Part One: Wanting Everything
On Tuesday I found myself in yet another conversation with an artist/intellectual I admired and felt inferior to. Trying to keep up, I went on and on about the projects I hoped to write and the travels I wanted to take. My friend Sean had brought me to this dinner for filmmakers accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, and I was networking for…the sake of networking. I’m good at that part of the process. Adrian Belic, the gentleman with whom I was speaking, made the Academy Award nominated Documentary: “Genghis Blues”, and has been touring the world garnering awards with his latest doc: “Beyond the Call”.
“Wonderful,” Adrian encouraged, “I just got back from the Trans-Siberian railroad. Russia is crazy!”
“Oh! I really want to do that.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I can’t…I mean, I’d have to have the money, the time, the itinerary all planned out, the…”
“Yea, but if it’s what you want to do,find a way. I don’t know where my life is leading me, but I just set a goal and go after it. It’s worked pretty well thus far.”
I shrugged my shoulders and felt motivated but also scared and defeated. It’s hard to choose one thing to strive for when you want everything. It had started to nag at me, however, that if I sat around wanting everything, I was going to end up with nothing. And all because I couldn’t write the ten year plan that incorporated everything from the start.
I saw my future: a smart talker sitting around chewing Cuban food at other people’s parties and diluting my ideas and dreams into impressive cocktail banter. It was disgusting. I thought I was a ‘do-er’, up to this point, but I always got stuck half way and diverted to another ‘potential project’. Adrian’s attitude worked. He was really doing things, making art he loved and building a great reputation for himself in the film industry at the same time. I realized his disregard for planning each step was exactly what I needed.
And that’s how I ended up in Utah.
I pulled up in front of Carlyn’s downtown LA apartment at 5 minutes to 5am on Friday morning. She and her purple hand cart of necessities were ready and waiting in the nighttime downpour, my first sign I had chosen the perfect travel companion. Carlyn is a fifth year psychology PhD student at USC, a musician, and a road trip guru. We were about to spend 11 hours trekking across the first few western statesto Park City, Utah to attend the world renowned and support my friend Sean Carter’s film, “Culebra” at Slamdance in the same city. Three days before, when had I come up with this idea, we had offered to rent the couch in the condo Sean had reserved months before. We had no tickets to any films, no passes to any parties, and no plans. We were just two girls in search of inspiration and adventure, in a 2004 Toyota, Camry that had never seen the snow.
Two hours of rainy dark highway gave way to our first elevation hike. The rain became white puffs in my headlights and the sides of the roads were slick with an unfamiliar pale substance. But we were down the other side of the hill before I could get too panicky. At the bottom of the mountain we met the sun, and the sun revealed the desert.
We stopped for gas in Vegas. Carlyn told me about a bar made of ice where they serve you drinks in ice glasses. I wanted to go, but it was only 9am so a dirty vodka martini seemed inappropriate to me. The bearded gambler hunched over his slot machine in the Mobile Station Snack Stop seemed to have a different opinion of morning drinking, however.
We passed through the Grand Canyon region and tried to count the layers of impounded red, brown, and green rock that towered five hundred feet above us. We didn’t stop again until we’d moved the clock ahead an hour to Mountain Time and were eating In’N’Out Burgers in Utah.
Carlyn and I allowed our usually PC, liberal attitudes to fall in shrouds around our swollen driving ankles as we mused on ‘which wife’ was walking back to her truck with a bevy of In’N’out bags for her family’s mass of children. Passing BYU sent us into hysterics, as did passing the ‘Adult Items and Lingerie Store’ billboard bearing the slogan: “CELEBRATE YOUR MARRIAGE!”. Descending into the worst realms of stereotyping, we wondered if we would meet a real polygamist before our trip was through.
Layers of white frosting began to decorate the jagged, red plateaus along our route. The combination of desert and snow reminded me of a multi-terrain Star Wars planet. Me: Luke Skywalker, Carlyn: R2D2. After voicing this comment, Carlyn took the over the wheel for a while.
