I met Nick through my writing group friends, and we met in person at the Austin Film Fest. I was really happy for him when he got accepted into the Sundance Episodic Story Lab, and I finally got around to interviewing him about it. Follow him on Twitter at @ndotkeetch.
A belated congrats on getting accepted into the inaugural Sundance Episodic Story Lab! What was it like? How was the program structured?
Thanks. The program was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We spent six days in Robert Redford’s absurd mountain paradise in Utah, I met and worked with some of the best writers and producers in Hollywood and I got a rad poncho, because it rained a lot and, having lived in LA for five years, was ill equipped for extreme weather. I also made some awesome friends in the other lab participants, showrunners, producing mentors and incredible Sundance program staff.
The program was broken down into two sections — the first few days were spent working with the showrunners on the pilot script that got me into the lab. The process varied for each of the lab participants. Some people were closer to a finished product than others. For me it meant an eventual page one rewrite (which was done after the program finished). I was partnered with Chic Eglee, Michelle Ashford and Warren Leight, all of whom gave me excellent, clear, and most importantly, consistent notes on how to improve the script. While it sounds a little demoralizing to win the writing lottery and get into the program, only to find out that there’s very serious work that needs to be done on your script, I think the process I went through at the lab, led to me writing a better script and made me a better writer.
After the first three days, the showrunners left the resort and the producers arrived. We worked with them on pitching, taking meetings and working with the executive side of the business.
What was the day to day? Did you each have individual mentors or were there group sessions? Did you get notes on a specific script? Did you have to pitch new things? How much interaction was there between you and the other writers?
Every day began at 8am. We had breakfast with the Sundance crew and whichever showrunners or producers decided to join us. It was a very casual, comfortable environment, where we were encouraged to treat everyone like our peers.
We worked individually with different showrunners on our scripts and had group sessions which varied from roundtable discussions of the practicalities of the industry to in-depth analysis of specific pilots. I was partnered with Chic Eglee, Warren Leight and Michelle Ashford, who are all lovely and incredible smart. They all brought very different backgrounds and experience to the ways they approached developing my pilot, and they have continued to help me in in numerous ways.
We had to pitch to both the showrunners and the producers. My pilot had been broken down and beaten to death by the time pitching came around, so the first attempt was pretty terrible. I stopped in the middle and said, “fuck it,” which is apparently not a successful way to sell a concept. The showrunners gave me some notes, I took the basic premise that I knew was strong, paired everything down, and am told I killed the producers pitch. Pitching was the most difficult stage of the program for me, but I also learned more from failing than would have if things had gone well the first time around. So, you know, that thing the Michael Caine says to Bruce Wayne about bats attacking you or something.
The interaction with the showrunners and the producers was pretty much constant. Sundance want you to develop a relationship with these people. It’s awkward for everyone at first, but we settled in pretty quickly. (more…)