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Sundance Director’s Lab

Sundance Director’s Lab

Blog #5 July 5, 2013: It is hard to put into words everything that I experienced while out at the Director’s Labs in Sundance, Utah. I actually found myself using words and truly understanding the meaning of them for the first time. The mountains were majestic and the energy was electric. Excitement among the crew members was tangible and everyone was there to work for and support the directing fellows. I have never seen so many people give so much, work so hard, and genuinely care about every project and each individual involved in the process. The experience was magical and I can only hope to one day go back and do it all over again.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned while at the labs was how communication can make or break a project. Because each crew worked with two different directors, having locations, sets, lights, audio packages, grip gear, camera kits, lenses, transportation and all other pieces of the puzzle we call production sorted out was absolutely key. Communication was crucial and the labs were designed around allowing that communication to take place. Dinners doubled as production meetings and crew had meetings to start the day as well as meetings to end each day. Some of the most important communication was that which took place on set. Advisors like Caleb Deschanel, Ed Harris, Kathryn Bigelow, Tim Blake Nelson and many more were on set daily, guiding the fellows and challenging them along the way. It was in these moments where the director would have to justify a choice and stand by it, or make the decision to change it and define the benefits and consequences that come along with said decision. These were the nuggets of information that stuck with entire team long after the day was over.

Another aspect that is extremely important and is actually driven by good communication is organization. Because the labs were run on such a strict schedule everything had to be thought out in advance. Once the ball started rolling and the shoot day had begun, making last minute changes could be challenging, but the better laid out the plan, the easier it was to adjust when things didn’t go accordingly. Having gear organized on set or on location allowed for easy transitions and sped up the process, in turn giving the director and AD some peace of mind during what could possibly be a stressful time. One of the advisors, Walter Salles, mentioned on set one day that when making one of his films he wanted a documentary feel to it and wanted to achieve this in the most natural way possible. One way he achieved this was by withholding certain pieces of information from his director of photography as well as his actors. In giving them less information, he allowed for them to simultaneously discover the scene in a spontaneous and innate way. This involved a lot of trust from his crew, but because everyone was organized and his communication was clear, the desired look and feel were achieved and the process was successful.

Working at the Sundance Director’s Labs was a tremendous learning experience and reinvigorated my thirst for knowledge and my desire to produce meaningful projects. While communication and organization were the cornerstones in developing a productive shoot, there were many other factors that helped to make the production process so graceful. With the right equipment, passion, communication, organization, respect and teamwork, a small team can accomplish great things. I would like to thank my IDEAS Family for allowing me to be a part of this experience as well as my Sundance Family for making it such an incredible one.

Blog #4 June 21, 2013: Some people believe in luck, others in fate or in a greater power guiding us to where we belong. For me, it is a combination of all of the above. The entertainment industry is often very hard to break into and I can’t keep track of how many times I have heard the saying, “it’s not about what you know- it’s about who you know.” For many aspiring filmmakers this is a very hard thing to hear and can prove to be quite discouraging. One can work themselves into the ground and have the most beautiful production, and yet if no one of importance sees it, it may feel like it doesn’t even exits.

I learned an important lesson when I was young and it was to follow my heart and strive to do what I love to do. If you love your career, you wake up every morning looking forward to the day ahead- not to mention that if you love your craft, then you enjoy spending time perfecting it and therefore your knowledge and expertise are always growing and maturing with you and your career. When I realized how much I loved filmmaking it took me completely by surprise. I made several life changing decisions and while it was scary, it was equally exhilarating. Taking the first step out of your comfort zone is always the hardest, but once you are out the door, each consecutive step helps you to gain momentum.

Everyone gets their start somewhere, including all of the advisors here at the Sundance Labs. When speaking with one of the advisors and asking about his advice of how one would break into the industry, the answer was simply, “to begin.” Unless you begin something and put yourself and your work on the line, no one will ever have the chance to discover your talent. As you grow professionally, naturally you will have more opportunities to network with others in the industry. It is at this point that you must create a path for yourself and continue to develop your contacts and your career simultaneously.

I believe that hard work and perseverance deliver great opportunities, and every once in a while a decision that you make may land you sitting next to your celebrity mentor, gaining financing for your first film, or being able to screen your work in front of other professionals. The entertainment industry may have a lot to do with networking, but if you show passion and devotion in your work, others will take notice and you will be able to pave your own path in whatever direction you wish. If you love what you do then you will do it well, you just have to put your fears aside and begin.

Blog #3 June 12, 2013: Style is something that takes years to develop. It is something that makes your work unique and carries the production from beginning to end. No matter what you are working on, you should always be looking for ways to push your own style as well as involve other styles in a collaborative fashion. Here at the Sundance Labs the Directors and DPs are all working on inventing and expanding on their personal style of storytelling by taking risks and experimenting.

The DP that I am working, Jay Keitel, wants to support his Directors but keep his own style as well. The Director explains to Jay what the story is about, what the focus is on, what the tone should be, and through that and much more a style is created. On our first day of shooting, Jay crushed the blacks, dropped the saturation, pushed the black levels a hint towards magenta, and overexposed for the scene. The characters were in a fight and it was extremely intense and Jay was doing his very best to allow the picture to add to the story.

