REJECTED FROM SUNDANCE; YOU MAY BE ANGRY, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE RIGHT

I got an email this morning with the following text in it:

Mark Bell…
FUCK THESE CORPORATE ASSHOLES WRITE ABOUT THESE FUCKING COCK SUCKERS FOR WHO AND WHAT THEY ARE.
READ OUR GOD DAMM POST ‘”COMPLETELY”
We never got the chance to submit, they told us NOT TO.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ2CgkoVLgM
WWW.jesusofmalibu.com

The email was from William and Anais Yeager, and linked to http://sundancefilmfestival2011.com (which leads you to the full story and a manifesto regarding all of this at http://jomrevolution.com). Now, a few things upfront: I know this is about attention, and I know I’m giving it. Good or bad, though, I think there’s a lot that can be said, and this email is great launching point. I’m also not sharing this as a form of agreement so much as I am pointing out the prevalence of a certain level of ignorance I hear from filmmakers when it comes to not only the Sundance Film Festival, but film festivals in general. First, check out this video:

Now that you’ve seen the video, to address some of its points:

HEAD PROGRAMMERS DO NOT WATCH ALL THE FILM SUBMISSIONS
Except for perhaps the smallest of the film festivals out there, this is the case. Most festivals operate with a group of staff or volunteer programmers who watch the films, and then pick their favorites. Those favorites move up the chain and are whittled down until a final decision is made by a group of head programmers. Head programmers do see many films, just not all. Out of my own personal estimation, for a major film festival, and this is not a number based in factual data, only my own guess, 30% are programmed out of the screening process (always more shorts than features), 60% are curated and 10% are special, big-name opening and closing-type screenings.

Perhaps this problem would go away if festivals were more upfront and transparent about these numbers. If filmmakers knew their real odds, maybe they wouldn’t submit to a Sundance. And while the honesty of the numbers is on the festivals, the research is also on the filmmaker. Filmmakers, if they are going to go the film festival route (and nowadays that is not a necessity), need to be smart about, and have, a festival strategy. Do your research. Find out what fests played films similar to yours, talk to other filmmakers and find out which fests are worth your time and THEN decide what fests to submit to. Don’t just shotgun submit a bunch of big fests and then be surprised when your film doesn’t get in and call the system corrupt. Maybe the system is flawed, but you can realistically mitigate the damage and manage the expectations with a strong festival strategy. Pick Up Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Seriously, it’ll help. Also check out Paul Osborne’s Official Rejection, a documentary about what we’re chatting about now.

SUBMISSION FEES DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY EQUAL FESTIVAL PROFIT
Filmmakers are very fast to tell me how much x number of submissions times y submission fees equals, and to point out how much festivals are fleecing them, but those same filmmakers usually can’t then tell me: cost of venues to screen movies, cost of staff to run projection, security, coordinate volunteers, cost of festival staff or other normal operating costs (insurance) that go into putting on a 10-day event. They’re quick to tell me that the fests are getting rich off sponsorships, but can’t tell me whether those sponsors are on-board as financial sponsors or in-kind trade (which isn’t money, but when a water company wants to give you free water to hand out to attendees and volunteers…). My point is, it’s all a lot more complicated than a simple math equation involving submissions and fees. And, most important, remember, YOU DO NOT NEED TO SUBMIT. It’s a choice you’re making. DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are disreputable festivals out there, but with a little bit of asking around, you can usually find out which ones.

CURATED OR SPECIAL SCREENINGS DO NOT NECESSARILY MEAN LESS SLOTS FOR PROGRAMMED FILMS
Competition films, for example for Sundance, are usually in the mid-teens in their U.S. and International programs. This number of films is usually the same year in and year out, so having a special screening of a big name celebrity film is usually not taking a slot away from a competition filmmaker.

BUDGET SPENT ON A FILM DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY EQUATE TO QUALITY, ARTISTIC OR OTHERWISE
The video questions whether certain films are art, based on out-of-context moments (which will be all the more humorous if you watch the second video below; define “art” after you see THAT one). The video also lists films’ budgets as if that right there means that it shouldn’t be playing the Sundance Film Festival. The honest fact is that there are indie films, major indie films, mainstream films and blockbusters (no doubt more distinctions, but those are mine). The low or no-budget indie films think festivals should belong solely to them. The mainstream and blockbusters own the theatrical. So where do the major indies go? Well, they’re the in-betweeners. They play festivals, and some play theatrical. Believe it or not, just because a film has a multi-million dollar budget and a few name actors, it does not mean it has, or will automatically get, distribution. Also doesn’t mean it can’t be “art.”

SUNDANCE ISN’T ABOUT THE MOVIES; IT’S ONE BIG PARTY
Park City during the Sundance Film Festival IS one big party, but I don’t blame the festival for that so much as I blame the people who attend the festival. If there were just going to the movies, what would we be griping about here? The fact is, the bigger Sundance got, the more people it attracted, and those people were not just there for the movies. Many just wanted to catch a celebrity-sighting.

