Giles' and Marshall's pilot, "Playdates," is one of three that screened as part of a first-of-a-kind special event at Sundance, the Independent Pilot Showcase. They couldn't wait to see how their story of a stay-at-home dad dealing with the "elitist culture" of Silicon Valley played to a big audience.
"It's an exciting place to release it and get the ball rolling," said Marshall, who has written a memoir, "Home Is Burning," about caring for his disabled father. This is his first visit to Sundance as a presenter, although he went to festival screenings during his years growing up in Salt Lake City.
Andrew, a writer/producer who is originally from England and now lives in Los Angeles, said the original plan for "Playdates" was to pitch it to the "traditional marketplace." They were still working on the 24-minute pilot when they got wind of the Sundance pilot showcase.
"It definitely put a timeline on finishing it because we probably were not going to finish it," Andrew said with a chuckle.
He recalled the original conversation that led to "Playdates" and said he and Marshall kept pressing their friend for more details about his life as a parent.
" 'All I'm doing is going on these playdates and it's just a nightmare,' " Andrew recalls the friend saying. "We thought it was really funny, as well as painful."
Other pilots in the showcase included one about a teen and her dim-bulb boyfriend who plan to do away with their boring parents, and a drama about the murders of a high-school girl and her teacher.
Sundance senior programmer Charlie Reff said accepting independent pilots, episodic works aimed at TV or the Web, and virtual-reality work is part of the evolution of a festival that is about good storytelling, no matter the medium.
"Sundance has always liked the idea of constantly evolving our programming connected to what artists are doing," Reff said. And television is where a lot of visual artists are working.
Writing a story arc over a series of episodes can give writers more options than a film, Reff said.
"The interesting thing is that filmmakers are using the episodic format but the stories end up becoming longer," Reff said. "They're seeing it as a way to dive deeper into characters and into story situations."
Episodic work at Sundance isn't new — a six-hour miniseries, "Top of the Lake," which Reff identified as the festival's first real foray into the genre, screened at the festival in 2013 — but its presence is growing. The 2016 festival saw the premiere of the five-part series "O.J.: Made in America," which later aired on ESPN, and a web series, "The Skinny," a comedy about a young woman coping with bulimia, among others.
This year, in addition to the three independent pilots, there's a new Midnight Episodic Showcase with two works, "Pineapple" and "Snatchers" (which was shot in Salt Lake City), and a Short Form Episodic Showcase featuring "The Chances," "Gente-fied" and "Strangers."
And four episodes of a comedy series that will debut on ABC later this year, "Downward Dog," also premiered at Sundance 2017 — the first network TV sitcom ever to debut at the film festival.
Then there are several other series and docu-series premiering at Sundance already set to air on network and cable channels or streaming services.