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The Baby Hatchetface Guide to The Sundance Film Festival

You may be asking yourself, as a cineast, is Sundance something I should concern myself with? I am surprised by the number of people who’ve remarked, gosh, I didn’t know just ANYBODY could go to Sundance. Well, Baby Hatchetface is about as anybody as they come and I’ve been to Sundance a handful of times. Please note that by “Sundance” I mean not only the Sundance Film Festival but also the gagillion other festivals which are held in Park City, Utah around mid-January.

For your convenience, I’ve listed some of my most Frequently Asked Questions:

WILL I SEE CELEBS AND OTHER NOTORIOUS PERSONALITIES?

Yes. You will see them strolling down Main Street; giving press interviews; arriving/leaving theaters, free parties, not free parties, airports and hotels; and riding the shuttle buses. And this is coming from one of the worst star-spotters ever. The celebs I’ve encountered have been quite decent, especially the not quite A-list ones. Remember, Sundance is one of the biggest film events of the year. The celebs are out for self-promotion. Use it to your advantage. Last year we scored personal invites to all sorts of events… and we didn’t even have to ask. Highlights last year: Robert Redford , Joey Pants, Michael Rappaport and Dr. Abbot from EVERWOOD.

Oh yeah, the filmmakers are also quite accessible. The fresh ones look just like you, except with badges.

  • TIP: For those thirsty for gossip: Hang out in the local antique shops. You’ll hear all about the hottest parties, venues, bad behavior and inmates from the Park City PD who’ll be chatting it up with the proprietors. And then the proprietors will complain to you, an obvious everyman, about the daily celeb horrors they’ve encountered. Fun stuff.
  • TIP: Say there’s a couple people in your industry that you don’t want to meet. My suggestion? Stay away from Sundance. I had run-ins with no less than 3 different people who I could have cared less about ever seeing again in my life. But it’s just the nature of the Sundance beast. Act nice face-to-face, don’t cause a scene and then write a blog about it.

WILL I ENCOUNTER ANY UBER-GROSS PEOPLE LIKE GROUPIES, AGENTS, AGENTS’ ASSISTANTS, PUBLICISTS AND LOW-LEVEL PRODUCERS?

Yes. They are the most compelling reason to stay away from Main Street. Pushy, hideous and meriting an all around GMWAS. If you’ve ever seen a glammed up gal in a fur coat, gabbing on a Blackberry and peeing, bare-assed, in the gutter outside a Main Street bar, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Nauseating, too, when you’re waiting in line to get tickets listening to their “industry speak”. I did time in the high-powered sector and let me tell you, the BS-ing that goes on in the Sundance scene reeks to high heaven. See Henry Jaglom’s FESTIVAL IN CANNES for a pretty accurate portrayal of the festival atmosphere.

ISN’T SUNDANCE EXPENSIVE?

Eh, not really if you know how to work the system. For example, last year I spent a total of $50 which included Flight, Transportation, Lodging, Food and Entertainment. Of course I did redeem some frequent flier miles and crashed at a friend’s pre-paid condo which included a stocked fridge. But the point is, be enterprising and your Sundance experience really doesn’t have to cost that much.

  • TIP: The festival puts on a big party with live music on Main Street to kick off the festival. You might enjoy it if it’s not too cold out. Also look for free snack, swag and movie opportunities as detailed below. The shuttle bus system to and from venues is also free.

HOW DO I GET TO SUNDANCE?

Fly. For a long time Delta has been the official carrier of Sundance peeps. They have a ton of flights going to and from Salt Lake City and access offices in Park City for travel arranging. Come festival time, you are going to have a mighty hard time changing your flights on Delta if need be because everything is going to be booked up. So hint… if you fly Delta, DO NOT MISS YOUR FLIGHT.

  • TIP: A good alternative, Southwest Airlines flies from Burbank to Salt Lake City. Piece of cake, especially if you live in the Valley and don’t want to deal with all that LAX nonsense. Your plane will probably stop in Las Vegas and you may or may not have to transfer planes, depending on how you play your cards.
  • TIP: Park City sits at a pretty high elevation so don’t worry, you’re not allergic to fresh air… it’s just thinner. This can make breathing sting, especially if you’re running to and fro screenings. Try to take it easy.

I DON’T HAVE ANY CONNECTIONS. HOW DO I GET TICKETS TO SUNDANCE MOVIES?

