When to Find an Agent, The Art of Basketball, Advice to Our Younger Selves, Top Five Film Locations and more
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When to Find an Agent // The Art of Basketball // Advice to Our Younger Selves // Top Five Film Locations
Dear Storytellers,

Happy New Year! If your celebrations were anything like mine they were…a little different than anticipated. Many of us had plans cancelled or even ended up quarantined again. Then, the first week of 2022 greeted us with the news that our beloved Sundance Film Festival would transition to an online-only event. The good news is that our online offerings are truly incredible–the full slate of movies and free talks can be found at (register at!) Still, it stung a little, especially for those Festival filmmakers who looked forward to premiering their work to live crowds in the snowy Utah mountains.

In these times, I’m reminded of something Writer/Director Mira Nair said in one of our Master Classes about what it takes to be an independent creative: "You have to have the heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant."

Indeed, independent filmmakers are some of the most resilient people I know. There are so many stories of successful projects that were rejected twenty times before they were ultimately made. Actors or investors pull out at the last minute and the entire production has to change on a dime. Entire movies have been made about how other movies were attempted but never saw the light of day (See: Jodorowsky’s DUNE).

What I’m trying to say, dear readers, is that YOU GOT THIS. Just keep working and writing and dreaming and making. It’s especially in times like these, when the world feels unpredictable and disappointing, that people look to us to help make sense of it all, or at least to put a smile on their faces for a few moments through our work.

Meanwhile, read on below for insights and inspiration from the storytellers of the Sundance network–this week with a special focus on artists with films in this year’s Festival who have previously been supported by other Sundance Institute programs.

Director of Content
P.S. I’m moderating a free, online roundtable discussion next Friday, January 21 at 3 p.m. PT with Festival filmmakers that may be of interest to many of you: My Short Film’s Long Journey to Sundance. We also have a Creator Meetup on navigating your first major film festival and a special Spotlight Event with documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy during the Festival. Hope you’ll join us!
Throwing Muses
Writers on their sources of inspiration

Contributed by Alika Maikau Tenga | Festival film: Every Day In Kaimuki
For me there’s no one piece of art in particular that is a source of inspiration. However, over the years, I’ve found that the NBA has provided me not only with a reprieve from the work, but the artistry of it has deeply affected the way that I view the world. To watch people so in their bodies, the rhythm, the sounds, the energy, human ingenuity on the fly, the unconscious flow of Steph Curry or Zach Lavine. To witness the audacity of emergent athletes like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or LaMelo Ball persevere in the face of overwhelming, seemingly insurmountable odds, moves me in the way that all great art does.
Getting Unstuck
Answers to common filmmaking questions

Q: At what point in my career should I try to bring on an agent?
A: Some of the questions we hear most frequently from emerging filmmakers have to do with building out their team of professional industry reps—agents, lawyers, managers, etc.— "the team" you hear everybody thank when they accept their shiny awards.

We’ve finally demystified the process in a recent Master Class on How to Find Representation for Writers and Directors. CAA’s Christina Chou (Agent to Wong Kar Wai, Cathy Yan and many more artists) joined the conversation to shed some light on an agent’s role. While many creators believe that you need an agent to even break into the industry, Chou advises that you likely will want to have some solid work completed and a clear direction or some momentum before approaching them.

From left: CAA Agent Christina Chou, still from Chungking Express by Chou’s client Wong Kar Wai.
She shares, "Think of an agency as jet fuel. We’re adding boosters to a rocket ship. It’s most helpful when you have somebody pointed in a specific direction, they have a sense of what they want [and] they’re open to feedback…There’s a script, some shorts work, maybe some TV work." Once you have some material that clearly demonstrates your voice, you’ll need to know what move you want to make next in order for the agency to best serve you. Chou explains, "Having a sense of ‘I want to meet more people in scripted TV,’ or ‘I’d like to expand the scope of my next film.’ That specificity is really helpful at an agency."

Putting it plainly, to be most attractive to agents, your goal shouldn’t be finding an agent. Rather, it should be creating unique work and knowing where you’d like to take your career. Says Chou, "Defining success is not a checklist of ‘I want an agent by the time I’m 30.’ It’s the core of the stories or who you are as a creator. It’s about saying ‘I would love to have, in five years, a feature film or a semblance of a large world-building script.’" She encourages you to set those specific goals because, "Having a sense of that means the right people will come." When it comes down to it, Chou believes, "The important thing that really lets you have a lasting career is the work."

