Before I’d been, the idea of Sundance was my ultimate dream… indie films you can only see there… low budget features that blow the audience away… a stripped down creative experience where my artistic mind could be nurtured… I saw it as, basically, the Burning Man of Film Festivals. In reality, Sundance is a FILM MARKETPLACE. The films have insanely high budgets, big name actors, and distribution lined up, which means, the films you see there are (for the most part) swiftly headed to Netflix or a theater near you. Sundance feels like a swanky, industry ski party and keeping costs low can be a daunting task. So here’s my list of tips and tricks to take on Sundance 2021, no designer ski wear needed.
FIND YOUR FRIENDS
First off, join the Facebook groups for Sundance and reach out to friends and acquaintances who may be going or wanting to go. The more people you know there, the more access to parties, lounges, and screenings you’ll have. But more than that, in big Facebook groups, you’ll be able to purchase last minute tickets, get info about events, and connect with new people. Both years, I’ve been lucky enough to find a big group and book spacious accommodations. In my experience, the larger the group, the larger the cabin, and the lower the costs. Plus, the group element allows for more collaboration when it comes to finding parties, events, screenings, and splitting rides. My favorite thing about this Sundance was that everyone in my group had connections in their particular industry arena, which diversified our activities. Instead of doing primarily writing-based things, I got to attend music events, concerts, live reads, podcast tapings, parties, non-profit events, and screenings that I normally wouldn’t have had access to. Surprisingly, a lot of the valuable connections I made came from those parties…I wasn’t continually surrounded by other writers at these events, so it made me feel like I brought a cool unique thing to the table.
The real way to do Sundance on the cheap is by either booking incredibly early or by staying outside of Park City. Both years I’ve stayed in neighboring towns. Because I usually go with a group that has a lot of energy, no one really minds staying out all day, utilizing lounges to hangout and relax. But if you're the kind of person who wants the ability to go home and take a nap mid-day, workout, ski, or shower and get ready for the evening’s events, definitely book a place walking distance from Main St. It will definitely cost you, but some things are worth it.
MAKE A TRANSIT PLAN
If you’re staying far out, you have to make a plan with your group and whoever has a car (if you even have a car). If you drove, there are plenty of (free) parking lots around where you can park and then take a (free) shuttle to Main St. or the various theaters/ event spaces. There really isn’t a lot of parking around the main drag, but we did get lucky on our first night. I’d say, never count on luck, especially if you’re in a hurry. Ubering into town is also an option and is especially affordable with big groups. Don’t be afraid of the free shuttles! I promise, they’re not as confusing as they might seem!
FREE LOUNGES ARE YOUR (BEST) FRIEND
There are TONS of free lounges at Sundance. They offer a wide variety of perks…and way more than simply a comfy place to sit out of the cold. I’ve broken them down into three categories, so choose your own adventure! OPEN TO THE PUBLIC: CHASE LOUNGE: If you’re ANYONE…not just Chase card holders as the website explains…you can come into this gorgeous lounge with cozy leather chairs and free flowing coffee (with almond milk no less!). It’s a great place to run into friends, take a break, or meet cool locals. They have small plates periodically throughout the day, so stop in before sitting down at a pricey restaurant. Don’t forget to grab one of their (FREE!) Sundance Chase water bottles. The Lounge is on Main, about halfway down so it’s very centrally located. You’ll see the logo above the building. It is quite possible that the official Sundance sponsors change year by year, so find out what the equivalent of this is in 2021 before you go and make a plan to take proper advantage! ACURA LOUNGE: This “lounge” is more of a car dealership transformed into a concert venue and it’s open all day. Concerts are set up in the outdoor portion of the venue, though it’s covered with a tent and plenty warm. Several alcohol sponsors set up to serve complimentary spiked seltzers and beers like Stella Artois. Inside, there are tables and chairs and free coffee and hot cocoa. We stumbled upon the Acura lounge when we were freezing and exhausted and it felt like the best serendipity. It’s on a street parallel to Main (the same street where the transit station is) and is very central if you need a pick-me-up. CHEF DANCE/ SEX, POLITICS, FILM & TV: PLANNED PARENTHOOD: This event came on our radar via google weeks before Sundance and it did NOT disappoint. It was nice to go to an event that was centered around a cause I vehemently support. I very excitedly collected a swag bag tote that said “MY BODY IS MY OWN” with Planned Parenthood buttons, literature, and a cool black beanie. The food was the best of the festival party circuit in my opinion, with several tables full of charcuterie, fruit, sweets, and hot savory apps. There were several open bars serving a wide variety of drinks, both alcoholic, and one seltzer that was “collagen boosting”! If you think this was a respite from industry talk, think again. We ran into several amazing directors from screenings we’d attended, met fantastic local filmmakers, and learned about some cool short films at the festival. There’s also a step-n-repeat, so come looking cute.
