is excited for your project and wants to make sure it is made. Though some films like Wish I Was Here by Zach Braff have maybe shown the extreme of crowdfunding, raising millions of dollars in only a matter of days, the sites are truly designed for smaller, independent filmmakers to find their new audience and raise the funds they need to assure their project can be made. It cannot be argued that crowdfunding plays a beneficial role for those who use it. It is constantly growing because of how accessible it is. But Beth Allen, the associate producer of God Help the Girl, believes that while it is growing, it is becoming harder to find success due to the amount of competition you are up against. Crowdfunding isn’t going anywhere and people should continue to watch sites to see the future of the industry and the role it will play.

Wrapping Up 10 days of Fest

Now that the festival is over I figured I would put together a final ranking of all of the films I was able to see and reflect on my time in Park City, Utah. My goal was to see 20 films and I made it to 18!

  1. Whiplash
  2. I Origins
  3. The Signal
  4. Cooties
  5. Dear White People
  6. God Help The Girl
  7. Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory
  8. The Babadook
  9. Boyhood
  10. Life After Beth
  11. Private Violence
  12. White Bird In A Blizzard
  13. Locke
  14. Song One
  15. Blind
  16. 52 Tuesdays
  17. Frank
  18. Shorts I (Allergy to Originality, Dawn, Subconscious Password, Untucked, My Sense of Modesty, Gregory Go Boom, Butter Lamp)

This entire experience has been incredible. I left for this trip thinking that I would see some cool movies and possibly gain some insight on how to tailor my own projects but I received so much more from Park City than ticket stubs and a moleskin full of ideas. I met some fantastic people in line, in the theatre, at panels and at exhibits. Some were locals who’d been attending the festival for years while others were producers for films in the festival. Everyone I met gave me great advice, companionship, and connections for the future.

Since I was one of few broadcast journalism majors on this trip, I had feared I wouldn’t get as much out of the experience career-wise as my classmates. However, this trip has solidified my desire to work on the production side of broadcast news, helping to produce and edit longer form, softer news pieces for outlets such as 60 Minutes and Sunday Morning.

I sincerely hope that I am able to return to the festival one day. Whether it’s as a patron or as someone involved with a project here, the atmosphere at Sundance is too addictive to only experience once.

I Origins

While finishing up his PhD in molecular biology Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) meets Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a model with exquisite eyes. Ian’s research with his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) surrounds creating an eye from scratch. After an accident leaves Ian without Sofi, he marries Karen. Years later at the birth of their first child, Ian and Karen realize their newborn son may have a connection to someone they’ve never known. Ian uses this opportunity to find the closure he needs after losing Sofi by looking into the eyes of another. Mike Cahill’s film “I Origins” makes the audience question their beliefs and thoughts on reincarnation and how much truth there is in the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”.

Being that this was my 18th and final film I was able to view at the festival, I had my fingers crossed that this film would help me end this experience on a profound note just as Whiplash opened this trip with a bang. I got even more than I had hoped for with “I Origins”. This film is thought provoking and delicately pieces together the story of multiple lifetimes.

Cahill and his team were also knowledgable of the right place to end the story. Though a few moments seemed a little far fetched, the majority of the storyline was still very believable and didn’t go too far to the point of taking you out of the film. “I Origins” left me pondering the weird happenings of the human mind that impact humans daily such as déjà vu and has encouraged me to pay a little more attention to the things I may not necessarily see in this world.

Day 10: The Editors of Sundance

avid-edit-bays

For my final research topic here at Sundance, I studied the editors of some of the films. The two editors that I got to interview were Brett Bachman of Cooties and Marc Vives of Ping Pong Summer. The goal of this research was to gain an insight into the early career’s of these two editors as well into their motives behind their work on the films.

brett

marc

Pictured: Brett Bachman (left), Marc Vives (right)

An example of one of the questions I asked both editors was “How did you start your career?”

Bachman told me that he got his start in high school when he decided to shoot and edit a football documentary for fun. Later, in college, he was an English major but decided to work on a sketch comedy show with other students, creating their own original content. After college, his friends convinced him to attend the AFI Conservatory. When he got in, he specialized in editing as a discipline.

Vives got his start after graduating from NYU when he worked some small post-production jobs. He fell on hard times, finding it hard to find a steady job. Luckily, a friend of his connected him with a first-time director, creating a documentary on a painter. This was his first full length project. Vives told me he had to learn to cut together a feature as he went a long, detouring from the usual apprentice or assistant route.

