What’s It Really Like to be a Sundance Ignite Fellow?

Sundance London 2017. Photo by Andrea Gutiérrez.
What’s It Really Like to be a Sundance Ignite Fellow?

We’re so excited to continue our partnership with Sundance Institute and present the Sundance Ignite 2019 Short Film Challenge later this summer.

As the UK-based Sundance Ignite Fellows gear up for Sundance London, we chatted with British Fellows Charlotte Regan and Thea Gajic about why collaborating is so important, how they stay creative, what life as a Sundance Ignite Fellow is really like, and what they’ve learned along the way.

Being a Sundance Ignite Fellow is an incredible opportunity. What are you learning most from the experience? What are some standout opportunities or learnings? 

Charlotte: “I know it sounds mad but I think Sundance Ignite has really showed me how much your work can improve with collaboration. I’ve never had a group of peers to pass work back and forth between each other, give each other notes, help out on each other’s shoots, etc. I come from a background of self-shooting music videos, and they’re a pretty lonely place creatively — it’s you, your camera, and, at most, a camera assistant. So having this group of friends who actually give you the time you need to chat about and improve your work is incredible. And that works both ways — I’m learning so much hearing about their journeys and projects along the way.”

Thea: “Yeah, the fellowship has definitely given me an undeniable greater understanding of the film industry and how festivals actually work. Watching Sundance-stamped content has given me confidence in my ideas and underlined that ‘traditional’ narrative structure and the expectations of a ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ are not at all the only highway to drive down.”

Sundance London 2017 film programming. Photo by Andrea Gutiérrez.
A big part of Sundance Ignite is the access to not only mentors but to fellow filmmakers that both share and challenge your perspective. What valuable relationships or collaborations has the fellowship led you to? 

Charlotte: “One of the best experiences was getting to sit down with David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Pete’s Dragon”) at Sundance London. Just five of us sat with him and getting to chat to him for over an hour, that’s something you can really never get. You can email people and ask for mentors outside of schemes but in reality people are so busy and not many will reply to your emails, let alone offer you that kind of time and insight. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers and I’m still reeling from that amazing experience today.”

Thea: “Our entire group are constantly in contact, sending each other job opportunities or sharing contacts. That’s what’s great about Ignite, there’s no competition amongst fellows — we all know each other’s work and know how different we all are, so we’re very open with sharing and helping one another out as we all genuinely like each other and want everyone to do well.”

“Overall the fellowship is truly giving us a worldwide support system and better reach for our content. I now have access to relationships and communication with Sundance staff, Sundance Alumni, and of course other fellows — I think building strong bonds with your contemporaries is the most important thing. As Issa Rae said, ‘We have a tendency of trying to network-up, but it’s really about networking across.”

Thea Gajic at Sundance London 2017. Photo by Andrea Gutiérrez.
Can you share the most valuable advice you’ve learned during your fellowship? What advice would you give if you were a mentor? 

Charlotte: “I think some of my favorite advice is something we all hear so I’m being pretty unoriginal [laughs], but it’s to make films you want to make and watch, instead of making films with festivals or audiences in mind.”

Thea: “The most important thing I’ve learned or come to understand because of the fellowship is to not be afraid of other talents — I thought I was solely an actress. I have continuously been encouraged to be as multifaceted as I want, and I think having that freedom has really excelled my self-confidence.”

What are you currently working on? What part of the filmmaking process is most exciting to you? 

Charlotte: “I just finished two new shorts, ‘Drug Runner’ and ‘Little Monster,’ and I’m writing my first feature at the moment. Danny Boyle always says that he loves the change that comes with filmmaking, and it’s something I’ve kind of nicked and now always say, ‘I like every stage of it and I like that the stages change so rapidly — so you come from writing, to pre-production, to shoots, to post, and I love that, collaborating with different people and getting to learn a bit about every stage of the process.’”

Thea: “I won the 4k funding award from Film London: London Calling, and shot my short ‘Eli’ in February. I’m planning an exhibition to go along with the screening, and I’m using it as a proof of concept for my feature film ‘Grapefruit’ that I pitched in its early days at Sundance.

“I think the most exciting part of filmmaking is the edit — everything before that is fun but mostly stressful. The edit is where you really get to see all your hard work come together — you can take a breather and be proud of yourself.”

Thea Gajic and Charlotte Regan, Sundance London 2017. Photo by Andrea Gutiérrez.
What is the value, as you see it, in getting together with fellow filmmakers in person a few times a year? What do you get out of events like Sundance and Sundance London, and how can filmmakers who aren’t able to attend create their own version? 

Charlotte: “I think it’s not about the scale of the event, it’s just about finding some like-minded people and creating a bit of a support network. That can be done in anyone’s local festival whether you have a film screening or not. It’s a group of friends trying to go on the same journey, so there is nothing more valuable than having people like that to chat to.”

Thea: “It’s always wonderful when we’re able to touch base with one another. We all experienced and shared a really pivotal, exciting moment in our lives together, and we will always hold close the happiness of seeing one another succeed. It’s hard when people are in different countries, so getting the chance to meet people in the physical is always a blessing and good opportunity to touch base.”

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