LOCAL POP-UPS: Just walking around we discovered several local boutiques that were open late, complete with free wine and beer, luxurious charcuterie and plates of baked goods. I could NOT BELIEVE these pop-ups were totally free (make sure to tip the bartenders!). Not only that, but they displayed some really cute local goods and offered free makeovers (our entire group got beautified before a big party). These little finds were some of my favorite moments at Sundance so keep your eyes open! SLIGHT MANEUVERING NEEDED:
ASCAP LOUNGE: You may need a musician and or composer friend to hook you up to this sweet concert venue and lounge. It’s down on Main near the ski slopes and they’re a little tricky at the door, but again, with the name of a musician and or a credential, you’re in! We saw Matt Berninger from The National perform and several other cool bands. There’s open bar as well for certain events, like the ASCAP party we attended for the composers that worked on the films at Sundance. It was amazing company and catered with delicious tacos. It was truly one of my favorite parties we went to. Plus, like I mentioned before, we met a bunch of amazing composers and producers who were interested in my work— people doing big things like show running their own shows and producing features. Don’t forget to grab an insanely nice (did I mention FREE) thermos! ISA TABLE READ: The ISA stands for the International Screenwriters' Association and they do an awesome competition annually for a writer to have their pilot read aloud at Sundance. They hosted it at a small space with cozy fire pits, an open bar, and several large cheese plates. It was a little off the beaten path from Main St., but definitely walking distance. I had an incredible time meeting other screenwriters and listening to the hilarious pilot that was table read, but also directed and performed, with action, on a stage. This was such a great event that felt totally focused on screenwriters, but my friend who is a composer still got great connections out of it. I would highly recommend attending (check out the ISA’s website for more!
EVENTS FOR FESTIVALS OTHER THAN SUNDANCE: One of my films got into the Santa Fe film festival and they notified me that they were having an event at Sundance! I was able to RSVP and get my entire group into an event with free pizza, small plates, and an open bar. It was really fun networking, cool to meet the Santa Fe film festival people in person, and afterwards, we were full and ready for the day. CALL IN THE FAVOR:
WME LOUNGE: For two years, I’ve managed to enjoy this beautiful lounge right on Main St.…and lounge doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of this place. If you have a friend at WME, definitely get them to pull the string to get you in— and don’t feel bad— almost no one you meet will actually be represented by the agency. Free food (full entrees available to order…all free), small bites, waiters checking in on you, full and open bar, and tons of space to sit and hang like you’re famous. On weekend nights, it’s a PARTY with a full dance floor and tons of celebrities. It’s only open on weekends, so I highly recommend utilizing this on weekend mornings for mimosas, coffee (and we’re talking fancy…like oat milk lattes level of fancy), and on weekend nights. Biggest tip is GET THERE EARLY. Like way too early. If it opens at 10, get there at 9:30 and stand outside. Believe me, it’s worth it to skip the massive line that forms at the door. Don’t forget to book yourself a mini massage, makeover and blowout down in the basement of the venue. This is a great place to chill and recover from the marathon that is the festival. FILMMAKER’S LOUNGE: If you have a credential (ask around! They’re easier to come by than you might think!) you can access the cozy and relaxing filmmaker’s lounge, with food for purchase and complimentary coffee. My favorite thing about this lounge is that there are TONS of comfy couches and chairs and a constant program of live filmmaker panels discussing their work. It was great to walk in and take a half-hour to sit and listen, get off my feet, but also not have the pressure to make constant conversation and network. Definitely worth checking out for a moment of peace. FIND THE PROMOS Every show and movie is trying to get people talking about and attending their screening. Productions with the budget will rent out local restaurants and bars and sponsor free drinks and food! We got burgers and fries from McMillions and we didn’t even have time to enjoy the open bar! The best way to find these spots is by simply walking around Main St. Make sure to talk to your connections; our friend Emily worked on Lena Waithe’s show TWENTIES and we were able to party the night away, watching the episodes, enjoying an open bar, and dancing with the TWENTIES team! One of the coolest things we got to do for sure!
