In this article, you will learn how to attend and see films for free at the Sundance Film Festival. I previously wrote about How to use Film / TV Critics Screeners, Critic Screenings Effectively. That such practices added value to a film critic and their website. Because of that, I later wrote 8 Steps on How to Get Movie Studio Film Critic Screening Invitations.
If you are unsuccessful in gaining admittance into advanced critic screenings, there are other avenues to seeing films before the general public. One is to attend comic conventions (example: Attend the New York Comic Con as A Member of The Press). Another is to attend film industry conventions (example: Attend CinemaCon: The Annual Film Industry Convention). A third option is to attend a film festival. One film festival of note is the Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Film Festival Egyptian Theater
What is the Sundance Film Festival?
The Sundance Film Festival, a program of the Sundance Institute, is an American film festival that takes place annually in Utah. With 46,731 attendees in 2012, it is one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States. Held in January in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, as well as at the Sundance Resort, the festival is a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. The festival comprises competitive sections for American and international dramatic and documentary films, both feature-length films and short films, and a group of out-of-competition sections, including NEXT, New Frontier, Spotlight, and Park City At Midnight.
The Road to Free-dom
Unlike the Telluride Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival offers something very special to the cinephile: the ability to see the films and attend the events the festival has to offer for free.
When I say free, you pay no admission or ticket cost. You walk in, sit down, and watch the film. The ability to do that, however, is not free. That has to be earned. You can earn that privilege by volunteering for the Sundance Film Festival. “Every year, more than 1,800 volunteers help create a global platform for independent film. Volunteers are needed to assist in all areas of the Sundance Film Festival–from theater entrances to shuttle stops.” In exchange, they give you free access to the films they are screening and premiering that year.
Luckily for all parties concerned, the Sundance Film Festival makes it easy to volunteer.
How To Volunteer for the Sundance Film Festival
First you decide “on the type and level of commitment you’d like to make: Full-Time or Sign-Up.”
The Sign-Up program offers flexible scheduling you choose, with one film voucher for every four hours worked. Full-Time Volunteers work every day on an assigned schedule, but can see an unlimited number of films while not on shift. Here are more details:
1. Sign-Up Volunteers, 24+ hours, you sign up for your schedule:
Commit to a minimum of 24 total hours during the Festival; sign up for more hours as you desire.
Sign up in advance for specific shift times of your choosing, as available. Shifts on weekends are in short supply, you will need to plan on about 3-4 days, at LEAST two of which are weekdays or a portion thereof, to meet the minimum requirement.
Complete online and attend pre-Festival trainings (including New Volunteer Orientation).
Receive, read, and respond to email, our primary mode of communication.
2. Full-Time Volunteers, 80+ hours, we assign a Full-Time schedule:
Commit to a preassigned Festival schedule of 8 to 10 hours each day (approximate total of 80-90 volunteer hours).
Be available to work the entire Festival period as determined by job assignment (varies).
Complete online and attend pre-Festival trainings. Receive, read, and respond to email, our primary mode of communication.
When the sign process begins: check the Sundance Film Festival in August for information about how to apply for the following year’s Sundance Film Festival.
What happens after you fill out and submit your application: “When we review your application, we’ll email you to set up a call and discuss possibilities. When a volunteer’s interests and the Festival’s needs fit, volunteers are offered a volunteer assignment with a Festival Department, usually by early December. All details are discussed on the phone and confirmed via email.”
Get Your Volunteer Schedule:
Sign-Up Volunteers come in person to select their shifts at a Sign-Up Night, or out-of-state volunteers have a Call-In Day in December.
Full-Time Volunteers will have their schedules set by the Volunteer Department and receive it via email one week prior to the Festival.
All volunteers come to check-in just before volunteering to get their Festival Credentials, uniforms, etc. Volunteers are also required to attend training, some of which is provided online.
Benefits are provided in conjunction with the number of hours volunteered, and for Full-Time Volunteers, the skills needed for the position held.
Festival Access: Volunteer Credentials allow access to non-theatre official Festival venues on a space-available basis (similar credential costs $200). We also offer a few screenings just for volunteers. Most of all, we want to be sure volunteers can see films. For almost every screening, we set aside a certain number of tickets only for volunteers. Film access depends on the number of hours volunteered:
24 hours: Receive one volunteer voucher for every four hours volunteered. Volunteer vouchers are redeemable for one film ticket for the volunteer through the volunteer or waitlist line on a space-available basis. Vouchers and credentials are nontransferable and must be used by the volunteer with her or his credential.
40 hours: Benefits above, plus two guest waitlist ticket vouchers. Another guest voucher can be earned at 60 hours.
