Sundance Institute Makes Bold Expansion Into TV

Ruven Afanador
Robert Redford

The institute is launching a lab for writers and creators of series for television and online platforms.

After 30 years of nurturing indie filmmakers, the Sundance Institute is making a bold expansion into TV.

The institute is launching a lab that will include support for writers and creators of series for television and online platforms. The debut Sundance Institute Episodic Story Lab will be held in the fall at the Sundance Resort in Sundance, Utah.

Building on the institute’s legacy of developing new work from storytellers with distinctive and risk-taking stories, the new initiative addresses the need for more opportunities for learning and mentorship of singular and diverse voices in scripted TV and online series. In collaboration with accomplished mentors, writers at the six-day, immersive Episodic Story Lab will work on developing stories and characters that play out over multiple episodes and also will have the opportunity to better understand the landscape for production and distribution of serialized stories. Both drama and comedy writing will be supported at the lab, which has been organized under the leadership of Michelle Satter, founding director of the institute’s feature film program.

The lab is being backed by institute trustee Lyn Lear and her husband, TV producer Norman Lear.

The move signals the growing importance and quality of episodic television. The institute says the growth of great writing and bold content in recent years served as the impetus for the lab. Among the institute-supported artists who have worked on series for TV and online platforms are Cary Fukunaga, Lena Dunham, Louis C.K., Mark Duplass, Lisa Cholodenko, Jason Katims, Rodrigo Garcia, Todd Haynes, R.J. Cutler, Mike White, Robert Rodriguez, Ava DuVernay, Jill Soloway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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"Sundance Institute has always worked to develop and support a next generation of independent artists," Sundance Institute president and founder Robert Redford said. "As more of those artists look to the opportunities in television and online platforms, it is only natural that we expand our labs to address the unique needs of serialized work."

Added Keri Putnam, executive director of Sundance Institute: "Although the opportunities are growing, there are few training grounds for new and diverse voices who want to work in episodic writing. Our lab will offer a rare opportunity for artists to develop unique multipart projects, working in a setting where they will also learn how to navigate the changing landscape of this field."

For the inaugural year of the lab, the institute will consider applicants by invitation only. In future years, an open application process is expected. Institute staff will source applicants through extensive outreach to a network of alumni, mentors, industry sources and other artist support programs and diversity initiatives.

"Our world-renowned Screenwriters Lab will serve as a model that will be adapted to identify and develop new writers and stories for the burgeoning opportunities for episodic storytelling on all platforms," said Satter. "We are excited to learn from all of our lab participants, mentors and creators in the field in our pilot year, and we look forward to building out the year-round support system for our writing fellows, where the program will have the greatest impact."

In addition to the Episodic Story Lab, the institute offers labs throughout the year worldwide for independent directors, screenwriters, documentary editors, composers, playwrights, producers and New Frontier artists.

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