For the rest of the interviews, you can view my research presentation here.

The Significance of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Cinema

Last night, Sundance announced the award-winning films, which can be found here:

http://www.sundance.org/festival/stories/award-winners/

whiplash

It was no surprise to me, or anyone in the Elon at Sundance program, that Whiplash won both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for the Dramatic Cinema category. It was the first feature film we watched upon arriving to Park City, and it blew everyone away—definitely an exhilarating and triumphant movie.

While at the Sundance Film Festival, I conducted some research on the accessibility and the monetary benefits of films that won an award at Sundance compared to those that were competing in the festival, but did not win any awards. Even more specifically, I narrowed down the focus of my research to all of the films that have won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for the Dramatic Cinema category over the past 30 years. Therefore, the findings from my research have implications on Whiplash—very positive implications, actually.

Below is a graph that I created. It compares the worldwide box office grossing of Sundance films that won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize to the films that competed in the festival, but did not win the prestigious award.Image

The graph clearly illustrates that the films that won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize have been more successful both domestically and internationally in terms of total box office grossing. These films are successful because they obviously won for a reason (they’re considered to be better than their competitors)—but the prestige and world-wide recognition that comes along with the U.S. Grand Jury Prize title obviously helps them make money as well. The award is very beneficial and can take a film to the next level.

Lastly, below are some other conclusive notes I found throughout my research:
– 23 of 29 of the U.S. Grand Jury: Dramatic Cinema winners hit theatres.
– 12 of 29 of the U.S. Grand Jury: Dramatic Cinema winners hit theatres both domestically and internationally.
– After the year of 2000, 12 of 14 U.S. Grand Jury: Dramatic Cinema winners hit theatres both domestically and internationally.

25 Movies in 10 Days or: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cinema”

Yes, I saw 25 movies in my 10 days at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. That’s an average of 2.5 movies per day. I saw drama, comedy, documentaries, zombies, drummers, serial killers, and one disgusting young woman obsessed with her own bodily fluids. I’d say it was a big win.

This gallery features images from only a few of the films and shorts I saw (hover over each for the title):

 

I saw more movies than I had ever hoped to see at the festival, and I loved every second. I might have been dying of sleep deprivation during a few of them, but I managed. I laughed, I (nearly) cried, I was inspired. This was the best film experience of my life, just as I thought it would be.

I hadn’t been to Park City in more than 10 years, so it was basically new to me. I loved the Western feel of many of the buildings as well as the layout of the city. Most of all, I loved how the whole town was oriented toward movies for 10 days. Almost everyone I saw, heard, and talked to was there for the festival. I saw at least a dozen famous faces while walking around. Celebrities I had only seen in movies and TV just walking around like the rest of us. It was surreal, but I just thought of it as a preview of my future in Hollywood. These people will be my friends one day.

Sundance was everything I expected and more. I saw SO many movies. My favorite movie of the festival, Whiplash, won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. I can’t wait for these movies to be released in theaters so I can get my friends excited about seeing them. And I can see them again.

Day Nine: The Final Rankings

Earlier I made a post halfway in about my top films that I had seen at the festival. While I only added 3 more films the list after that point, I have had some time to digest some of the films, move some things around, and I have some updated final takeaways of each film. After seeing all the films I am going to see at Sundance, not including anything I see during awards day tomorrow, I am finally ready to have a final ranking. As before, this is my opinion only and you can take it or leave it, either way I hope you enjoy.

1. I Origins

I Origins

This film is hard to describe how it is so wonderful. It slowly paints an intelligent picture that kept me very confused and almost pushed me away in the front end, but just when I felt myself slipping away the film rips me back in and keeps me on the edge of my seat the entire time. There is a large scale debate occurring in this film on a small scale level and it makes it all the more interesting. Without giving anything away, the final scene of the film is so beautiful as it not only beautifully completes the film, but also justifies the front end, making the build up just as beautiful as the conclusion. This film had everything I wanted in a film, pulling me and taking me on a roller coaster of questioning, emotion and leaving me fully satisfied as I left the theatre.

2. Whiplash

Whiplash

With this being the first film I got to see of the festival, I had the most time to think about it, and the more I thought about the film the more and more I loved it. Perfectly written, perfectly paced, and amazing acting from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, this high energy, high impact film left me in awe as the I left the theatre.

