Sundance 2021 Takeaways

For many years, I dreamed of the opportunity to attend Sundance Film Festival. With this year’s virtual format, my bucket list item is in the bag! It was everything I could have hoped for and more. The films, Q&A’s, panels and discussions were inspiring and give me hope and certainty that I am on the right path as a writer, director and independent filmmaker. I am one of many filmmakers just like me who have stories to tell. I heard from people with the same drive and motivation as I have to keep pushing until their projects are born and presented to the world. I am grounded in my goals because I see me in the Sundance community of filmmakers. Things I learned from my Sundance experience:

  1. A filmmaker has to be deeply connected to the story to tell the story properly. If the story does not resonate with you, it’s not your story to tell. Most filmmakers at Sundance said they had experienced the story or parts of the story. Directors of larger budgeted films premiering at the festival expressed an emotional connection to the script if they had not written it themselves. They all said their collaborative financial partners found meaning in their stories and they wanted to help get the project produced and distributed. My takeaway is to find the people who connect with your story and that believe in you. That includes your cast and crew. If you don’t believe in my story and my vision, we do not have a collaborative future.
  2. It takes years to make a quality film. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a short film or feature film length, it should take months and months to complete a project. It starts with the vision but the scriptwriting alone can take more than a year. Why would you want to rush it? If the story deserves to be told, it deserves to be told with all it’s layers completely addressed. Every detail needs to be planned and discussed long before the first day on set. Details include: story, themes, mood, color, shadows, framing, cinemaphotography, hair, makeup, costumes, character development, casting, locations, set dressing, editing styles, budgeting, post production, distribution, etc. My takeaway is if you are not prepared to make the time and effort that is required to work through all of these details, you are not prepared to properly tell the story on film and you are not emotionally connected to the story.
  3. Your “film collectives” are most likely not going to be found in your local community. We are profoundly lucky to have technology that virtually connects us to like-minded artists! I’ve been struggling with this challenge and it was enlightening to see independent filmmakers are successful collaborating with partners who live miles away and apart from each other. I don’t have to be afraid of reaching out to other artists that I admire even if they live across the nation and sometimes in another country. If they love my project and believe in me, they will find a way to make it work. Each project Q&A that I viewed, included writers, directors, producers, cinematographers and actors and they were all scattered across the world. Yet together, they accomplished a beautiful piece of work. As an emerging independent filmmaker, by the end of 2019 I was barely hanging on. I thought I was done. It took all of 2020 for me to heal from trying to work with local filmmakers, resetting my boundaries, and moving forward with my own vision, not somebody else’s vision for me. My takeaway from seeing how successful collaborations evolve is that I don’t have to continue to search for a cast and crew from my own community. It’s okay to walk away from local collaborations that are not working. I should expect partners to give as much as I give. Those professionals are out there and that piece of my journey will evolve for me when the time is right.
  4. When your vision is not working out because of pushback, double down. I’m not going to get what I want until I double down. I’ve got solid experience with the following: 1) actors who argue my direction 2) crew who do not respect my direction 3) writers/filmmakers who want me to produce their projects but refuse to put in the time and effort it takes for me to properly do my job as their producer and 4) subtle manipulation. To be clear, I see you all. My takeaway is that these type of pushbacks will always happen. From this day forward, when I get pushback on my vision, I double down. You’re either on board with my vision or you’re not. If you’re not the right person, I’m moving forward with someone who respects my work and supports the level of quality that I expect.
  5. My dreams will come true. My final Sundance takeaway is that I know who I am and what I want. I’m Amelia Gilley, a creative artist. I’m a writer, director, and independent filmmaker. Stories live inside of me and they are waiting to be born. I see myself in the Sundance Institute, creating more short films leading to feature length filmmaking, more of Sundance Film Festival and finally, Cannes Film Festival. I’m going to do all of these things and more. I will need others to help me get my stories on film and I will be led to those people. I am not afraid. I know my worth. I know my stories will help others find truth in themselves and that means everything to me.

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