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.

Moving Forward in 2021

For me, the new year brings an upward momentum to continue writing and filmmaking. Coming off the success of Emersion, winner of Best Use of Genre and Best Special Effects (48-Hour Film Project New Orleans), I am encouraged to continue this journey of expression through art. Goal setting and “checking off” benchmarks is a successful strategy for me and I am pleased to have a plan in place for the next 12 months.

Writing comes easier this year. I am thankful for the time I have had in self-imposed “social distancing” because it forced me to reflect on all things important to me. When one has limited distractions, there is room for analyzing the past and coming to terms with reality. For a writer, the result is a gold mine of work. The best part is that a each day brings a little bit more freedom to turn it all inside out and create a reflection of the human spirit.

Cheers to 2021! Cheers to embracing your strengths and weaknesses, finding your creative support system, and shooting for the stars!

Photo by Rachel Searcey

Reflections on 48-Hour Film Project New Orleans – Oct. 23 – 25, 2020

Having just completed a 48-hour weekend of filmmaking, my time of reflection gives me hope for the future.

Competition filmmaking is stressful. There’s no other way to describe it. Because of Covid-19, we ran a micro-crew which was good in some ways but challenging in other ways. Personally, I love a micro-crew. Especially on a time-sensitive project, my brain is already in overload without the on-going chatter of crew. I know crew are excited and proud to be on set and we cannot work without our valuable crew members but my mind constantly races and is distracted by just about everything. With a micro-crew, I was not distracted by the energy of numerous people on set. It was quiet and I appreciate the quiet. However, we were most certainly at a disadvantage without the extra people who provide the tasks that keep us going. I needed an AD. Cinematographer, Rachel Searcey, needed an AC and a grip. But because of Covid-19, we chose to make a shorter film than we usually do with less cast/crew and continued to “build our character” by sucking it up and doing as much as we possibly could on our own. Both Rachel and I spent Monday sleeping it off because there is no exaggeration in saying we were totally exhausted by 7:30pm on Sunday night. We made a quirky, 4 minute short film called Emersion and we witnessed fine performances by Darby Matthews and Jason Robbins.

I can’t say enough good things about Darby and Jason. Darby is on top of her craft and Jason brought his character home. I’m proud of their work. They gave each other the energy needed for authentic reactions and performed as professionals. Unfortunately for them, they had to experience a hotel that was probably the worst they have ever seen. FYI, don’t stay at the Baymont by Wyndham in Pensacola, FL. It’s a sleazy, unclean mess. Before the year is out, I’ll have a full refund on that production expense because of Wyndham’s shit show accommodations. But the hotel certainly did not affect my talent’s performances. I hope to work with both Darby and Jason again.

April Edwards was our Audio Engineer. She held her own and was very helpful by noticing several details that covered our asses! We were lucky to get April at the last minute; she was an asset to our team and I would trust her in any crew position. I hope to see her in front of the screen soon. She’s multi-talented with a background in acting and production. It was a pleasure to work with her.

Our Team Leader was Rachel Searcey. She shared writing credit with me on this project along with her cinematography and editing skills. She had the opportunity to stretch her creative wings and add some elements to cinematography and editing that she had never performed prior to this short film. Now, those new skills will only get better as she moves forward with her projects. I’m so proud she was able to have the opportunity get back on a film set and work her magic!

Getting back on the set, even with a delay in schedule because of rain, a cast and crew of only 5, wearing a mask all damn day and night, and only about 5 total hours of sleep within a 48-hour time span was exactly what I needed to get me out of 2020 and into an upcoming new year. For every short film I make, it gets me one step closer to my future. I’m excited for what 2021 will bring for my creative artist within. I’ve got more stories to tell. Those stories are rolling in my head all the time and they will find their place on screen one way or another.

Amelia Gilley, 10/27/2020

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