One of the Youngest Filmmakers to Make the Sundance Labs: ‘If It Can Happen to Me, It Can Happen to You’

Credit: Courtesy Phillip Youmans via Tribeca Film Festival
Sundance Labs are the Holy Grail for beginning filmmakers... and as Phillip Youmans shows us, you don’t get there by being an egomaniac.

If you’re been watching movies this week as part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, you may have seen this 30-second short film playing ahead of select screenings.

The short film is “Days in the Lab” by trailblazing youngster Phillip Youmans. Take a look.

Youmans made this 16mm spot for this year's Sundance Film Festival in partnership with Acura, to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be an independent filmmaker working on a script in the Labs.

You might have heard of Youmans when, at age 17, he became the youngest and first Black director to win the narrative feature prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film, Burning Cane, was actually filmed and edited during his final years of high school.

After winning Tribeca, the film was picked up by Ava Duvernay’s ARRAY and is now on Netflix. Not bad for a teenage renegade!

Now that he made the Sundance Labs and is working on his next project, he has some advice for No Film School. We asked Youmans to share what he thinks is the important lesson he's learned thus far.

"It’s important to remain open to the ideas of other artists as film is a collaborative medium,” he explained to No Film School. “Respect the opinions of your crew and team, but don’t be afraid to trust your instincts in making decisions. And remember, as storytellers, we should never put our ego ahead of what’s in the best interest of telling the story.”

Here's the trailer for Youmans' award-winning film Burning Cane. Take a gander at what a teenager can do while still in high school when he puts story over ego.

Every year, writer-directors apply to the open call for scripts in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. It’s an intensive five-day workshop for screenwriters to elevate their current script. With industry icons as creative advisors, it features one-on-one story sessions and a tough rewriting experience.

As the Sundance Institute describes it, the Lab offers screenwriters “indispensable lessons in craft to facilitate the deep exploration needed to fully realize their material.”

Some of those filmmakers are invited to participate in the Directors Lab. Some of those go on to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and almost all of them get a brilliant jumpstart to their careers.

While few filmmakers get in, New Orleans-based Youmans wants us to know with his 30-second spot that anyone can make the Labs. Determination reigns supreme, no matter where you are from.

“The filmmaking process is an emotional ride, but a gratifying one. With this piece for Acura, I wanted to follow the triumphs and tribulations of the creative process, something every artist can relate to,” said Youmans. “Moreover, this piece stands for the idea that anyone can achieve their goals—no matter where you come from—with a little hard work and perseverance.”

Thank you!

Have you been watching any Sundance films that went through the Labs?

Have you applied, or will you be applying, yourself? Let us know in the comments!     

Can’t take part in this year’s festivities? Check out the rest of our 2021 Sundance Film Festival coverage here.

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1 Comment

terrible advice in the headline

February 2, 2021 at 7:35AM

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Indie Guy
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