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Further Conversations With Sundance’s Michelle Satter

Further Conversations With Sundance's Michelle Satter

by Mark Rabinowitz

In part two of our conversation with the Sundance Institute‘s Michelle
Satter, she discusses a new addition to the Feature Film Program and the
broadening international scope of the writers lab.

In addition to the Utah-based filmmakers and screenwriters labs, and the
reading programs in New York and L.A., the Sundance Institute has gone
global. Involved in various partnerships with film organizations
throughout the world, the institute sponsors or co-sponsors
screenwriting labs in places such as Mexico; Chile and Bordeaux, France.
The international aspect of the Feature Film Program began about 10
years ago, according to Satter, with the initial emphasis on Latin
America. The program continues to expand, with recent forays to South
Africa, Brazil, and Western and Eastern Europe. “I was in Budapest last
July to launch a program for writers from Central Europe…we’ll be back
there again in August.” The programs are not confined to Central and
Eastern Europe, of course. In May, the insititute is launching a writers
program in Scotland and Ireland.

Satter stressed, however, that all international programs are started in
association with another organization. “It’s not Sundance coming in and
saying: ‘What you need is another writer’s lab.’ We’ll work with an
existing film organization or a support or service organization working
with filmmakers who are coming to us and looking for a way in which they
can train and work with screenwriters.” Satter seems genuinely concerned
with screenwriters and the traditional lack of support they receive from
schools and other similar organizations. “Across the world, there’s
really very little support for screenwriters.” said Satter, adding,
“Even the programs that exist in our major film schools…even
Columbia’s screenwriting program…didn’t exist. It began over the last
six to eight years.”

New to the Feature Film Program this year is a focus on music,
specifically, composing for indie films. Satter sees this “as part of
the overall way in which we can support a project.” After the June
directors lab, the participants will “have an opportunity to be assigned
a film composer who will work on those scenes that were directed at the
lab.” Satter continued by saying that while those scenes are
works-in-progress, “they’ll have the opportunity to begin a dialog with
someone who will compose music to those scenes.” According to Satter,
the goal of this initiative is to get directors to “think about music in
a different way. Not as an afterthought when there’s little or no money
left in the budget to hire a composer, but (to think about music) as an
essential part of the creative vision.

With the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, it’s not impossible
for a project to make its way from the writers lab in January, to the
June directors lab, to working with a composer, to the August producers
conference where a producer may become interested. It’s by no means a
certain thing, but getting into one of the institute’s labs can be a big
push towards getting a film made. Satter seems to take genuine pride in
what the program has accomplished and the new programs being developed.
And well she should. While there’s no guarantee, the Feature Film
Program can “be responsible for helping (the filmmaker) find a producer
and the kind of drive that will ultimately get a film made.” She ads, “I
truly am moved by the idea that we can now see (writers and directors
lab) alumni start to come back as advisors at the lab, and that’s a
great thing, ultimately.”


+ Sundance Insitute Announces 1998 Lab Participants; Michelle
Satter Discusses The Evolution of the Lab Program

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