Shh! How to Slack Off at Sundance
Park City offers more than a few distractions for those seeking an escape from the biz.
Any serious festival player will insist that between meetings, screenings, dealmaking and more screenings (sleeping is a no-no), it's impossible -- not to mention ill-advised -- to focus on anything but business during the 10 days of Sundance. But with all of that tempting snow, those alluring NFL playoff games and, of course, a plethora of parties every night, people still find ways to sneak off and indulge in some fun.
"It's true that buyers don't have time; they're usually too busy," says documentary filmmaker Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired). Still, she notes, "there are definitely people who are skiing and not telling anyone that they are." Of course, they have to be careful -- a bandaged appendage at a Prospector screening is all too revealing.
Producer Dolly Hall, who this year has Price Check in the festival, offers a key rule of thumb for those shepherding projects: It's OK to ride the lifts -- but not until after you've sold your film. "When the lawyer says we are done, that's when we go skiing," she says. "You have to actually close the deal." (Hall broke her leg during a celebratory run after selling High Art in 1998.)
We Need to Talk About Kevin producer Bob Salerno, who has Arbitrage in the program, justifies a quick jaunt to the mountain as a business excursion. As the slopes are famously sparse during Sundance (this year they're likely to be even more empty, given the low snowpack), "it's actually a good place to have a meeting when you don't want to have anybody around," he says. Adds Ira Deutchman, managing partner at Emerging Pictures, who likes to mix business with powdered pleasure: "I find that it's actually great quality time to really get to know people. There's nothing like a ski lift to bring out a conversation."
Partying always has been essential to the festival experience (LMFAO will continue the tradition by playing the headlining Park City Live set Jan. 21 at the former Harry O's location on Main Street), but the most storied festivities in Sundance history might have been the shindigs known as Lapdance thrown by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and their friend Jason McHugh. The first, in 1999, centered on a tour bus outfitted with stripper poles. "It was notorious," says documentary filmmaker Paul Rachman (American Hardcore). "People still talk about it."
For pigskin-obsessed Sundancers -- especially, this year, New York Giants fans in town from Manhattan who will cheer on their team against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 22 in the NFC Championship Game -- competition screenings at the Eccles have no chance against the competition available on the flatscreen back at the condo. One longtime acquisitions exec notes that his colleagues devolve into vicious bartering to secure viewing time. "If you want that four-hour block to go and watch the New England Patriots decimate the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, then you're going to have to go to all the New Frontier movies," says the exec, who remembers being in attendance with a number of other buyers watching a pivotal game years ago when "everyone checked their cell phones in order. And it was the sales agents, like: 'Where are you? Why aren't you at this movie?' "
Mark Tusk, who spent years as an acquisitions exec at Miramax and then as a production vp at New Line, remembers boarding a Deer Valley gondola in 1996 with the late Fox Searchlight exec Michael Stremel and independent-film financier Jeff Dowd (famously the inspiration for The Dude in The Big Lebowski). "A minute into the ride, The Dude pulls out a fat blunt, and we all puff away," says Tusk. "When we get to the top of the mountain, Michael and I turned toward an easy run. And The Dude goes the other way, says, 'Catch you later,' and just zips down a diamond expert slope like it's no big thing."
The bobsled track at the Utah Olympic Park, built for the 2002 Winter Games, draws continual interest from adventurous festivalgoers. "I did the luge there," says Zenovich. "It was amazing -- one of the top five things that I've ever done. You're holding on for dear life." Agrees Matt Wall, a veteran acquisitions exec-turned-screenwriter: "I've always wanted to do that luge. It's just a matter of time before I hop on."
Now in its 11th year, the Great Park City Sled-Off again will take place at 2 p.m. on a Sunday -- this time, Jan. 22 -- on a slope a short walk from the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street. "It's my secret getaway," says Oscar-nominated director Adrian Belic (Genghis Blues). Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish, who runs the event, remembers launching it to appeal to "all of these skinny, pasty dudes who don't know how to ski. We needed to find a way to put them in the snow."