Salt Lake Community College film student Sadie Lynn Ledbetter exudes bright, cheery confidence as she shakes your hand and looks you in the eye.
She has a right to be happy; the Sundance Film Festival is just a couple of days away, and Ledbetter is going to be in the thick of it.
Each year, the nonprofit organization Utah Film Center, in partnership with SLCC and a handful of other local schools, hires interns who work in close proximity with Sundance directors, producers, casts and crews over the course of the two-week festival.
“The goal of the Utah Film Center is that through the internship we are creating opportunities for Utah filmmakers to make connections to the international film community,” says Sarah Mohr, the artist support manager for Utah Film Center’s internship program. “We hope that the interns are able to gain experience that will benefit them in their future projects.”
According to David Lehleitner, an assistant professor of film production at SLCC, the Utah Film Center has a hand in a lot of award-winning documentaries and is very heavily involved in Sundance.
“All those [Sundance] films come with an entourage,” he says. “They’ll come in with 10 to 12 people that need some help while they’re in the middle of Utah. They’re in this foreign town, they probably don’t have a car. They don’t know how to drive in snow, even if they did get a rental car.”
That’s where the interns come in.
“Our students are sent there to do some driving work,” Lehleitner says. “The trade-off is they get to network with the cream of the crop filmmakers. They’re going to be meeting people who are really embedded in the industry in a kind of a private, intimate way in a 35-minute drive from the airport up to Park City. Students have gotten work out of that from SLCC. There have been students who’ve gone off to work in New York.”
Mohr says interns have a unique opportunity to interact with internationally renowned filmmakers or up-and-coming filmmakers as they navigate the premiere of their film.
“Sundance Film Festival is one of the most influential film festivals in the United States and it is right in our backyard,” she says.
Ledbetter, who has been an intern for the Utah Film Center for four years, agrees that the internship has intrinsic value.
“You can sit in the classroom and learn so much about what the industry is going to be like, but until you’re there and you see it and you’re talking to the people that live it — you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says.
Ledbetter didn’t always know she would be involved with film.
“I was in the advanced pre-nursing program at the University of Utah,” she says. “But I quickly realized that nurse-midwifery is not the same as midwifery. They’re very different.”
It was Ledbetter’s time outside the nursing program where she found her calling.
“When I took my art class for the nursing program, I took film history before the 1950s, then I took film history post-1950s and then I took film in color theory,” she says. “And then I couldn’t lie to anybody anymore about how many art credits you need to be a nurse.”
Upon changing her major, Ledbetter “wanted to know all of the resources available” and that’s when she came upon the Utah Film Center’s internship.
“It’s a lot of finding parking,” she says. “You gotta know all the public bathrooms. It’s very much hurry up and wait.”
Ledbetter says things get exciting closer to a film’s big day.
“The best day is always the day of the premiere because everyone is really excited the first time they’re gonna see their movie on the big screen,” she says. “These guys have probably seen the movie before, but you get to see everyone else watch your movie.”
Another exciting moment for interns to witness is when a film is purchased by a studio.
“The second year that I did this, the directors actually took everyone to dinner to announce that the movie was gonna be bought, so we all had a big celebratory dinner paid for by them. It was a fun moment,” Ledbetter says.
During her time in the internship and in the film program, Ledbetter has seen growth in her career.
“[My] professor always says in class that in order to get into the industry you have to be a production assistant for two years. Two years is the benchmark,” she says. “I’ve passed that benchmark. I’ve been on a lot of sets now, I’ve worked my way up to working where I want to be — in narrative and feature length.”
Ledbetter is especially excited for the Sundance premiere of the film “Nine Days,” directed by Edson Oda. The film was shot in Utah and Ledbetter worked as a production assistant.
For future film students who are interested in participating in the internship, Ledbetter has words of wisdom.
“Everything that can go wrong will go wrong,” she says. “You gotta roll with the punches and, the thing is, everything is subject to change and usually does at the drop of the hat. You have to roll with that. If you can’t do that, you’re going to have a hard time.”
Mohr echoes Ledbetter’s assessment.
“This experience can benefit anyone interested in film or other media, or anyone who enjoys a chaotic, intense, and fun environment,” she says. “Those who thrive in this position are organized, professional and great problem solvers. As with most things in life, you will get out of it what you put into it.”