Read more: Three Tips for Writers and Directors on How to Find Agents, Managers and Lawyers

Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Adamma Ebo | Festival film: Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul
I actually don't have any hard and fast rules of fitting creative practice into my day. Probably because I'm basically always thinking about story in some form or fashion, which I didn't used to consider a creative exercise—but now I definitely do. Even if I'm not actively working on a project, I let my mind wander and hear dialogue between random characters, or envision what would be in a frame of a scene.

I do have a writing and shot listing ritual though, which is to always do it while something animated or true crime is on my TV. Yep...I write with the television on. Sounds super unorthodox, but it's calming for me. It's usually something I've seen many times before so that the story and dialogue of whatever is going on is almost like white noise. But it also makes me happy. Playing content that I love or that resonates and inspires me while I'm creating almost feels like having a little cheerleader in the way-back of my brain. These creators did the thing. They created something wonderful and so can I.

Top Fives
Artists on their favorites from across the world of cinema
Contributed by Juan Pablo González | Festival film: Dos Estaciones
Film Locations
1. Fogo Island, Newfoundland
Filmmaker Yulene Olaizola made an incredible film titled Fogo in Fogo Island.  The location and how they filmed it is so important for the majesty of this film. From what I know, Yulene produced it at a residency on the island and worked with a minimal crew, making the place and the people that inhabit it dictate a lot of the film’s narrative, dialogues, etc.
2. Salta, Argentina
This is where Lucrecia Martel shot her first three films. I’ve never visited, but it’s a place that now lives with anyone who admires her work. In addition to the importance of these films for the history of cinema, they also open our eyes to an Argentina that we rarely see on screen, since most productions happen in or near Buenos Aires.
3. Taipei, Taiwan
I chose this especially because of the films of Tsai Ming Liang (The Hole, Days, What Time is it There?). How he makes this city so mysterious and haunting.
4. Pernambuco, Brazil
Some of the most striking Latin American films of this century have been filmed in Recife. Neighboring Sounds by Kleber Mendonça Filho, Neon Bull by Gabriel Mascaro. Like Lucrecia Martel's, these films represent (hi)stories of cities, towns and places rarely seen before in Latin American cinema.
5. East Los Angeles
American (US) cinema would not exist without East L.A. So many films (Hollywood and independent) have been shot here and Los Angeles's identity owes so much to East L.A.—its dance halls, restaurants, music, streets.
Advice to my Younger Self
What do you wish you knew earlier in your career?

When I first read this quote from Sigmund Freud, it took me out. Now I often sit with this thought when I am struggling and looking for some peace: "One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful."
Victor Gabriel | Festival film: Hallelujah

You don't want what someone else has. What is yours is yours and no one will take it away from you. Social media is not real life. Relax.
–  Gabriela Ortega | Festival film: Huella

Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script
Contributed by Deborah Goodwin, Sundance Collab Advisor (Justine to a Fault, The Pastor)
And now we welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been.
- Rainer Maria Rilke (Novelist, Poet)

I love the idea that every new story is like New Year’s Day and a chance for your characters to encounter "things that have never been" OR to welcome a new beginning. Every character's resolution will reflect where they are at this particular moment in your story, so ask yourself which (if any) of your characters would welcome a new beginning and what might that look like? As an exercise, try putting your character in a position to make or break a resolution and see what that does to your story.

Here are some places to start:

Create Emotional Stakes that Lead Your Characters to Make a Resolution
Do you have a character who desires redemption for an unforgivable act? Maybe your character has an unconscious, or hidden desire or goal that they are too afraid to say out loud? The important thing to recognize for giving your character a chance at "a new beginning" is something pressing, urgent, at this moment (like a New Year’s resolution) the rest of your story will test whether they can stick to their new resolve.
Give Your Character Conflicting Traits that Might Lead Them to Break Their Resolve
Some other examples of character traits that aren’t often found together and how they might test a character’s resolve:

  • A MATCHMAKER resolved not to meddle in her daughter’s wedding plans.
  • THE OFFICE RIVAL, often portrayed as under-handed or deceitful in their plans to get ahead, pledges to play fairly no matter what.
  • A BOOKISH FLIRT gets asked on a date by their crush but needs to study for an important test.

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

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