A Quick Look at Sundance's New "Support System" For Second-Time Filmmakers

While brainstorming a hook for a post looking at Sundance's inaugural FilmTwo initiative, a fellowship that provides support to filmmakers in developing and completing their second feature film, we toyed with the predictable phrase "sophomore slump."

Sundance Initiative Aims to Prevent the Dreaded Filmmaker Sophomore Slump, the title could have read.

But then we realized that a "sophomore slump" suggests that the filmmaker actually made the film since the end result wasn't particularly awe-inspiring. Yet there are countless obstacles preventing filmmakers from even brainstorming a second film, much less actually producing one. Many filmmakers would be thrilled to run the risk of a "sophomore slump" because it means they successfully jumped through the hoops to get it made.

And so Sundance's new initiative, which dovetails nicely with its Directors Lab for first-time directors, addresses the obstacles that prevent filmmakers from getting their second film off the ground.

So what, precisely, are these obstacles? Glad you ask. They include:

  • Identifying and/or writing their second project
  • Defining their distinctive voice
  • "Scaling up," and creating more ambitious projects in terms of budget and scope
  • A dearth of development financing
  • The challenge whereby second-time filmmakers have a "shorter timeline to capitalize on the first feature while they take on prolonged distribution activities related to that film."

Interesting stuff, right? You'd think that some of these obstacles—like the second one, "defining their distinctive voice"—would be applicable to most filmmakers, regardless of its their first or ninth film. What's more, the idea of "scaling up" to create a more ambitious (e.g. expensive) project runs counter to the idea that there's a scarcity of developmental funding.

But maybe that's the point. Creating a second film isn't a predictable or linear process nor are any two directors or production cycles identical. (Sundance notes that women and people of color may find these challenges particularly difficult to navigate.) Nor, for that matter, can any second-time director feel completely confident with the advice they're receiving from various parties—agents, distributors, producers—with inherently competing interests. 

And so the intitiative acts as a kind of consulting body by providing filmmakers with—and we're quoting Sundance Director Keri Putnam here—with a "creative and tactical support system" to bring feature number two to fruition. 

The initiative's thirteen inaugural winners participated in a day-long Screenwriters Intensive and Industry round-tables with the goal of building a support community of fellow second-time filmmakers. Moving forward, filmmakers will have access to that aforementioned customized year-long creative and tactical support and will also be considered for participation in various Sundance Feature Film Program Fund labs and activities on an individualized basis.

In short, Sundance's initiative is another example of a foundation supporting artists in that precarious time after their big break. After all, a filmmaker's career should be a marathon, not a sprint. Sundance, of course, isn't alone in this thinking, which is why FilmTwo reminds us of similar forward-looking career support we've seen from funders outside the film space, like Creative Capital and the Doris Duke Charitable Trust.