Think Helps Sundance Pull Off Its First Virtual Event

Sundance Film Festival

Not even Covid-19 could stand in the way of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. And a tiny team from Think made sure of that.

The team, led by Erica McQuiston, Think’s Director of Management Consulting, was brought in by Sundance officials several weeks before the Festival’s kickoff to manage user acceptance testing and stress test the organization’s newly built website.

That is because this year, for the first time in its history, the Sundance Film Festival took place online and in-person in 20 cities across the country through its Satellite Screen partnerships.

Audiences watched the online program of 73 features and 50 short films, four Indie Series, 23 talks and events. They also participated in the New Frontier exhibition, which included 14 projects, while others attended the Satellite Screens across the country. Individual rights-holders set online seat limits for feature films, and the film and series programs were geo-blocked to the US.

The Festival was a success, generating an audience 2.7 times larger than in the past, with a reported 600,000 audience views from around the world.

“This was historically ambitious,” McQuiston said. “Nobody could have pulled it off like Sundance did. The Sundance team is amazingly talented, taking a successful live event and reconstructing it into a pandemic proof online experience without losing the sense of community.”

Sundance is more than merely screening films. The Festival is where art meets audiences for the first time and the conversations that come from that exchange are not just important to the audiences but equally to the artists. That is why Sundance designed every feature film premiere to have a live Q&A to follow the film enabling artists to interact with the audience; this happened seamlessly.

When McQuiston and Think began working with Sundance on January 11, just 16 days before the start of the Festival, she found a Sundance team that was sprinting to opening day. The platform had to be ready for hundreds of thousands of viewers, and after working non-stop building the site from scratch, Sundance needed a team of highly skilled resources to seamlessly integrate with their team to reach their goal.

Think is not your typical management consulting firm. It consists of highly skilled professionals with years of experience strategizing and creating solutions for challenging issues. Think’s ability to assimilate into an existing team is unique in consulting and makes for successful campaigns.

The team was initially just two Think executives, McQuiston and Business Analyst Martin Zak. It eventually grew to a team of six Think experts. Katrina Kastendieck managed communications for the 200-person customer support team responsible for responding to inquiries throughout the event; Renee Lawrence helped manage the technical operations during the Festival; Ali Marcellino and Scott Klinger assisted vendors with the Festival Village events.

From the day McQuiston and Zak started, it was a race to the finish line.

The team’s mission was to probe for major bugs as users navigated the website, work them out and then look for ways to break the site. McQuiston and Zak homed in on every detail. Could users log on without problems? Could they create an account, sign up for films they wanted to watch, participate in Q&As, enter chat rooms, or slip into movies they were not authorized to watch?

“We let people loose on the site so we could find out what is wrong,” she said. “This was our last chance to make sure we could fix any bugs before the festival began.”

McQuiston managed the work and recruited a team that logged 16-hour days from January 11 to January 27, including weekends. The teams held two check-in meetings each day to accommodate East and West coast times. The invite went out to about 50 people.

Think was scheduled to wrap up work on January 27, the day before the Festival started, but the team was so essential to the success of delivering a seamless experience the Sundance asked them to stay on.

There was another assignment for the Think team, managing all the data Sundance accumulated.  Compiling how many tickets sold, who attended, attendees’ locations, how many people viewed each film, and who participated in live Q&As, are just some of the data points the team analyzed to wrap up the event.

By the time it was over, Think had spent an entire month with Sundance. The biggest thing that Sundance learned was that they could put on a global even virtually, and people still felt like they were connected even when they could not attend in person.

“The event was a wild success,” McQuiston said, “and it was great that Think could play a part in it.”

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