December 20, 2013

How I Got Selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab

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 MANCHILD. On top of that I've received the inaugural A3 Foundation Sundance Fellowship.

This.
Is.
A.
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 MANCHILD. 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 MANCHILD for the past year, and together we produced a short film as a proof-of-concept, AMATEUR.

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 MANCHILD 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 MANCHILD 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 MANCHILD-related, I'll be sharing what I learn along the way!

Your Comment

38 Comments

Congratulations again Ryan. Just curious. Do you think you need to make a short about the submitted material or would a short film about something else count?

December 20, 2013 at 4:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jack Marchetti

Thanks Jack! If you look at the other projects selected there are several shorts on their bios that don't relate specifically to the feature project. As I wrote on the post about making AMATEUR, I felt my previous material (in addition to being dated) was of a completely different tone than this feature. As long as their is some common through-line -- setting, tone, theme, your voice as a filmmaker -- I think any short can hep!

December 20, 2013 at 4:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Hi Ryan! I know this thread is old now, but how were you able to attach supplemental materials (mood reel, production look book, etc) to your screenwriting lab application? As far as I know you can only fill in the online form? Please share!

April 28, 2016 at 2:55AM

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Peter
88

Congratulations

December 20, 2013 at 4:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Andrew Doyle

Congratulations, Ryan! And thanks for the insight into your process. Last year I applied with my script, "Sunny Days," with little supplementary material and to no avail. This year I reapplied with a new draft, mood reel, production look book and samples of all the music written into the script. I made it to the second round reviews with Sundance/A3 Foundation this time...and while it was frustrating to ultimately not be selected, they had some really nice, specific things to say about my materials. I've already been considering shooting a portion of my script as a standalone short, so this is all very encouraging to see. Best of luck next month, I'm extremely envious! :)

December 20, 2013 at 4:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Curious about how you attached "mood reel, production look book and samples of all the music written into the script" to your materials for Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Please share!

April 2, 2015 at 10:26PM

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Jen, I made it to the second round with only my script. The same script was also a finalist for the Tribeca Film Festival. I'm a writer and not a director. I think there's a variety of factors that none of us can predict and you just have to put your best work out there and when it's your time it will happen.

May 1, 2015 at 2:51AM

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Christina
Writer
74

Was this question ever answered? As far as I know you can only fill in the online application with no supplemental materials? Thanks!

April 28, 2016 at 2:34AM

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Peter
88

Understand it is like a prequel of the feature.
But it plays just like an excellent scene from a film.

It isnt wrong not to have shot Manchild by now.
World is already too full of mediocre films.
It was just so wrong to go on kickstarter before it was
ready to shoot.

That really was exploitating the
readers...they all thought the film was a go.

Instead it was just a publicity stepping stone to further the project.
Ethically it's kind of off.
As such the kickstarter money should be refunded.

December 20, 2013 at 5:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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sammy

You can say I should've known more about breaking a script down and knowing what budget was possible... But you can't say that it was ethically wrong to run the Kickstarter when I did, or that the money should be refunded. I thought it was a go, too! And we're still making -- and working harder and longer -- on the film that everyone backed.

Glad you liked the short!

December 20, 2013 at 5:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Congrats on getting into the labs Ryan! I've been working for Sundance for the last 4 years and have been heavily involved in the labs program in the summer. I'm sure you'll have an awesome time. Any chance you are sticking around Utah for the festival? I'll be crazy busy, but I'd love to grab a beer or something if you are going to be around.

December 20, 2013 at 6:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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HUGE Congrats Ryan! If your example of hard work, community, and perseverance isn't teaching us anything, nothing will.

December 20, 2013 at 6:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Holy crap! Congrats Ryan! Been following your site for three years, watching the evolution of it, you and your work, and I can't wait to see Manchild finally brought to life. Break a leg man! You give the rest of us striving to get our own films made hope.

December 20, 2013 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

1
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Congratulations, Ryan! You worked hard for this, and it paid off. Let that be a lesson for us all.

December 20, 2013 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gavin

Congrats Ryan!

December 21, 2013 at 7:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ahmed

Awesome Ryan, so happy that your hard work is paying off. Love how you build platforms to stand on, then build and climb to next and repeat. Congrats!

December 21, 2013 at 7:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thanks David! That's a nice way of putting it and a great compliment.

December 22, 2013 at 1:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Congratulations. Vindication and no small amount of satisfaction I imagine too! I know you've been subject to some criticism for being sensible enough to take your time over the film. Being in the Sundance eco-system will be such a great experience. Wish you all the best.

December 21, 2013 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thanks Robin -- we always want to hear about your experiences as well here!

December 22, 2013 at 1:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Nice kickback ... did not see that one coming ... impressed.
Thanks !