80 hours/Full-Time: Vouchers are replaced by a Volunteer Photo Credential, allowing the volunteer access to unlimited Festival screenings through the volunteer line on a space available basis (when not volunteering, of course!); also four guest waitlist ticket vouchers, if local/providing own lodging.
Uniform: Jacket and Volunteer Credential.
Party: Ticket to the Staff and Volunteer Opening Night Party.
Refreshments: Bagels and other light snacks are provided at the offices, venues, and theatres where volunteers are working. However, meals are the volunteers’ responsibility to bring or eat prior to shifts.
100 Club: Volunteers giving 100 hours or more are members of our 100 Club, recognized on their credential along with a name listing at the Festival’s Awards Ceremony.
Airport Shuttle Service Discount: Available to Park City from SLC Airport.
Full-Time Volunteers (those with a schedule assigned to them by the Festival) also receive:
Photo Credential: Provides volunteer access to an unlimited number of panels and films on a space-available basis.
Locals: Full-Time Volunteers who provide their own lodging receive four guest waitlist ticket vouchers.
Limited Festival lodging may be provided for non-Park City residents who are alumni volunteers in need of lodging. Festival lodging is highly unlikely for first-year volunteers.
For a minority of Full-Time positions – typically those requiring management experience, very specific skills, or commitments longer than 13 days – a predetermined expense reimbursement will be provided. Specifically, Group leader, Specialist, Assistant Manager and Coordinator positions receive a set reimbursement at the end of the Festival. Managers receive a limited reimbursement at the end of the Festival, and a tiered structure of additional reimbursement to help cover travel costs.
For details, contact the volunteer department.
What You’ll Be Doing as a Volunteer
The majority of volunteer opportunities occur in various locations throughout Park City, Utah. Volunteers should plan to use the FREE Festival Shuttle System. Volunteers from Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas often volunteer in Park City. We welcome and need you but unfortunately cannot provide lodging! If you plan to drive to Park City, we recommend selecting volunteer positions at Eccles, Holiday, Headquarters, Prospector, or Redstone Theatre. You’ll need to park in a designated lot and take a shuttle to your assigned venue, and these five theatres are most conveniently located to shuttles from parking areas.
Outside of Park City, the Festival operates theatres in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and at Sundance Resort as extensions of the Festival. These positions are mainly sign-up positions, which do not include lodging for alumni or new volunteers. If you plan to volunteer outside of Park City, opportunities are only available in our Theatre and Ticketing Departments.
Festival Departments with Volunteers
There are so many ways volunteers can get involved at the Festival that we couldn’t even list all of them here! Read on to learn more about our many departments and opportunities.
Departments are listed in order of demand for new volunteers. In other words, we really need you in our theatres! More than 60 percent of all volunteers are needed in our Theatre Operations Department.
Theatre Operations Department
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions at theatres in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, or Sundance Resort
Be at the front lines of the Festival! The Theatre Operations Department operates each theatre, from ticket-taking to crowd control, as an organized and cohesive team. Ready for hundreds of people to come and rush you at the same time? Excellent with customer service and exceptionally reliable? Come be a key volunteer in the Theatre Operations Department, helping prepare the theatres and getting patrons in their seats to enjoy the films.
Theatre Operations: Theatre Box Office Volunteers
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions at box offices in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, or Sundance Resort
Be where all the action happens… and keep track of it too! As a Theatre Box Office Volunteer, you’ll distribute, collect, and account for all tickets at our theatres. These volunteers are responsible for distributing all waitlist numbers, selling waitlist tickets, handling cash, inputting admission information into the ticketing system, and reconciling all sales. Must enjoy multitasking in a fast-paced environment, computers, cash handling, and keeping people in line! If you like keeping busy, this is the spot for you.
Ticketing: Main Box Office, Pass & Package Office, Internal Ticketing, Info Booths, and Attendance
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions at various locations throughout Park City
Do you like wrangling the masses and taming die-hard Festivalgoers who have been waiting in line (sometimes overnight!) just to get day-of-show tickets? Are you a self-conceived expert on the Festival? Then a volunteer position within the Ticketing Department is for you! Whether you’re updating availability boards, assisting in filling ticket orders, or answering patrons’ questions about films and theatres, you’ll be an integral part of assisting Festival attendees to participate and navigate the Festival. Best of all, you’ll be able to schmooze with staff, volunteers, and other Festivalgoers to get the latest scoop on Festival films. Since most Ticketing positions require working with people, customer service skills and a good sense of humor are a must.
