Upon learning you are invited to Sundance, you should immediately (if you haven’t already)…
1. Hire a Sales Agent
Many films go into production with a sales agent due to key parties on the film being represented at that agency. Lizzie, as an example, was with WME for years as its director and lead actress are represented there. Then Kristen Stewart and our financer came on—both repped at Gersh—, so the film became a co-representation of WME and Gersh. If your film did not go into production with a sales agent, first look at where your cast and director are rep’d at and start there. They are usually receptive to Sundance titles and have an incentive to promote their clients. If an agency is not applicable, then reach out to agencies outside the scope of talent agencies (many companies just represent films in sales situations). Many sales agents will reach out to you. Vet them before hiring. Look at other filmmakers who have gotten into the festival and call them for advice on sales agents as well. This year, I had a handful of Sundance filmmakers reach out for advice- most alumni producers are happy to help. Final note: Do not pay more than 10 percent as a sales agent fee.
2. Hire a Publicist
It’s difficult to navigate Sundance without these pros even if you have attended the festival many times before. They will organize all festival press events, sponsored parties and pre-festival press. Unfortunately, publicists do not work on commission. The standard publicist rate is $10K, plus $1K expenses. That said, much like the sales agents, publicists like Sundance titles so you should be able to find some one that fits your budget. When I had The End of Love at Sundance, we had absolutely no money (we made the film for less than $500K) so we looked into publicists that were already going to be at the festival and begged them to do the film at a discount. We found a fantastic one that did it for $2K.
3. Create a Sundance Budget
Sundance is very expensive! The festival usually costs around $40-50k+ to attend. Unless festival costs are already in your budget (not likely), then you will need to present your investors with a realistic budget that includes:
— Travel/Accommodations/Hair and Make-Up (for premiere/press) for each of your lead actors and key personnel: This will be the bulk of your costs depending on what your underlying deals say about festival travel, housing, and hair and Make-up. Most cast require first class travel. Housing at Sundance is very costly and its unlikely your lead cast will want to share a house with you! Get in front of this. The sooner you book the accommodations, the cheaper it will be. As for H/MU, find out who will be there and negotiate a rate. Don’t hire someone that you need to fly/house—there are plenty of amazing artists there each year.
— Tickets: Your badge will not get you into the premiere! The festival will give you an allotment and the ability to buy more- you will need to buy more- there are never enough tickets! Your sales agent will also ask you to pay for the tickets for the buyers. The festival usually allots you about 20 tickets for free. The remainder of the tickets you will need to buy (upwards of about 50- including film tickets, buyers tickets, and PR tickets) are $25 each. This adds up quickly. Tickets are my least favorite aspect of Sundance. Everyone will want a ticket and you will not be able to accommodate. Each year I get a ton of angry emails from people who believe they are entitled to a ticket and often people standing outside the theater yelling about how someone promised them a ticket… It gets crazy.
— Publicist (see above)
— DCPs: Sundance requires two DCPs (Digital Cinema Package) of the film (you will get them back after the festival). The cost of this really depends on your post house. But remember that one of these DCPs can be used for delivery to your domestic distributor and, if you have not already delivered to foreign, then the second one can be used to for foreign delivery. Sundance will return them to your post house shortly after the festival.
— Talk to the Sundance Coordinators: Each film is assigned a rep and they are always extremely helpful. During my first couple of Sundance experiences, I had my rep’s cell programmed in my phone and probably texted her hundreds of times per day.
Once all the business is taken care of, don’t forget the Sundance-specific advice:
— The elevation is a killer. You will be out of breadth after walking one block. This condition is only made worse by alcohol so be careful. The elevation really wipes me out and gives me bloody noses (gross). So if you feel lightheaded and sick, you are not dying- its just the elevation.
— Besides the elevation, don’t drink too much. You never know when you could get a call from your sales agent about an offer and you want to be relatively sober for those discussions. This is hard lesson to learn for some as there is alcohol everywhere. No one wants to go to a 11pm sales meeting and have one of the producers or director drunk.
— See tons of movies! There are so many good ones each year. See them at the Library (my favorite Sundance venue). If you can, stay after the first weekend. Often, the opening weekend films are completely sold out and impossible to get into. The week following which are usually the 2nd and 3rd screenings of each film, tend to have tickets available. Use your badge to get tickets!
— Bring a phone charger with you everywhere you go. You will be going from event to event and will not have time to go home and charge your phone. My phone dies usually 3-4 times per day. I plug in wherever I go. No one wants to let you use their charger as most are moving from one venue to the next for press or other obligations.
— Sundance is not Cannes—it’s freezing. The red carpet is plastic tent in front of the venue. Dress appropriately—winter casual, no little dresses or heels! I always pack a lot of cute things that no one will ever see. I get there and realize that my only option is to wear my warmest clothes all at one time. It’s unbearably cold.
— Eat whenever there is food available. Park City is a few blocks long and there are long lines for every restaurant and café. I always make a stop at the grocery store on the way into Park City and get supplies. I always eat breakfast at my house and have snacks in my pockets. There is a lot of free food at the different events/suites on main street—my husband loves this and will eat anything he is offered. I am a super picky eater so planning ahead is a must. MM
Featured image photograph: Liz Destro with Mike Sherman and Michael Zakin at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Photograph courtesy of Liz Destro and Sundance Institute.