3. The Signal

The Signal

While I’m probably a little bias towards this film after meeting director William Eubank this week, I still believe this was one of the best films of Sundance. It was exactly what the science fiction world needs more of, tense, intelligent and engaging plots. There is so much about this film that pulls you in from the very start and keeps me strapped in the entire time, exactly what I want a film to do.

4. No No: A Dockumentary

No No

This documentary was shockingly emotional and beautiful. While I expected something fun, entertaining, I received much more. As I said in my review this documentary had a unique storytelling technique, an amazing score, and left me wanting more in all the right ways at the end.

5. Rudderless

Rudderless

A beautiful film with a unique twist on the “father-loses son in tragedy” storyline. This film gets better and better as it unfolds. While I do admit the front end of the film was rather weak, the momentum gained and the powerful, raw final scenes overshadow that and left me speechless.

6. Song One

Song One

This one shocked me at first, as I did not really expect Anne Hathaway to be able to pull off her role as well as she did. With that said, this film was a unique love story that went off from the mainstream as it was more about the individual’s finding love in other things rather than each other. This unique new lens on love and music made me respect this film much more than I ever imagined.

7. God Help the Girl

GodHelpTheGirl

This film was simply fun to watch. As previously mentioned, Emily Browning drew the audience in a never let them go with her beautiful voice. The fun British musical kept me thoroughly entertained and the soundtrack stayed in my head long after the credits rolled.

8. Frank

Frank

As I have digested Frank I have grown to like it more and more. While I feel the film could have been a bit more effective with a bit faster pacing, overall this was a solid film that had me laughing as it drew me in and took a turn for seriousness as the end. While the ending seemed just out of place and odd at first, the more I have thought about it, the conclusion of this film was perfect for what Abrahamson was trying to achieve.

9. Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory

AliveInside

The more I have thought about this documentary, the more I have grown to see it as a big public service announcement about how music can change health care and treatment of Alzheimer’s in America. While yes this story is inspiring and awesome, the documentary took a back seat to the significance behind the film, causing the storytelling to suffer.

10. Under the Electric Sky

Under The Electric Sky

This documentary had a very promising story, and visually it was extraordinary, but the stories themselves felt too generic, and just bland. For such a unique culture and festival I would have imagined a more interesting documentary, and part of the reason it ranks so low is due to my initial letdown.

11. Memphis

Memphis

As I stated before, this film had some beautiful cinematography, and the music in the film was amazing, however, this film seemed like it was trying to be Tree of Life with no plot, and had nothing spectacular to have me even remotely relate to what was going on.

Sundance Complete

Image

Well we still have one last full day, but the regular days of the festival have come and gone. Tomorrow is the award winner day and our presentations for the research projects we’ve all been working on while we were here. But all I can say is that this trip was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I learned so much more about movies, how to break them down and find at least something to take away from each film, and patience. Waiting in lines, sitting through movies that may not have been my favorite, or even just waiting for that next bus to take you to whatever theater you’re trying to get to. I went in with some idea of what these ten days would be like, but I’m leaving Sundance with a whole new view on the festival and what it takes to put this on. So much goes into the festival and you can see it through the volunteers, programming, and just about every where you look in Park City. I almost hate to go home because I feel like there was so much I didn’t get to see or experience just because there is so much to do and you can’t overwhelm yourself. Pacing is key and I suffered from too much of everything. I’m not a big morning person, so early morning movies were hard and usually ended up with me coming home and passing out because of just how exhausted I was (it doesn’t help that some late night films wouldn’t get out till 2, but that’s a whole other experience).

Overall, I am so grateful to even have had an opportunity to come to Sundance and experience all that I did. Let’s do some numbers: 14 films, 12 students, 10 days, 8+ hours of travel time to Utah, 4 almost-fell-flat-on-my-face trips, 1 comfy couch to sleep on, but over all too many memories to list.

Day 9: Final Countdown

1192413 _ca_sundance_day1_JLC

Well, I made it. I may or may not see some of the films tomorrow, so my viewing of Boyhood tonight was a good way to wrap up my experience here at Sundance. Looking back on all the films I saw, here is my final list of films, counting down to the number one movie.

17. Memphis – Even though this film looks great, sounds great, even feels great… the lack of an apparent plot was too much for me. It’s definitely more on the experimental side, so it’s not going to be for everyone.