Ticketing: Credentials Volunteers
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at some box offices and Headquarters
Take pictures of future stars for their credential badges and handle the hordes with a smile as they all arrive to say “Cheese.” Computer skills and minimal photography skills a plus (this means you don’t cut off their heads in the photos). Locations as assigned in the Headquarters Ballroom, the Sales and Industry Office at Headquarters, and at the Pass/Package Sales Office near the Main Box Office at Gateway.
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at Festival stores throughout Park City
Interested in working in a lively and fast-paced environment and interacting with our Festival patrons? Are you a souvenir hound with shot glasses from every state you’ve ever visited? Join our merchandise stores! Cash handling experience is a must and a background in inventory, stocking, and/or building displays is a bonus. Most important? Be willing and able to help our customers.
Full-Time positions only mostly roving or based at warehouse
The Production Department is the behind-the-scenes team that works with all Festival departments to set up, maintain, and tear down the Festival. We are movers and shakers, buyers and makers, doers and fixers. If you are active and independent, don’t want to be stuck in one place behind a desk, and don’t mind hard physical work, then these are the jobs for you. The Production Team is looking for volunteers in the following areas:
Warehouse Runners – Assist the warehouse manager in receiving and distributing Festival materials and publications. This is a great way to see all the Festival venues. To be a part of this great team, you must be able to drive in snowy conditions and do fairly frequent heavy lifting.
Works Crew – This elite division of the Production Team is responsible for keeping Festival venues clear of snow and ice, maintaining outdoor heating, and working with Production in setup, maintenance, and teardown.
Full-Time positions roving throughout Park City
Do you want to see EVERYBODY that comes to the Festival? Are you a natural leader, the kind of person that likes to tell people where to go? Do you LOVE to meet people and talk film? This job might be for you. Do you want to work shorter shifts and see more films? Are you impervious to cold? Then this job is DEFINITELY for you. Our people are the face of the Festival to our patrons. Last year, we made more than 350,000 good impressions on filmmakers and patrons from all over the world by helping them find their way between films. Being a transportation volunteer is fun, rewarding, and cool.
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at Headquarters or floating to jobs and locations everywhere
Volunteer Department- Flex Volunteer – Do you like being on-call and ready for anything? Formerly called Volunteer Floater, the Volunteer Flex position will have you on a set schedule but without a set assignment. You will be checking in with the Volunteer Department at the beginning of your shift to get your assignment each day. Often, you will be filling in for volunteers who have called in sick or lending an extra hand to teams who have requested help. You MUST be willing to work in any volunteer position, inside or out. This is a great way to experience various sides of the Festival and get to meet a lot of new faces!
Volunteer Department: Hub Assistance – Volunteers at the hub will help with the day-to-day operations, which include maintaining the food table and drink stations, restocking sponsor giveaways, making sure the area is clean and presentable, answering general Festival questions, interacting with volunteers, and checking credentials at the door. You will act as the liaison between the Volunteer Department and the hub. Must be comfortable with talking to numerous people, friendly, and knowledgeable about the Festival.
Non-Theatre Venue Volunteers
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at specific Festival Venues in Park City
Help with setup and decor, assist with deliveries, check credentials, monitor crowd control, answer questions about the venue, help with recycling and trash, take daily counts of visitors, restock sponsor product, coat check, and help with tear-down at one of the Festival venues. Meet both famous and infamous people. Most of all, have a great time with Festival patrons, staff, and fellow volunteers. You will be assigned to only one of the following venues:
Music Café – Programmed by ASCAP, performances by emerging and established artists. Must LOVE music!
Filmmaker Lodge – A casual meeting space for filmmakers, industry, and press, and lively panel discussions daily. Featuring a café and lounge. Must LOVE filmmakers!
Sundance House Presented by HP – A hospitality venue presented by our Presenting Sponsors HP.
New Frontier – Showcases artist installations, live performances, thought-provoking panels, and a café. Volunteers may additionally serve as docents for New Frontier. Must LOVE art!
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at Headquarters, Holiday Cinemas, and roving
Are your role models Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams? Can’t get enough of the AP, BBC, or CNN? Do magazine subscriptions crowd your mailboxes? Come join the Festival Press team. In the Press Office at Festival Headquarters you may be involved in creating and maintaining a welcoming space in the press room; assisting with the accreditation process (saying “no” can be FUN!) and making information packs; logging and filing press coverage; and office duties such as routing phone calls, photocopying, and inputting data. At various theatres and venues, you may be wrangling camera crews and photographers (a bit like wrangling cats) or assisting journalists with seating, ticketing, and the like.
We are looking for people who are positive, energetic, and willing to get involved in a very busy, high-pressure environment. Did we mention busy? You need to have an extremely high level of accuracy in your written work, be able to work on your own initiative, and be excited about being busy.
