They found out in mid-November that they'd gotten into Sundance, but they had to wait until early December before they could tell anyone.
"We had to keep it a secret, which was really hard," she said. "You want to tell everyone you know that you're playing at Sundance!"
The film premiered Jan. 19. It was an amazing experience, Stephens said.
"We premiered in the [city's] library. It seats about 450, 500 people, and it was sold out. It was full of people that were there because they were excited to see the film. And they laughed more than I could have hoped for; there was a laugh every 30 seconds -- a huge, communal, uproarious laughter.
"Once they started laughing, I really eased up," she continued. "That's the hardest part about comedy: making sure it's funny to more than just you."
When the film concluded, the audience gave it a standing ovation.
"That's the first time that's ever happened to me. That was pretty cool!"
"Land Ho!" was in the festival's relatively new NEXT category, which is dedicated to low-budget, independent filmmaking. As such, it was ineligible for any of the festival's awards; however, it did garner quite a bit of praise.
When asked her favorite thing she'd heard, Stephens said, "The write-up in Variety was really, really good. I can't even remember all the adjectives they used. And The New York Times picked us as one of their favorite films of the festival."
Stephens was networking at a party one night when word came that a deal had been struck with Sony Pictures Classics, one of two distributors interested in the film.
"My producer told me, 'Stay close to me. We might need to leave at any minute to go to the Sony condo to make a deal.' She was right. They kept negotiating, and eventually, when we all felt like we were happy with the number, we hopped over to the condo and hung out with the two presidents of Sony and the vice president.
"We ate trail mix and goofed around. Then our lawyer came over, and we started signing contracts and writing the press release."
Stephens was very excited about the deal, praising the new distributor of her film.
"Anybody that cares about independent films is very familiar with them," she said. "They put out all of Woody Allen's movies. The great auteurs of the '90s and 2000s, their work has been distributed by Sony.
"[Allen's] 'Blue Jasmine' was their big summer release last summer; we're going to be their big release this summer.
"It's kind of a dream to be picked up by them," she added. "It's really unheard of to be bought by a big distributor like that when you don't have any name actors in your film. We really lucked out."
Looking to the future
Stephens' immediate future consists of a trip to Los Angeles sometime this month to do some clean-up work on the film.
"Watching it at Sundance was the first time we watched it with a huge audience," she said. "People absorb sound, so while watching it, we realized we needed to fix some [audio] levels."
After that, the film is in Sony's hands. She said she's not entirely sure of the future but believes the plan is to release "Land Ho!" in 25 to 50 cities this summer and also submit it to Cannes Directors' Fortnight, which is the indie section of the acclaimed French film festival.
Meanwhile, she's already considering her next moves.
"I can't take time off. Some people love to do that, but I feel incomplete if I'm not working towards a goal of some sort," she said. "I already have a script I'm trying to make and working on an outline for another one. I'm hoping to do those.
"One is set in winter and one is set in summer; they're both set in West Virginia. Hopefully, one of those will happen sometime in 2015."
Reach Amy Robinson at flips...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.