For the follow-up to this post, written after my lab experience, please see 10 Takeaways from the (Life-Changing!) Sundance Screenwriters Lab .

Earlier this week the news broke that I’ve been selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab with my project AMATEUR . On top of that I've received the inaugural A3 Foundation Sundance Fellowship.

Dream come true!

I'm not sure if it's possible to look forward to something more than going to the Screenwriters Lab and my first Sundance.

Here was my step-by-step approach to getting selected for the lab:

  1. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  2. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab with a new script (this one)
  3. Revise the script, submit it again
  4. Get rejected from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  5. Revise the script again
  6. Make a short
  7. Get selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab
  8. Attempt to contain excitement!

The Screenwriters Labs, for those who aren't familiar, have supported a who's-who of terrific indie features over the last few years, including Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild , Andrea Arnold's Red Road , Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know , Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene , Dee Rees’ Pariah , Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre , Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Half Nelson , Josh Marston’s Maria Full of Grace , Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream , and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs .

It is almost three years to the day that I first had the idea for AMATEUR . So steps #3 and #5 are by far the most life-consuming and important. Here are 20 things that I learned while revising the script .

But what I want to focus on with this post is step #6.

Make a short

I previously wrote at length about reasons for making a short , and this (amazing! unbelievable!) selection vindicates the logic in that post. Because while filmmakers will never really know exactly why we get into, or are rejected from, a festival/grant/selection/award, here is a paragraph from my application specifically about the short:

Several of my favorite Sundance features originated as shorts, including HALF NELSON (“Gowanus, Brooklyn”), MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (“Mary Last Seen”), RAISING VICTOR VARGAS (“Five Feet High and Rising”), and FROZEN RIVER, whose short shared its title with the feature -- and who I now share a producer with. Chip Hourihan (producer and line producer on FROZEN RIVER) and I have been working on developing AMATEUR for the past year, and together we produced a short film as a proof-of-concept.

For other first-time feature directors, I cannot stress highly enough the importance of having a strong short as part of the overall package!

AMATEUR would've been worth it for the festivals it played, the awards it won, and the websites we've been on . It was certainly worth it for the Lab selection! But it would have also been worth it even if nothing concrete came out of it: a short is valuable simply for the experience of making it. The lessons I learned while writing, directing, producing (with Chip), editing, and screening AMATEUR will definitely inform how I approach the feature when we shoot this summer .

So, how did I get into the Screenwriters Lab? As with all things, luck played a role. But as Steven Soderbergh has said:

Along those same lines, as I share in the current issue of Filmmaker Magazine (subscription required), "anything you can do to add to the resume of your project is going to help open doors.” I've been working on AMATEUR for three years. Some of you will say (and have said) that this is too long. But I don't understand any filmmaker who argues against putting everything you have into a project.

So here's the formula I believe will give a filmmaker their best shot at getting selected for the lab:

I can't wait for the labs in January -- and as with all things NFS and AMATEUR-related, I'll be sharing what I learn along the way!

Editor's note: AMATEUR is now a Netflix Original Film, available to watch worldwide. For Ryan's updates on every stage of the production process, you can listen to all episodes of his step-by-step podcast The First Feature right here: