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Kyle Mooney was wearing a tuxedo when he got the word that "Brigsby Bear," the movie he co-wrote and starred in and spent the summer filming in Salt Lake City had been selected for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Mooney, a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," was at a gala for the Natural History Museum in New York when the movie's director, Dave McCary, heard a voicemail from Sundance programmers.
"Dave texted me with just an audio clip [of the voicemail], and I had no idea what it meant or what it was, because I was listening to the mayor speak or something," Mooney said this week. "I texted back, 'What is this?' Then he texted, 'Oh, we got into Sundance!'"
"Brigsby Bear," slated for Sundance's U.S. Dramatic competition, is a comedy that stars Mooney as James, a young man whose favorite children's TV show goes off the air. Soon he learns that he's the only person who has ever seen it, and a journey of self-discovery begins.
"It's going to play really big, because it is funny," said Trevor Groth, the Sundance Film Festival's programming director. "What really caught me off guard was how sweet it is. It's really charming, and has such a unique story."
"Brigsby Bear" isn't the only movie coming to Sundance announced Wednesday that has a Utah connection. The drama "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train," playing in the Next program, was filmed in Utah. Another Next title, "Person to Person," was made in New York by Utah-raised writer-director Dustin Guy Defa.
Mooney had the seed for the "Brigsby Bear" script and developed it with his friend (and co-screenwriter), Kevin Costello. When Mooney joined "Saturday Night Live" in 2013, he moved to New York while Costello stayed in Los Angeles, continuing work on the script. At the same time, Mooney had worked with his longtime friend McCary on shorts for "SNL" and McCary was looking to direct a feature.
The "SNL" connection helped when pitching the "Brigsby Bear" script. "We got into some rooms that I probably wouldn't have gotten into two years prior," Mooney said. Among those signing on as producers were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the filmmakers behind "21 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie," and "SNL" alums Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone also known as The Lonely Island.
Filming happened this summer in Salt Lake City. "We needed a desert area and we needed the suburbs, basically, and [Utah] had all those things," Mooney said. The state's tax incentive for movie production also helped, he said.
The cast includes Samberg, Claire Danes and Greg Kinnear. For a pivotal but tough-to-cast role, Mooney said, he and McCary enlisted "Star Wars" star Mark Hamill who, during filming, also was seen on area billboards advertising his September appearance at Salt Lake Comic Con.
"It was not normal to have Luke Skywalker on your set, so we were all trying to keep our cool as much as possible," Mooney said. "I was able, between scenes, to ask a couple of fanboy questions."
How to Sundance
Details on the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
When • Jan. 19-29
Where • Park City and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Passes and ticket packages • On sale now at sundance.org/festivals. Some are sold out, but many are still available.
Individual tickets • On sale to Utah residents, Jan. 11-13, then available to everyone. Tickets are $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 19-24), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 25-29).
Information • sundance.org/festivals