6 Reasons You Can Afford Sundance Film FestivalArticle by: Amanda McHugh|@https://twitter.com/AmandaKMcHugh
Mon February 12, 2018 | 09:00 AM
Sundance Film Festival, with its reputation for celebrity-lined red carpets, agency parties and indie films on the hunt for distribution, can on the surface seem a bit inaccessible to those who aren’t in the industry. Not to mention the fact that the cost of festival passes, condo rentals and plane tickets can easily amount to thousands of dollars just for the first weekend. That is, if you’re not privy to the tips that I, a now three-year Sundance veteran and artist/journalist on a budget, am about to give you.
Getting There: Flight and Shuttle, $250
Flights: Sundance takes place in two different cities in Utah: Salt Lake City (SLC) and Park City. Most of the festival happenings are in Park City, but additional screenings occur in Salt Lake. Unless you live in Utah, the cheapest way to get to the heart of the Sundance action in Park City is to fly into SLC and shuttle to Park City. Plane tickets are typically cheapest to buy either six weeks or exactly two weeks from the date you want to fly in; try flying in on a Wednesday and leaving on a Tuesday. The cheapest cities to fly from are Los Angeles, Denver and Atlanta. If you plan ahead, and keep shopping around, it’s possible that you can get a round-trip flight for under $200.
Shuttles: Once you’ve landed in SLC, you have a few options for getting to Park City, which is about forty miles away from the airport. The cheapest option is to plan in advance with a group of four and book a shuttle. For groups of four, companies such as Ski Taxi, M&L and My Shuttle, which each charge only $100 flat, making your trip cost just $25. If you’re not traveling with a group it is highly recommended to join one of the dozens of private Facebook groups that come up in a search for “Sundance,” such as “Sundance Film Festival Network,” “Unofficial Sundance” and especially ones that are intended to be specifically for party lists and housing. What you’ll find once you join these groups is that it is a grassroots community, and most people want to help each other get to the festival.
Just plan at least one or two months in advance, as these shuttles fill up. Or you can do what I did, which was the second I landed in SLC I checked the “Sundance 2018 Industry Only” Facebook page to see if anyone else would want to share an Uber with me and lo and behold, a producer from Los Angeles had landed right when I did and was seeking a ride as well. One airport ride and three Sundance parties later, and we are now not only friends, but I am working on the set of a film she’s managing. The key is to be open-minded and not get discouraged, as you never know what you’ll find.
Housing for Four Nights, $200
So, now that you’ve joined some Facebook groups, keep an eye out for folks offering housing! You shouldn’t pay more than a maximum of $100 a night right in Park City, though it is very possible to find folks renting out shared rooms for $50 a night. I shared a pullout couch in Prospector Square right by three of the main theaters with my best friend for only $50 that she found, again, on a Facebook group page.
But how do people arrange these condos in the first place? I spoke with Hannah Blackwell, a producer from Los Angeles and seven-time Sundance veteran, outside the (free) Montana Film party the first Sunday night of the festival, and she gave me some of her own pro tips.
- Chateau Après Lodge: $50 a night for a bunk in a dorm room, $145 for a two-person private room, with a five-night minimum stay. It's just behind the Library Theater. Booking for Sundance starts August 1st.
- Shared Rooms and Condos: Park City Vacation Rentals is a great place to look for a condo to share. Hannah recommends getting a group of four to six people together to rent a full-sized condo, and expect to share room or sleep on the couch. You’re only going to be there to sleep and shower, realistically.
- Location, Location, Location: While there are cheaper places to stay further away from the city, the amount of money you’ll spend on ride shares late at night will even out to what you would spend closer to town. Stay close to Main Street or Prospector Square to be able to take full advantage of the time you do have at the festival.
- Length of Stay: While the full festival run is ten days, Hannah agrees that staying the first weekend is the most economic way to go. Not only is four days cheaper than ten, the first weekend is when all of the sponsors have their pop-ups, which involve free food and booze, and it’s when you really get the “party” vibe of the festival. If partying is not your jam and you really want to pack in as many films as possible, we recommend going the last weekend, when there will be more panels and the closing awards ceremony, versus during the week.
Getting Around: Free
Public transportation throughout the year in Park City is free, and special Sundance shuttles are added to make theater loops for the full festival and run until late at night. If you’re staying in Park City as we suggest, there is no reason you should be paying for cabs or ride shares at all during the fest.
Walking is also not out of reach! Between Prospector Square and Main Street there is a beautiful walkway away from the roads that leads you along a creek-lined sidewalk, right by the Library Theater and to the bottom of Main Street, and takes about thirty minutes to walk total.
