The insanity and the drama surrounding a film festival is certainly ripe for a great story. And it was only a matter of time before someone would take advantage of Park City as the backdrop for a festival tale. Writer, director Glen Trotiner’s “Overnight Sensation” focuses on one young filmmaker’s journey as he seeks success at the Sundance Film Festival. Matthew Wells (Sean Dugan) just quit his job as a production assistant on a big Hollywood production. It seems Matthew is just not particularly talented at delivering lunch to arrogant producers. Matthew has what he thinks is a hot script and within moments of arriving at Sundance he bumps into an old college buddy Rick Foster (Seth William Meier). Rick agrees to introduce Matthew to some of his industry contacts with the understanding that Rick will be attached as producer to the script. Done deal? Or deal with the devil? Rick hands Matthew’s script to agent Abe Pollard played by Mark Goddard (yeah, that Mark Goddard, y’know, Don from TV’s “Lost In Space”). Abe loves the script and agrees to rep Matthew and Rick. As a clever marketing tool at Sundance, Matthew cuts the entire script into puzzle pieces and the pieces are then sent to potential buyers who must solve a puzzle. On the back of each piece they write: ^ [“Here is one piece of a hot script with a mystery that is solved by a one-word solution. First to guess the word gets the first copy and first crack at the project.”]
Within days Matthew’s script gets a lot of heat, even though no one has read it. Mark Connor is one of those full-of-himself industry giants that packages indie films and he wants the script before anyone else at any cost. In the meantime, Matthew reconnects with an old flame Jamie (Jane DeNoble) who is now a television reporter. She aims to help Matthew after they repair their relationship. Rick plots to get the script sold and produced by making a deal with Connor, but Matthew is not so sure. Matt is concerned that the script get made by the right people and the rest of the film ends up as a simple morality tale.
I really liked this film a lot – the characters are likable and the situations felt real. “Overnight Sensation” is earnest and a little too sugar sweet at times, however, it is very authentic when it comes to the real-life happenings at a film festival. Everything about the Park City experience during Sundance is covered, from the parties, to the publicists, to the agents enthusiasm, to the constant talk about the latest “hot” film, to the Q&As, to the incessant flyers. One such subplot that rang true was the race for “Best Narrative Feature” at Sundance. A young filmmaker becomes more arrogant as he asks for more and more money for his first film. I’ve met this guy more than a few times. Clearly the filmmakers took advantage of the recent 2000 Sundance Film Festival for use as a backdrop to the story which made it all the more realistic. While the film has its share of flaws (the drama at the climax is forced and the acting uneven at times) the success is in the details. For anyone that has never been to Sundance or a major festival – this movie tells it like it is. And setting the film around one filmmaker’s moral decision is a smart choice as every filmmaker faces similar decisions at some moment in their career. This is a valiant effort to recreate one film festival story as a feature and I’m sure “Overnight Sensation” will not be the last.