SUNDANCE FILM FEST 2014: A TIMELINE and TALE of PURE LUCK, INSPIRATION and EXPENSIVE ELK.
While at work, Ciara G-chats me about her desire to go to Sundance this weekend. There’s one JetBlue flight a day to Salt Lake City and the Friday flight is already pretty full. AirBNB places in Park City are mostly booked and hotels are a million dollars and we don’t have passes to any Sundance events. Plus, I’m going to happy hour tonight. The idea is squashed.
I am slightly hungover at work and struggling to get through the day. After lunch, I do some casual research about Sundance and Park City because I’m feeling a little restless about staying in NYC for the weekend. Despite my headache, I am almost up for an adventure. The flight load to SLC looks okay, but there’s no guarantee we’ll get on the 7pm flight. Or have a place to shack up.
Fuck it, let’s go.
I finish up work and rush home to pack. I quickly throw all-black-everything and snow boots into a bag and head to the airport.
Arrive in a not-so-timely manner @ JFK. Ciara texts me and says they are calling my name RIGHTNOW to get a seat assignment and the plane is almost finished boarding. I get my workout for the day by running the Terminal 5 Marathon. (Where I come in First Place.)
Ciara and I are the last two to get seats. We are shockingly Sundance-bound and I celebrate by watching four hours of Bravo on the plane.
We arrive at SLC and immediately find a spot on the filthy airport floor to set-up our command station in an attempt to locate a last-second room for the night. No one has responded to our AirBNB requests and the hotel rates are still $600+. In one final search, the Park City Peaks Hotel comes up at an unlikely, phenomenal rate, but of course, the site malfunctions and won’t less us book it. I call the hotel, which is right in the middle of all the Sundance chaos, and tell them it’s almost 1am and we just need a place to crash for the night, and after a little suave negotiation, I convince them to let us stay for a totally reasonable, unheard-of rate instead of the insane standard.
We’re in a shuttle headed to the hotel and although I have been in the presence of mountains many, many times, they’re always a tremendous and mind-blowing sight, especially in the middle of the night when they’re hardly distinguishable against the pitch-black backdrop. Such unnatural looking things, really, despite their place in nature. That, or I’ve lived in the city for too many years. And god, the stars! It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen such clear constellations, and now Utah has found a special little place in my cold, cold heart.
We arrive in Park City, check-in to the hotel, pass the fuck out.
Take the best shower of my life. Then we take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet by eating like we won’t be eating for the next 8 hours. The hotel lets us store our bags behind the front desk, and we’re off to explore the festival.
Quick stop at Rite Aid to stock-up on Emergen-C and hangover remedies because we are excellent Lady Scouts.
We arrive at Main Street (the center of the Sundance universe) and spend the next few hours taking advantage of all the free sponsored events. We hold off on seeing any films because it is a painstaking process where you only score tickets by adding your name to the online waitlist exactly two hours before the screening. (47568736895768954 people trying to land 200 waitlist spots is what makes it painstaking/impossible.)
Everyone here is beautiful. I keep running into things and walking around like a tourist in Times Square because I just can’t look away. Also, because, as always, I am on Serious Celeb Watch. The men are right out of most of my fantasies – scruffy and tall and and important-looking, and the women are effortlessly glamorous. (And then, there’s us!) It’s basically a tiny, picturesque town overflowing with LA & NY’s most perfect-looking people, and I just want to know them all. #professionally #biblically
We end up at the AirBNB “haus” on Main Street to recharge our phones and drink free lattes , and while we’re there, we score $100 off our next AirBNB reservation. At this point, we’ve been talking via email to a guy who has an incredible house a few miles from the Sundance chaos and who sounds sweet and legit, and after we get the coupon, we book his place immediately. The rest of the afternoon is spent dipping in and out of sponsored events and posing in front of step-and-repeats and being completely in awe of the people and the talent I’m surrounded by. Also. plotting to jump VIPs for their badges.
Our AirBNB host (Steve) offers to pick us up at the hotel so we can move our bags to his place and get settled in. He lives a few miles down the road with his wife and two kids, and doesn’t even remotely seem like he’ll murder us. Big plus! He is full of energy and incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. His home is massive and cabin-like and warm and welcoming.
The next person we meet is Martin, a film director from Copenhagen who is also crashing at the family’s house. He tells us about the films he’s had at Sundance in the past, and how he’s just finished shooting a commercial for Visa for the winter Olympics. (He immediately shows us the rough cut, which is brilliant.) Steve’s family is incredibly sweet and generous, and we are laughing and drinking Polygamy Porter and nibbling pretzels and hummus in the living room next to the fire in no time. Steve’s cousin is also in town with her friend, both who worked on the production side of several movies at this year’s Sundance. The Polygamy Porter is not helping me compute the fact that I am in this beautiful mountain house with genuinely nice, talented, important strangers and that everything is falling too easily into place. Plus, there are two precious puppies!
Steve makes us his famous Cuban salad for dinner, and after, drives us back down to Main Street for more events (once again, completely out-doing his duties as a host). We have one event we’ve RSVP’d for and that’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘HitRecord on TV’ episode screening party (an invite I found while doing casual Sundance research). The party was at 8, so we grabbed beers nearby and then waited to get in. The line for the party was short and slow, but after 20 minutes in the freezing cold, we were told they were at capacity, and to try again for the 11pm party. We are disappointed, but not surprised.