Soon the landscape was completely white. As we neared Park City we had to go through the mountains and ended up in a full on blizzard. We inched along uphill, past police cars blocking smaller mountain routes. I realized I had no idea when chains are supposed to be put on. I just assumed a cop would pull me over and tell me. We made it out of the mountains sans chains, but the blizzard continued over Park City, layering white on white on white. We had arrived.
Part Three: Party Animals and Lucky Ladies
The Newpark Resort Condos came equipped with a shopping mall including a Whole Foods, food court, Best Buy, TJ Maxx and more. No roughing it here! Sean helped us carry our belongingsthrough the snow into the luxurious two story condo. WOW: Huge flat screen TV, real fireplace that turned on with a light switch, perpetually heated Jacuzzi on the patio with a view of the mountains, washer & dryer, and a full kitchen.
Despite being on the road for the past 11 hours we marched right into the bathroom and cleaned ourselves up for a night on the town. Our roommates: Sean (“Culebra” writer/director), April (movie trailer editor/”Culebra” Exec. Producer/Sean’s girlfriend), and Mike (“Culebra” producer/ film maker in his own right), all had invites to the Slamdance Opening Night Party and were not able to get us on the list. But we were determined to create our own fun in a bar somewhere in town.
There was a free shuttle from the Newpark Resort to Main Street that took about 40 minutes.. I chatted with the man across from us about the movies he had seen that day and asked what he recommended. Turned out he was the reviewer for VARIETY and this was his 18th Sundance. His recommendations included: the star-studded“Get Low”, sweet Irish film, “His & Hers”, and doc. “Waiting for Superman”.
Carlyn’s friend Rebecca* met us on Main Street, the packed epicenter of Park City and the film festivals. Since Sundance attracts about 45,000 attendees each year, every bar and restaurant on Main Street was a party. But it was a party they wanted you to pay $20.00 to get into. We trekked through the snow, sludge, and crowds back and forth across the street, trying to find a cheap spot. Finally Rebecca said, “Why don’t we just try to get into the Sundance party? My boss’s name is probably on the list.” Oh. Well why didn’t you say so in the first place?
Rebecca’s boss was on the list, and with a little coaxing we got all three of us into the basement New Frontier 2010 Sundance Party free of charge. Not only was our entrance gratis, we also got three free drink tickets each. The tables had turned: We were surrounded by Sundance film makers, distributors, actors, and art installations. We could find our houses on a huge screen on the floor by controlling the Google Earth display with our feet. We could go into rooms with 360 degrees of movies engulfing us. We could walk by a screen on the wall and have cartoon bubbles over our heads make jokes. We had found the heart of Sundance.
One of the artists, actor Joseph-Gordon Levitt, walked by us with a huge smile on his face. Just as I turned to Carlyn to express my utter joy I heard,
“Stephanie? I didn’t know you were coming to Sundance!”
My friend VJ Foster from The Actors’ Gang was waving at me from across the Google Earth map. A film he acted in, One Too Many Mornings was accepted into Sundance and he was here promoting it. He offered to drive us to Salt Lake City tomorrow to see another screening of it.
No one was dancing next to the DJ, so Carlyn and I decided to get the party started. We figured all the introverted film makers were too nervous to let loose and would envy us cutting the rug and want to get to know us. We put all inhibitions aside and danced like crazy people. And it worked. Soon the official party photographer was snapping photos of us and asking for our names. More confident onlookers started to join in and we could see everyone else watching. Carlyn actually grabbed one of the wallflowers: a tall, bespectacled film maker named Smokey, and got him to join in. Once detached from the wall he turned out to be a natural, thanked us for getting him off his perch, and invited us to his party the next night.
We finally collapsed on the orange padded cubes next to an installation of cardboard houses with movies playing in the windows. I spied Vince Vaughn and a naked woman embracing over and over in one window and a dog peeing in another. While recharging, we met David and Adrien, two of the animated shorts directors whose films were chosen out of 6,500 submissions in the shorts category. They took us to another party at an Irish bar and it was there, around 2:30am that Carlyn and I realized that we had been up for 20 hours straight and should probably get home.
