For screenwriters, the Sundance Screenwriters Lab has proven to be an amazing launch pad into both indie cinema and Hollywood.
Former participants and their projects include 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.
Many of those screenwriters and directors have gone on to huge success.
The Sundance Institute recently announced the participants for this summer’s Screenwriting Lab. We’d like to congratulate them all by featuring their projects and biographies below. After that, screenwriters can learn a little more about the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab. We’ll detail the submissions process so you can start preparing for the 2017 submission year.
The Screenwriters Lab will take place this summer in the mountains of the Sundance Resort in Utah.
Under the guidance of established creative advisors, the following screenwriters will participate in individualized story sessions exploring their work-in-progress screenplays:
2016 Screenwriters Lab (June 25-30):
Frances Bodomo / Afronauts (Zambia/U.S.A.): Just after Zambian Independence in 1964, an ingenious group of villagers builds a homemade rocket in a wild bid to join the Space Race. 17-year-old astronaut Matha Mwambwa must decide if blasting off in the precarious rocket vindicates her past or just makes her a glorified human sacrifice. Inspired by true events.
Ghanian writer/director Frances Bodomo grew up in Ghana, Norway, and Hong Kong, before moving to New York City to study film at Columbia University (BA) and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (MFA). Her short films Boneshaker and Afronautsboth premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and went on to play various festivals including the Berlinale, Telluride, and New Directors/New Films. She recently directed the short segment Everybody Dies! for the omnibus featureCollective:Unconscious, which premiered at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. Bodomo is a Sundance Institute | Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and a 2016 Sundance Institute | Time Warner Fellow
Annie Silverstein (co-writer/director) and Johnny McAllister (co-writer) / Bull (U.S.A.): In a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally willful and unforgiving neighbor—an aging bullfighter who’s seen his best days in the arena. It’s a collision that will change them both.
Annie Silverstein is an award-winning filmmaker and youth worker based in Austin, Texas. Her fiction and documentary films have screened at international festivals including Cannes, SXSW, Silverdocs and on PBS Independent Lens. Most recently she wrote and directed Skunk, which won the jury award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival–Cinéfondation. Silverstein is a recipient of the San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Grant for developing her first fiction feature. She is a 2016 Sundance Institute | Time Warner Fellow.
Johnny McAllister is a filmmaker and writer based in Austin, Texas. Born in Iran to Irish parents, McAllister grew up an itinerant, living and working throughout the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. He’s written for films that played at Cannes and Sundance and co-founded a news and doc startup based in Beirut, Lebanon. Recently, he co-wrote and produced Booger Red with director Berndt Mader and executive producer David Gordon Green, which premiered at The American Film Festival in Poland. He received his MFA from Columbia University.
Andrés Farías (co-writer/director) and Laura Conyedo Barral (co-writer) /Candela (Dominican Republic/Cuba): The lives of three strangers in Santo Domingo—the daughter of a district prosecutor, a lone alcoholic cop, and a drag queen cabaret performer—intertwine on the eve of a hurricane following the murder of a young poet and drug dealer.
Andrés Farías is a filmmaker and video-artist from the Dominican Republic. In 2014 he won the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection Award for his video installationHoney Pot. In 2015, he was selected for the Emerging Leaders of the Americas Program (ELAP) for his research project on the representation of the Caribbean women in film.
Laura Conyedo Barral is a Cuban screenwriter who graduated from the International TV and Film School of San Antonio de los Baños. She has published two books of short stories, Drop Fishermen and Dust. Currently she is developing her first feature film as a director, called Nobalí Has Gone and I’ve Returned.
Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (writer/director) / El Aparato (Mexico/U.S.A.): Mexico, 1985: a bitter math genius with failed dreams of space travel gets a second chance when he is contracted by the Mexican League of Space Discovery. Suspecting they are building a secret machine, he embarks on a dangerous journey to find what they call El Aparato.
Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer was born in Queretaro, Mexico. His short film Contrapelo premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2015. He holds an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute.
Nabil Elderkin (director) and Marcus Guillory (writer) / Gully (U.S.A.): This non-linear, slightly dystopian vision of LA follows three disaffected teenagers, Jessie, Calvin, and Nicky—all victims of extreme childhoods, running supreme hedonistic riot as they try to work out a way in life.