We are in desperate need of cocktails and food, and every.single.restaurant on or near Main Street is full and not accepting diners who don’t have reservations. I quickly check OpenTable and find one single ressie for Chimayo @ 8:45 and somehow manage to book it.
We are relieved to sit down to dinner… until we realize the restaurant is only offering a prix-fixe menu at $80+ per person — no exceptions. This is not exactly in our budget. (Our budget consists of free flights and lucky breaks and complimentary meals, snacks and beer.) So I embarrassingly ask our waiter if we can split the three-course dinner, and he scoffs for a moment, but then probably realizes we are visiting from Brokebitch Mountain, and decides to let us share. We eat a Caesar salad, tortilla soup and elk (ELK!), Lady-and-the-Tramp style, and we book it out of there before we spend another minute or dollar thinking we’re part of the Sundance elite.
We stroll down Main Street, looking for our next destination, and decide to see if the Joseph Gordon-Levitt party is any less ridiculous. We walk up to the door, they check-off our names and let us right in. We’re in a room of maybe 40-50 people and we spend the rest of the evening downing JGL’s free booze and partaking in his drinking games and wondering if this is real life.
Steve’s cousin gave us a $50 Uber promo code (!!), so when we began to fade, we booked a car and headed home. The cost for 15 minutes and 6 miles? $127. Luckily, with the credit, and splitting the total between three people, it wasn’t too brutal, but goddamn we should’ve hitchhiked. Ciara and I crashed instantly in our sweet bunkbeds in the kids’ room.
Steve & his wife cook us eggs, bacon and biscuits with OJ and lattes for breakfast, and we cannot get over how hospitable these people are. Their two horse-size pups longingly watch us devour our meal, waiting for the bacon to drop, and we look over the films debuting that afternoon, determined to see at least two.
We manage to get on the waitlist for “Low Down,” a movie that Steve’s cousin and her friend worked on, and we head over to the Eccles Theatre to get in line.
The waitlist line moves swiftly (we are numbers 5 & 6) and we settle in to watch the film. But I am beyond distracted at the thought of what it must feel like to see a movie you worked on for the first time…
We stay after for a Q&A with the cast, which includes Glenn Close (!!), Elle Fanning and Lena Headey. (Peter Dinklage, Taryn Manning and John Hawkes are also in the movie, but not at the screening.) Just a casual Sunday hanging out in the same room as Glenn Close, no big deal.
We buy $6 sandwiches (to counteract what we spent last night on ELK!) and eat them by the fire at one of the sponsored houses on Main Street, and plan the rest of our evening. We manage to get on the waitlist for “Happy Christmas” as numbers 196 & 197 out of 200. There’s no chance we’ll get in but we try anyway.
We are standing at the very back of the line, chatting up fellow not-so-hopeful waitlist-ers. And before we know it, we are sitting in the second row, just a few seats from Anna Kendrick. Seriously, when does this luck run out?
The movie was really enjoyable and funny and relevant and the entire cast was all there for Q&A (except for Lena Dunham, sadly).
We find a Mexican restaurant off the beaten path (closer to the ski resorts instead of Sundance), and eat a Mexican feast and drink $3 beers, and end up with a bill for $22. We shame ourselves for not finding this place on Saturday night, but do not regret our decision to eat Elk because…when in Utah?
Our weekend at Sundance comes to an end, and we head back to Steve’s to pack up and wait for the airport shuttle.
A van picks us up and the driver tell us this is “The Happy Bus,” and it’s stocked with M&Ms and gum and beef jerky, which is sketchy, but we stuff our purses anyway. He also has a book that he has all of his passengers sign, just in case they become famous some day.
Our 11:41pm flight is now scheduled to leave at 1:15AM. Perhaps our luck has wavered…
We arrive at JFK and take the train into work, somehow finding the strength to be a human being with just three hours of sleep. Unexpectedly, the gym in our office building is closed, so our plan to shower is foiled and therefore we must give ourselves whore baths in the 2nd floor bathroom.
Look at me, I’m at work on time! And looking forward to going to bed at 6pm.
Needless to say, the weekend was pretty epic. For such a last-minute trip, every detail seemed to work itself out, and it was worth any tiny bit of anxiety / lack of sleep / over-priced piece of meat. And more than anything, I came home inspired. Writing inspiration tends to come in waves for me, and being in the midst of such a talented crowd always seems to do the trick. This experience made me want to pick up my finished screenplay again and edit and edit and edit it to perfection, ‘til it’s worthy of a film fest. Or write something new. Or just fucking write. I read an article today about how the ‘GIRLS’ effect was in full-swing @ Sundance, and it angers me (no, not rightfully so) because I’ve been writing twentysomething misadventures for years and years. My screenplay was finished long before anyone even knew who Lena was, and every time an episode premieres or a new, lovable, indie dramedy comes out, I watch it with one-eye open and hope someone hasn’t told my story before I have. And it’s entirely my fault that I’ve let my screenplay just decorate my desktop and that I haven’t done more with it or that I’ve talked more about writing than actually writing lately. But I know, I really know, that I am no different than many of those writers whose movies were at Sundance this week, and I’m going to prove that to myself one of these days. And while I will forever love 48-hour spontaneous adventures, I’m always happy to be back in New York, my original muse, full of inspiration, and ready to put it to good use.