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Top 10 Tips for Sundance
01.25.11
I just got back from Sundance -- my third straight year of going and I wanted to share some tips that I've learned over the past few years.
 
1. Buy a Festival Pass Early
Tickets can be hard to come by at Sundance -- really hard. The wait list line for one movie this year had 215 people on it and the number of people they let in off of it? 0. Get on Sundance's email list now so you know when you can register to buy a pass. Buy it early -- short of being industry -- it's the only way you can ensure that you can see movies with any regularity.
 
2. No tickets? Do the $20 ticket trick.
If you find yourself at Sundance with no tickets, you have the option of buying tickets at the box office. Now, for the first weekend, this is a near impossibility as so few are available. You can go at 8am when the box office opens to maximize your chances, but this year I literally saw three teenagers there at 11am willing to wait OVERNIGHT to buy tickets to "My Idiot Brother" (there were only 8 available.) They were going to snag them, but they were going to wait overnight to do it.
 
Another alternative is something my friends heard about and subsequently tried out. Go to the theater a little before the show starts and walk around and offer $20 for an extra ticket. A lot of people have extra comps or their friends decided to go skiing. It works -- they got into "My Idiot Brother" and didn't have to sleep on the floor outside the box office to do it.
 
3. Get Housing Early
Housing can be a little bit of a pain for Sundance -- but it's quite doable. If you book your housing when you buy your tickets (a couple of months in advance), you should be able to get something. I usually just find something off of Craigslist (there are a lot of nearby resorts). Even last minute, as long as you're not wedded to staying in Park City, it's totally doable. (lots of nearby cities and even Salt Lake is not that far) Sure -- it's not as awesome and amazing as being on Main St. and going to glorious parties until 4am, but it's still way better than not going. 
 
By the way, I realize a ton of people do the share a condo / share a room / sleep on the floor / etc. deal. Maybe that's part of the charm. There's no charm in that for me. I'm happy to pay for my own room. They're not cheap (my studio at the Canyons Resort this year cost me $150/night) but it's not outrageous either. I pay more when I stay in New York. 
 
4. Rent an SUV
Do not rent a regular car. I repeat, do not rent a regular car. It has snowed every year I've been to Sundance and the roads can get treacherous. Even in an SUV, I've had my car slide quite a bit. Trust me, the extra money you'll pay will be worth the piece of mind. But, as with all things Sundance, rent early. It's not only cheaper, they often sell out of SUVs if the weather is expected to be bad. 
 
One more tip - rent from Hertz and make sure you're Hertz Gold so your car will be waiting for you. When you get to the rental counters at SLC and see the enormous lines, you'll be glad you did. 
 
5. Go to the Filmmaker Lodge
This is a great place to hang out and meet all sorts of interesting people associated with film -- directors, producers, actors, film buyers, etc. I believe all festival passes get you access to the lodge, but you can always just buy a separate pass if you're only buying individual tickets. 
 
6. Beware of Parking
Parking has been one of the negatives about Sundance -- there's not a lot there and it's confusing where you can and can't park. Here's the short of it. If you think there's free parking, odds are it isn't and you're illegally parked (and people get quite aggressive about towing.) If you're not sure, ask. If you can't find anyone, don't park your car there. If you can take a shuttle to get to where you're going -- consider it. My plan in the future is to get into Main St. early, park at the China Bridge parking lot ($20 -- steep, but it is what it is), and leave my car there for the day. (If you move it, odds are high the lot will fill up and you'll never get back in.) If I need to go to another theater, take one of the festival shuttles which run with good regularity. That's it. Don't try driving from place to place if you can't avoid it. 
 
7. Decide 1st weekend vs. 2nd weekend
Most of us can't go for the entire week and a half of Sundance so we end up going for a few days -- usually the 1st weekend of the 2nd weekend. Here are the pros and cons as far as I can tell. The 1st weekend, everybody is there. It's crazy, it's jam packed -- but if you go to a screening, the director and actors will be there afterwards to talk about it and you may even see them around town. The 2nd weekend, so many people have left. I went the 2nd weekend one year and I would say a good portion of the movies I saw had no one speak afterwards -- it was almost pointless. Part of the great excitement about Sundance for me is seeing people who have worked so hard on something to screen it for the first time and feel the energy and excitement of the crowd. When they're not there, we might as well have just seen the movie at Arclight with 1/100 the hassle.
 
So is it definitely better to go to the 1st weekend? I'm not positive. I think my instinct is always around the 1st weekend, even though it's really intense and crazy, but if you're ok with things dying down a little -- even the weekdays after the first weekend might be just fine.
 
8. Don't Fly on Sunday (if you can)
2 years in a row the Jets have made the AFC Championship Game and 2 years in a row I was flying back on game day. Some things you can't avoid, but I'll probably fly back on Monday in the future just to be on the safe side. By the way, SLC does have TVs throughout the terminal (especially the Southwest terminals) and they were all tuned to football. 
 
9. Talk to Everybody
Even better than the movies, my friends and I have the best time just talking to and meeting new people. As an example, we were finishing up dinner and the guy next to us was waiting for his order and we just chatted him up. Turns out he's a film financier trying to generate the last $1.2 million (he's already raised $2 million) for a Dakota Fanning film. It was really interesting hearing his thoughts on the film financing landscape, how many leads he needs before he gets a conversion, etc. Those are the types of conversation that can just easily happen at Sundance (and forget about if you get into a fancy party.)
 
Similar to this -- people will really go out of their way to help you -- people you just met. People will offer to help you get into parties, offer you extra tickets, make introductions, etc. So it just pays to chat people up.
 
One more tip here -- chat up your friends. Tell them you're going to Sundance ahead of time. A good portion of the time you'll find out that either they're going to Sundance too or that they know someone that is that they want to introduce you to or that they can help get you into some parties. But they can't help you if they don't know.
 
10. Go
There are a million reasons not to go to Sundance. Housing is hard. Housing is expensive. You like but don't love movies. You don't know many other people that are going. Trust me -- it all works out. I've gone 3 years in a row because I've had a great time each year and for completely different reasons. I can't recommend it enough.

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