Lessons from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Lesson 1: Stay for the credits.

Most people in the film business stay for the credits after a screening. Certainly, most people at Sundance did. It’s a show of respect to everyone who worked on a film, as well as a show of curiosity, as in, “I wonder who the Director of Photography was; they were amazing!”

  • If you love the string arrangements on a song, read the physical or digital liner notes, and find out who arranged them.
  • If you love a painting at a museum, read the plaque beside it that names the painter and somehow turns a blue spot on a white canvas into a metaphor for how Planet Earth is nothing but an infinitesimal sphere rotating and revolving within infinity.

Lesson 2: Talk to strangers.

Unless a stranger seems to carry a billboard that reads, Strangers who talk to me will suffer in some way, I say: Talk to strangers!

Lesson 3: Make your compliments specific.

“That was amazing!” “You did great!” “Wow!”

Lesson 4: Don’t use people.

Here is “The Humanity Formula”² as proposed by Prussian philosopher and all-around good guy, Immanuel Kant:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means. — Immanuel Kant, ~1785

Thanks, Imma (that’s what we call him in the biz).

“#DontUsePpl“— Imma Kant, 2020

Lesson 5: Start doing whatever you want to do.

In one of the seminars I attended at Sundance, a writer-director talked about how he made his first film while he was a junior in college.

Lesson 6: You don’t have to be an entrepreneur.

I met several people at Sundance who are accomplished in their creative or athletic endeavors and have a “day job” — an accomplished dancer who is also a Film Acquisitions executive and a professional yoga instructor who is also a Development executive, to name two.

Lesson 7: All choices can be made right.

An investor I spoke with at Sundance gave me great advice.

Lesson 8: Produce and re-produce.

At a Sundance seminar, a film executive said that in recent years, many movies at the festival have been under-produced, i.e., they were too long, they were not polished enough, or they could’ve used a rewrite.

Lesson 9: Sensations are relative.

At about nine in the morning, I walk up to the equipment rental desk of the Brighton Ski Resort, eager to take off my snow boots. I’ve been walking in them for two days and my feet are pulsing with soreness, begging me to free them. Finally, I take off my snow boots. My entire body relaxes. I toss the boots to the side and stare at them with disdain. I now insert my feet into a pair of rented-out ski boots; they’re tight and uncomfortable, but at least they’re not my snow boots. I hate my snow boots.


  1. I know, Artificial Intelligence can now be creative and “disrupt” the world, but I, for one, am not interested in listening to a song written by my oven.
  2. Johnson, Robert, and Adam Cureton. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy (The Humanity Formula).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, July 7, 2016.
The view from the top of the Brighton Ski Resort in Brighton, UT. Photo by Susie Lee. Bonus Lesson: Nature is incredible.



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