Sundance Filmmaker Blog: Alicia Conway, Rite


Rite lead actress Tabitha Morella and director Alicia Conway talk to audience members after Rite/Grace screening at Kimball Junction.

Our third screening was yesterday afternoon, and in my absence, actor David Bickford did the intro and talked to people afterward. Production designer Cassie Allebaugh was also there. David tells me that the Egyptian was packed, with waitlist people being turned away — very good news for a screening during the second half of the festival.

Our last screening is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City. David won’t be able to make that screening, so the plan was that Cassie was going to do the intro and talk to people after. She just called me, however, and told me that it started snowing yesterday and just stopped “two minutes ago,” and she’s staying up at Snowbird. Luckily, her plan today is to ski, because a park ranger told her he was sliding down the mountain in his 4×4. In other words, during a Sundance noteworthy for its mild weather and lack of snow, Cassie is snowed in!

I’m very curious to hear who is at the SLC screening: locals? determined Sundance patrons? no one? But now I might really never know. The Sundance experience is constantly surprising me, though, even now that I’m back home in LA. Today and yesterday, I’m still getting calls to talk with press — and of course, I’m doing it! — but it’s shocking to me. We’re a short film, so any press is like icing on the cake, and I’m starting to think we have more icing than cake at this point — not a bad thing.

My friend Steve Schneider does a blog for the Orlando Weekly, where we’ve been mentioned twice. I think he’s looking for dirt in my blogs, but either I really have no dirt to report (sorry, Steve) or I’m just kind of Pollyanna about this whole experience. Ok, this: Why does Sundance ask for such specific tech specs only to play the audio so damned loud at certain theatres? Both of our screenings at the Egyptian have been almost painfully loud! Arg! (Happy, Steve?).

No, I’m just grateful to be accepted to the festival and to have had this experience. Maybe that’s like a dog being willing to wear a collar in exchange for being petted and fed treats — and I’m not usually one to submit to The Man — but it is what it is. The truth is, it’s important to keep it in perspective. This is just one festival — a big, important, well-known festival, but just one festival — with one particular group of people who decided they like my movie. Every filmmaker is a little bit of a narcissist, and I’m no exception. If the way to man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a filmmaker’s heart is by loving her movie. Sundance has, therefore, won a spot in mine (heart, that is, not stomach).

I’ve submitted to a lot of places, though, and so far, Clermont-Ferrand, Berlin, and Slamdance have found my film unworthy. I have yet to hear from probably a dozen other places, and I’m submitting more every week or so. I’ve been accepted to the Florida Film Festival — my hometown festival! Orlando, where I went to college, and FFF, where I used to work — and I’m just as excited to be there as at Sundance. Every festival has its quirks and shortcomings, but as someone who used to work in festivals, I can tell you that I have a lot of admiration for how Sundance is run. There’s a lot of talk about how special we filmmakers all are because we’re Sundance alums now, and I just can’t subscribe to that. I guess as a shorts filmmaker I don’t really feel like part of it — my perception is that most of this talk is geared toward the feature filmmakers, and the shorts are graciously permitted to hear it. I still have an uphill battle to get to do what I want to do when I grow up.

The other day, Ben and I were on the bus with some very nice ICM agents (seriously, they were very nice). I asked if they ever looked at shorts — I’ve been contacted by CAA, WMA and Endeavor, but not ICM — and one of them explained that they deal primarily with filmmakers inside the studio system. He said that shorts filmmakers pretty much never graduate directly to the studio system — and get this, he said “anymore,” as if maybe they used to. Maybe that was in the nineties, when indie film was indie film. Or maybe it was never. But even this conversation is an example of how being a Sundance filmmaker — even a short filmmaker — gives you access that you would not otherwise have.

How can I not be grateful? I’ve been to Sundance four other times, and I assure you that all of these agencies would not have been willing even to explain their position to me in the past. That’s the number one thing Sundance affords a young, hungry filmmaker: access to other people. It’s bullshit. It’s high school. It’s unfair and it’s hard work when it feels like it shouldn’t be (although why shouldn’t it be? not everyone gets to do this, and let’s be honest: that’s part of why we all want to do it). But I see a window here, and instead of getting all pissed off that I’m locked in a room, I think I’m just going to quietly go through the window.

Rite editor/associate producer Ben Rock, animator Bill Plympton, and Rite producer Aaron Goldstein. (Note the giant smile on Aaron’s face: he’s a Bill Plympton fanboy.)

The Rite crew plays Guitar Hero at the Sundance Shorts Awards Ceremony and Party: Director Alicia Conway (on drums), producer Aaron Goldstein (on guitar), and Aaron’s wife Melinda (with microphone).