The press doesn’t help matters. The majority of festival coverage is about the celebrity-driven films, not the smaller ones. Knowing that an appearance at Sundance equals free publicity, many celebrities began coming to town for the exposure. Cue Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Knowing that being at Sundance equaled more exposure for any given brand, cue more sponsors, parties and the like. All this grew up around Sundance, notsomuch from within Sundance. I’ve had candid conversations with Sundance staffers who think it’s all too much but… what are they supposed to do about it? Kick everyone out of town? If they do that, they might as well go too because Sundance does more than just show films, the event itself is an economic boom for Park City every year. In other words, the fest just got bigger than its intentions, but dismantling it would do more harm than good.

JUST BECAUSE YOU MADE A MOVIE DOESN’T MAKE IT GOOD
This entire post started from an email that enticed me to watch a couple YouTube videos and read a website… which is all a viral campaign for a movie called Jesus of Malibu. To the filmmakers, William and Anais Yeager, kudos for getting my attention, keeping it viral and doing your best to get your film out there somehow. I get the “controversy is publicity” angle; I get what you’re trying to do. I also haven’t seen your film, but I have seen many films, of many budgets, running times and genres and… just because folks make a movie, doesn’t mean the movie is good. Additionally, just because YOU think your movie is good, doesn’t mean someone else will think so, or that the only reason you didn’t get into a film festival like Sundance was because the festival is corrupt. Again, it has its flaws, but it is what it is. Sundance has been this way for a while, and folks screaming “Foul!” shouldn’t submit, plain and simple. If a filmmaker did their festival research, and were honest about their film, they would know precisely whether they realistically have a shot at Sundance, and could then save or spend their money accordingly. Besides, as a filmmaker…

YOU DON’T NEED SUNDANCE, OR ANY FILM FESTIVAL ANYMORE
Online distribution, micro-cinema, video-on-demand, foreign sales… you have options as a filmmaker. The myth of “playing Sundance and having your film bought for millions and never worrying about another thing for the rest of your life” is just that: a myth. Filmmakers who have gotten distribution know that the job doesn’t end, it just changes. Sundance can offer opportunity, but like any film festival, the real value for the filmmaker is having their film shown on a big screen in front of a receptive audience there to see that film.

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
In the end, the real problem with the Sundance Film Festival is that the event and the hype outgrew the original intentions; the reality of the festival’s impact on filmmakers couldn’t compete with the myth that grew out of the ’90s indie boom. There is a place at Sundance for the lesser known, the no-low budget films, and dreams are still made at the festival… you just don’t hear about it anymore, because everyone is focusing on the wrong things. The press that come to town only want to talk to the celebrities, because that’s what the people not at the festival want to hear and see. A large portion of festival-goers just want to see a celebrity, or go to a party. Many celebrities just want to hit town, get some free exposure by the celebrity-craving press, load up on some free swag from a gifting suite and move on.

All that said, Sundance still sells out screening after screening after screening, so SOMEBODY is watching movies, big or small. What Sundance was, and what its original artistic intentions wanted it to be, still exist at the core of the event, there’s just a lot of bullshit you have to wade through to get there.

But none of this is anything new, and filmmakers need to stop hopping on the corruption bandwagon and focus instead on trying something different. Educate yourself, do your research and make your own system. For me, the true rebel isn’t someone who submits to Sundance and waits for someone else to give them the “rebel” label; the true rebel does their own thing, their own way and doesn’t bitch about it. Sending me videos like the following… you got my attention, but you sure didn’t convince me to see your film, or that Sundance is corrupt:

UPDATE: Got this via comment from the Jesus of Malibu team:

“QUIT SUCKING JOHN COOPERS AND SUNDANCES DICK AND WRITE A REAL FUCKING ARTICLE.
CANT YOU FUCKING READ? THE FILM WASN’T REJECTED.
YOU FUCKING JOURNALISTS CAN’T PAY ATTENTION, AND MORONS LIKE THE ONE ABOVE ” I TRULY ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, HAVE A GOOD DAY, ID THIS GUY BELOW THE DESK SUCKING YOUR DICK?
THE PEOPLE WHO VISIT AND READ THESE SITES SUCH AS INDIE WIRE AND FILMMAKER ARE WANKERS WHO NEVER WOULD , OR COULD MAKE A FILM.
ME A REBEL? EAT MY ASSHOLE FUCK FACE AND WRITE A FUCKING ARTICLE WITH BALLS YOU FUCKING MAMAS BOY.”

Also got this via email:

“Quit sucking John Coopers dick and write a fucking real story you wanker!
The film wasn’t REJECTED fucking read ASSHOLE”

Both comments were followed by a lengthy re-printing of material found on their own website, which, while they claim I didn’t read it, I did… and still stand by what I wrote (which I think THEY haven’t read). This article was written for all filmmakers, and while I never specifically mention Jesus of Malibu being “rejected,” when a festival wants nothing to do with your film (as they repeatedly claim on their own websites)… that sounds like a form of rejection to me. Why am I sharing all of this? Because I’m done giving the Jesus of Malibu crew any attention, and I wanted everyone to know what I’m dealing with here.