When talking to Caleb Deschanel, he noted that so many directors and directors of photography who shoot today, whether it be on DSLR or a 35mm film shoot, don’t take the time to develop a style for their production. Many jump all over the set with the camera unnecessarily, and in doing this, there is no significance in the shots- no symbolism or art in the frame. The suggestion was to focus on the story at hand and figure out what style would suit it best. Perhaps when shooting a thriller, you can shoot the beginning of the film with similar lenses at a constant height. Then when the character hits the main conflict or has a dramatic moment, you can jar the audience by shifting to a low angle or high angle shot. The audience may not even know why they feel shocked or tense, but by developing the style you can really take advantage of how you make the audience feel through visual elements.

Style is something that is extremely important to filmmaking and takes years to develop. Many of the advisors here at the labs have commented on style and how long it took them to find their own. It is wonderful when a director and a DP can collaborate and find a style that they mutually agree on, but whatever the case may be, the style should add to the story at hand and help to progress it into a piece of art.

Blog #2 June 3, 2013: At the Sundance Labs all of the equipment is on loan; a lot of it brand new and begging to be tested. That is the case for the camera team this year as we are shooting with the new Sony F55 CineAlta Camera. Although the camera has 4K ability, we are shooting at 1080 for speed and ease of editing. We have an assortment of lenses including Angenieux Optimo DP zooms, Zeiss CP.2 Primes, Sony Primes and one Sony zoom. We also have a wide variety of Tiffen filters that range from the basics to the more extreme- each AC carries approximately thirty filters in their arsenal. The camera team and all of the equipment were divided into four crews (yours truly was assigned to the Green Team!) and for the rest of the labs each team will work with one DP and two of the directing Fellows.

The first few days of getting acclimated on the mountain, the camera team ran several tests and then broke in the F55s while shooting the crew short- a short specifically designed to introduce team members to each other as well as their equipment. The crew short was where I got my sea legs. I was able to work with a seasoned 1st AC as he operated camera and I fulfilled his usual role. I was able to get into the swing of things and had an absolute blast while doing it. The next project we shot was a “crew short” of sorts, but this time the short is strategically developed for the DPs and Fellows to get to know the crew and their surroundings. This was a wonderful experience as well. We shot half a day and edited half a day- repeated with a different Fellow the following day, and then screened all of the final edits in the evening.

As we prepare this week to begin work on the Fellows’ actual scripts, it is important to remember that we are all here to learn. Not only have I been learning about the camera gear, lenses, lights, filter techniques, the list goes on- but I have been invited to learn about every other department and how they operate. Having the ability to shoot for a day, allow the Director and Editor a day to edit, and then screen the product in a theater is quite incredible. To be able to dissect that product and figure out what worked and what didn’t while being supported by crew, faculty, and advisers is invaluable. The Sundance Labs exist to support the next generation of filmmakers- to allow them to take risks in an environment that is non-judgmental and encouraging. From everything that I have experienced thus far, that is exactly what they are doing.

Blog #1 May 29, 2013: SUNDANCE is a word that carries an outstanding reputation. It is a word that reflects creativity, originality, and inspiration. It is a word that has lingered on my mind since I realized I wanted to make films, and now I believe it will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I was first asked to attend the Sundance Director’s Lab as a part of the camera team for four weeks, I was completely caught off guard. I had been struggling a little bit to find my way in the creative world and this felt like a shove in the right direction. With IDEAS supporting the endeavor, I agreed to participate in the Sundance Director’s Lab.

I flew into Salt Lake City on May 25th and was met at the airport by many smiling faces from the Sundance Labs. The drive up the mountain to the Sundance Resort was spectacular with snow capped ranges and waterfalls one both sides of the road. Once we arrived and check in was complete, I then found my way to the cabin that will be my home for the next month. After that, we traveled back to the resort base and met with the rest of the crew. The first few days were spent testing equipment, taking inventory, and settling in to the new daily routine. On the third day we packed our camera packages and went out to shoot scenes for our crew short- a short that the entire crew makes before the Directors arrive in order to assure that all gear is working and that set protocol is in place. I had a tremendous amount of fun while we were out shooting. I have only been here a few days and yet I have already learned so much.

Next week we will begin working with the Directors that were selected for the workshop. We will be working through some of their most challenging scenes so when it comes time for them to shoot under the pressures of true production, they can be more at ease with the difficult scenes. We are all here to support the Directors and their creative visions, and we are all learning together as one giant crew. Filmmaking should be about taking chances, pushing the limits, telling stories through innovative means, and that is what we are all focused on achieving here at the labs.

The amazing thing about the Sundance Labs is that everyone here is as passionate about filmmaking as I am. We are all working together to find the biggest challenges we may face, and tackle them head on. I have heard several people here say, “It’s not about the end result, it’s about the process.” I expect that I will be challenged daily, and while that scared me at first, I am now ready to embrace it.

Rebecca Hodges
Rebecca is a Producer/Director/Editor at IDEAS and her daily tasks consist of managing the tape vault, producing/directing/editing, as well as being the go-to person for the Studio Team.