Though the Sundance Documentary Editing and Story Lab is held at the Sundance Resort in the Wasatch Mountains, it’s no getaway for the whole family. The lab, now in its sixth year, is an opportunity for filmmakers to live and breathe their films for a week, from 7 a.m. until midnight, every day. Realscreen spoke with Sundance’s Cara Mertes about the lab, which she says is a bit like a boot camp.
‘It’s intensive because people want it to be,’ says Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. ‘It’s just an extraordinary opportunity to put everything else aside and just be completely taken care of, and then really challenged as artists.’
At the Doc Editing and Story Lab, fellows are invited to the resort to sit with their films, which are far enough along in production that they can be taken apart and put back together, along with a peer group of editors and filmmakers. Advisers help them through the process of thinking more deeply about elements such as character development, narrative arc and story structure. Now in the sixth year of the doc lab, Sundance is allowing six projects to participate rather than the usual four.
‘People report back that they’ve never been in a community like this in their professional lives, because you never get to sit with expert editors unless you’re working with them and you’re hiring them,’ says Mertes. This is a rare opportunity for editors to meet with other editors, for filmmakers to look at their films with other filmmakers, and for assistant editors to join the conversation with the rest of the team. ‘We’ve instituted an entirely new category with a mentoring position for assistant editors, because with digital editing systems [assistant editors] are always working the midnight shift doing batch loading. So a lot of the time, you’re literally not in the room anymore when you’re an assistant editor.’
Each year a team of advisers is asked to come on board to help the fellows by sharing its insight and coming at these films with fresh sets of eyes. While previous fellows, after enjoying the process, often come to Mertes with an interest in coming on board as advisers, she says the reverse also happens. ‘A lot of our advisers don’t want to come as advisers as much as they want to come as fellows when they’re working on a project,’ says Mertes. ‘They see how much help these projects get.’
This year’s Documentary Edit and Story Lab runs from June 21st to the 28th.