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPLIT UP/ TEAM UP/ GO ROGUE/ CHECK FOMO AT THE DOOR:
There are a lot of events that are invite only and a little exclusive. For example, someone in my group had the ability to get into the CAA party and she could bring one friend. She grabbed one of us to go in, and suddenly, the rest of us were left to our own devices. It’s really important to be able to go with the flow and avoid FOMO, because in truth, there is always something fun to do at Sundance. The rest of us went down to hangout at ASCAP and ended up having an amazing time! If we hadn’t been okay with splitting up, our friends would have missed out on enjoying CAA and we probably wouldn’t have been able to get into ASCAP with such a big group. I think it’s easiest picking one friend to travel with, just because usually it’s fairly easy to get two people into things, and then you don’t risk being left solo. That being said, it is fun to travel solo because it forces you to talk to people in line. We met a really cool writer from Chicago in line with us who was taking the festival on by herself. We may not have met her if she was there with a group. Most importantly, if you end up stuck out in the cold (literally), or left out of something, don’t sweat it. Bring a book in your bag and post up by the fire at a coffeeshop (although to be fair, in two years, this never happened to me!)
SEE MOVIES (YES, IT'S POSSIBLE!)
There’s a great Sundance app that makes seeing movies really easy and allows you to join the waitlist for movies at the touch of a button. Read about movies that are screening before and pick out several that you would pay to see. All movies and blocks of shorts are 25 dollars. They’re a little pricier than normal movies but certainly worth it for the right flicks. Open the app and click the e-waitlist button. Two hours before the movie starts, you can click to join the waitlist. Setting alarms to remind yourself (especially if you’re doing other things during the day) is a great idea. You have to press the button in the first 15 seconds of the waitlist being open in order to receive a random number in the waitlist. If you get a number 1-100 or so, in my experience, you usually get in. Make sure to bring cash to the line and get there more than 30 minutes early. If you’re less than 30 minute early, your number doesn’t count and you go to the end of the line. I will say, for certain screenings later in the week, we got in with really high numbers, like 250. The first weekend is definitely the most competitive for seeing films, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get lucky on the waitlist. If you’re sticking around, you’re basically guaranteed to see movies later in the week. Keep your eyes peeled on Facebook groups for last minute ticket sales as well!
MAKE A DINNER PLAN
A lot of festival related things in Park city close down from about 6pm to 9pm (with the exception of some screenings), so make a plan for this period of time. It’s also when it gets colder because the sun sets, so it can feel a little daunting if you are planning to stay out all day but don’t have set plans until 9 or 10. We had luck in some local bars, and got a drink and chilled for a couple hours. Other ideas for this awkward time period are the filmmaker’s lounge, The ISA table read, and if it comes to it, a restaurant. Make a reservation because that’s usually everyone’s plan at this hour. In a pinch (and not in a pinch!) I recommend Wasatch Brew Pub. They usually are open, have seating, and can accommodate big groups. Both years when I’ve been stuck when all the other restaurants had a long wait, Wasatch came to the rescue.
BOOK EVERYTHING EARLY
The best way to travel to Sundance on the cheap is to BOOK EARLY. ESPECIALLY FLIGHTS. Both years, I’ve driven, and there is nothing that exhausts you more before a marathon of a festival like a 12 hour car ride. It’s actually about 10 hours, but with stops and traffic it can be a lot more. If you buy your ticket soon enough in advance, you can get a roundtrip ticket for something like 200 bucks or less! The cost of gas alone almost costs that much. In addition, booking a place early in the game will allow you to get a huge place that’s centrally located. It can feel daunting getting a group to commit in advance, but if you can reach out to a bunch of filmmakers on the previous year’s Facebook group, it shouldn’t be tough to find people interested. Lastly, parties, seminars, and events all have RSVP lists and the sooner you can let them know you’ll be there, the more likely you’ll get in. The more you can have planned, the less you’ll have to stress in the moment. You can always choose not to go. I wish I’d gotten a press badge for Pavement early on…they’re first come first serve and leave you with a credential to attend tons of events and screenings!
The best piece of advice I can give you is to be prepared and in the know. There’s so much happening and big companies, films, and networks have a ton to offer. Sundance may not be the Burning Man creative explosion/ acid trip like I’d imagined, but it turned a new kind of ultimate dream. It may be a massive marketplace, but even beginner filmmakers looking to put themselves out there can attend and eat, drink, meet amazing people and watch some incredible films. See you all there in 2021!