Also inside: How to Move from Indie to Blockbuster, Writing in Your Head, Top Five Single-Day Films
 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
Power of Storytelling // Move from Indie to Blockbuster // Write in Your Head // Top Five Single-Day Films
Dear Storytellers,

Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the U.S. Reflecting on this holiday, I wanted to take this moment to lean in on the holiday’s theme of gratitude and thank you all for helping us create and grow The Muse this year and for being a part of the Sundance Collab community. We hope it's brought you inspiration in your storytelling.

As I dug a little deeper, I thought about how holidays are the ultimate form of interactive storytelling. Thousands of people, if not more, participate in some sort of collective rituals based on a story, which is a really beautiful thing. In the case of Thanksgiving, however, the traditional American story doesn’t quite hold water.

The tale that many of us are told in elementary school—the one about the Pilgrims who came to the Americas seeking a peaceful life and made friends with the people on the land and then they all had a nice, big communal meal to celebrate the fall harvest? Turns out that’s a work of fiction.

Truth is, it wasn’t until later in life that I learned that what much of the country celebrates as a day of family, feasting and football is recognized as a Day of Mourning by many Native Americans. According to the United American Indians of New England, "Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures."

So what does all of this have to do with your films? Well, for one, it’s part of that ongoing reminder that storytelling is powerful, even to the point where it can sometimes influence the behavior of entire nations. On a more practical note, the tension between these particular stories is an example of a tool that can be used in your screenplay: Consider what plays out when the best thing that could happen to one character is simultaneously the worst thing that can happen to another OR when what seems like the worst thing that happens to a character is ultimately the best thing that could happen.

Meanwhile, read on below for insights and writing tips from the storytellers of the Sundance network.

See you on the page,
Director of Content
P.S. To hear from a film and TV producer who brings these issues to her work, check out this short video on Changing the Cultural Narrative with Heather Rae.
Throwing Muses
Writers on their sources of inspiration
Contributed by Angela LaManna, Sundance Collab Advisor (The Haunting of Bly Manor, Behind Her Eyes)
There's a painting by Frida Kahlo called The Broken Column. It's a self-portrait. She's got all these nails sticking out of her body, there's a long gash going down her torso and a broken stone column where her spine would be. It's beautiful and horrific and inspiring. She endured so much physical pain in her lifetime, and yet she still found the spirit to be creative. I don't know how she did it.
Frida Kahlo's The Broken Column (1944)
Getting Unstuck
Answers to common filmmaking questions

Q: How does someone make the transition from directing indie films to mainstream blockbusters?
A: It’s true that there is a current trend of major studios pulling indie directors into their ranks, most recently by Marvel, which brought Sundance alums Destin Daniel Cretton and Chloé Zhao in to direct this year’s releases Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and The Eternals, respectively. Fortunately, if you are looking to make that superhero-sized leap, we recently spoke with the  President of Physical and Post Production, Visual Effects and Animation at Marvel Studios, Victoria Alonso, on Filmmaking in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Alonso shares that the process begins like many others in the creative world: with a pitch. She adds, "Then we start honing in to see who really is the best voice for that particular storyline. To work with us, you have to be collaborative and I think that's why a lot of independent filmmakers coming out of Sundance Labs have ended up with us."

Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Your pitch, however, may differ from others in that you are trying to pitch your vision within an existing franchise, rather than something wholly your own. Alonso explains, "If you want to make a Marvel film directed by you, then you're going to find a home, but if you want to make a ‘Joe Schmo’ film at Marvel then that may not work because that sort of sets up a ‘This is mine and mine only.’"

That mentality doesn’t work when you are building on sometimes two generations worth of existing stories and character development. Alonso reminds, "We work for that character and honor that character, so in a place where you have a point of view, what you want to say or tell us, most importantly, is: how do you want to elevate this character?"

Working within a storyworld doesn’t mean that you can’t offer your unique perspective. Alonso argues that it’s quite the opposite, encouraging you to know who you are as an  artist and embrace it. She says, "The best thing you can do for Hollywood is be who you are. The uniqueness that you bring to the table is who you are. Otherwise it would all be the same!"

Read more: Let Love Persevere: Five Insights from Marvel’s Victoria Alonso on Creating a Fulfilling Career in Hollywood

P.S. Both Destin Daniel Cretton and Chloé Zhao have presented on Collab, too. Check out Zhao on Finding Your Way as a Filmmaker and Cretton as part of a Master Class on Finding Your Screenplay's Story.

Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Jennifer Sharp, Sundance Collab Advisor (Una Great Movie, I'm Through With White Girls)
I do a lot of thinking and writing in my head before I even sit down to write. So, by the time I actually start writing, I am excited to do it and I know where I'm headed. The great thing about writing in your mind is that you can do it while you're in traffic, while you're at a boring meeting, while you're just have to give yourself specific things to think about and be disciplined about doing that thinking. After spending three months just thinking through the storyline of my last movie, I was able to sit down and bust out a solid first draft in six weeks.

Top Fives
Writers on their favorites from across the world of cinema
Contributed by Jonathan Wysocki, Sundance Collab Advisor (Dramarama, A Doll's Eyes)
Films That Happen in One Day
1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Screenplay by Spike Lee
From its electric opening credit sequence on a soundstage, Spike Lee’s masterwork ingeniously leans into its "all the world’s a stage" atmosphere.  But don’t let the stylistic directorial flourishes fool you; This script is a tightly-sculpted ensemble piece that constantly surprises as the layers of the onion fall away. Come for the hottest-day-of-the-year setting, stay for the profound resonance this film still wields today. And, Lee pulled off the one-day-setting tightrope act again in the lyrical 25th Hour.
2. Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Screenplay by Agnès Varda
Agnès Varda’s 1962 gem not only unravels the concept of time but of existence itself as we watch our heroine navigate two hours of waiting for her cancer diagnosis. Varda carefully fills the script with the micro (buying a hat) and the macro (the Algerian War) in order to encapsulate all that life holds as Cléo wonders how long her own life will last. Talk about stakes!
3. Before Sunrise (1995) / Before Sunset (2004) / Before Midnight (2013)
Screenplays by Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

Fine: I’m cheating here with three films, but the Before trilogy is too rich of a real-time character study to not put on this list!  Initially co-written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan, the first film had so much input from actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke that they, too, became co-writers.  The result is a delicious concoction that starts with a meet-cute and ends with a marriage on the rocks–all the while weaving in delicious details that can only come from decades of life experience.
4. Clue (1985)
Screenplay by John Landis, Jonathan Lynn
Is it a cult classic or an actual classic? Clue has made people laugh for over 35 years thanks to the perfect combo of Jonathan Lynn’s script (handed off from John Landis) and a panoply of comedic actors who breathlessly execute its one night, one location murder mystery zaniness. And Madeline Kahn’s famous "flames" moment? Improvised. Another example of letting great actors into the writing kitchen. Film is collaborative!
5. Faces (1968)
Screenplay by John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes’ low-budget powder keg whips up a heady night of affairs and partying as we watch a marriage snap in half. With a keen eye for the nuances of human behavior, the script ebbs and flows as our protagonists spiral apart, up and down during the course of the evening. The final mosaic of humans desperately trying to connect went on to inspire indie filmmakers for decades.
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script
Contributed by Deborah Goodwin, Sundance Collab Advisor (Justine to a Fault, The Pastor)
The business of change in storytelling is displayed when your characters rub up against each other, bump heads (or other parts) and generally get in each other's way. Isolate your protagonist without another soul and soon they would be longing for conflict with another character. That’s why, in most stories, we are left to devise ways for a catalyst or changemaker character to break the boundaries of your main character’s story and thereby initiate change and changemaking.

Let’s think for a moment about the attributes of this character who bursts onto the scene. What do they need to be or "reflect" in order to effectively jolt your protagonist out of their status quo and turn them instead in the direction towards conflict and/or conflicted desires in your story? Sometimes this "change maker" emerges fully formed from your protagonist’s past. They could also be upstart characters at a new job or in the family circle of a new relationship. Often they bring unwanted truths to light, say, during family gatherings and holidays…

Who could you put in the path of your protagonist in order for them to function as changemakers in your protagonist’s life? Try introducing one of the following types of characters into a scene:

    • Someone who ACTIVATES your narrative by clashing with your protagonist (arguing, disagreeing, blaming)
    • Someone who ACCELERATES your narrative—speeds things up—by demanding your protagonist meet their needs (could be romantic, or a heist scenario, or a final job to fulfill their commitment to family, company, team, gang)
    • Someone who IMPACTS your narrative by throwing your protagonist off balance (like an accident, or unexpected attraction)

For more prompts in a live setting, join our free Writers' Cafe each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

If you received The Muse from a friend or colleague and wish to continue to receive biweekly advice and inspiration, sign up here.
Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film, media, and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work.
Copyright © 2021 Sundance Institute, All rights reserved.

You are receiving this email because you've expressed an interest in screenwriting with Sundance Institute and/or Sundance Collab or opted in to receive The Muse.

Our mailing address is:
Sundance Institute
PO Box 684429
Park City, UT 84068-4429

Add us to your address book
Click here to forward this email to a friend

Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign