Sundance is both nothing like I expected and everything I expected.
While most of the action is in Park City, Utah, it’s very spread out around town and includes events in Salt Lake City. There’s no central convention hall or meeting space full of people, or booths of movie folks hawking their flicks to fans and studio execs alike. There are a handful of theaters and a whole lot of movies, and it’s difficult to get tickets in most cases. I overheard conversations about actors unable to get into flicks, and I saw people scalping and trading tickets on buses and on the street. Apparently there’s a lottery just for the right to purchase tickets, and you take what you can get and worry about trading or selling later.
It’s also very commercial and touristy. Yes, Park City is gorgeous, but it’s obviously built to attract and everything is expensive. I expected big studio money to be there, but I didn’t expect to see corporate and bank sponsorships on banners and theater marquees. Your stereotypical L.A. type lurks everywhere, and many people are there just to be seen. Fashion trumped common sense as ladies wearing four-inch heels walked down sloped sidewalks covered with snow, ice and slush. Traffic jammed the streets, even in the blizzard that fell upon the city on Saturday.
That all said, there’s still an energy about the place. No matter their reason for being there, everyone was genuinely excited about movies. We only got to spend one full day at the festival due to our travel schedules and the weather, but I had a great time being out there. If I were to do it again it would probably be for Brian’s next or another friend’s movie premiere (or, with luck, my own), and I would make sure I had more time and moolah to see a few more flicks.
Or am I obligated to say “films” now?
We all showed up to catch the premiere of Brian Keene’s Ghoul, as good an excuse as any to get everyone together and hang out. Ghoul screened at the Slamdance film festival, an indie festival which has been crashing Sundance for seventeen years now. Brian had yet to see the final cut himself, and it was cool to sit in there with the cast and crew as the opening credits kicked in.
Let’s get this out of the way: Brian Keene’s Ghoul is a good, made-for-TV flick. The studio makes a change fans of the book may question, but it’s true to the spirit of the novel and the director, Gregory Wilson (The Girl Next Door) handles the material with respect. Sure, it’s low budget, but there’s some terrific Ghoul makeup and there are no cheesy CGI effects. The soundtrack is heavy-handed and jarring, and there’s a plot element that goes unresolved, but in all we really enjoyed the movie and it accomplishes more with its limited budget than some big-budget horror flicks manage to do. Fans will be able to catch the movie’s cable debut on Friday, April 13th on Chiller.
We spent the rest of the time hanging out and catching up. Mikey and I rescued Mark Sylva from Salt Lake City and the blizzard, and the State Police closed the mountain pass just after we got back up into the canyons where we stayed. We spotted a handful of celebrities, watched paparazzi chase said celebrities, witnessed a studio marketing guy and a publicist try to impress everyone on a shuttle ride as they kissed one another’s asses, and bumped into a handful of interesting people. We hung out with some of Brian’s fans and made new friends, we of course hit a couple of bars, and we had food both good and bad. I learned a candy shop can still make a nasty cup of hot chocolate, and I visited a photographer’s gallery filled with some breathtaking landscape photos.
Oh, and we got accosted by drunks, too. At three in the afternoon. It takes all kinds, I guess.
I shot several photos, most of which can be found in my Sundance Flickr set. Jump on over and check them out; they tell the story faster than I could.
In some ways it felt like a convention, just with higher stakes but less pressure. I’d love an opportunity to go back, and I’ll admit to having more than a little envy of Brian’s success and of the things he was able to accomplish over the weekend (which, I hope, he’ll be able to share with his fans soon). Prose is still my first love, but I’m not averse to screenplays any more than I am comics, and I’m confident I can make this happen one way or another.
I just wish I knew about the movie The Raid before I got home, because, damn:
Like I said: next trip, I make more time and bring more money.