The institute's chief product officer Tara Hein-Phillips told me that a small pilot version of the site first launched early in 2018, before beginning a "proper beta" in November of that year. And it spent a full year in beta testing — growing to 20,000 members — before Sundance took the label off earlier this month.
Hein-Phillips described Co//ab as an extension of the institute's existing artist's programs — leveraging the internet so that the programs can "have more impact." There are plenty of other filmmaking tutorials out there (I'm both tickled and tempted by the existence of this David Lynch MasterClass), but she said they tend to be "inspirational," whereas Co//ab is designed to be "more practical, more hands-on."
"We really wanted the sweet spot to focus around works in progress — to give artists a completely safe and trusted space with other artists to take that work to the next level," she said. "That’s its whole purpose in the world."
So Co//ab offers a general library of instructional videos, but also more in-depth courses and master classes. There's also an opportunity to participate in monthly challenges (the current one involves rewriting an unsatisfying final scene) and to share scripts and films for feedback from other members of the Sundance community.
Asked about whether that feedback ever gets too harsh, Hein-Phillips noted that there's a very "hands-on" community manager.
"We really do work to cultivate the spirit of generosity," she added. "In part, it’s a little bit in reaction too what we’ve seen in online community today. We’re really trying to allow artists to redefine what online community is ... We’re seeing that really happen. We get so little negative feedback toward other people."
Access to the video library is free, with pricing starting at $10 per month for a membership that includes members-only webinars and feedback on your work. There's an additional fee for the individual classes — but Hein-Phillips noted that Co//ab will be offering need-based scholarships to 20% of all participants.
"We’re clearly a not-for-profit," she said. "Our goal is not to make money with this. We'd like it to be self-sustaining, and if it did happen to make money, that would filter back to our artist’s programs."