IFH 282: So You Didn’t Get Into Sundance…Neither Did I



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Well, it’s that time of year again when filmmakers around the world get that dreaded rejection letter from the Sundance Film Festival. Below is my rejection email:

RE:  On the Corner of Ego and Desire

Dear Alex,

On behalf of the entire Programming team for the Sundance Film Festival, thank you for allowing us to consider your film for the 2019 edition of the Festival. Unfortunately, we were unable to include it in our program this year. Ultimately, we are forced to make many difficult decisions throughout our process, and we consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to view the latest work from the independent creative community.

We received a record number of submissions this year (over 14,200), and the number of worthy projects submitted to us is far higher than the number of slots available in our Festival program. The level of quality displayed in the projects we receive is higher each and every year, so it is never an easy process. We wish you the best of luck with your film going forward and we are excited see more of your work in the future.


John Cooper
Director, Sundance Film Festival

Did you read that, 14,200 submissions? Getting into Sundance is a lottery ticket for sure but it isn’t as important as it used to be. Here’s what Mark Duplass wrote about it:

Annual Sundance Film Festival rejection reminder: Sundance is awesome, but Sundance is not everything. So many incredible films don’t make the cut. Don’t let it get you down. If you believe in your film, keep pushing forward. There are so many new ways to get it there. Good luck! – Mark Duplass

My indie films have played in over 500 international film festivals around the world and it has been a great experience and I’ve even been to a few big festivals like Raindance and Cinequest. I’ve also been rejected by EVERY major film festival in the world. SXSW, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, AFI and the list goes on.

Film festivals are great. I loved them so much my recent film, which got that Sundance rejection email,  On the Corner of Ego and Desire was a love letter to film festivals, Sundance and Independent filmmakers everywhere.

You have to understand that film festivals are not the only way to get your films out there anymore. Sure, getting into Sundance would be AMAZING but alas it wasn’t meant to be and you know what…it’s OK. This should stop you from moving forward on your filmmaking journey. Festivals are run by people with tastes and opinions. Those tastes might not be in line with your tastes and that’s OK.

Maybe you made an amazing film but there were three other films about the same subject so they had to flip a coin. I decided to make this episode as a therapy session for any filmmaker who has been rejected from Sundance or any film festivals.

I hope it helps. KEEP ON HUSTLIN’ NO MATTER WHAT! Keep that dream ALIVE.

