The Sundance Film Festival kicks off January 17-27 in Park City, Utah, and to give us insider advice on this year’s event, we caught up with our very own Jonathan Ruiz, who, before joining The Agency as a real estate agent, spent several years in the entertainment industry and regularly made the annual pilgrimage to Utah for the renowned film festival.
This premiere showcase for U.S. and Independent film affords fans the unique opportunity to see movies first and become “tastemakers” among the Hollywood community. This year, more than 100 films plan to be screened over the course of ten days and will feature such actors as Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Scarlett Johansson, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Ed Harris, and Holly Hunter. First time attending Sundance? No worries. Our seasoned festival-goer reveals what to pack, where to rub shoulders with actors and producers, and what to expect during the Park City affair.
The Agency Blog: How many times have you attended the Sundance Film Festival?
Jonathan Ruiz: I’ve attended the festival approximately 12-15 times during my career in the Entertainment industry; both while I was a talent agent at CAA and as a production executive at Lionsgate and at Regency. As an agent I attended screenings, signed known, as well as “unknown,” actors, and of course, attended the after-parties.
Of all those visits, which movie screening still stands out from the rest?
JR: There are so many fun screening stories, but I really enjoyed the screening for a film called Songcatcher back in 2000 where I noticed the performance of a talented 13-year-old actress and singer named Emmy Rossum; a performance that stood out in a film with talented actors such as Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn. The next morning I literally saw her walking down Main Street in Park City with her mother and introduced myself and had lunch with them. Soon thereafter I signed her and helped her get parts in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River and Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow opposite another client, Jake Gyllenhaal. Emmy’s now starring in a hit show for Showtime called “Shameless.”
What makes Park City the perfect backdrop for celebrating the world of cinema?
JR: Although it’s grown significantly, Park City is still basically a small town – with an actual “Main Street” – which contributes to a feeling of camaraderie between the locals and and half of the Hollywood community who converge on the city. Partially due to that small size there is a feeling of camaraderie people share when half of the Hollywood movie community converges onto the city. And without a lot of movies theaters to accommodate all of the films, many screenings, including the premieres with the big movie stars, take place at the High School or on fold out chairs at the Public Library, so everyone feels very much a part of the same adventure.
Best way to experience the festival? Jonathan recommends sticking with a plan.
JR: Be sure to read through the catalog and see what’s screening at the festival. You will ALWAYS be surprised by films that you didn’t know got into Sundance and people you may know involved who will be there. At the same time, keep your ear on ground and learn what films are “buzzing” from early screenings that you may want to see.
What about the festival will be most surprising to a first time attendee?
JR: In Hollywood there is a significant “don’t you know who I am?!?!” mentality, but at the festival, especially with the locals, attendees need to keep that attitude in check.
Leave the ski gear at home or hit the slopes?
If the Sundance plan is to see a only couple movies and hit some parties then definitely bring your ski or board gear. If you plan it well you can spend half a day skiing, see a movie or two and still have time for some Hollywood schmoozing at night!
Park City is a beautiful mountain town but unless it’s a rare warm year, it will likely be cold and snowing. Pack your winter jacket, warm socks, thermal long johns, boots and for sure a warm hat to cover your ears and head!
Best way to network while there? Jonathan doesn’t suggest sleeping in, even if you’ve had a couple more beers at the Wasatch Brew Pub.
JR: Be everywhere! Breakfast meetings are happening already and coffee shops are buzzing with talk about screenings from the night before. Meet friends, do your emails or read Daily Variety from your iPad but get out and be part of the action before your first screening of the day.
Best place/events to attend/be seen at?
JR: One of my favorite spots is still The Eating Establishment for breakfast (or lunch) near the top of Main Street. Here you can get an incredible, warm and hearty meal and often see many of the filmmakers themselves eating at a table next to you. As strange as it sounds, the public transportation in Park City/Deer Valley area is also a great place to be since the buses will be filled with a lot of the same people going to and from the screenings.
Does it make sense for a real estate agent serving the luxury market to put Sundance on his or her calendar?
JR: If your network or client base comes from the Film community, or if movies are a true passion of yours, then attending the Film Festival makes sense because it’s a great opportunity to reconnect and meet people who you would otherwise spend days and dozens of phone calls trying to get a hold off. Just be careful not to be that person who attended and is just handing out business cards as Park City is already full of salespeople that week and it will likely feel disingenuous.
Anything else we should know about Sundance? Jonathan leaves us with three insider tips.
JR: One, drink lots of water! The first couple days at high altitude can dramatically effect your body, especially if you’re planning to drink alcohol. Two, the air is more dry than you realize in the mountains so lather up in lotion and use the humidifiers that most hotels and condos supply in their rooms. Three, beware the “People in Black” (PIB’s). This is what the locals call the Hollywood community who descend upon Park City for the Film Festival each January. Throw some color in your wardrobe to blend in and not look like such a tourist. When wondering if you are a “PIB” consider the old expression, “if you can’t tell who the sucker at the poker table is, it’s probably you!”