Sundance Film Festival gives Central grad chance to shine
photo by Matthew Perino
The Sundance Film Festival has long been a place of discovery for young independent filmmakers. This year’s festival, taking place now through Jan. 29 in Park City, Utah, will propel unknown actors, directors, and writers, to levels of success only a fortunate few ever see.
For Central High School graduate Lindsay Stephen, Sundance 2017 looks to be one of those fairy tale moments we all dream of. As set decorator on “The Incredible Jessica James,” literally all eyes will be on Stephen’s work. The film starring former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams and “Bridesmaids” funny man Chris O’Dowd, has the extremely fortunate distinction of closing out the film festival.
“It is incredibly exciting to be a part of a film that is receiving so much praise,” Stephen said. “The entire film crew believed in director Jim Strouse’s vision and trusted him completely. It paid off with a really charming movie that I think people are going to enjoy.”
A set decorator is one of many unheralded but crucially important collaborators in the film-making process. Lost in shadows cast by Hollywood’s biggest stars are the behind-the-scenes workers pouring all their creative energy into a project to bring it life. These inventors and savant designers create the worlds that their infinitely more famous counterparts get to act in, and we get to escape to.
On “Jessica James” Stephen was in charge of set dressing the entire film’s sets. Dressing includes hand selecting all furnishings, drapery, lighting fixtures, artwork and many of the other objects featured in the final filmed image. Everything the audience sees on screen is ruthlessly criticized to the point of insanity. If the world people like Stephen help create is not perfect, then overall visual aesthetic of a film breaks down, ultimately dooming the project.
“The most challenging part (of set decoration) is to create a space that appears to have a history, a place that has been lived in. It is supposed to be a slice of the character’s life, and one of the most important parts of the entire art department is for (the sets) to be seamless. A set is supposed to feel natural and real.”
Stephen fell in love with film at an early age and showed an aptitude for filmmaking almost immediately. Like many young girls she would stay up late, watching the Oscars with her dad, spellbound by the magic of Hollywood. As kids, Stephen and her brothers would hijack the family camcorder and make short films during their family vacations. When her brothers lost interest, Stephen kept filming. She would convince her friends to star in her productions, and if they weren’t available, she’d do it herself.
Eventually, Stephen’s passion for filmmaking led her to Boulder, where she studied film production at the University of Colorado. Her senior project, a production called “Well,” was selected for the short program at the Cannes Film Festival. This led to creative opportunities with National Geographic, the BBC, and her first big break into feature film production. Working in the art department on Sofia Coppola’s movie “Bling Ring,” Stephen immediately fell in love with the work and knew that she had found her calling.
“To be in this industry it takes perseverance, dedication, trust in yourself and a whole lot of gumption,” Stephen said. “I have canceled trips, missed weddings and birthdays and probably haven’t slept more than five hours a night since I started, but every year I am working on more exciting projects in more pivotal roles, making all the sacrifices worth it.”
With the buzz surrounding “Jessica James” and Todd Haynes’ film adaptation of “Wonderstruck” — due out later this year and featuring Stephen as a set decorating assistant — this small-town girl who foolishly dared to pursue a life in showbiz is doing exceptionally well for herself.
Sundance is looking like an early career defining moment, the first of what will surely be many, for this young, driven talent.