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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

From NYC to Sundance: Madeleine Olnek, 'Hold-Up'

[This article is part of an ongoing series profiling New York films and filmmakers at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for other features in the series.]
You might call it luck: A rookie filmmaker gets her seven-minute short accepted to Sundance on her first try. Or you could say she earned it, just through summoning the will to tackle the arduous application process alone.
“I’m not good with any device with buttons,” said Madeleine Olnek, a way-Off Broadway playwright, director and Columbia film student whose comedy Hold-Up nabbed a slot among this year’s festival shorts. “Sundance had an online application, and it actually took me a long time. I swear I typed an essay that disappeared. It retained all this other information, but when I went back to work on the essay, like Brigadoon, it was all gone.”
In the end, her facility with a camera–not to mention that harsh mistress comedy–was all Olnek really needed. Hold-Up won the Short Film Audience Award at New York’s New Festival for its tale of a woman who persuades her fiance to join her in convenience store robbery. Of course, as with all successful short films, nothing is ever that simple, and friends like indie producer George LaVoo (Real Women Have Curves) found the twists suitably hilarious enough to encourage Olnek to send it around.
“That was the first I thought of it,” she told The Reeler. “I mean, honestly, when you’re making anything–plays, movies–you should send them out. Even to the best places, however slight your chances are. You just have to put things in the mail.”
Besides shopping for warmer socks and checking the Sundance alumni tip sheet for other useful suggestions (EX: Allow for a period of altitude sickness by arriving a day early), Olnek said she was preparing for Sundance mostly by maintaining a sense of perspective. “It’s different for the feature filmmakers than it is for the shorts, even though the shorts people feel a lot of pressure because they think it’s their big chance,” she said. “But you know what’s hard? I think because so often when you’re involved in a creative field, you’re outside the normal 9-to-5 thing. There’s less of a sort of structure for a filmmaker’s career. So when these successful moments come along, you can really be destablized by them. And put a lot of pressure on them and think that this is it. ‘This is my chance.’ You know? You have to take advantage of the opoortuntity but at the same time, not decide it’s going to be the last thing that ever happens to you.”
As such, Olnek plans to take advantage of the standard mix of networking, panels and screenings without running herself too ragged, but instead savoring the opportunity. “All anyone wants is to get into Sundance,” she said. “Any filmmaker. It’s a kind of encouragement that you just really need to keep going–how inspiring it is to be chosen for an honor like this, you know? It really means a lot.”

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The Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
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