Posted on December 7, 2010 in Blogs by
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9 Comments on "REJECTED FROM SUNDANCE; YOU MAY BE ANGRY, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE RIGHT"

  1. Hammad Zaidi on Tue, 7th Dec 2010 4:35 pm 

    Mark!

    I truly enjoyed this article. You gave some great advice! Have a good day!


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  2. Bwakathaboom on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 11:57 am 

    *sigh* Someone hasn’t read Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. 6 hour film, submitted as a trilogy, sending “gifts” and a huge package of extraneous garbage, demanding to speak to the festival organizer personally…

    Everything they did was wrong for submitting to ANY festival, let alone one as competitive as Sundance.

    After reviewing the film and materials I can only guess that perhaps the Sundance committee didn’t want an undiagnosed schizophrenic stomping around Park City shouting about his ascension to the Illuminati. Better luck next year!


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  3. Roberta Munroe on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 12:46 pm 

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you SO much for publishing this. As someone who WATCHED over 10,000 shorts during my 5 years at Sundance I always love it when I read articles that simply tell the truth displacing the myth.
    You wrote THE real & simple truth, “If a filmmaker did their festival research, and were honest about their film, they would know precisely whether they realistically have a shot at Sundance, and could then save or spend their money accordingly.”
    It’s what I’ve been saying for years.

    One additional note I make to the film festival rejects – when you write or say these things about festivals, what exactly are you saying about the films that DID get in – you know, the ones that had a similar budget, level of casting, and story line to YOURS?

    Thanks for helping filmmakers realize their dreams without negating those of their fellow artists.

    All my best,
    Roberta Munroe
    Author, How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer


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  4. Bwakathaboom on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 2:47 pm 

    Speaking of excellent reading materials, see the post signature above. Awesome book, Roberta!


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  5. Mimi666 on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 4:02 pm 

    As a Worldwide distributor I can tell you that in all the years I have attended Sundance I have never acquired a film there. This is due to the fact that Sundance seems hell bent on screening, in competition, primarily valueless art films. If 80% of your revenue return on an independent film financed for under 5 million dollars comes from the foreign sales, and most foreign buyers do not acquire art house or festival films without major cast and in some cases not even then, chances are you and your distributor will lose money. Sundance should only be your focus if you have made a festival film and that is really all you want it to be. In fact, almost every film I know of that got a huge distribution deal at Sundance lost money at the box office. There are a few films that went on to generate large numbers but look at the odds. If you want to be in the film BUSINESS, make a genre film for 800K, then if it recoups make 8 more. If you make back all of your money (or your investor’s money) you can go make that arthouse film you have been dying to make. I enjoy a really good festival film as much as the next film nerd, however, I also like earning a living and the reality is most of the films coming out of Sundance have almost no financial value.


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  6. Bwakathaboom on Wed, 22nd Dec 2010 1:19 pm 

    That’s interesting, Mimi666. I honestly wonder how the genre people make money anymore. I’m a big fan of horror but I can see that the budgets and market are in the toilet.

    Maybe the distributors are seeing a return on sub million dollar shot-on-video stuff but the filmmakers themselves are just as broke as their indie art house compatriots. No one’s summering in the Hamptons on Feast 3 residuals.

    I really wish Film Threat had a genre columnist because it’s a different business (while being equally festival focused) than Sundance fare.


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  7. G. Orr on Sat, 22nd Jan 2011 3:33 pm 

    Wow Mark, that is one angry (or posing as angry) team of attention-getters. I thought you tried to offer a fair review of the process, but fairness can and should be criticized when it comes to a passionate medium like film. We all have to stand our ground and argue with conviction about why we like or dislike films and filmmaking. The guys from Jesus of Malibu are passionate, but their articulation is limited, and not very original. They also fail to appreciate that filmmaking is a collaborative process, and creating allies is vital. They lost your support at hello (did they say hello?) and mine too. That said, if any filmmakers who have been rejected by Sundance want to share their woes, and successes and maybe learn from each other, I invite them to a brand new Facebook page called “Sundance Doesn’t Like My Film.” It’s a reminder that there are more of “us,” than there are of “them.”


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  8. James Mannan on Sat, 27th Oct 2012 10:03 am 

    I agree with 99 percent of what is said here however when you set up a system which amounts to playing the lottery don’t be surprised if there aren’t quite a few sore losers. Of course the fees are a pittance in regard to the benefit you derive if your film is accepted–once again this enforces the feeling that that the fee amounts to a kind of wager (of course if your film is accepted your costs are just beginning.)

    “. . .cost of venues to screen movies, cost of staff to run projection, security, coordinate volunteers, cost of festival staff or other normal operating costs (insurance) that go into putting on a 10-day event. . .”

    If your film isn’t screened you obviously aren’t deriving benefit from these amenities. The better argument is that the time of the adjudicator(s) to screen is worth something.


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  9. Tom on Sat, 7th Jun 2014 9:23 pm 

    Well, now I have to see this film because I’m fairly sure Jesus says, “Suck my dick” a lot.


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