Movie Tickets: Free
I can’t stress enough the power of being a volunteer at Sundance. They have the largest volunteer program of any film festival in the world, bringing in 2,000 volunteers every year. If you’re going alone, I highly recommend this option, as it is what got me through my first two years of Sundance. If you can afford to take ten days out of your work schedule to volunteer full-time (which means eighty hours over the course of the festival), and it is not your first year volunteering, Sundance may offer you a condo to stay in next to where you’re volunteering, in addition to meal tickets to restaurants around town, and a festival badge which gets you access to all screenings with reserved seats (except the press and industry screenings) without having to purchase a ticket in advance, which includes a special volunteer line that reserves a certain number of seats just for volunteers alone. That’s an $8,000 value.
If you can’t do the full festival, even volunteering for the first half or second half gets you a badge with full access for the time you are there. If you’d rather not commit to a set schedule while you’re there, you can day-play as a volunteer to earn movie tickets! Every volunteer gets a sweet, convertible Kenneth Cole jacket and some other great swag.
Other Movie Ticket Options
Off-Peak Pass: For $450, as opposed to the $3,500 unlimited tickets, you can purchase a badge to see unlimited films that screen before 11 am and after 10 pm; with a dozen theaters to choose from, there are plenty of films showing during those times.
Box Office: Tickets are in the $25 range at the box office. If you just want to see a few films we recommend ordering online in advance for the two or three films that you want to see the most, and then filling that time with Slamdance movie tickets. Slamdance is a more indie, DIY film festival happening alongside Sundance. Individual tickets for features at Slamdance there are $14.
Having Faith: You will often see folks at the theaters within thirty to forty-five minutes prior to screenings, asking if anyone has any extra passes. These guys are pros, because they know that someone in the audience almost always has a friend who bails last minute, or that as an industry rep or sponsor they just happen to have an extra, unused ticket. I have also, on more than one occasion, been gifted tickets at Sundance-sponsored parties after striking up a conversation, and have also paid it forward myself.
Every brand and their mother wants a seat at Sundance, which is why Main Street is the place to go for free food. The Sundance TV HQ Lodge is not only open to the public, but this year they also played host to a full café (yep, free lattes) sponsored by Stoked Roasters Coffeehouse, and had free snacks and water bottles. The Legion M Movie Club not only had panels throughout the fest, but also free pizza, beer and energy drinks. The Chase Sapphire Lounge at the Cliff Hanger every year plays host to a number of cooking demonstrations in the early afternoon, which also feeds you at the end of the demonstration. Not to mention renegade giveaways such as the Impossible Burger at the Lyft Line spot, and Pizza Hut boxes being given away up and down Main Street for late-night munchies.
The sponsors change from year to year, although there are many with deep Sundance history, so pay attention and do research ahead of time. For more elaborate eats, get yourself into a party. This brings us to our final tip.
If you plan ahead you can get yourself on nearly every party list at Sundance. Hannah recommends doing a Google and Facebook search the October or November before the fest to see who the sponsors are, RSVP, and get yourself on as many lists as possible. For most of these, you don’t even need a badge as long as your name is on the list. One tool is to join the Film Fest Party List to gain access to this for $100 and split the cost with a group of friends and share the information with everyone. This will get you into parties that have open bars, dinners and brunches, concerts, awards, lounges, panels and more, even if you don’t have a badge.
If this isn’t the route you want to go down or don’t have a group to split with, you’ve still got options. Many parties at Sundance just keep their lists to ensure that they’re obeying with Utah’s strict liquor laws. If all the attendees' names are on a list, it’s considered a private party and therefore open bars and late hours are legal. For example, at Sundance 2018, Shabbat Lounge held a weekend of fun activities including a full Shabbat dinner with a Havdalah Concert on Saturday, for free, and if they weren’t at capacity, the price of admission was simply giving them your email address.
When in doubt, you can always wait in line for a party, try to add your name to the list, or act like your friends are inside. Sometimes this just works because they want to fill the space, and if it doesn’t, be willing to head to the next party – and, on that note, you’re more likely to have luck with this method at the unofficial Sundance parties. To find out about these parties all you have to do is Google, Facebook search and/or download the Sundance smartphone app.
Above all, be willing to go with an open mind. You can come with a loose plan and then end up throwing it all out because someone gifted you a ticket to a midnight premiere screening. Sundance truly has a festival vibe of community and presence. No matter where you end up and where you’re coming from, you’ll find yourself making connections with people based on a true love of film and culture. As Hannah says, “If you trust the process, you can go on a dollar and a dream and have a good time.”