Sundance 2013: Diary of a Broke Film Lover

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This is a story I wrote in 2013. At this time, I was sill fairly new to Los Angeles. It was my second Sundance Film Festival and I was determined to go, even though I had no money. As Sundance 2018 starts today, I though it could be fun to share this and show how far I've come. Don't give up on your dreams.

Before: The Cold Hard Truth
I held my breath as I logged in to my banking website and prayed that somehow this time would be different. That something may have magically changed in the past thirty minutes since I last checked. The page seemed to take an eternity to load, taunting me with its financial verdict. And then, there it was. The inescapable truth. I had 24c in my savings account. Savings. That word mocks me. I have none. 

This is the glamorous life of a freelancer. A freelancer who is leaving tomorrow to the Sundance Film Festival for a week with only a quarter of a dollar to her name.

At this point most people would cancel their trip. But of course, I am not most people. I am a special breed of crazy. A film geek who revels in sitting in the dark and watching movies and isn’t about to let financial ruin get in her way. And after two years hustling to make it in the big bad city of Los Angeles, I’ve become extremely resourceful. So, trying not to think about the worst case scenario, I got to work asking if anyone had a patch of floor I could sleep on.

 

Day 1: Early Flights Are Cheaper
Waking up in a fright at home, I checked my phone to see the time. 3:55am. Five minutes before my alarm. Phew. Nightmares of oversleeping averted, I got out my phone to see what was happening in the world. Suddenly, those five minutes early turned into fifteen minutes late after I got sucked in to the never-ending black hole of email-Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-repeat. 

Arriving in Salt Lake City I searched the faces of the people at baggage claim to see if I knew anyone who would be able to give me a ride. There was no way I could afford the $25 shuttle into Park City. A blonde haired face smiled at me… Bonnie! “Of course!” she said, “Come with me, and you can stay in my hotel room tonight if you want?” What a life saver. 

Later that night we met up with another friend, Hyla, who heard my tale of woe and offered to buy me dinner and an air mattress to sleep on for the rest of the festival. Things were looking up!

 

Day 2: Don’t Tick The Working Press Box
My alarm cut through the blissful dark silence of the hotel room, and I had a sudden panic of not knowing where the hell I was. The room came into view and I remembered with a smile - I’m at Sundance! And then with a frown - I have no money! I tried to not to stress as I got myself up and into the shower, trying to be as quiet as I could and not wake Bonnie.

The lady at the Press Office looked alarmed as she opened the door to find me lining up extra early to pick up my press pass. People were only starting to filter into town, but I was eager. She ticked off my name and handed me my credential, and I smiled to see the words ‘On-Air Host’ underneath my name. It’s only one of my many jobs, but one that I worked hard to achieve. Heading straight to the ticket office, my ‘must-see’ list in hand, I start to fill out a request form. “I’m sorry,” said ticket man, “Your pass doesn’t allow you to request tickets to public screenings.”
“Oh really?” I replied, unperturbed, “Ah well, I’ll just line up for the press only screenings then. Thanks anyway!” And off I bounded, ready for the festival to begin.

Minutes later, I entered the press tent outside the Holiday Village Theatres and strode towards the queue for the first film of the festival. “Excuse me!” called a cute female volunteer in a bear-shaped wool hat, “Working Press have to wait.”
“Working Press?” I asked, confused.

Soon I found out the hard truth: when you apply for Sundance credentials, you should never check the Working Press box. Even if, as you fill out the form, you think I will be working, so that makes sense, General Press is the one you want. Working Press means even at press only screenings you’ll have to wait until all the General Press have gone inside, and then, if there happens to be a spare seat five minutes before the film starts, you might get in if you happen to also be at the front of the Working Press line. As one of the volunteers patiently explained to me, “Working Press do not need to see films, On-Air Hosts get their script given to them by their producer, and all they do is read it.” Oh, if only.

A valiant attempt at pleading, a quick try at rationalizing and some very awkward small chat did nothing to help my situation, so I accepted my fate at not seeing the films everyone will be talking about. 

I know. You feel super sorry for me.

 

Day 3: The Films Begin
A stream of bright sun hit me square in the eyes and woke me up. I grimaced as I shifted on my air-mattress for one. At some point in the evening, it had deflated slightly, leaving me essentially sleeping on the floor. Still, I was grateful for this floor, wedged between my friend Alex’s bed and the window in an apartment full of film bloggers. Alex runs the website First Showing, and understood exactly why I would want to come to Sundance, even with no money. He graciously offered the only spare space in the packed apartment. Proving once again that the film community is a great group to be part of. My fellow, crazy film geeks.

And overall, I am determined. Because hey, I won’t be able to see the big films, but let’s face it, those are the movies that will pick up distribution deals and come out in theaters anyway. My best bet is to try for the smaller, stranger, foreign films and documentaries, ones that may never see the light of day. It’s like playing a much less deathly version of Russian roulette… choose a film you’ve heard nothing about, line up, load the gun, and pull the trigger to see it. You might discover some little Icelandic gem that nobody has ever heard of. Or you might want to poke your eyes out. Either way it will be memorable. And with my only assignment being to watch movies and report back, it will give me some good fodder to work with.

