min read

Searching Out the Story at Sundance

Michael Horvitz, Magnet’s director of marketing, strategy, & development, shares his Sundance experience and storytelling takeaways.

What Angeleno doesn’t have fantasies about escaping to a quiet cabin in the woods? Settling in among the snowfall. Moseying into town to have a warm dinner at a ma-and-pa café. Living the Twin Peaks lifestyle minus the noirish plotline.

Sundance in Park City is not a quiet time in the mountains, by any stretch of the surreal imagination. But it does offer a Lynchian cast and dizzying opportunities to lose yourself in the storytelling.

After arriving on Wednesday night and I headed out with other festival goers and friends to the Lodges at Deer Valley for an intimate, welcoming cocktail party.


Running alongside the film festival in Park City, the Brand Storytelling conference offers insights into the craft of filmmaking for businesses. There, I saw GoDaddy’s Adam Palmer share the brand’s captivating new film Big Water Summer: A Creation Story. It follows GoDaddy customer Cherilyn Yazzie, a Navajo Nation entrepreneur, in her quest to grow nutritious crops for the local reservation. 

Palmer and I discussed how impactful storytelling is in conveying a brand's essence, how it’s less about sales metrics and more about changing sentiment and elevating the brand’s persona. He said something really insightful, “My ROI is tears. If we make a real human connection while watching the film then we did our job.”

Walking Park City’s Main Street, I ducked into several events at Adobe, Variety, and Macro’s outposts. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting fireside with Edith Englard from YouTube Shorts and Stacy Martinet from Adobe. We discussed how creators can utilize Adobe editing software for YouTube Shorts. Adobe has clearly democratized and elevated its products for creators.  

Later that night I attended an event at the St. Regis. Unfortunately, it was in a truly tuckered state that I got my first taste of driving up a mountain in a snowstorm. Thanks to the Wrangler I’d rented at the airport, which did the hard work while I white-knuckled the steering wheel, the truck skidding, this Angeleno accustomed to 30 mph on the 405  made his way back to the cabin atop Marsac Avenue. Jeep, you’re welcome to this customer story.

Egyptian Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival


Back at the Brand Storytelling conference, I learned about the impressive metrics study Brand Storytelling plans to run with Stephen Marshall Ph.D. The most valuable real estate in content marketing is the three feet between a CMO and a CFO, and this endeavor will quantify the ROI of branded content.  

Alongside brand storytelling, distribution is a key concern of marketers in 2023, and the conference amply addressed this. TV audiences are shrinking, and thirty-second spots are great for reach but don't always deliver on engagement. That said, ROI and data are essential; publishers that offer the most transparency and efficiencies here will win out when it comes to distribution platforms.

On the platform topic, I caught up with Chris Bruss and Brian Toombs of Roku Brand Studio, which is offering a tangible solution for brands to get on a streaming service. Their product goes beyond spots and dots but offers an entry point for brands to develop content for the platform. I’ve been really impressed with the "Lesbian Bar Project" from Jagermeister that streams on Roku.

That night I had a quiet dinner with friends at Twister Fern and a higher-visibility drive back to my bed.   

Michael Horvitz, Megan Cunningham, and Lee Jacobs of Magnet Media at XRM Media's party.


Entering the weekend, I saw and loved Generation Impact: The Scientist, part of a series by HP. Later I had the chance to catch up with one of the creators, Angela Matusik, formerly of HP and now the founder of A.M. Stories. She reiterated the soft metric of storytelling. “HP’s C-suite recognizes the value of brand storytelling as a long-term investment in its reputation and securing the brand’s place in the hearts and minds of customers.” 

That night I joined Magnet colleagues Megan Cunningham and Lee Jacobs to attend a few parties, including XRM Media, Color of Change, and thanks to our good friend Amy Tunick of NCM,  we were treated to a private concert by Gavin DeGraw.

The Chase Sapphire Lounge on Main Street, Park City.


Sunday began with a lovely brunch with close friends including Katie Purchase from WSJ and Kayla Kaipolani Carroll from Picture Motion. Then I was able to catch up on work at the sprightly Chase Sapphire Lounge, which featured refreshing drinks and a live watercolor artist–just what you need to multitask.

Since it was 10 degrees outside–literally, not adjusting for my SoCal hardiness–the Magnet team went for pad Thai and panang curry then to see the world premiere of Rada Studio’s Going to Mars: the Nikki Giovanni Project. The film was fantastic and timeless, and I predict it will be an Oscar nominee next year. 

Cosm's LED display


My last day in Park City and I’m feeling like a local. Today Magnet rounded up our friends to visit the Cosm Experience Center in Salt Lake City. With snacks in tow, we made the short trek in what felt like a ski bus for the creative kids. 

Cosm has pioneered a transformative, immersive experience featuring a screen over 60 feet high that will forever change movie and museum-going. With their patented ​​half-dome LED display and the highest resolution available, it’s a groundbreaking tool in the future of storytelling that I can’t wait to see employed globally. 

After a quiet lunch in Salt Lake City, I refueled our "Employee of the Month" Jeep Wrangler, and dropped it off (there may have been tears), before hopping on the quick flight back to Los Angeles and lovely 68-degree weather. 

Despite challenges at the box office for independent films, Sundance remains as relevant as ever.  It offers brands and streamers a flourishing marketplace for next-generation artists and filmmakers. And while the movie medium will forever be in a state of flux, nothing will replace the impact of good storytelling.

Magnet is a global brand studio that uses data and storytelling to drive measurable business results. Our team is made up of strategists and creatives who use our THINK / MAKE / REACH process to develop marketing strategies, world-class creative production, and distribution strategies for our clients. Our work starts with data and insights to develop storytelling that’s distributed across all platforms. Our clients are currently appearing in the top media outlets, being shared by influential community members, and rising to the top of the search rankings. Recently we've produced award-winning campaigns for Google, Adobe, Chase, Microsoft, LinkedIn, CHIEF, Greenhouse, Cedar, YouTube, PBS, HarperCollins, Goldman Sachs, Airbnb, IBM, and more.

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