Friday, December 11, 2009

We Regret To Inform You ...

We didn’t get into Sundance.*

We weren’t expecting to, but it was still disappointing to get that email. Every independent filmmaker dreams their movie will premiere at Sundance. They imagine going to Park City, answering questions from the audience, getting interviewed by entertainment journalists, attending the parties, and selling their movie in an all-out bidding war. So when you get that rejection email, that dream is officially dead.

The worst part is, you start questioning the quality of your movie. You start wondering if one more edit might have improved the film tenfold. If casting name actors would have made a difference. If, God forbid, your little movie is simply not as good as you thought it was.

This, my friends, is an evil path to start down. For one, you will never know with 100% certainty why another film was accepted and yours wasn’t. You will never know if you’d done such-and-such, if it would have improved the movie. All you can do is listen to the feedback you’ve gotten, and trust your own gut.

On top of that, the quality of your movie is only one of the factors. Personal relationships shape a large part of what gets programmed – name directors, name actors, filmmakers with a connection to the festival, friends of the programmers – these all stand a much greater chance of getting in than some yokel off the submission pile.

Another factor is sheer numbers. According to the Sundance rejection letter, there were 9800 entries this year. Out of those, a mere 200 films were selected. Roughly half of those are shorts, another half of those are documentaries, which leaves 50 narrative features. Fifty, out of let’s say 5000 submissions. That means 1% of those who apply actually get in.

The final factor is genre. Just cause we made a solid movie doesn’t mean every festival will program us. Every fest has its own vibe – Sundance focuses on unique artistic visions, Toronto likes polished, serious movies, South by Southwest favors scrappy, genre-focused fun films. Look over the list of the features that will be playing at Park City in 2010 – out of all the features, maybe 3 or 4 are thriller/suspense/horror. Two-thirds of the program are character-driven dramas. So looking at all that, we had even less than a 1% of getting accepted.

Am I taking comfort in these non-scientific, totally generic numbers? You bet I am. I’ll take refuge behind any thin scrap of an excuse I can find. Because the alternatives – to believe our movie is doomed, to think it sucks, to worry that it will never sell – are simply unacceptable. More importantly, they are patently UNTRUE.

As a creative professional, if you’re not getting rejected on a daily basis, then you’re probably not doing it right. The simple fact is that you will rejected 100 times for every one acceptance. That’s the life you signed up for when you decided you had something to share with the world. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other jobs out there.

So it’s counter-productive for us to let this news get us down. It’d be great to have a distribution company buy our film, but that could happen in any number of ways. We still have high hopes we’ll get into some other major film festivals, but we have to remember they’re not the be-all, end-all. They’re not even the final goal. The goal is to get the movie before a paying audience.

And that is definitely going to happen, one way or another.

* Or Slamdance.