Sign-Up and Full-Time positions based at Headquarters and lots of roving
Enjoy the films and atmosphere at the Sundance Film Festival? Want to see how the Sundance IT Department impacts those films and atmosphere? As an IT Volunteer you’ll be the hidden driving force behind all Festival employees as they crank through the 10 days of mayhem! You must have IT skills to competently set up PCs, troubleshoot simple problems, run network cable, and work under pressure. We prefer that you have or are currently working in the IT field.
As an IT Volunteer you will primarily be helping with the deployment, set up, and tear down of equipment used during the Festival. The time in-between set up and tear down will be spent helping provide support for our end users. We operate a tight, smooth running ship where everyone brings their “A” game to work. Think you got the skills? We’d be glad to have you working with us.
Full-Time and Sign-Up positions based at Headquarters and roving
Did you love CB radios when you were young? Do you like keeping track of people, places, and things? Do you like giving or distributing items? This department includes radios and accessories, cell phones, security, car rentals and sponsor vehicles, accident reports, parking passes, uniforms, staff and volunteer check-in, food boxes, and Festival pizza. Volunteers in Logistics may be helping to distribute items, equipment, and food; answer phones, troubleshoot cell phone and radio problems; retrieve and package equipment; and learn the behind-the-scenes workings of the Festival while having fun.
Full-Time positions only based at Silver Star Offices
Do you find yourself lying awake at night counting beans instead of sheep? Does your heart leap for joy when friends ask for your help in reconciling their checkbooks? Do you silently celebrate when you come across a 33-percent off sale that requires you to calculate the discount on your own? Can you proudly wear your Scarlet Accounting “A” as you represent our uncharacteristically fun, witty, and energetic Accounting Department? Then we want you to be amongst our few and proud! Volunteers in the Accounting Department collect, audit, reconcile, and prepare deposits for all merchandise and screening receipts during the Festival. Accounting Volunteers split their time between the Finance Office and theatre venues in Park City and Salt Lake City where they provide support to the Box Office staff. Accounting Volunteers must possess strong reconciliation skills, be willing to handle/transport cash, and be able to work and communicate effectively with multiple departments.
Full-Time positions only based at Headquarters and roving
The Filmmaker Office is responsible for a variety of invited Festival guests–first and foremost, the film directors. We also take care of various cast and crew; cinematographers, screenwriters, editors, and producers; as well as jurors and panelists. Contrary to popular belief, we do not take care of Paris Hilton.
Along with maintaining our cool at all times with smiles on our faces and eye rolls only in the back office, we are responsible for coordinating travel, tickets, and credentials for the above guests, gathering information for Festival publications, and wrangling guests once at the Festival.
Our volunteers at the Festival answer questions from bewildered filmmakers (knowledge of other languages is a helpful skill), fulfill ticket orders, assist on-site at first screenings, and say “yes” and “no” with equal kindness.
Full-Time positions only based at Headquarters
The Corporate Department provides support, client management, and benefit administration to all corporate supporters of the Sundance Film Festival, including Official Sponsors like HP, Sundance Channel, and Stella Artois®. The Corporate Festival Headquarters office serves as the hub for on-site ticketing for all corporate supporters and is the main source of information regarding the Festival event calendar. Corporate Festival staff serves as the direct link to all corporate supporters and are on-site to directly assist with branding and activation plans, client entertainment, and event management. As a Corporate Volunteer, you will provide superior customer service to all corporate supporters and their guests, assist with reserved seating roping in theatres, and provide support for on-site activations and events, as needed.
Additional Ways to Volunteer
Extra Fest Volunteer Opportunities
Pre- and post-Festival volunteer opportunities run throughout the year outside Festival dates. No advance commitment required. Once you are selected as a Festival Volunteer, just watch your email for these additional opportunities, sign up, and come. If you have committed to working at least 24 hours during the Festival, the Extra Fest hours volunteered count toward extra at-Festival benefits. Please note that most of these opportunities are based in our Park City office and are one day requests.
Year-Round Volunteer Opportunities
The Sundance Film Festival is one of the programs of the nonprofit Sundance Institute. The Institute needs volunteers for its operations and programs throughout the year, all of which support the development of independent storytelling in film and theatre. Opportunities are typically advertised to Alumni Volunteers via email, but we always welcome inquiries, which can be sent to [email protected]
Mary Elizabeth Winstead Sundance Film Festival
As you can see, as long as you are willing to give up some of your time and sweat equity (Sundance Volunteering, Sundance Volunteering Program Details), you could potentially see every film and attend every event the Sundance Film Festival has to offer in a calender year with no movie or event ticket cost. Remember though, you’ll most-likely be paying for your travel to Utah and your room and board. Consider that before starting the volunteer process.