February 11, 2020

Starkies at Sundance

Ten creators from Peter Stark Producing Program take Park City

Not everyone who goes to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is there to sell a film. The festival’s screenings, parties and pop-up installations are prime networking events, populated by creators and executives from around the world. For film students it offers opportunities to connect with future employers and collaborators. Which is why ten students from the Peter Stark Producing Program decided to make the rounds at the January 2020 festival. They joined forces to make the trip more affordable; and more fun!

And they agreed to tell us all about it.

Q: Whose idea was it to go to Sundance and why did you all agree?

Tyler Holmes: I wouldn’t credit one person to have come up with the idea to go. A couple of us were talking about how it would be a cool idea to go to Sundance. An AirBnB search and eight committed Starkies later, the trip to Sundance came to fruition. 

Rebecca Malaret: I worked in event coordination for film festivals prior to attending USC. I had mentioned the one-of-a-kind festival experience and the career benefits of attending Sundance. Once ten of us committed, everyone chipped in with ideas, resources, packing tips, and shared upcoming events for the trip using an active group chat!

Megan Selden: I had been to Park City before so I started looking for Airbnb.

Maria Warith-Wade: We reached out to Stark Alumni to help guide us through the festival experience. 

Q: What was it like bunking together?

Megan: It was such a great experience bunking together. Everyone was easy going and there was enough space to not be completely on top of each other. We spend so much time together between class and projects but it was refreshing to be able to spend quality time that was more relaxing and fun.

Maria Warith-Wade: Our house was an amazing accommodation just a short walk from Main Street. It’s been over seven years since I’ve lived in a dorm, and to be honest, the short weekend made me miss dorm life.

Rebecca: The location functioned as home base since we all had our own distinct, bustling schedules throughout each day. Spending time away from campus definitely brought us closer together as a group and we had the opportunity to get to know one another as individuals outside of our structured and rigorous coursework. 

Julie Lew-Simard: We had just finished our first short films at USC, so getting to watch movies and hang out with each other was very welcome! 

Tyler: Twenty years from now when a handful of us have projects in the festival, it’ll be nice to look back on the memories of us starting together. 

Q: What did you learn at Sundance?

Tyler: I learned that things take time. I came to Sundance without any set plans and as someone who always has a schedule that was an odd feeling. While on the ground, I met one person, then another, then another. The network of people I was able to connect with…was the most beneficial part of my trip. I met so many filmmakers who all have similar goals; and the ones that get there do so with a village. I’m building my village. 

Julie: You can get as much out of the experience as you put into it. Some of us had plans and party invites before attending, while others waited to see what opportunities presented themselves. However way you approach Sundance, there’s always something going on that you can be a part of. On a more practical side, always bring snacks with you and there’s only a few restaurants open to the public on Main Street during Sundance, and I spent way more money on food there than here in LA.

Maria: Sundance was the opportunity for me to understand the marketplace as an emerging filmmaker. Prior to USC, my background was in entertainment marketing, therefore, Sundance was an eye-opening experience allowing me to observe distribution deals in real-time. I came to Sundance without a schedule, festival badge or ticket yet navigated my way into panels, parties, and networking events. I made many industry contacts that I intend to build a professional relationship with and learned so much from tastemakers in the business. Pro Tip: bring hand warmers. 

Rebecca: I learned that there are no boundaries to telling a unique and impactful story, that networking is the lifeblood of the entertainment industry, to get out of my comfort zone in an effort to advocate on behalf of my creative potential, and to ALWAYS pack a portable charger! 

Megan: I learned how many people are excited to collaborate and meet new filmmakers. Creating stories is hard work and everyone was there to celebrate and each other. I have such an appreciation for a festival that brings together so many people that are all passionate about the same thing. Every conversation I had while on the plane, waiting in lines, etc. was a positive experience and I am so grateful for the connections I was able to make.  

Q: Did you see any movies?

Tyler: I was partying so much I missed all my movies. Fortunately, I was about to see one on my last day. I saw Miss Juneteenth.

Rebecca: I saw a shorts package, the documentary On the Record, and Miss Juneteenth

Julie: I saw The Fight, a documentary on several ACLU lawyers fighting for civil and human rights and taking on the Trump administration.

Maria: I saw Miss Juneteenth, the film directed, produced, and mixed by USC Alumni. As a Southerner, the film was an accurate and honest portrayal of Southern values and encapsulates so many Black mother/daughter relationships. I met Channing Godfrey Peoples and Neil Creque Williams at the USC reception and was very happy to connect with them about their film. 

Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?

Rebecca: My favorite part of the experience was attending events at the Latinx House with my fellow Starkies. This was the first time that there was an activation specifically for the Latinx filmmaking community and I felt truly at home within the space.

Julie: I headed to Park City thinking I’d just hang out with my classmates, but ran into a few old coworkers and friends, which was fun because we never find time to meet up in LA. But truly the best part was staying up to crazy hours in the morning every day just spending time with my fellow Starkies.

Maria: Sundance has a very flat culture, which I appreciate as an emerging filmmaker. At any given time, you can be speaking with an EVP of a major studio, lunch with an internationally known celebrity or having a toast with your favorite showrunners. Sundance reinforced having your ideas and pitches ready, because someone just may be willing to listen. 

Megan: I loved the USC networking event the most. It was so exciting to meet fellow Trojans and see how successful they all are. Everyone I spoke to was so kind and offered great advice. It was a great event and I hope to go to more like it in the future! 

Tyler: My favorite part of the experience was knowing that this is just the beginning. I had such a great time meeting new people and being around people who love film. The future of the art in cinema is bright and I’m excited to be on that journey.

WIll you do it again?

Tyler: Without question!

Megan: I would love to go again when I know a filmmaker or have one of my own in the festival! Fingers crossed!

Rebecca: Sundance provides an invaluable on-site opportunity to understand the importance of the festival circuit in independent film acquisitions, consume unreleased innovative content, and network with potential collaborators. I can’t wait to return and support the future premieres of my fellow Starkies at the renowned festival! 

Julie: I’m already planning how I can afford a pass for Sundance 2021!

Maria: And hopefully, next time we can host a Stark House on Main Street ;)