The Sundance Film Festival has evolved to become one of the most recognised and important global festivals and operates as part of the Sundance Institute. Renowned for advancing the work of storytellers its mission is to discover and develop independent artists and audiences across the globe.
At the heart of any festival lies a committed and passionate team and ROSIE WONG is a senior manager in the Industry Office. Birds Eye View’s Kate Gerova caught up with Rosie ahead of the Sundance Film Festival’s 2014 edition, which runs from Jan 16-26, Park City, Utah.
KG: For those of us, sadly, not fortunate enough to attend the Sundance Festival can you give us an overview of what happens in the delegate office? And when does the business of the festival start?
RW: The Sundance Industry Office (aka SIO to most people) handles all industry people that attend the festival who work directly in some capacity in the independent film arena. This year, that’s a little over 1300 industry delegates. Prior to the Festival, we handle SIO member registration (which begins in August) which gives our members a chance to purchase SIO passes and/or ticket packages for the upcoming Festival. At the Festival, we handle a myriad of things, from pass/package pick up, to on-site ticketing, and general customer service for our SIO members. We have an office and a lounge that we keep open throughout the Festival for the exclusive use of our SIO members. Typically, most people arrive the day before or the first day of the Festival (we call the first day of the festival Day One) and stay either the first half or the whole duration (10 days).
It seems part of your personal remit is to really understand the industry and assist the filmmaker. How do you achieve that?
One of our top priorities in the SIO is to help our filmmakers (some of whom are attending a major film festival for the first time) reach the widest possible industry audience for their film. A lot of this is done by maintaining strong relationships with sales agents, both domestic and international, and ensuring they have tickets they need (we sell Sales Agent allocations of tickets specifically for the sales agents of our Festival films). Additionally, we are always available to our Festival filmmakers to answer any questions they may have regarding sales agents. A lot of times a Festival filmmaker has never had to hire a sales agent, or they don’t know what a sales agent does. I try my best to guide and advise them in the most impartial way possible, so that I’m not telling them which specific sales agent to go with but I give them the tools (i.e. films the agent has represented in the past) to help them make the decision that’s best for them and their film.
You were also a short film producer. Do you have any instructive memories of what it was like to be starting out and calling in favours?
Back when I was producing short films, I was still at film school at UCLA, so I was very, very inexperienced. I probably didn’t know enough people who actually worked in the business that I could ask for favours! It wasn’t until I got to Sundance that I learned a lot more about the indie side of film and most importantly the business aspect of it.
Did you grow up as a film buff? I know a lot of people in the film industry who ‘fell’ into it and it’s the best thing that could have happened to them. Did you always know that you were going to work in film and/or have an idea of the role you’d take?
I actually was a late bloomer when it came to film. I loved books as a kid and read everything I could get my hands on growing up. After graduating with my degree in Literature, my goal was to get my Phd and be a Shakespeare professor! So quite far an aspiration from where I actually have ended up in my career. But my first job after graduation was in the UCLA Film, Theatre, and TV School, and that’s where I got my feet wet in the film world. I started working on student productions and pretty soon, I realized I loved it and might as well apply to film school myself! Ten years later, I have no regrets, but I still think being a Shakespeare professor could be a viable plan B if I decided to ever leave the business.
Do you think it is harder for people to ‘fall’ into the industry now? What is your advice for getting on and getting paid work?
When I got my start in the business (and this was back in 2001), it was pretty widely accepted that the best way to move up was to get an internship/assistant position somewhere, do a god job, and then you could use that job as a springboard to becoming a junior executive. Nowadays I feel like that isn’t the case, as that model doesn’t happen as often anymore, and I’m not sure why that is the case. I do feel, however, that new technologies in filmmaking has been the great equalizer. It used to be that making a film was quite expensive (renting the camera, buying the film stock, etc.), but with advances in digital cameras and filmmaking, it’s become much easier for a filmmaker to make a film, because the cost isn’t as prohibitive. Anyone can buy a digital camera and make their film for a lot less than it used to cost (and they can edit it themselves on their own computer), which I think is great because the technology doesn’t discourage anyone from making a film because they can’t afford it.
We met last year in Cannes because we were on a panel together discussing women in film. Famously, in 2013 half of Sundance Narrative Competition was female directors, which is a big deal compared to a lot of other internationally recognised film festivals. After all your dealings with filmmakers over the years, what one bit of advice would you give to women in particular?
I have to say that the best piece of advice I have for women filmmakers (which was discussed on the panel we were on together) is to not complain about being a woman filmmaker and how hard it is, and get out there and follow your dream/passion. I think too much attention is paid to the negative aspects of being a woman filmmaker and the challenges they face, and not enough on the positive. Which is there are many women out there who want to make films and let their voices be heard and we all need to support that and support each other.
You can read more about the Sundance programme here.
BEV top picks for those lucky enough to make it over to Park City include:
Maya Forbes’ new family based drama Infinitely Polar Bear
Kat Candler’s Hellion
…and producer and friend of BEV Mia Bays’ latest project Lilting