Sundance: God Help the Girl
"God Help the Girl" Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance(ing) with the devil

by Susan Johnson

This morning, as I was packing for Sundance, a sudden wave of nostalgia toppled me. A decade ago I went to Sundance with the first film I ever produced, Mean Creek, and the years that followed went by in what literally feels like an instant. I guess this is what parents feel like when they wake up one day and their kids are off to college, except my “kid” is my career and my daily struggle to stay present in my life doesn’t allow for much reflection.

Sundance is the devil you know. I couldn’t be more appreciative of Robert Redford and all of those who built the festival into the preeminent purveyor of independent film that it is today, but my tolerance for the social barrage that is Sundance is limited to 24 hours. I liken it to waking up to discover that you are back in high school and have just been told you will not be allowed to graduate. Were you invited to the “right” parties? Did you get the “right” people into your film? Do they like you? Do you have the “right” friends? Is anyone interested in anything you have to say, or really, is it all about the quarterback and cheerleader (aka director and star)?

What I love about Sundance, and the many festivals I’ve been to around the world, is that for the most part everyone is there because they are truly passionate about film. They want you to win. They want to love your film. They want to know how you did it… how you pulled the rabbit out of the hat. And to be able to share the victory of just being accepted to the most competitive festival on the planet with the team who worked so hard to get the film made, for years and years in some cases, is priceless. If you are a smart filmmaker, you’ll share the love equally. Every single person involved, regardless of the number of days worked or dollars invested, helped you get to where you are today, in Utah, in front of an audience, sharing your story. Filmmaking is a team effort, so put the ego away and be thankful. And inclusive. And kind. And with any luck, you’ll be back again next year.

I’m thrilled to be going to Sundance this year in support of God Help the Girl, a film on which I serve as Co-Executive Producer. Producer Barry Mendel sent me the script two years ago, and as a huge fan of Stuart Murdoch and Belle and Sebastian, I wanted to find a way to support their vision. Luckily an investor I work with felt the same way, and here we are.

Eye of the Hurricane set

Writer/Director Jesse Wolfe, Producer Susan Johnson, Actors Brian Doyle-Murray
and Campbell Scott on the set of “Eye of the Hurricane”

I’m also looking forward to my next project, Carrie Pilby, which I will be directing this summer. As always, the quest for financing begins in Park City. And last but not least, we will be celebrating the U.S. cable release of Eye of the Hurricane, a film I produced for writer/director Jesse Wolfe starring independent film stalwarts Melanie Lynskey and Campbell Scott. I’m thankful for so much to celebrate in the snow this year!

Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes… but mostly, for me, inspiration comes from all of you who are fighting the good fight.

Congratulations, have a great time at Sundance and good luck!

Susan Johnson

About Susan Johnson

Born in the desert (Phoenix) and raised by wolves (an attorney and a red-headed Texan), Susan spent many hours studying society (watching movies) in an effort to better understand the world (theaters have air conditioning). Professional experience includes: librarian (script reader); lackey (agent asst); jester (producer's asst); social worker (director's assistant); reformist (editor); and autocrat, I mean diplomat (music video director). Now an award-winning film producer, Susan is currently casting her feature directorial debut, based on the YA novel CARRIE PILBY. Follow Susan on Facebook at Braveart Films and on Twitter @braveartfilms.

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