"All the Real Girls," which stars UNCSA alumnus and successful film and TV actor Paul Schneider, premiered at Sundance in 2003. Green returned in 2007 with "Snow Angels" and again this year with "Prince Avalanche." One of the producers on his latest is fellow alumnus Craig Zobel, and in keeping with the theme, Green was a producer on Zobel's 2012 Sundance entry, "Compliance."

"From the dolly grip to the behind the scenes guy to the sound mixer, I mean, it was just a very impressive batch of folks that were working on 'Avalanche,'" Green says. "They've worked on a number of my movies. It's been a very familiar band of people that have taken a lot of steps with me since our days at the School of the Arts, and it's also kind of cool when you see everybody popping up and doing their thing."

Keri Putnam is head of the Sundance Institute, which both Green and Nichols have been a part of in the past via the organization's various filmmaker labs. She lights up when considering the wide array of work coming out of the North Carolina area because such regional flair is a huge part of her and her team's outreach initiatives.

"It's one of the main priorities, to make sure that we've got one of the most diverse bases of submissions that we can possibly get from all over the country and all over the world," she says. "So we forge our relationships with a lot of film schools and local organizations. Last year at the producers lab there was a great North Carolina producer named Summer Shelton. She's coming to the festival as a fellow, and there's just a whole community in North Carolina that's exciting now."

And each of these filmmakers still have the sounds of their formative schooling ringing in their ears as they move out into the professional world. Nichols says he's working on a screenplay now and has been thinking about the many things his screenwriting mentor Ron Stacker Thompson* told him all those years ago. Orr carries with him a philosophy of trial by error, whether on a tiny indie like his back-to-the-roots work on "Prince Avalanche" or higher profile work on a commercial comedy like "Pineapple Express." And Hartigan, whose "Martin Bonner" is a very personal piece inspired by a period in his father's life, still very much has the mistakes he made while in film school seared into his memory as lessons learned.

"My thesis film is a total disaster," Hartigan says. "It's a romantic comedy with no romance and no comedy. But even worse, it also has zero energy. My career goal is to never make the same mistake on two different films, so each one gives me at least one major lesson to take to the next."

He finally chalks up the unique conservatory art school environment as a big reason he has maintained that frame of mind.

"A major thing is I always felt like I was at school at UNCSA," he says. "It was all for class and for credit. I think if I was going to, say, USC, I would feel like I was already in the industry and that what I was doing was somehow going to be seen by George Lucas (whether that's actually the case or not), that my films were being made for career purposes and not educational purposes. As long as the school continues to make hands-on experience a priority, then I think it will continue to produce successful alumni."

Further to that, adds Will Files, a very successful sound mixer in the industry who graduated in 2002 and worked on Green's film, "The way the school was structured at the time, it brought us all together and taught us to rely on each other. It wasn't like going to film school in New York or LA where you had a film industry built around you. It adds up to something really special to make films with your friends."

*An interesting note about Thompson: UNCSA graduate Travis Beacham named the lead character of the upcoming summer blockbuster "Pacific Rim," Stacker Pentecost, after the screenwriting teacher.

"Mud" premieres tonight at Sundance. "Prince Avalanche" and "This is Martin Bonner" premiere January 20.

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