Nabil Elderkin is a director and photographer of Iranian and American descent, who was raised in Australia and currently lives in Los Angeles. He has created visuals on a variety of media platforms including documentary photography, global award-winning advertising campaigns, magazine editorials, artist branding, books, music videos, commercials, the short film Captureland, and the award-winning feature-length documentary Bouncing Cats.
Marcus J. Guillory is a Houston-born, novelist/screenwriter based in Los Angeles and Seattle. His short stories have been published in Outcry Magazine, Secret Attic (UK), and Dogmatika Magazine, among others. Guillory has also produced reality television shows for E! Network and written the film Karma, Confessions & Holi. In 2014, Simon & Schuster published his debut novel “Red Now And Laters” to great critical acclaim, including being short-listed for the 2014 Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and a starred Kirkus Review. He is currently a staff writer on VH1’s new dramatic series The Breaks.
César Cervantes / Hot Clip (U.S.A.): In the aftermath of their best friend’s fatal confrontation with a cop, three Southeast Los Angeles skaters spend 24 hours chasing dreams, making trouble, and trying to survive in a community on the verge of exploding.
César Cervantes is a first-generation Chicano filmmaker from Maywood, California. His skateboarding do-it-yourself background and whatever-it-takes approach to filmmaking got him into the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival, led him to create an after-school film program for inner-city youth with the help of CAA, and put him on tour with the Grammy-winning band La Santa Cecilia as their lead videographer. A Vassar College graduate, Cervantes will make his feature debut with Hot Clip. Cervantes is the first recipient of the Feature Film Program Latino Fellowship, and is a Sundance Institute | Academy Nicholl Honoree.
Kibwe Tavares (director) and Daniel Kaluuya (writer) / The Kitchen (United Kingdom): Raised in London’s first favela, housed in an abandoned Council high-rise known as the Kitchen, Izi commits smash-and-grab thefts as a way of redistributing the wealth to the community who took him in. When the inhabitants are threatened with eviction by the police, Izi is tasked with a high-stakes heist that pits him against the Kitchen’s leader and irrevocably alters his definition of family.
Kibwe Tavares graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture with a thesis calledRobots of Brixton, a short film that won the Special Jury Award for Animation at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. With the backing of Film4, he directed his second short film Jonah, which won both the Special Jury prize and Best Short Film at the Commercial Film Producers of Europe and Shots Young Directors Awards. More recently, Tavares has been awarded a TED fellowship, named as one of the top 20 young global directors at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase and has recently finished directing his third short Robot and Scarecrow.
Daniel Kaluuya began his writing career by working closely with Bryan Elsley on multiple episodes of the BAFTA-winning television drama Skins, in which he also starred. As an actor, he was cited as one of BAFTA’s 2011 Brits to Watch, and his more recent screen credits include Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, Kick-Ass 2 and Eran Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch. Kaluuya is also a celebrated stage actor, having won the Evening Standard Editor’s Award for Shooting Star and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer in 2010 for his performance as a boxer inSucker Punch at London’s Royal Court Theatre. The Kitchen is his debut screenplay.
Eva Vives / Nina (U.S.A.): Just as Nina Geld’s brilliant and angry stand up kicks her career into high gear, her romantic life gets complicated, forcing her to reckon with what it means to be creative, authentic and a woman in today’s culture.
Eva Vives is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2000, she won the Best Short Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival with Five Feet High and Rising, a short she cast, edited and produced. She followed that up with the feature Raising Victor Vargas, which she co-wrote. Vives has been writing numerous projects, including Chrome & Paint, a film she co-wrote with Ice Cube. Vives was one of four writers in the Disney Writers Program from 2010-2012. Most recently, she wrote and directed the short film Join the Club, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. She was also a finalist for the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival’s Filmmaker to Watch award. Vives is a Sundance Institute | Academy Nicholl Honoree.
Sandhya Suri / Santosh (India/United Kingdom): In the corrupt hinterlands of Northern India, a young widow, Santosh, inherits her husband’s job as police constable. When a girl’s body is found in a well, she is forced to confront the brutality around her and the violence within.
Sandhya Suri is a British-Indian writer/director based in London. A graduate in pure mathematics, she received a scholarship to study documentary at The National Film and Television School. Her feature documentary I for India premiered in the World Competition section of the Sundance Film Festival, screened at over 20 international festivals and garnered several awards before being released theatrically to critical acclaim in the UK and the U.S. Suri also participated in the 2015 Drishyam | Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
Pippa Bianco / Share (U.S.A.): In this cyber thriller, a disturbing video—leaked from a local high school—throws a Long Island community into chaos and the national spotlight as they try to unravel the story behind it.