Unfortunately, all the shuttles to our condo ended at midnight, and the other 44,998 people at Sundance had already taken all the cabs. Covered in snow, we switched our cab hailing hands to hitch hiking thumbs, and miraculously a private shuttle stopped to pick us up. Because of our soaking feet and the fact they had other people in the car who they were supposedly taking home, we decided to trust the two male drivers.
They told us how they and their many brothers owned this car company. Then it dawned on me.
“Polygamists?” one brother finished.
“No! I was going to say Mormons…,” I said, embarrassed.
“Oh. Yes, we are,” he smiled. “Ever see those guys in the white shirts on bicycles? That’s us.”
They drove us right to our door and we gave them $20.00, which they didn’t turn down. We thanked our Mormon saviors as we ran to the condo, prepared to huddle by the fire and get feeling back into our feet. Sean and Mike were still awake, fixing text colors on the DVDs they were going to hand out at their screening on Sunday. We curled up in our sofa bed and fell asleep to the sound of their clacking keyboards and the roar of the fire.
I’m not the sort of person to relax on vacation, but I knew we wouldn’t get through the next two days if we didn’t take it easy at some point. Carlyn also would probably never speak to me again if I demanded another full day of action on five hours sleep. So at 11am we rolled straight out of bed and into the hot tub (which I could have actually physically done if I hadn’t had to put on a bathing suit first). We spent the next hour experimenting with snowballs dipped in 102 degree water and taking advantage of the many humorous photo opportunities that arise when you try to squeeze five people into a two person Jacuzzi.
This is the end of the relaxation section. I’m still not very good at it.
Part Five: Gus Van Sant’s Icicle
There was no food in the house and rumors of an NYU alumni party on Main Street with
free snacks, so our next move was obvious. Carlyn and I decided to head over early to obtain tickets to a Slamdance Shorts Series and actually get some ‘film seeing cred’ in before the weekend was through. The shuttle was just pulling up when we arrived at the stop and we hopped on, pleased with our efficiency. We spent the next hour circling around all of Park City in a scenic tour of everywhere except where we wanted to be. Way to read the sign on the side of the bus girls. On the plus side, we were aided by a very attractive snowboarder who assured us that the bus would eventually end up at Main Street after circling back to our resort again first.
Most of the food was gone at the NYU party by the time we got there, but we managed to fill our grumbling stomachs with the remaining chicken skewers, cheese and cookies. The spacious vaulted ceiling loft was so packed that no one even checked if we had gone to NYU at the front. After eating our fill, Carlyn and I headed up the street to wait in line for the Slamdance screening, and missed James Franco’s arrival at the party by mere seconds.
Did I mention that my goal of the weekend was to meet James Franco? Oh no, I ignored that fact in an attempt to not seem like a complete loser. Oh well.
Sundance screenings take place in plush-seated cinemas around town. Slamdance screenings take place in a series of small rooms filled with folding chairs and a screen hanging from the ceiling. I was impressed by the Slamdance Shorts series, though. My favorites were “Latte America”, a 10 minute short shot entirely backwards in one take, then played forwards, and “Feeder”, a day in the life of a tongue filmed from the inside of someone’s mouth.
By the end of the screening, our satiation from the meager pickings at the NYU party had worn off, so we were again in search of food. My mother had warned me that 45,000 people trying to eat dinner on one street would be trouble, and she was right. When we asked how long the wait would be at one restaurant, the hostess laughed at us and said ‘come back tomorrow’.
If you find yourself in this situation next year, I recommend our next strategy: Go down to the bar section of Bandits Grill & Bar and hover over the seat-yourself booths until some lingering patrons get annoyed with you and give up their booth. In 20 minutes we had a table and were eating Kobe Burgers. Bandits also offers a beer called “Polygamy Pint”. We were tempted to order it, but the waiter warned us that it wasn’t as good as it sounded.
“People try to send it back after they ask for it,” he said, “and I tell them, no. You made a commitment and now you have to stick with it”.
Our plans were sketchy for the evening seeing as Smoky, our wallflower from the night before, hadn’t called us about his party. Sean needed to ask his friend Elliot some questions about “Culebra”, so we decided to tag along to the craftsman’s house nearby where Elliot was holed up with food poisoning. Elliot happens to be Elliot Graham, the Academy-Award nominated editor of “Milk” who is currently working with Gus Van Sant on his next project.
