Advice from SFF22 Filmmakers // Run, Writers, Run // Staying Grounded // Top 5 Inspiring Movie Scores

Dear Storyteller,

Wow. As I write this, we’re in the middle of the Sundance 2022 Film Festival Fully Online Extravaganza. If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing films, hearing talks, participating in artist meetups or exploring and interacting on the Spaceship, you’ll know that the excitement is palpable and–though the events are "virtual"–the community of filmmakers and film lovers in the Sundance sphere is real.

Honestly, it’s uplifting and inspiring. Despite even greater production hurdles and expenses due to COVID-19 and all the added challenges of these times, the independent film community has remained determined to get our work made and seen, come what may. (And btw, if you haven’t joined yet, you still have a couple of days. All of the talks are FREE and recordings are available internationally!)

The three filmmakers in the Festival roundtable I moderated on My Short Film’s Long Journey to Sundance came from wildly different backgrounds but had very similar answers to what keeps them grounded and motivated in their work. William D. Caballero (Chilly & Milly), whose films heavily feature his Puerto Rican family, shares "One thing we can do as independent filmmakers is really get at those aspects of who we are and what our cultures offer us, because through art we can heal, and that's all I really want to do."

Olive Nwosu (Egúngún), who was born in Nigeria and resides in the UK, feels similarly, saying that it’s about "staying rooted in the community that inspires all this in the first place and staying true to the personal healing process that, for me, film is."

Panelist Sky Hopinka (Kicking the Clouds) is of the Ho-Chunk Nation/Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and is based in the US. He agrees  that "making films with my community in mind really helps me focus on the stories that I want to tell."  He also summed up the sentiments of his fellow panelists by adding. "No one's asking us to make these films [about our communities], so I think that that's emboldening and fortifying, the fact that these films can be made and the stories can be told."

So, dear readers, what would your answer be? What keeps you grounded in the work on the harder days or when personal or global distractions would take your attention away? Write it down in a sentence or two or find an image that represents it and tack it up on the wall in your workspace. Let it live there as a tangible reminder of why you do what you do and a motivator to keep doing it.

Meanwhile, read on below for insights and writing tips 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.

See you on the page,

Director of Content
Throwing Muses
Writers on their sources of inspiration

Contributed by Tonya Lewis Lee | Festival film: Aftershock
I have an amazing collective of artists around me who encourage, influence and support me. My husband, the director Spike Lee is one tremendous inspiration to me. I've had the best film teacher at my side for a long time schooling me on film and the process of getting the work done unapologetically. And when it comes to muses, I must also mention the amazing photographer, Carrie Mae Weems. With photography, she has been moving people through the stories she tells for decades and she continues to evolve, evoke and excite almost 50 years later. The Kitchen Table Series is by far the one body of work of hers that I return to again and again.
Detail of Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman and daughter with makeup), 1990

Showing Up
How do you get yourself into the space to do your most creative work?
Contributed by Mariama Diallo | Festival film: Master
I’m a runner. I start my weekdays with a run, and then when I get home, feeling like Rocky, I try to write. I’m a morning or a late night writer, like late, late night. When I was younger I would get bewitched and stay up all night writing. But that’s not really practical anymore so I stick to the mornings. I like to have a cup of tea. I try to keep off the internet. My biggest rule in terms of my process is to write the first draft in one spurt without stopping to edit as I go along. I’ve found that with first drafts, editing during the writing process serves only to discourage, so I sprint through and assess the damage later.
When Inspiration Struck
How creators came up with their most notable ideas