Pippa Bianco studied at Yale University, where she received the Lamar Film Studies Prize and Pearson American Studies Prize before moving to New York to make films. In 2015, her short film Share screened at the Telluride Film Festival, won a jury prize at SXSW 2015, and won Cinéfondation’s First Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Her recent work also includes a commission for LACMA scored by Nico Jaar, and a writing credit on Bleed for This, a forthcoming boxing biopic starring Miles Teller, produced by Bruce Cohen and executive produced by Martin Scorsese.
Brett Weiner (co-writer/director) and Emma Fletcher (co-writer) / Social Justice Warrior (U.S.A.): A privileged white college sophomore clashes with her history professor and throws her university into chaos when she attempts to turn the entire campus into a safe space free from offensive language.
Brett Weiner has directed digital series for ABC, Smosh, AwesomenessTV and Defy Media as well as co-created the Honest Trailer series, which has over one billion online views. His 2014 short film Verbatim premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to play at over a dozen festivals including South By Southwest, Telluride and the Dallas International Film Festival, where it won the audience award. He adapted Verbatim into a digital series for The New York Times, and his follow up short film Verbatim: The Ferguson Case premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. He is a graduate of Tufts University and lives and works in Los Angeles.
Emma Fletcher is a Los Angeles based comedy writer who began her career in feature development. She produced the documentary In Organic We Trust, followed by a short documentary shot in Thailand and Burma about children saved from human trafficking. She then transitioned to writing and worked on the final two seasons of NBC’s Parks and Recreation and the upcoming second season of Amazon’s Red Oaks.
Boots Riley / Sorry to Bother You (U.S.A.): A black telemarketer with self-esteem issues discovers a magical key to business success, propelling him to the upper echelons of the hierarchy just as his activist comrades are rising up against unjust labor practices. When he uncovers the macabre secret of his corporate overlords, he must decide whether to stand up or sell out.
Boots Riley studied film at San Francisco State University before ending his studies in favor of a major label recording deal for his band, The Coup. He directed a music video for The Coup’s “Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ’79 Granada Last Night,” upon which the novel Too Beautiful For Words was based. He has never won an award for artistic achievement, but has decided that being the only musical artist whose surveillance was uncovered via Wikileaks is just as good as an Oscar or a GRAMMY.
Alaa Eddine Aljem (writer/director) / The Unknown Saint (Morocco): Moments before his capture by the police, a thief digs a grave to hide a bag of money. Released from prison years later, he returns to retrieve it, only to find a shrine to an Unknown Saint on top of his loot, and a village resurrected around it.
Alaa Eddine Aljem studied film at the ESAVM and INSAS schools in Brussels. His films have been selected for festivals around the world, winning several awards. His most recent short film, Les Poissons du Désert, won the critics, screenwriting and grand prizes at the Moroccan National Film Festival and has been invited to the Short Film Corner at Cannes. His first feature film script The Unknown Saint, which will be his debut feature, was awarded at the Locarno Film Festival and was selected at La fabrique du cinema du monde at Cannes.
Creative advisors include Artistic Director Howard Rodman, Karim Ainouz, John August, Andrea Berloff, Joe Robert Cole, Stephen Gaghan, Gyula Gazdag, Douglas McGrath, Deepa Mehta, Walter Mosley, Charles Randolph, Jon Raymond, Jennifer Salt, Susan Shilliday, Joan Tewkesbury, Ligiah Villalobos and Tyger Williams.
Congratulations to all of the 2016 participants!
What Is The Screenwriters Lab?
The Screenwriters Lab is a five-day writer’s workshop that gives independent screenwriters the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers in an environment that encourages innovation and creative risk-taking. Through one-on-one story sessions with Creative Advisors, Fellows engage in an artistically rigorous process that offers them indispensable lessons in craft, as well as the means to do the deep exploration needed to fully realize their material. They accept around 12 projects each year with submission periods beginning in March and ending in May.