You can show up to Sundance with 0 tickets and still see Sundance movies. How many you’ll see depends entirely on how pushy you are. Your chances of ticket-getting during the last half of the festival is greater than the first half. If you over hear that someone has an extra ticket to a movie you want to see, don’t think about it, have your money ready and buy it. You can also wake up at 5 a.m. and wait at the main box office. Or you can just show up mega early to the movie you want to see because usually they let in X amount of extra people depending on how many empty seats they have. Which intrinsically means if you have a ticket to a movie, show up on time, damn it, or your seat WILL be given away. I’ve had success with all three of the aforementioned methods.

  • TIP: Begging Sundance Personnel to let you into a movie at the screening will not work. They are specially trained to be resistance to pleading, threats, crying and all sorts of pathetic behavior.
  • TIP: Hansley, who occasionally writes for an entertainment mag back east, yelled at the Personnel working the Press Desk for tickets and was successful so I guess it ultimately boils down to how much of a conscience one has. I’ve had just as much success being nice so either method, so long as one has a method, works.

WHAT IF I’M A TOTAL SCHLUB AND CAN’T GET INTO ANY SUNDANCE SCREENINGS?

Head over to the Slamdance whose headquarters are usually on the steep part of Main Street. I had a truly surreal experience last year infiltrating a bike gang while watching a movie about infiltrating a bike gang. “Your sitting with the bad kids now!” never rang so true. We became quick pals even though I did politely decline their whisky flask.

  • TIP: If there’s a short film you just HAVE to see, don’t sweat getting in to its accompanying feature. Head over to the HD House (usually in the basement of the mall). They’ll have a lot of computers hooked up where you can watch all sorts of shorts for free! (And check your e-mail while you’re at it.) And you can get complimentary techie junk from camera vendors if you’re a geek like me! There’s also free special interest films and x-treme gaming in the million other film fests occupying the top floor of the mall… these films are… eh… a good way to kill time.
  • TIP: A group of midwesterners that we encountered 2 years ago apparently rents out a condo every year and stocks it full of big screen TVs and sweet audio packages for the purposes of screening their own films. We went because their flier said “like Mardi Gras in a fun house”. Their films quite frankly blew but they had a lot of free booze on hand so if that’s your scene then… bottoms up!

I’M STARVING. WHERE DO I EAT IN THIS TOWN?

While trolling Park City you may find the service at local restaurants to be a bit… abrasive. A lot of eateries won’t even deal with you, bucko, since they’ve been rented out by the high Hollywood rollers. Truth be told, if you play your cards right, you won’t have to pay for snacks at Sundance. There’s plenty of corporate promotional people out on the streets passing out free this and free that. The mall by Treasure Mountain is also a good spot to get free popcorn and carbonated energy drinks. At least I assumed they were energy drinks. Slamdance and their associated film commissions also do a good job of feeding their patrons.

If you need something substantial, many of the film venues have little soup and sandwich snack bars catered by local restaurants. Your best bet of finding something to eat on Main Street is this place I only remember by the names “Java” and “Cow”. They have a substantial menu that’s pretty edible.

  • TIP: Don’t even think about going to the Main Street Starbucks. You may be jonesing for a coffee but for 23 hours of the day they’re closed for private events. See above for alternatives. Also, pick some food up at the Grocery Store. It’s pretty easy to access via car or shuttle. Do not go to the 7-11. It’s disgusting.
  • TIP: Remember, this is Utah. Booze-selling ends early. If you’ve got to have a zinger, schedule accordingly.

I’M ALL MOVIE-D OUT. WHAT OTHER FUN THINGS ARE THERE TO DO?

Let’s see… you’re in a resort town with a lot of snow… go skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snowmobiling, you fool. Perusing local artists’ works is also fun. Last year, Mere Mere, Brooklyn Mike and I had quite a nice afternoon ice-skating at The Canyons. TZ got into doing this 1,000 piece bear puzzle courtesy of the condo complex but that is just too ridiculous to discuss.

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2 Responses

  1. I work in the press office at Sundance, and I’ll tell you…if you, or anybody yells at me for tickets…haha, helllllll no will we give you a ticket! We’ll call security and kick ya to the curb! The best way is to call the P.office ahead of time and just, kindly, ask…and say you want to give Sundance some coverage. We’ll be more than happy to help you out!

  2. Thank you, “anonymous”, for your enthusiastic and informative feedback. Indeed Sundance runs a tight ship and they are more tuned-in than ever to your crafty, nasty tricks. In an ideal world decency would flow both ways – but let’s face it, the organizers, like the biz, are ruthless. Word is that getting press tickets is not exactly a cake walk so if this is your M.O. don’t wait ’til the 11th hour. And Hansley did have a bit of documentation to back up his pipes which just goes to show you – an operation is only as strong as its weakest link.

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