I set about stuffing my head with interesting films, then met up with friends to check out the party scene. Last year was my first Sundance, and I was working so much I didn’t go out. This time, I wanted to see what it was like. As expected, it was like being in LA, albeit with snow boots and hats. Pop up Hollywood nightclubs, VIP access, people begging to get in, celebrity DJs and Paris Hilton dancing on a podium. Does she travel everywhere with one? 

 

Day 4: Free Veggie Burgers
With no sign of new payments to my “savings” account, I walked down Main St in a haze of hunger. I had been subsisting on free snacks at events and help from friends. Hovering over them like a seagull wanting their scraps. And then, like a mirage in the desert, I saw… a Morning Star veggie burger logo! I wandered inside, and to my excitement, discovered it was a pop-up restaurant designed to promote Morning Star by giving away free veggie burgers. FREE. VEGGIE. Those two words were heaven to my ears!

And so, over the next week, in between films, I ate here twice daily. And though the Morning Star workers didn’t seem to mind, I thought it best to keep up some sort of charade, to lift their spirits by thinking they had won me over. That they had successfully marketed their product to someone who had never heard of it before. Someone who will go back to wherever she’s from, heralding the word of the great veggie burger from Sundance and buying it on the regular. So each time I walked in, I would pretend. “Oh, what’s this?” I asked with wide eyes, “Veggie burgers? How interesting! Well, since I’m here, I might as well…” 

Until the final day, when one of the waiters said quite loudly, “Oh hi again! You were here this morning!” and I knew the jig was up.

 

Day 5: Do I Even Exist?
Watching movie, after movie, after movie, after movie for days on end has a strange effect. Seeing so many lives perfectly distilled into 90 minutes, their full journeys complete with struggles, joys, love and loss; I started to think of my life in a similar cinematic fashion. 

Crunching through the snow on the way back to Alex’s condo I suddenly realized what film I am stuck in. I am the before girl in a romantic comedy. Slightly messy, trying to get herself together, waiting for her inciting incident and meet-cute with love of her life. My eyes went wide with recognition as I thought of my life as a series of film cliches. I was lost in thought when I slipped on some ice. Instinctively I grabbed the shoulder of a man in front of me, saving me from falling on the cold ground. He seemed to turned in slow motion, and asI looked up, my hand still on shoulder I thought maybe this is it. Perhaps there will be a heavenly smile that would greet me, possibly accompanied by some angel choir music. The meet-cute I was waiting for. We would get married in the spring and his vows would speak of “always being there for the moments I fall…”

Instead, what came in my direction was a grumpy look and a stern “Watch it!before angrily shaking my off my hand and walking away. 

Right, still on page 5 of my life script then.

 

Day 6: The Impossible Record
It was day six, and I decided to attempt the impossible. I would watch six films in one day. This would beat my previous film festival record of five in Toronto.

Could it be done? Would I collapse in a heap of over-stimulation? Would my terrible press pass thwart my efforts? I gritted my jaw and assumed the mindset of the mountain climbers featured in a K2 documentary I had seen the day before. “Getting to the summit is not the hard part,” they had said. “Most people die on the way down.” I have no idea what that means in relation to watching films, but it made me feel tough as I lined up for movie after movie.

Early the following morning I collapsed on my air mattress, telling Alex about my day. “I did it!” I exclaimed, “Six films, one day…” I trailed off as I realized he was actually asleep. 

I mean, I thought as I drifted off to sleep, I’m not saying I’m a hero. It would be much more appropriate if someone else did.

 

Day 7: A Shell of my Former Self
That morning, checking Twitter, I was a little bit annoyed at the world. The world was abuzz about some other news, and there was absolutely nothing about the giant natural disaster… that was happening on the top of my head. Seven days, no hair tools, and a lack of talent when it comes to utilizing my natural curl left me looking quite frightening. Hair stuck out everywhere, in spite of my best efforts to smooth it down or pull it back into a ponytail. Thank goodness for whoever created the beanie.


On the plane back to LA, I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and gave myself a fright. A week on 4 hours sleep per night on an air mattress had left me looking exhausted. I peered out from two slits where my eyes used to be, and saw the deep dark marks of eye bags underneath. Coupled with the hair, I began to understand why people had been asking me repeatedly if I went out last night, and the look of concerns when I said no.

Burrowing myself back into my bed at home, I thought about my week. I can’t believe I survived, spending no money, eating veggie burgers, with a terrible press pass and no hair tools. Thank goodness for friends. I vowed to pay them back when I achieved my dreams down the track. It just goes to show you, when there’s a will, there’s a way. And that yes, I am insane.

As I fell backwards into a deep, dark sleep, I dreamed of the non-veggie burger meals that awaited me, money in my bank account, and hopefully, the upcoming makeover-montage in my life romantic comedy.