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Prepared — and Unprepared — on the Way to Sundance: Taylor Hess’s Producer Diary #1

I am packing for Sundance. I have some sweaters, some warm pants, a bottle of Wellness Formula, and a portable humidifier. My mini portable humidifier was lost in the vortex of production and my medium-sized portable humidifier may not fit in my suitcase. But I am prone to nosebleeds, and so it must fit. I feel prepared. And unprepared. I haven’t been to Sundance in nine years. Back then, there was a day in Park City when all I ate was Chobani yogurt, which was handed out for free from a little tent. The memory is strong: there I am, accumulating a series of empty 5.3 oz containers until I’d consumed a nightmarish amount of yogurt. 

I procrastinate from packing to find a notebook from around the time I last went to Sundance. Most of it makes me cringe. Some of it is touching. I write: “It’s hard to tell if I’m happy or depressed…but that’s probably because I just finished reading Norwegian Wood.” I skip ahead and find an entry from after the festival is over. I write: “I have lots of people, lots of love, lots of history. I feel excited about the future.” This makes me happy…or depressed. It’s hard to tell if I’m happy or depressed. I just finished reading Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer. In it, she quotes Walter Benjamin: “At the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.” This makes me laugh. It also makes me sad. It’s hard to tell if I’m happy or depressed. 

I return to packing. I wonder if I should bring a blowdryer even though I never blowdry my hair. I think about the executive who recently told me not to squander this opportunity. I tell myself to think about other things, like all the big questions everyone is talking about around the health of the business, the state of independent film, etc. etc. I re-read an Indiewire article about the movies that could sell big. The film I produced is listed second. 

The first two narrative features I produced were supposed to premiere at SXSW in 2020. That festival, that year, indeed, was canceled. The first feature doc I produced did premiere later that year at DOC NYC, but it was virtual, so there was nowhere to go. I’ve never physically been to a film festival with a feature length film before. A producer I admire texted: “Dress warm. Don’t drink too much. You’ll be fine.” I wonder if I still have those gloves I can wear while I text. I imagine myself texting a lot. 

I remind myself that before this movie was a movie, it was a collection of frames in an edit room and a snow storm that blew through upstate New York taking a day of our shoot with it. It was words on a page breathed to life by the stars. It was fountains of texts, calls, emails, car rides, spreadsheets, contracts, beverages, songs, laughter, and tears. It was years. It was pickles at crafty and safety vests in the night. In time, it may be a 16mm print of raw negatives that will live in the Library of Congress forever.                                                                                

I have to finish packing. There’s a lot to do and little time to spare. I close my eyes and think of the journey ahead and where I left off. I have lots of people, lots of love, lots of history. I feel excited about the future. 

Taylor Hess is an independent producer heading to Sundance to world premiere Between the Temples in the narrative competition. Director and screenwriter: Nathan Silver, Screenwriter: C. Mason Wells, Producers: Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Nate Kamiya, Adam Kersh, Taylor Hess, Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel, Madeline Weinstein. Hess is also a contributing editor to Filmmaker.

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