December 21, 2013 at 1:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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boet

congratulation man, I have been reading this blog for nearly 3 years now, it contributed a lot to my film education, along with art school.

December 21, 2013 at 6:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Congratulations, Ryan!

December 21, 2013 at 8:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Michael Bishop

This is spectacular, my school had the Sundance Shorts Lab present a few months ago regarding submitting to festivals and techniques for formatting short films. Also a few guess directors including David Lowery spoke about their creative processes. It was a pretty fantastic experience and I am psyched to hear your on board with them.

December 21, 2013 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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what happened with kickstarted??? I like SUNDANCE!

December 22, 2013 at 5:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DIO

Congratulations, I wish you all the best!

But this turned out to be a cautionary tale for Kickstarter backers. It does seem like a publicity stunt now to get yourself into the lab. Maybe it was not planned, maybe it was, you do what you have to do.

December 23, 2013 at 10:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Harry

That's how the kickstart thing played out...after x years..
Publicity to get into Sundance "ecosystem"

Where is all that $100k kickstarted money now...?
Is it at least being invested somewhere or is it
sitting in a bank rotting and devalueing..? Who knows...?

To do a sports movie with kids that $100k was like
one-third needed..at a minimum...

The short is an amazing scene...of course it's totally manipulative...
The Coach would known everything about that kid before he
approached him. And yeah .001% of them have rich dads.

December 23, 2013 at 11:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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sammy

Them?

December 29, 2013 at 7:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Seriously

This is something that has really surprised me about Zach Braff's kickstarter. He kickstarted it May of this year and it already finished with post and is scheduled to premiere the film at the next sundance. Backers are updated constantly. The behind the scene shorts have been incredibly entertaining. It has been the best managed kickstarter I have backed so far. While a lot of people are criticizing him for alternative financing and other issues, I would absolutely donate to just about any future project he did because it has been such a pleasant experience.

December 24, 2013 at 2:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

Terrific short! What a powerful twisty ending. Well done.

December 26, 2013 at 11:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ryan, this is really a great and inspirational story. Thank you for posting this. What's amazing is that things are transparent to the point where hard work, strong idea and vision, plus a bit of luck leads in the right direction and if you have a sense that something that you do is going along that line, your afford pays off, you just need to keep your eyes opened and see signs around you. I follow no film school, dog fish accelerator, twitter, facebook, you name it, and what i see is consistency in a shape and form of great amount of work that you put together towards one goal, which as result gets rewarded and recognized. two thumbs up and thank you for being such an inspiration!

December 26, 2013 at 3:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Oh my god, this is too cool! Thank you so much for sharing this! Just goes to show, never give up, no matter what other people say. Look forward to seeing this one! Good luck!!!

December 26, 2013 at 5:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Adam Hobel

Congratulations, Ryan! ;)

January 1, 2014 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Edward

Hey guys I’m an independent/student filmmaker making my first short documentary and trying to figure out what to pay for a quality editor without getting jipped. I’m shooting on a Canon C300 to get a cinematic look and feel. The film itself will only be about 7 to 8 minutes in length. What’s reasonable?

March 22, 2014 at 2:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Devin

Hi Ryan! Curious-- were you ever accepted to the second round? Or did you go straight from getting rejected then to getting into the second round and then accepted? I just got my second rejection letter after the first round, but have been told by many that it's a strong project to pursue. Let me know :) thanks

August 15, 2014 at 3:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ashley E

Hey Ryan it was a pleasure catching up with you this year at Sundance 2014. We met at the registration & Ticketing office.

Then again on the Main Strip at a bar LOL

Your a COOL CAT ;o) Thanks for the encouragement & Motivational words.

I am already applying your words of Wisdom.

Rolando Sanchez
Motion Picture Film Director
www.Onpointpictures.com

October 21, 2014 at 12:49PM, Edited October 21, 12:49PM

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Rolando Sanchez
Motion Picture Film Director / Writer
74

Congrats man, I hope you got started on manchild. Looks like a great project. One question, when you found out you were selected for the labs did you found out the week it was announced or same day it was announced or much earlier? Reason I asked is because I'm in the 2nd round and as the saying goes I hope for the best but prepared for the worst with the outcome.

December 7, 2014 at 11:23AM

1
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Alexander Etseyatse
Writer/ Director
81

Hi Ryan! How were you able to attach supplemental materials (mood reel, production look book, etc) to your screenwriting lab application? As far as I know you can only fill in the online form? Please share!

April 28, 2016 at 2:37AM

0
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Peter
88

Did you attend the January labs? What can you tell us about the phone interview process before you were selected? How long before the announcement, did Sundance call you? Thanks!

December 8, 2016 at 9:47AM

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En
81