“The schedule, on paper, may read as mundane and straightforward. Between eating and sleeping, there are screenings and one-on-one meetings with your advisers. But the real “doing” doesn’t happen in the schedule. The conversations with your advisers can be revelatory and cathartic. Their words may be deceptively simple, and yet often, when triggered, you feel as if the earth has shaken beneath you,” Yung Chang (attended the January Screenwriters Lab with his project Eggplant) wrote on the Sundance Institute blog.
What Is the Submission Process?
The submission process is a bit more intensive than any regular screenwriting competition. You have to complete an electronic application where you provide them with contact information, a brief bio (500 word limit), a cover letter, an artistic statement, and a synopsis of your project. The site does allow you to save your application as a work-in-progress before submitting, however, it’s strongly recommended that you write your various submission content in a Word doc or some equivalent, edit and revise as needed there, and then simply cut and paste.
They then ask you to upload the first 5 pages of your screenplay in PDF format.
There is a submission limit of up to three projects and for each of them, you must complete a separate application, and obviously submit a separate application fee.
What Kind of Scripts Can Screenwriters Submit?
Since this is such an esteemed program, it’s always best that you only put forward your best work. The competition — as you can tell from the above former participants — is brutal. So rather than pushing three random scripts, make sure that you take the time to choose your submissions wisely. Even if you need to wait until the next year to develop and write the proper script, it’s worth the wait. The Lab seems to gravitate towards excellent, compelling, and original stories.
The Cover Letter
This is where you introduce yourself and your story. They want to get a brief idea of who you are, what your script is about, and how you think the Lab process could be helpful to you. You’ll have up to 750 words to accomplish that so make it short, sweet, and to the point, but also make yourself stand out. You won’t be going too in-depth here. Save that for the artistic statement.
The Artistic Statement
This is where you will describe your creative vision for the material, and give them a sense of where you are in the creative process. What is your personal connection to the material? What do you want an audience to take away from your film? How do you envision the realization of this script in terms of story, character, tone, and/or visual style? Is there a budget level you have in mind, and who is the audience you most want to reach? Why are you passionate about this story?
You’ll have up to 1000 words for this, so feel free to elaborate but as always, keep it focused. They’re looking for individuals that have a true vision for their project.
The synopsis that you provide with your submission will give the Lab an extended look into the story, characters, tone, etc. It should cover the beginning, middle, and end. While there is no specific format, it’s recommended that you utilize perhaps three paragraphs, with each representing the beginning, middle, and end — the general first, second, and third acts of the script.
You’ll have up to 1000 words for this as well.
As all screenwriters should know, the first few pages of your screenplay is key to making the best and fastest impression. You will be allowed to submit those first five pages of your script in PDF form through their online upload system. Make sure that they are perfect and void of any typos, errors, formatting issues, etc. Above all, make sure those pages are amazing. Get right into the concept, story, and characters. Avoid using those pages to merely introduce the lead protagonist. These pages have to make them NEED to read more.
What Happens After You Submit?
You will receive an email notification when your application has been submitted. The email will come from firstname.lastname@example.org so be sure to allow allow emails to be sent into your inbox from this address to avoid missing out on notifications.
They will usually get back to you no later than August 15 of the year that you’ve applied. That date may change depending on the year, but it’s generally mid-August when you’ll learn of your status.
The Sundance Lab doesn’t provide feedback, even as a paid option.
Do You Need to be an Auteur or Experienced Filmmaker?
No. While it likely gives you an edge to have some produced shorts and what not, their main focus is to find exciting emerging voices, regardless of professional film experience. In the end, all that matters is the script. If it is amazing and engaging, your chances of becoming a part of The Screenwriters Lab will skyrocket.
The Sundance Screenwriters Lab has proven itself — time and time again — to be the premiere educational experience for talented screenwriters. Film schools like USC, UCLA, and others have their advantages to be sure, but no other program is as writer-focused as the Lab.
Chang continued, “The Lab is all encompassing. It’s about timelessness, disorientation, and experimentation while a fortified safety net catches you and puts you back on your feet. For over 30 years, these selfless organizers have been honing and refining a writing retreat that encapsulates all that is necessary to help a screenwriter find their path. Most often that path is twisting and illogical. You may walk away feeling upended and in despair. But somehow it works.Everything falls into place. Nowhere else in the world is there an opportunity that exists like this… an atmosphere of creative engagement with like-minded creators who understand the intricacies of writing. Nowhere else in the world have I experienced a workshop where the whole package from beginning to end is the essence itself.”