On the occasion of the Sloan Summit 2011, the Museum of the Moving Image’s Sloan Science and Film team selected three Sloan Student Liaisons: Freddy Gaitan, Dan O’Neil and Morgan von Ancken. As recipients of Alfred P. Sloan grants, the liaisons will serve as the points of contact for Sloan grantees at the partner schools and also as contributors to the Sloan Science and Film website.
The Sloan Student Liaisons will keep the word going about the Sloan Film Programs at their school; will be in touch with past or prospective grantees; and, most importantly, will make monthly posts about the progress of their screenplays and productions. They will provide the Sloan Science and Film readers with behind-the-scenes perspectives on the writing, researching, and production of their science-related films. Here is Morgan von Ancken’s first entry: his impressions on the 2011 Sloan Summit!
I remember telling fellow Sloan grantee Joe Greco, as we tromped through the wind towards the first night of the summit, that I hoped they’d be serving food—I had only eaten breakfast that day, and fighting through what seemed like a localized hurricane was making me hungry.
When I finally arrived at the Yotel (a mix between the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange and the packaging of a Pokémon action figure) I was greeted with endless waves of delicious hors d’oeuvres and drinks, as well as a group of excited and slightly intoxicated writers and filmmakers. What followed was a pleasant hour or so, where we all earnestly conversed about our projects and where I covertly tried to stuff as much shrimp cocktail into my face as humanly possible. Next, we congregated in a back room where, after an eloquent introduction speech by Doron Weber, we all got up in front of the crowd and discussed our projects. This exercise, while fraught with a bit of high-school science-fair nervousness, turned out to be an immediate ice-breaker, and hearing everyone’s ideas was incredibly inspiring. Now all instant best friends, we continued to imbibe and talk; I left the Yotel about an hour later, in good spirits and completely full.
The next day began with a rousing talk by Ted Hope, which segued into another delicious lunch (a recurring theme, I realized). Then, after a few meetings—generously arranged by the Sloan Foundation—we adjourned to the nearby Director’s Guild Theater, where we ended the evening with a number of screenings and a panel. I found the short films we watched to be uniformly excellent—each one explored “science” in a distinct and imaginative way, from a mystery set across the period grime of 19th-century London to the terrifying tale of a suburban drone pilot. I also found the snippets of features we watched fascinating; as a feature-length screenwriter, it’s inspiring to see ambitious independent films actually in the can. Hearing from the filmmakers about what went on behind the camera piqued my interest even more.
On that note, the third day began with a screening of Jay Burke’s excellent film Whaling City, a dramatic narrative steeped in New Bedford’s fishing subculture. When we left the theater we were greeted by the first snowstorm of the season, a suitably surreal sight that is probably symptomatic of some sort of calamitous climate change (and which would probably make a good Sloan Script, now that I think about it). After paying homage to Gonzo and friends in a brief foray around the fascinating Museum of the Moving Image, we reconvened to hear excerpts from several feature-length screenplays. Again, these scripts displayed considerable imagination across a wide variety of genres, from Dan O’Neil’s wryly comic feature about a musician who is convinced he’s a black hole to the nuanced meltdown of the protagonist in Rob Cohen’s script Bystander. After that, things seemed to fly by rather quickly: They snapped a group photo (which, incidentally, I’d love to see, if anyone has it—I’m the tall bearded man lurking creepily in the background), convened another panel and, a few hours later, we found ourselves in the ritzy Above Allen, drinking, scarfing more hors d’oeuvres, and vowing to stay in touch via Facebook.
My final impression is that the Sloan Summit is a wonderful, vital gathering. The content of the panels and screenings was excellent, and the chance to meet like-minded filmmakers in such a welcoming, well-catered environment was incredible, really perhaps the best part of the weekend. In fact, I’m already looking forward to next year—I’ll be out of grad school by then, ostensibly a working writer… and I’ll need all the free food I can get.
Photographs by Marisa McGrody.