Sundance Behind the Scenes: Meet Ellie Burrows


As the Sundance Film Festival revs up this week, the usual hype about the hottest new actors and filmmakers is hard to avoid. Less often, though, do film fans hear about someone like Ellie Burrows—even though she and her firm, Cinetic Media, have been integral in getting no fewer than ten films to this year’s Sundance screen. Burrows spends her days discovering films and developing new distribution strategies for them. Burrows is a tracker; her job is to woo filmmakers and aid in their development. Sometimes this means “tipping” programmers at film festivals to certain films that she has seen and liked.

In the world of selling films, Cinetic founders John Sloss and Bart Walker are authorities; Sloss is fond of stating that they must always be Switzerland, as neutrality is imperative when working with entities that have competing interests, so that Cinetic is able to find the best venue and home for a film as market paradigms continuously shift.  
Burrows grew up in Los Angeles to a family well entrenched in the entertainment business: her grandfather was legendary playwright Abe Burrows and her father is famed television director James Burrows (who created and directed Cheers and directed all of Will & Grace). From them, she says, she learned that “when you love what you do there is always effortlessness in it.” Yet despite her connections, Burrows began her career as most in the entertainment business do—as a lowly assistant, first at William Morris, then at This is That Corporation, where she was ultimately promoted to creative executive.

Eventually, a year away working under the tutelage of a Shaman, whom she credits with teaching her the importance of living in a state of total awareness, provided a fresh start. Burrows developed sensitivity to filmmakers’ needs, an ability to soothe artists’ insecurities, and a knack for immediately recognizing talent. This year, Burrows scouted two of the films Cinetic will be taking to Sundance, including Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which will be an event piece at the festival.