Welcome to the Sloan Film Summit.
The 2014 Sloan Film Summit marks a watershed moment not just for the Sloan Foundation’s pioneering science and technology Film Program, which has produced over a dozen theatrically released feature films since the last Summit in 2011, but for science-themed films in general, which have begun their move into the cinematic mainstream.
Three of 2014’s major Oscar-winning films—Gravity, Her and Dallas Buyers Club –and at least two early contenders for the 2015 Oscars—The Theory of Everything about Stephen Hawking and The Imitation Game about Alan Turing—exemplify the kind of work long championed by Sloan. In fact, The Imitation Game has already received two Sloan awards: a Sloan post-production grant via the Tribeca Film Institute and a Sloan Feature Film Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
In television too, where Sloan began its efforts to engage with the industry over 15 years ago, there has been a sea change, beginning with network hits such as the CSI franchise and Numbers and moving to serial dramas such as Breaking Bad, Masters of Sex and The Knick, to popular comedies such as The Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley. Film students can now submit television scripts for Sloan awards and the Foundation has supported many writers—from its theater as well as its film program—who now work in television. The concept that animated Sloan’s original challenge to artists—that science and technology offer an untapped goldmine, great untold stories and wonderful characters—no longer seems as far-fetched or as “alien” as it once did.
But we still have a long way to go.
The 2014 Sloan Film Summit brings to Los Angeles the exciting new work of over 100 emerging screenwriters and filmmakers from six film schools, three film festivals and four screenwriting development programs funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Summit also convenes leaders from these organizations and includes our partners in film distribution, in curation and community building, in science mentorship and in our nationwide theater program.
Each year over 25 of the best film students at the nation’s leading film schools receive screenwriting prizes and production grants ranging from $5,00-$30,000 for incorporating science and technology into their films. More recently, a new $50,000 Student Grand Jury Prize was established and is awarded to the single best student script with the goal of shepherding it to production. There is an animation prize at USC, a tuition scholarship for a scientist turned filmmaker at AFI and a $100,000 award at NYU for a post-graduate feature film. Carnegie Mellon, Columbia and UCLA film schools also receive special awards.
The Foundation also recognizes completed feature films with festival prizes that have gone to such renowned directors as Darren Aronofsky, Werner Herzog, Michael Apted, Andrew Bujalski, Bill Condon, Alejandro Amenabar and Julian Schnabel, as well as to exciting newcomers like Morten Tyldum, Mike Cahill, Jenny Deller, Musa Syeed, Diane Bell, Jake Schreier, Alex Rivera, and Lisa Robinson and Annie Howell.
As the Sloan Film Program has matured, it increasingly focuses on developing and distributing feature-length screenplays that can be produced and released theatrically. Sloan’s four major development partners–Hamptons, Sundance, Tribeca, Film Independent — plus select collaborators act as a “farm system” so that one script may receive support from several partners at different stages of development. Over a dozen feature films developed by the Foundation for theatrical release have been beneficiaries of this pioneering, collaborative approach.
After completion, the Foundation works with the Coolidge Corner Theater’s Science on Screen program to provide Sloan-funded films a distribution channel into theaters across the country. A new $50,000 Sloan Distribution Grant via Film Independent will support finished films entering the distribution phase or in the final stages of post-production.
The goal of the Sloan Film Prizes is to encourage the next generation of filmmakers to portray science and technology themes with originality and insight and to depict scientists, engineers and mathematicians in a more realistic and entertaining fashion. The program is founded on the premise that science and technology, fundamental to the modern world and our progress as a species, are quintessentially human activities that offer filmmakers untapped opportunities—great stories, powerful ideas, and wonderful characters that have been largely unexplored.
Anyone who flips through these pages will see a surprising range of approaches and genres, from drama, action, thrillers, exposes and biopics to comedy, satire, musicals, science fiction, adventure, allegory and historical epics. Several of these films have recently been shot and are about to be released including 2030, Basmati Blues, Experimenter and The Man Who Knew Infinity. The Imitation Game opens next week. Sloan Studios, a nonprofit independent home for attracting the finest new filmmakers and developing great science-themed films, is alive and thriving, with an unmatched track record for backing winners!
This publication of award-winning works is, above all, about talented, aspiring young filmmakers who have let their imaginations roam into uncharted terrain. They have sought to dramatize elusive or difficult narratives with often opaque, mystifying characters – or to take familiar stories with people we thought we knew – and to show us why this matters to our lives, why it’s different or more frightening or more beautiful than we thought. In doing this, they have tried to do what artists of all times and ages have done: to push a little further against the darkness and to increase our knowledge of who we are, where we came from , and where we are headed.
Vice President, Programs, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
On behalf of Film Independent, welcome to the 2014 Sloan Film Summit. For the last eight years, it has been our privilege to work with the Sloan Foundation, supporting filmmakers who tell stories dealing with science and technology (or, as we say on the phone to inquiring filmmakers, “we’re looking for science, not sci fi!”). We’ve awarded Sloan grants tied to our Producing Lab and Fast Track financing market, and as of this year we’re excited to be awarding a new Sloan Distribution Grant as well.
Over those eight years, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the Sloan community. It’s truly a unique group – comprised not only of filmmakers from all over the country, but also a select group of film schools and other film organizations that work with those filmmakers, helping to nurture their scripts and films. Though this community is geographically far-flung, it is bound together by a clearly defined mission: to make films that tackle science and technology themes and characters, to increase visibility for feature films that depict this subject matter, and to develop scripts about science and technology that can be produced and released theatrically.
It has been such a pleasure getting to know Sloan filmmakers and seeing their work develop – moving from film school to development lab to festival and into theatrical release. Sometimes the journey is quick, sometimes it takes years, but throughout it all the commitment of the Sloan Foundation is unwavering.
Over the two and a half days of this Summit I hope that you will immerse yourself in everything that it has to offer. Get to know your fellow ‘Sloanies’, see their work and share your own, and learn what the other schools and organizations are up to. More than anything, this is a time to celebrate the great work being done by the Sloan Foundation and all the filmmakers it has nurtured. Enjoy!
President, Film Independent