While waiting for the boys to finish their business, Carlyn and I wandered onto the balcony and discovered the most deadly icicles we had ever seen. They were four inches in diameter, six feet long, and hanging 10 feet above the head of anyone entering the house. We had narrowly escaped skewering on the way in.
Elliot was a gracious host, but also about to toss his cookies at any moment, so we left fairly quickly. Simon, a Berlin club owner I had befriended, called to say he had got us on the list for a ‘great party’. It was the same party as last night, so we ended the evening back in the Sundance New Frontier basement showing April, Sean and Mike how to jump on the Google maps exhibit to find their homes.
Part Six: My Imaginary Friend…James Franco
Carlyn and I have been friends since high school, but it wasn’t till this Sunday morning in Utah that I realized she was my soul mate. After getting home at 1am that night, she agreed, with undoctored enthusiasm, to get up at 7am to get in line for the morning Sundance Shorts Block that included James Franco’s directing debut: “Herbert White”. She even set up all the coffee fixin’s the night before. I love you Carlyn.
For the Sundance Wait List (which you have to do when you decide 3 days before the festival that you are going to drive to Utah) you line up one or two hours before the film, depending on the screening, and get a numbered ticket. Then you come back half
hour before the show and they let in as many people as they can. $15.00 a pop, cash. We parked in front of Dan’s Liquor instead of paying $20.00 for parking in front of the theater, and got into the screening no problem. Getting up at 7am paid off.
James Franco sat two rows behind us at the show. Herbert White was pretty good, but I’m not sure the 9am slot would have been my choice for screening a movie where the main character has sex with his young dead victims in the woods. Bagel anyone?
The real highlights of the morning were John Patton Ford’s film “Patrol”, and Pablo Larcuen’s “Mii Amigo Invisible”. You can watch Mi Amigo Invisible by going HERE and typing ‘spielberg’ as the password. I cried through the entire movie and was also laughing so hard it hurt. Patrol also strikes the perfect balance of endearing, horrifying, and heartwarming. These two gentlemen are genius. You may know who Mr. Franco is already but you WILL know John and Pablo.
I made a point to meet the two of them after the screening and tell them how much I enjoyed their films. I was perfectly happy not actually meeting James Franco afterward, but as we left Carlyn pointed out that we had just walked past him and he was not talking to anyone. Soooo I turned around and said,
“Hey James. I’m Stephanie and my friend Blah Blah* said to say ‘Hi’ if I saw you here”. That was my plan of what to say.
“Ohh you’re friends with Blah Blah? Cool,” he said, “I love Blah Blah. So, are you like really good friend?”
“Uhhh yea, I mean I’ve known her since we were little actually…Hrumph… Well…congrats on your film. Bye”.
I demanded from my boyfriend later why James had to interrogate me about our mutual friend as if I had just brought it up as a way to meet him. And he said, “Well. That’s exactly what you did, isn’t it?”. Argh! YES. Stupid….
Part Seven: Act Animated
Carlyn and I are robots and do not actually need sleep, so we ditched our plans to go home for a nap and drove down the road to get in line for the Sundance Animated Shorts series. We were now obsessed with Sundance shorts and wanted to see our new acquaintances David and Adrian’s
animated films too. We were pretty exhausted, however, so after getting our waitlist tickets (#7 & #8…yea!), we collapsed on a bench next to the hotel lobby. The theater was in the Prospector Square Lodge, but a nasty sign and yellow tape told us that you could only sit in the cushy arm chairs if you were staying at the hotel, so we had to settle for the bench. That’s when the men in jump suits showed up.
They looked like an emergency rescue team, and at first I thought someone had passed out or there had been a nuclear waste spill.. They were actually pedaling free energy juice. Their full body white jumpsuits said “Emergency Revitalization” in red letters. One of the guys seemed to really like Carlyn, so he kept bringing us more and more juice samples as we sat waiting for our movie. By the time they let us into the show we were amped up. Yea natural energy juice with cayenne pepper!!!!!!!!