Contributed by Adamma Ebo | Festival film: Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul
One of the scenes that I’m often asked "How did you come up with that?" is a scene that’s both in Honk for Jesus the feature film and Honk for Jesus the short: the "Praise Mime" scene. In this scene, Trinitie has been backed into a corner by Lee-Curtis, and finds herself completely decked out in all white mime face paint, praise dancing on the side of the road to Black Gospel music. A lot of folks thought I had made Praise Miming up, but really it’s something that happens in Baptist churches quite often. YouTube it, y'all!
The Disciples of Mime (source)
The genesis of the idea of making this scene feels strange and painful—but still a "should I laugh?" type of comedic moment—was that Praise Miming always seemed to have the opposite effect on me than it did on everyone else in church. Despite being set to gospel music (which I love), it didn’t enhance my spiritual experience. It did for so many people but… why not me? For others, it seemed to be invigorating and moving and emotional. But for me, it felt unnerving and uncanny. There was an immediate disconnect and I desperately wanted to look away...but strangely, I couldn't. That’s where this scene grew from. And it’s definitely one that people bring up all the time.
Advice to My Younger Self
What do you wish you knew earlier in your career?
Limitations are your friend. They provide a framework to the amorphous path of filmmaking, give you an opportunity to be more creative and force you to make choices.
Paula Eiselt | Festival film: Aftershock

Believe that you can create art with what and who is around you: friends, family, lived experiences.
Juan Pablo González | Festival film: Dos Estaciones
Top Fives
Writers on their favorites from across the world of cinema

Contributed by Alika Maikau Tenga | Festival film: Every Day In Kaimuki
Movie Scores To Write To
1. Minari (2020)
Music by Emile Mosseri
This was my go to last year. It made me aspire to write something eloquent and sophisticated, even though I’m sure I fell short more often than not. His score for Last Black Man in San Francisco is so lush and beautiful as well, I can’t wait to see his score for When You Finish Saving The World at this year’s festival.
2. Monos (2019)
Music by Mica Levi

A propulsive, esoteric score that elevates the intensity of the film tenfold. Her Jackie score is equally beguiling; I’m always on the lookout for anything she’s a part of!
3. Moonlight (2016)
Music by Nicholas Britell

From the moment those strings began to lilt in the trailer of Moonlight I was transfixed by this score, and when writing to it, it really feels like anything is possible!
4. Phantom Thread (2017)
Music by Jonny Greenwood

While I admire his score for There Will Be Blood, that soundtrack doesn’t quite lend itself to the most optimistic writing session. The Phantom Thread score, however, is so rich and evocative, it feels textual in a way that soaks into your pores.
5. Jane (2017)
Music by Philip Glass

There's something aspirational in this soundtrack, it feels like new ideas being formed and reformed and deconstructed and reconstructed in ways that I can’t yet understand but want to understand, which is a microcosm of the writing process for me.
BONUS! The North Water (2021)
Music by Tim Hecker

It’s a miniseries, not a movie! But I’ve been enamored by Tim Hecker for some time, and this soundtrack is mesmerizing, Understated by his standards but deeply affecting nonetheless.
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script

In celebration of SFF22, we’re departing from our normal format this week to bring you three general writing exercises inspired by Sundance movies past, and crafted by our own Jessica Hobbs, who runs Sundance Collab’s Writers’ Cafe. Choose one that speaks to you and give yourself an hour to write a response. Perhaps a new idea will emerge for you, or feel free to try to apply one of these concepts to an existing script.

  • Misha and the Wolves (Sam Hobkinson, 2021) is an example of a story that is so unbelievable, it might just be true. Think of the wildest "true" story you have ever heard and consider how it might be adapted into a short story or a script. What elements might you have to bend to make it even more compelling? At what point would you consider re-writing the narrative and making it a hybrid of truth and fiction?

  • The 40-Year-Old-Version (Radha Blank, 2020) brings us a struggling playwright who makes a career pivot into being a hip-hop artist at the age of 40. What would be an interesting pivot for one of your characters? How does their age affect their decision or ability to make a change? What kind of a support network does your character have — and if they don’t have one, how can they build one to help make the change happen?

  • Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) successfully sets a chilling scene, literally and metaphorically; the grey color palette and leafless trees help set the mood, and the lack of warmth is striking in the interactions between the protagonist, Ree, and everyone else in her dysfunctional home town. Try creating a scene that evokes feelings of cold or heat in your audience and consider what elements of your set, lighting and blocking and even dialog could help you achieve this.

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

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