16. The Voices – This one was strange for me. I went in not really knowing what it was about, but only because the audience was never given any info in the first place. The film takes a crazy turn, something I admire. But the amount of violence and its use in the movie was just not enjoyable for me. I’m never one to dislike violence in movies, but it seemed extraneous just for the sake of shock and entertainment.

15. Shorts I – Large range of films here. Gregory Go Boom, winner of the short film jury award for fiction, was an interestingly strange experience. I also enjoyed the art and style of Dawn.

14. Ping Pong Summer – Great style and art direction to this film. Fun and entertaining, but lacked an intelligent and original plot. Acting was sub-par.

13. Frank – I had really high hopes for this film. Started off quirky and interesting, but ended up falling short of my expectations. Characters are fun, but the plot goes down an uninteresting path by the end.

12. Web Junkie – I’m not the biggest fan of docs, but the subject matter was too good to resist. The film really hits home the hardship of the characters. I think, as a whole, it could have been produced better, but the content was there.

11. Locke – Very unique film. Tom Hardy is great. Could have been even shorter, though.

10. God Help the Girl – Very fun film. Soundtrack is outstanding. The cast is great. A little too bubbly for me at times.

9. The Trip to Italy – A perfect companion to the original. I wanted more, but it was at least on par with the first, so it was fine with me.

8. Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter – Yet another film unlike any you have seen. Very unique storytelling. Looks great, environments are harsh and realistic. Ending is a little too forced for me.

7. Calvary – Great dark humor. Acting is fantastic. Scenery adds a lot to the film. The surprise at the end didn’t quite satisfy me.

6. Hits – Funniest film I saw. The humor worked as a platform for a bigger message about our society.

5. Cooties – Another funny one. All-star cast. Effects are cheesy, but they work with the film. Great for horror lovers and comedy lovers alike.

4. The Signal – Stood apart from the rest by a ton. Effects and sound are some of the best I’ve seen. Plot is mysterious and interesting. Ending is very typical sci-fi, not my favorite. But doesn’t bring the rest of the film down.

3. Boyhood – Incredible feat of filmmaking. Very realistic and touching. I wanted more dark moments, as I felt like we were bombarded with only happy or neutral moments. However, the pure scope of the film is enough to bring in an audience.

2. I Origins – I went in knowing of both good and bad reviews. The film tries to have some monumental meaning to it. In some cases it does, and in some cases it doesn’t. For me personally, I thought it was an extremely interesting film. This one had me hooked the most out of all of them. There were parts missing, it seemed. But overall, a smart, clever, and exciting movie experience.

1. Whiplash – Best film by a long shot. Winner of grand jury and audience awards. Not much to say other than amazing.

 

 

They Came Together

This morning I saw They Came Together, a comedy starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. A hilarious satire on the typical romantic comedy, the film kept me laughing the whole way through. Poehler and Rudd are an excellent duo that play off of each other very nicely. Overall the film is a light-hearted comedy that was just what I needed on a Saturday morning.

The film takes place in NYC and follows a similar format to the television hit series How I Met Your Mother. Taking everything to an over-the-top extreme, Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler) tell the story of how they met and eventually ended up together.

a_560x0

The Q&A session following the film really added to my enjoyment of the film. It almost felt as if I were watching a stand-up comedy show starring director David Wain, Paul Rudd, and Amy Poehler. Even the audience responded in a comedic manner, asking ridiculous questions and playing with the cast and crew of the film. It was definitely one of my favorite film-viewing experiences at the festival.

Full of tons of hysterical plot twists and turns, They Came Together is one everyone should catch in theaters June 27. To all the boyfriends out there tired of being dragged to Paul Rudd’s romantic comedies: it is nowhere close to your typical Rom-Com.

 

 

Day Eight: Dolby Atmos

DolbyAtmos

As my time at Sundance has started to come to a close, I have began thinking about what things I liked the most and liked the least while at the festival. One of these things would be the theatres themselves. The Sundance Film Festival has 9 total theatres in Park City, all having their own unique characteristics. My favorite of all of the theatres I went to was the Eccles. What immediately blew me away about this theatre was how powerful and precise the sound was. After seeing three films in this theatre I did some research into what the sound system was, and was not shocked to find it was the Dolby Atmos sound system. This brand new, advanced system from Dolby allows the sound engineers in the theatre to place a sound anywhere in a 360 range. For those of you who do not particularly understand this, the best way to describe it is this is to sound what 3-D is to visuals.  With the addition of overhead speakers, there is a new added depth to the sound, and yes it is noticeable.  Sound interesting? Check out this short video from Dolby explaining this better than I ever could.

