request | Filmmaker Magazine



I have worked for sundance since November 2001 as presentation manager (the guy who calms filmmakers down if the projection goes poof) for five festivals, and as one of two short-film programmers (the guy who watches 2,000 shorts in three months) for the last four festivals. I am one of very few employees who work extensively in both Los Angeles and Salt Lake, and I have also done some film projection for the labs and producers’ conference during the summer.

So yeah, I’ve spent some time in the very big house that is Sundance while sitting at the middle of the totem pole. Yes, it is a huge festival. Yes, celebrities and swag-givers who aren’t invited come to the fest to drum up publicity for themselves. If you buy a plane ticket you too can be at Sundance. But all the stories of overgrowth are beginning to make me yawn. Do writers really care about the atmosphere on Main Street more than what’s onscreen?

Here’s a typical story from my Sundance workday, a tale you won’t read in any of the trade magazines’ reviews of the festival.

One of the world premieres in the Midnight section was Moonshine, directed by Roger Ingraham. A lo-fi vampire film with more social commentary than gore, Moonshine has no stars, no famous producers — no clout at all. Roger is 21, and he made a huge accomplishment: a rad, entertaining feature film.

Part of my tech job is to guide filmmakers through the process of getting an HD or film print ready and delivered to the fest. On opening night this year (Thursday), I get a call from Roger. Moonshine is going to premiere next Wednesday night.

“Hey, how are you?” he says. “I have a question. I’m done editing my film.” Remember, this is six days before it premieres.

He continued, “Do you know how to get my film out of Final Cut Pro?”

Sundance offers the option of screening on Sony HDCam if you can’t afford to make a film print. But there are many different settings and formats possible.

“Did you get our video specification form?” I ask. “I’ll tell ya what, I will get one of our video techs to call you back. This guy helps set up our video projection at the fest and knows computer programs and decks and projectors as good as anyone in the country. He will guide you through it.”

“Okay,” Roger says, “but hold on — my sound guy wants to talk to you too.”

The phone goes across the room.

“Hi, Mike,” says the sound guy. “I’m mixing the film now. But I have never mixed a film before, only music. I’ve got some scenes here where the dialogue totally disappears.”

“Okay,” I tell him. “Let me get Dolby to personally call you and help out.”

“Awesome. Wait — here’s Roger again.”

I can’t imagine what else is left.

“Hey, it’s Roger. Listen, where should I get this transferred to video? I am getting on a plane to come to the fest tomorrow.”

“Ah, well,” I say, “you can go to this place in New York, PostWorks, that is giving discounts to filmmakers who got into the fest. But dude, this will take much longer than this afternoon. And that’s if you get everything else done. You’ve got less than a week.”

“Okay. Thanks, man!”

I hang up and call up the video tech and Dolby to give Roger a call. They do; they guide him through the process, and he makes a master to take to the dub house.

Roger’s dad has a cameo as a sheriff in the film and was scheduled to come to the festival on the day before the screening. Roger has the same name as his dad, so they switch their cheap, non-refundable tickets, and Roger works for another five days to finish the film.

The day before his screening, Roger arrives in Park City with his single HDCam in his backpack. He calls me, I drive to pick him up at headquarters, and on a small monitor in a secret location we watch the opening frames of his no-budget film. The picture comes up, the sound is in sync, and the titles look fine.

The next night he has a world premiere of his film to a sold-out crowd at the lovely Egyptian theater. Afterward he brings all of his friends and family who worked on the film up onstage.

By the way, Roger isn’t bumbling — he is a smart, talented young filmmaker learning the tools.

I don’t know if Roger met Paris Hilton or got a free jacket or overstuffed swag bag at the fest. But I don’t give a shit. For me, that’s not part of the story.


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