Also: About 30WEST Funding, Czech New Wave Inspires, Top Five Life Lessons on Film
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Your Creative Gifts // What 30WEST is Funding // Czech New Wave Inspires // Top Five Life Lessons on Film
Dear Storytellers,

‘Tis the season, they say. Many of us around the world are celebrating various holidays this month with gifts being exchanged as part of the celebration. It got me thinking about what a gift it is to be part of our industry. We have the great privilege of sharing our creative "gifts" and collaborating with other artists to bring stories to life that move, inspire and entertain people.
Collaboration underpins everything we do. I once had a mentor who exclaimed that it’s really not independent filmmaking; it’s interdependent, a concept that we embrace here at Sundance Collab. Part of the beauty of these collaborations is that they are cross-disciplinary. That being said, I come from the documentary world and was nervous when my friend Natalia asked me to line-produce her fiction short The Garden several years back. What if my skill-set didn’t translate?
Well, of course I did a little bit of learning on the job, but was pleased to discover that my nonfiction experience came in really handy on set when things changed (as they inevitably do) and we had to quickly pivot. In doc filmmaking, you can’t predict what’s going to happen, so you always have to be ready to throw your plans out the window and keep the production going.
I use this as only one of countless examples of how much we can learn from each other. Editors can help screenwriters hone their pacing, DPs can assist directors in perfecting their blocking and on and on. It’s in this spirit that we’re opening The Muse up to a wider pool of contributors. Coming in the new year, we’ll feature not just writers but fiction and nonfiction directors, producers and more. We are all storytellers and we all have gifts to give each other in that regard. I can’t wait to learn from even more of you!

In the meantime, may I be so bold as to ask for a holiday gift from you? Would you consider spreading the word about The Muse to three friends who you think might enjoy it? Forward your favorite issue and/or send them the direct link to subscribe here (That link works for social media, too. I’m @lizfilm and we’re #SundanceCollab if you so choose.)

Thank you for helping to keep this publication going and growing. If you’re celebrating this month, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you and, as always, I invite you to 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. If you’re interested in learning from other disciplines, check out our Conversations from the Labs video series to hear from cinematographers, editors, casting directors and more.

Throwing Muses
Writers on their sources of inspiration
Contributed by David Schwab, Sundance Collab Advisor
I went to Columbia Graduate Film school when Milos Foreman was the head of the department. He had convinced some of his Czech New Wave filmmaking pals to teach there. One of them, Milena Jelinek, my mentor and beloved writing teacher,  turned me on to a little known but great Czech New Wave film called Intimate Lighting, directed by Ivan Passer. It’s not for everyone, but to me, it’s the perfect film. When I lose sight of what I’m doing with my own writing or when I become despondent about the film business, I watch it. I feel like it changes my brain waves, reminds me of the kind of work I aspire to make. It actually fills me with hope.  
Industry Insights
Who's buying what from whom?
Featuring Adriana Banta, Vice President, 30WEST
What is your overall mandate and vision for the work you acquire or produce?

30WEST is an investment and advisory company with offices in Los Angeles and New York. We provide capital and strategic guidance for high caliber creative projects and forward-thinking companies operating throughout popular culture. As it relates to the company's media investments, we prioritize director and character-driven projects across fiction and nonfiction formats. The goal is to support visionary creative thinkers—We apply this ambition to our corporate investment portfolio as well, having taken a significant stake in pre-eminent independent film distributor NEON, as well as the acclaimed UK film and TV studio Altitude.

What types of scripts or work are you currently looking for?

30WEST is open to financing a range of material, anything from lower budget genre films to large scale, elevated action titles. We look for projects that we feel will make a significant impact on a critical and/or commercial scale.

How does someone get a script to you and at what point in development do you want to see it?

30WEST does not take unsolicited submissions. However, we welcome incoming calls from representatives. In addition, my colleagues and I actively participate in pitch forums, which is a great opportunity to connect with emerging talent.

We do not traditionally provide development financing for fiction projects, so it is meaningful for us to read a solid draft of a script/pilot. We do work with our partners to package talent (on screen, producers, directors, etc.); with this in mind, we are very happy to read naked scripts [those without a team currently attached] and work with writers to build out the creative team of their project.

In the case of our nonfiction work, 30WEST does provide development financing; with this in mind, we are open to looking at projects at the earliest of stages.

Do materials other than a script help you? What are you looking for in a pitch?

If the filmmaker is a first-time director, it is very helpful for us to see short form work that provides a sense of their visual approach. Even if they don’t have previous films to show, still photography, a mood reel—something to give us a sense of their aesthetic and point of view—is very helpful in our evolution process. 

Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Ayla Harrison, Sundance Collab Advisor (My Dead Ex)
I usually write early in the morning. Because I wrote for the theatre before working in film and TV, I created a few rituals based off of the playwrights I loved and their work habits. Take August Wilson. The man would not write a word until he’d paced around his desk two dozen times. Then, when he was ready, he'd go to his typewriter and just pound away for hours. Standing up the entire time! I do this on most mornings. I'll walk around my office with my coffee, get my body moving, get in the right headspace for whatever I'm writing that day, and since the pandemic started…I also added a little dance party to keep things interesting.
Top Fives
Writers on their favorites from across the world of cinema
Contributed by Antonio Macia, Sundance Collab Advisor (Holy Rollers, BlackJack: The Jackie Ryan Story)
Emotional Life Lessons Learned from Films
1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison
This story between a boy and an alien had an enormous impact on my psyche. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised in part as an only child, and this film identified a deep feeling of loneliness and a desire for friendship. I remember experiencing a deep catharsis and crying. I also felt like I was being spoken to as a child, and not being lectured. As a writer, it is a constant reminder to find the underlying drama. As I’ve transitioned to writing bigger fare, I’m always reminded of Elliot, the character work, and the core drama in ET that holds the film together.
2. Rocky (1976)
Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone
I've revisited the films dozens of times over the years. As I've gotten older, the underlying message of 'staying in the ring and going the distance' hits closer to home. Be it as a father, a husband, a writer, I know that I'm going to come up short, and that I'm not going to live up to my own expectations, but every day that I wake up is a chance to get back into the ring. With regard to my narrative work, it was one of the first films in which I understood the principles of inner and outer conflicts and the idea of a character working their way through obstacles.
3. Juice (1992)
Screenplay by Gerard Brown
This film had an enormous impact on my work because it was the first time that I saw kids like myself on the big screen. By this time, I had seen classics like Stand by Me, but watching a group of teenagers run around NYC listening to hip hop, wearing Timberlands, and cracking on each other felt like I was watching me and my friends. Years later, I came to understand that what I was feeling or experiencing was inclusion. I’ve always tried to write the world as I saw it and experienced it. I grew up around immigrants, people of color, blue collar families. I even spent time in the Northwest during a few formative years where I was introduced to cowboys and ranchers. This is all to say that I prefer to write about outsiders.
4. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Screenplay by Giuseppe Tornatore
Cinema Paradiso was my first experience with a foreign language film, and it opened up my cinematic universe. I did not study film as an undergraduate and had never really been exposed to foreign cinema. I was blown away by the writing, the performances, and that ending. It still makes me tear up to this day. The core message of ‘dreaming and the power of our dreams’ hit especially hard as I began my cinematic career. Because of this film, I began my love affair with foreign films. It opened my eyes to the universal language of storytelling. I would encourage any aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers to search out the great foreign language films. You don’t need much more than a library card. There is so much power and knowledge in discovering filmmakers like Kurosawa, Fellini, Ozu, Bergman, and the list goes on and on.
5. American Beauty/Virgin Suicides/Being John Malkovich (1999)
Screenplays by Alan Ball, Sofia Coppola, Charlie Kaufman
I call this 1999 trifecta my awakening to the power of a screenwriter. These three films helped me understand the importance of ‘voice’ in screenwriting. I remember walking out of these films with a very clear understanding that someone had created a world, and these films would not exist without those writers creating them. Again, these films hit me at a particular moment in my life as I was considering a career in filmmaking. I hope emerging writers understand the power they have in the stories that they choose to create.
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script
Contributed by Deborah Goodwin, Sundance Collab Advisor (Justine to a Fault, The Pastor)
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. - Thomas A. Edison

This is the essential lesson of "failure" in your story world: we are never closer to winning than when we have succeeded at failure in a big way. We fear failure because it makes us feel bad. It’s humiliating or diminishing and so we do not want to ascribe these traits to our story’s main characters.  Failure forces our characters to be wrong!

But what if failure actually emboldens your character to reach out to others for support and in compassionate solidarity? Or, what if failure makes your character take a good long hard look at themselves? Repent? Revise? Renew their vow? Redetermine the direction of their goal? Failure can be FUEL. Gasoline on the fire of your character’s motivation and resolve.

The most common cause of failure is giving up too soon, but failure is precisely the time to become BOLDER which is a fantastic character trait for your story’s protagonist. Here are three fuel-additive prompts for re-examining your character's relationship to THE GRADE OF "F".

  1. Is your character a PERPETUAL OPTIMIST who only sees the UPside of failure? Are they always ready with a pep talk or solution to some other characters' failed status? Then they are the very best asset to your story about NEVER GIVING UP and they will either become a main character or teach your protagonist to refuse to accept defeat as the final word. Whoever your protagonist finds in their story world to show how failure can work in their favor is an indispensable character.

  2. Can your character(s) ADAPT and change their response to failure? What if, Instead of feeling weak and defeated, your character feels IMPERVIOUS? Failure bounces off of them like so many gentle raindrops and they don't even *HEAR* the word NO. They forge ahead in your story like a super character, who can never be touched by failure. This is a great device to flip your story world on its head from "known" to "unknown" and it lends itself to literally all genres. Take that just a little further and your character might discover their inner daredevil with a pivot to RESILIENCE that makes them uncompromising in their willingness to recognize failure at all. Think how invincible your character would be, or seem to be, if they simply NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE DEFEAT? This creates a super recipe for comedy and an incredible obstacle for any other genre.

  3. In real life, we have trouble adapting to failure, but imagine if, once your character has been through the worst, beaten down by circumstances, given into a spiral of shame, or even outright quit, they can be turned around by another character (see #1) or by some profound revelation about their situation that ultimately allows them to FIND NEW RESOLVE and turn the despair of defeat into their greatest strength?

For more prompts in a live setting, join our free Writers' Cafe each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We're taking a short break starting on December 24,
but we'll be back on January 3 with new prompts for the new year!

If you received The Muse from a friend or colleague and wish to continue to receive biweekly advice and inspiration, sign up here.
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