The films, once again, astounded us. The Sundance Institute chooses films made in an eclectic mix of animation styles, which must suck for submitting animators who know that they could be snubbed in the name of diversity, but is great if you are an attendee. Our acquaintances David O’Reilly and Adrien Merigeau’s films “Please Say Something” and “Old Fangs”, respectively, were really well done. Other highlights were:
All the animators confessed that they created the majority of their films alone in their bedrooms.
Sean’s screening of “Culebra” was not until 10:00pm that night, so Carlyn and I finally relented and went home to rest. We bought ingredients at Whole Foods and made a turkey sausage, goat cheese salad, then headed back to Main Street with the troops for Sean’s big night.
“Culebra” is about drugs, vampires, and a pregnant Mexican woman trying to cross the border into America. It is actually just the beginning of Sean’s feature, the story of an American woman who must brave the underground world of Mexican drug cartels in order to rescue her six year old son from a superntural evil that’s holding him captive.
Culebra is terrifying, but it is tastefully done and beautifully shot. What we didn’t
realize was that it was being included in the Twilight Horror Shorts Block, and that the other indie shorts categorized under ‘horror’ were not so tastefully shot. I left half way through to throw up in the bathroom. Needless to say, Sean’s film was a huge hit and definitely stood out. But it is my personal opinion that it would have stood out among the Sundance shorts as well. Sean Carter is also on his way to great success.
Part Eight: Ghost Town
Carlyn and I decided to be reasonable and slept all the way until 8am before getting on the road the next day. The drive back was majestic and beautiful as described before. The sobering resignation of returning to our lives was setting in, but we were not quite ready to accept it. We wanted one more adventure.
We knew we were passing near the Grand Canyon, but it cost $40.00 just to get in the park and the whole thing seemed like it merited a road trip of its own. We were two hours outside of LA when we saw a sign declaring that the “Calico Ghost Town” was three miles to our east. We exited immediately.
It was 5pm and the sun was just starting to set. We followed a long dirt road towards a range of dusty mountains with “CALICO” spelled out on them in white rock. We saw the graveyard first. We parked and snuck through the wrought iron gate adorned with a cross. Suddenly the sun slipped further behind the mountain and we were surrounded by yawning shadows.
We then realized that each grave was a large coffin shaped pile of rocks lying above the earth. We kept it together long enough to wander for a few moments and discover the tombstones of such characters as “Baby Boy Mudgett” and “Tumbleweed Harris, Marshall of Calico”, then we ran back to the car.
We continued along the same dirt road and eventually came to the Main St. of Calico. This part of the Ghost Town was only deserted in so much as all the little old ladies who worked in the candy shops and the antique barns were walking to their cars. Calico was a booming silver mine town from 1881 to 1896 but became a Ghost town in 1904 after the silver rush ended. Now it is a living museum, open daily.
1/3 of the original structures are still standing and you can explore the mine during business hours. The whole place is covered in calico cats. Most of the stores were closed, so we satisfied ourselves with pictures and chasing cats, then got back on the road.
Part Nine:Unfortunate Addendum
I wish that was the end of the story, but Carlyn and I were so enraptured with our adventures and our plans for future trips, that we managed to miss the interchange between the 15 freeway south and the 10 freeway into LA. An hour later we found ourselves at the ocean in San Diego. We were two hours south of home.
Hitting 13 hours of driving now, we were so delirious that the whole thing just seemed hysterical. We grabbed a fast food dinner and headed North. We passed through Orange County around 9pm, and since my parents live there we stopped to say hi.
“Hi family. I know you thought we were in Utah and that you are not on the way home from Utah, but guess what? I made you on the way because I love you soooo much”. Brownie points?
When I arrived home at midnight instead of 8pm and collapsed into bed, I felt ridiculous. I felt I had definitely lost some brain cells, and that I had probably gained five pounds in three days. But I also felt a new era starting in my life: an era of embracing the unpredictable, of seizing the opportunities for adventure that came my way. An era of doing. Who knew so much of what I wanted to do would
involve strapping myself to my desk for hours and typing alone in my room? But as those animators up on the Sundance stage taught me, as long as you spend hours alone in your room doing something, instead of just wanting everything, you are going to be all right.
*Name has been changed