2020 New Frontier Story Lab FAQ

Is the New Frontier Story Lab open to anyone that wants to apply?

Yes, the application is open to anyone who wants to apply. In previous years, the New Frontier Story Lab was invitation only, but in 2016 we opened the lab to outside applicants.

What is the application process?

Public submissions for the 2020 New Frontier Story Lab open on August 8, 2019, and close October 1, 2019. Please check back for the link here on August 8. (Please note: We have a new application platform, and any bookmarked application links from past years will not allow you to submit! Please use the 2020 link that will go live here on August 8.) 

The application is a three-step process:

First, complete the electronic application: Sign in or create a new account to access the electronic application. Choose the New Frontier tab to access the Story Lab application. In the application form you will provide your contact info, brief bio(s), a synopsis of the project, and a short essay response about your artistic intentions. (Please note: The email address you provide when you create an account will be the only mode of communication we will use to contact you between submission and the final decision. We recommend you ensure that NewFrontierStoryLab@sundance.org is cleared in your spam filter!)

Second, upload additional materials: These materials should be included in a Story Design and User Experience Document (10-page max). This document should provide additional information (text or visual) about your timeline, storyworld architecture, user experience/user interface, visual material, or any other framework/asset that communicates your story design. You also have the option of including any additional assets not included elsewhere that are essential to the understanding/evaluation of your project (photos, videos, etc.).

Third, pay the $45 application fee.

Can I start an application and save it and come back to finish it later?

Yes. You will have a chance to save a work-in-progress version of your application before officially submitting.

Can I deliver my application in person, or via mail or email?

We accept all application materials electronically via the online application submission system only. Materials are disseminated to the selection committee electronically via the application system. Not only are projects not accepted in-person or via email, submitting via these methods would increase a project’s chances of loss or incorrect versions being considered in review. If you are having technical difficulty, contact us at NewFrontierStoryLab@sundance.org.

What happens after I submit my application?

The New Frontier Story Lab has three rounds of reviews. After each round, all applicants will be notified of their status, whether they are selected to move on to the next round or not. Here is the timeline for application review (subject to minor variations):

  • August 8, 2019: Application opens

  • October 1, 2019: Deadline for application submission

  • No later than November 20, 2019: Round two notifications

  • November 13, 2019: Deadline to submit additional materials for round two

  • No later than March 4, 2020: Round three notifications

  • March 2–12, 2020: Interviews with round three applicants

  • No later than April 1, 2020: Final status notifications

  • May 14–19, 2020: The New Frontier Story Lab is in session

Please note: Unfortunately, due to the amount of submissions, we cannot provide individual feedback.


  1. What stage of project development is most conducive to success in the lab environment? 

An eligible project is a story-centered work in progress with at least one component of its story design in advanced development. There should be enough concept and story for meaningful discussion, but the project should not be so advanced that there is no room for new ideas to impact the future shape of the project.

  1. What happens at the lab? 

New Frontier invites six story-centered projects to the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah for a five-day-long immersive Story Lab experience with a group of leading artists, designers, filmmakers, storytellers, technologists, and innovators in the field. After identifying the unique needs of each selected project, Sundance Institute sources leading creative advisors to provide individualized feedback and creates a customized agenda of activities to support the development of the projects. The lab will include the following elements, with an emphasis on storytelling:

  • Project presentations with full group feedback (from lab fellows and advisors)

  • Individualized story and story-design sessions

  • Conversations about key artistic, design, and technology issues that relate to the story

  • Presentations, demonstrations, and conversation about the evolving field of New Frontier: case studies from creative advisors; research on-field opportunities and challenges; best practices and lessons learned in concept, design, production, audience/co-creator engagement, and implementation

Please note that while technical elements are certainly discussed as part of the story design, the lab will not focus on active prototyping or technical production while on-site in May.  

  1. How many projects are selected? 

We invite a total of six story-centered projects to participate in the lab. Broadly defined, we accept three narratives and three documentary projects. We do consider hybrid narrative/documentary projects.

  1. How many collaborators from each project can attend the lab? 

A maximum of two members from each selected project may attend the lab.

  1. Do participants pay for travel and accommodation? 

Air travel, ground transportation, accommodations, and meals are all covered by Sundance Institute.

  1. What happens after the lab? 

Fellows who complete a lab with Sundance Institute become part of a community of storytellers that support independent artists in furthering their craft and bringing great projects into the world. 

In terms of fellows’ lab-supported project, after the lab, fellows will participate in a strategic planning consultation to outline a roadmap for successfully completing their projects. Then, fellows will have semi-annual check-in sessions with New Frontier staff and advisors. Additionally, fellows will be eligible to access the Sundance Institute Creative Distribution Initiative, which assists alumni with creative funding, distribution, and marketing. If appropriate, projects supported through the lab will be considered by New Frontier for the Sundance Film Festival as a way to platform the new work and provide a live component for expanding the boundaries of interactive experience.

  1. Certain components of my project are not ready yet. Does that hurt my application’s chances? 

We work with “in-progress” projects and do not expect finished elements. For multi-platform works, at least one component of its story design should be in advanced development.

  1. I don't have much experience. Does that affect my application’s chances? 

Applicants may be early-career or emerging artists, but they must have completed some previous work in one or more fields related to their project.

  1. I am an established artist. Am I too advanced in my career to apply? 

No. Unlike other Sundance Institute labs, the Story Lab accepts projects from artists or storytellers with advanced careers, as long as they are independent artists working to innovate the art and form of story.

  1. A particular application section doesn’t apply to my project. Does that mean my project is not aligned with the New Frontier Story Lab? What kind of project is aligned with the New Frontier Story Lab? 

Not all sections will apply to everyone due to the wide variety of story-centered projects considered. A project aligned with the New Frontier Story Lab tells or co-creates a fiction, nonfiction, or hybrid story (or stories); projects without a narrative or story (broadly defined) are not appropriate. Stories do not have to be linear and can evolve inside the storyworld or story experience of the project, rather than be predetermined. Projects must be a work of an artist or storymaker or a collective of artists or storymakers. Concepts for story-enabling tools, technology, or platforms meant to be a product or service for a community or consumer-base are not appropriate.  Projects should provide an entry point from one or more creative disciplines (i.e., film, gaming, theatre, music, visual arts, creative coding, biotech, connected objects, AI, robotics,  comics, literature, design, web/mobile arts, etc.). Projects should make a case for how they are innovating on the art and form of story by using new/emerging technologies and platforms to enable the creation of story. We are excited by a very wide range of projects!

  1. How many projects can I apply with? 

Because we want “front-burner” projects that applicants are enthusiastic about completing, you may submit up to two projects in separate applications.

  1. Can I reapply with the same project next year? 

You are eligible to apply more than once with a given project, provided there has been a significant development since the last submission.

  1. How long/short is too long/short for a project proposal? 

The application material should give the reviewers sufficient information to understand the project. However, overly detailed materials will not necessarily help communicate the value of your project. In fact, that approach may bog down the exciting and pertinent details of your project. 

  1. Would my submitted ideas be protected? 

Information submitted is only used for review purposes and will not be shared beyond the selected readers and selection-committee members, as well as for opportunities within Sundance Institute.

  1. Do you accept projects that have been submitted elsewhere? 

Yes. Submitted projects may have already been supported or currently be under review in other labs or programs, both with Sundance Institute and with other institutions.

  1. If I am selected, does Sundance Institute own my project? 

No. Sundance Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and does not have an ownership stake in any projects that are submitted to or selected for the lab, nor are we attached in any producorial capacity. However, in order to help sustain Sundance Institute’s commitment to supporting independent artists going forward, selected lab projects whose income exceeds $500,000 agree to give back 1 percent of receipts to Sundance Institute. If the fellow(s) sell the project to a third party, they also commit 1 percent of the sale price back to Sundance Institute. All lab fellows must own or have approval from the project owner to participate in the New Frontier Story Lab. This includes the rights to the story, and/or permission from the subject, if applicable. 

  1. What kind of grants/support/production help can Sundance Institute offer our project? 

The lab is a robust, week-long creative and supportive experience, followed by a continuum of support for alumni of the program. The lab is not directly attached to granting funds, nor is Sundance Institute attached in any producorial capacity. However, we do recommend fellows for granting and funding opportunities when appropriate.

  1. Can international artists or projects apply? 

Yes. International projects will be considered, but all project materials must be provided in English.

  1. Why haven’t I received my notification yet, but all my friends have! What’s wrong? When will I know if I’ve made it to the next round? 

Our notifications are made on a rolling basis. You will hear whether you have proceeded to the second round of the application process by approximately the end of November. Final lab decisions will be made by approximately April 1, 2020.

  1. Are fee waivers available? 

While we understand artists generally need to keep an eye on their budgets, we do not offer waivers, as the application fee is thoughtfully derived to help cover the high cost of thoroughly reviewing your application. There may be a very limited number of exceptions for those who can demonstrate unusual economic hardship. If you feel you have an appropriately unusual economic constraint, please contact NewFrontierStoryLab@sundance.org with further information.

  1. Is the program name New Frontiers (plural) or New Frontier (singular)? Singular ... New Frontier. :)

Still don't see your question answered here? Email NewFrontierStoryLab@sundance.org with further questions.