This was something that really blew me away during my Sundance experience that I was not expecting. Yes I was expecting to see great films, but I was not expecting the state of the art sound system, and I feel very lucky to have experienced something so magnificent. Watching a film in 5.1 or 7.1 surround will never be the same.

Rudderless

13905-1

Beautiful, yet heart breaking, Rudderless is an emotionally polarizing story of a man, Sam, whose life has spiraled downward after the loss of his son in an on-campus shooting.  After he discovers his son’s impressive collection of original music that he had written and recorded, in attempt to reconnect with his son, Sam learns the songs and performs them at a local bar, claiming them as his own.  He catches the ear of a young and eager musician, Quentin, who is determined to form a band with Sam and continue to perform these brilliant songs.   Little does the band know the music has a dark history.

In addition to the moving storyline, several aspects of the picture including the extraordinary cast and soundtrack are undeniably commendable.  Billy Crudup, who plays Sam, puts on an incredibly convincing performance that both showcases his strong acting abilities and serves as a solid demonstration of his musical prowess.   The same goes for Anton Yelchin, who plays Quentin.  The impressive collection of songs performed in the film consists of originals primarily composed by Simon Steadman and Charlton Pettus.  Not only do the songs contain lyrics that set and enhance the film’s tone, but also they are extremely catchy and left audience members begging for immediate access to the soundtrack after the screening.

A solid film, Rudderless is a must-see, as if offers a captivating story that provides a unique perspective in addressing the sensitive subject of school shootings, in addition to offering a captivating story that is sure to appeal to wide-audiences.  It would be surprising if the movie does not get picked up very soon.

Can A Killer Be A Victim Too?

628x471Today we saw Rudderless, a film about a man’s grieving and recovery process after a university shooting.  The film had many familiar faces including Billy Crudup, Felicity Huffman, and Selena Gomez but more importantly it was the directional debut of William H. Macy.

During the Q&A after the screening Macy was quickly asked about his inspiration for the film and he explained how he wanted to tell the story of the shooter’s family and their life after such a tragic event.

Macy went on to talk about the Columbine High School shooting, and how originally the two shooters were on the victims’ memorial plaque and had trees planted in their memory. However, according to Macy, the public was so upset that they chained and tore down the two shooters’ trees shortly after.  The trees were never replaced by the school, and the names were permanently removed from the memorial plaque.  Macy’s last word on the subject was a question directed at the audience: “can you blame them?”

The timing of this discussion was especially relevant after today’s Columbia Mall shooting in Maryland, one of several shootings or gun scares over the last few weeks in the U.S. Macy and his film conjured up some tough questions – should we be sympathetic to the families of the killer? Can a killer be a victim too?

The public relations response would be a quick “yes,” but it is far more difficult to address than we think. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and neither does Macy’s film for the most part. But it does explore the side of tragedy rarely seen, and I think if only for that reason Rudderless is a must-see for all audiences that make up our increasingly complicated society.

Rudderless

Image

 

 ‘Rudderless’ left me in absolute awe. Directed by William H. Macy the film follows the father of a boy who died in a school shooting. Struggling to come to terms with the past, the father looks to his son’s music to feel closer. Together the audience went on an emotional ride and experienced extreme shock in the film’s big twist. A standing ovation immediately followed the closing scene in the film and it was nothing less than well deserved.

            William H. Macy’s Q&A that followed demonstrated the passion that the cast and crew had for the story that it told. The film was extremely powerful and shed light on a story that is not usually told or spoken of. I was left speechless.

 

Cold In July

Image

 

‘Cold In July’ directed by Jim Mickle was thrilling.  The film was an adaptation of the book of the same title and captured the crime drama theme flawlessly. The film stars Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson as the three come together to seek truth and revenge.

            Mickle found a way to effortlessly tie together the disturbing and violent nature of the film with humor and dark comedic satire. The film took hold of my attention and imagination entirely. Although cringing at some parts, the rawness of the story throughout compelled me to root for the dysfunctional team until the end. ‘Cold in July’ was an incredibly thrilling ride from the start to the finish.