Alex Ferrari 1:49
Today's episode, I wanted to talk about Film Festival rejections and Sundance rejections specifically. But I think this is something that we all go through I think this time of year is very depressing for 10s of 1000s of filmmakers around the world. And I felt that I needed to be addressed because I think we need a little therapy session all of us just to sit down and talk about getting rejected and how you deal with getting rejected and and how you move forward afterwards. Now many of you know that I directed a film called on the corner of ego and desire which was shot entirely at Park City during the Sundance Film Festival last year. And as I was making it, I was really hoping that magically one day it would play at the festival that I do love. It's a love hate relationship. But I do love Park City and I love that festival going to it and enjoying it. And I really wanted to make something that was a love letter not only to Park City to Sundance, but also to filmmakers. And yesterday, I got the letter, the dreaded letter from the Sundance programmer, says the word unfortunately. And anytime you hear the word unfortunately, in a letter from a film festival, it's not a good thing. So it kind of hit me like a you know, it's a lottery ticket guys, you know Sundance has a lottery ticket, there was 14,200 submissions this year. It is a record number of submissions. And there's only 193 spots. So it literally is a lottery ticket if you get in. It's just it's just insane the odds of getting into the Sundance Film Festival and getting harder and harder every year. So don't feel too bad about it because you're in good company. There's many of us out there that did not get in. And it also by the way, doesn't mean that your film is not good. Sunday has doesn't always get it right. Okay. There are many reasons why things didn't go your way and then get your film into Sundance festival, festival programmers and people who are looking at your films at these festivals. It's just their opinion. It's just their taste. Sometimes it just doesn't flow for them. Sometimes it does. You know, the the film that I worked on that got into Sundance obsolete idea got accepted in 2010. But a year earlier, it probably wouldn't have gotten accepted a year later prior and got accepted. But that year was a perfect time for that film. So sometimes it's just the way the cookie crumbles man, there's not much you can do about it. So you are at the whim of programmers and people watching your film and sometimes and I've been in those rooms behind the scenes at film festivals and I see how it's done. A lot of times they're you know, now it's linked but before they used to put DVDs in and just watch it and if they don't like it within the first five minutes, it's gone. Move on next. And a lot of you know sometimes you get like programming interns. You get some kids Who might have a bad day watching this, um, you know, 1819 year old is the first level of defense, if you will, to get your film seen by the people that really matter really are decision makers and sometimes I won't even get past them. So it's just such a weird process. It's great if you get in, but if you don't, it is sad. It is depressing, especially for some of these big, you know, top tier festivals. But I just wanted to give you a little bit of hope here because there are a few films over the years that Sundance has gotten wrong. One of them being Chris Nolan's The following, which was Chris Nolan's very first independent film was shot on black and white, rejected by Sundance, and it was even rejected by slam dance, but then he resubmitted the year after and it got into slam dance the next year. Another film that got in or got rejected was the king of Khan, a fistful of quarters, which if you have not seen an amazing documentary about classic arcades, and the guy who has the quest to get the number one highest score in Donkey Kong, that was rejected and went on to make millions of dollars at the box office. Another huge, you know, mistake, if you will, that Sundance did was paranormal activity. Yes, Sundance passed on paranormal activity. And for everybody who doesn't know paranormal activity is officially the most profitable film of all time, because it costs about $15,000 to make, and went on to make three, four or 500 million, something like that, and launched an entire new genre of filmmaking as well as SQL PL SQL upon SQL. Another great movie that got rejected by Sundance is mad hot balloon, an amazing documentary that went on to grossed over $8 million at the box office in this one of the top 15 docks of all time. So you know, they're not perfect, and they don't always get it, right. It's just the way it is, guys, it is the pressing, we all want to go down that road. I've been down that road a couple times, not in the festival. But I've seen it from afar. I've interviewed many filmmakers who have gotten into to Sundance and, and live vicariously through them. But it's something that I just wanted to, I think it was something I needed to address because I was feeling a little down. But you know what, it's all good. I can't wait for on the corner of ego and desire to get on ifH TV to get out into the world through iTunes and distribution, there might be a little theatrical, we're working on that. There's there's other ways to get your movie out to the audience that needs to see it. understand something that festivals used to be the only way filmmakers could get their films out into the marketplace out into an audience. But today's world they're not as important as they used to be. These top tier film festivals are not the only gatekeepers of independent film anymore. In fact, honestly, there aren't any gatekeepers with YouTube and going direct to your consumer and doing all these kinds of things like range 15 did that made over three $4 million independent film and deuce of spades, which was a hot rod film that went directly to the audience and she's made hundreds of 1000s of dollars off of that film. You know, there are ways around it. Now you don't need film festivals. It's nice. Yes, I would love to have that Laurel, that says Sundance on the poster. I would love to have that Laurel that says South by Southwest or Cannes or Toronto, or many of the other film festivals out there. But you know what, it's not needed anymore. It's, it's great. And in mind, you guys, my films over the years have been in four or five 600, film festivals, something along those lines with all of my shorts and features and things like that. So I've been to a lot of film festivals over the years. And, you know, I was lucky enough to have on the corner of ego and desire actually get into a top tier Film Festival, which was the rain dance Film Festival in the UK. And I'm so grateful for that. And so I was so excited to get in. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it out there, because I'm just not rolling that hard just yet. Couldn't afford to go out there. But it was extremely exciting. And my first film this is Meg got into cinequest which is an amazing film festival. And I was very blessed to go and actually experience watching that watching that film on the big screen at at the festival. So and it is a great experience, but you don't need to go after the big you know, or spend all your money on all these top tier film festivals. You know, you can break up your budget, you know, friend of mine, Noam Crowe Noam crawl, who's going to be on the show very, very soon. He he wrote down that there's a percentage of his budget that he puts in like 20% goes to top tier submissions. 30% goes to mid tier, and then let's throw another 30 or 40% Have your marketing budget into more niche festivals, you know smaller niche festivals that you can get in. So at least you can get some exposure for your project and, and some, some eyeballs on your film, maybe get a few reviews and get some attention on it. But these big festivals, everyone's going for them. So the competition is very, very heavy at those film festivals. And don't forget guys, you know, at least 98% of all filmmakers, regardless if they get into these big film festivals or not are still going to end up being responsible for their own distribution or getting their own distribution. You know, just because you went Sundance just before, just because you get into Sundance doesn't mean you get a distribution deal. Those days are so gone, just because you get into Toronto or Sapphire, Cannes, or Berlin, or any of these big festivals doesn't automatically give you a check, and a big distribution deal. It doesn't work that way anymore. Getting into any of these top tier film festivals should not be your distribution plan. I've had that conversation with too many filmmakers over the years. I go, what's your distribution plan, I'm like, Well, I'm gonna get into Sundance and sell it for 10 million bucks. That's just the way it goes. No, that's not a distribution plan that is a lottery ticket. So have another plan in place, Jeff. And that rare occasion that you might not get into any of these top tier film festivals. And I think Film Festival should be part of your release strategy part of how you're going to get your film out into the world. But it shouldn't rely on it 100% you should spread that thing out diversify different areas of your release strategy. So you submit to some festivals, but then go after some maybe smaller niche festivals, like I said before a mid tier festivals, think about live events, or doing a theatrical your own theatrical release through tug, or one of these other the utricle release services. You can go to schools, you could do tours, you could do workshops around it. You could do screenings, I mean, do spades, and I'll leave a link to her her interview, which is just legend, just search and mazing faith Granger, such an amazing interview with faith about what she does, she literally goes around the country screening her film charging tickets at these events that are where her audience is. So why couldn't you do something like that as well? Would it be even better sometimes to take all the money you would have submitted to film festivals and put that all into marketing online, into Facebook ads into Google ads or YouTube ads? to target an audience that you know you can penetrate to get eyeballs on your film and self distribute your film? You know, is that a possibility? It all depends on the film and all depends on the budget and genre and so on. But that's another option. You know, I don't want you guys to get too beat up about it too depressed about it. You know, I've gotten out to the point where I you know, it's like, hey, if I get in great, it's a surprise. It still hurt because I really thought that ego and desire had a great chance of getting into it because it was it's literally a love letter to Sundance. But and to filmmakers, but you know what it didn't happen. And also, by the way, got rejected by slam dance as well. So it's all good. You know, sometimes it's politics, too. Don't forget, a lot of this has to do with politics. Meaning, you know, is this the right film for us? It's just all a such a human experience manages, like people's opinions and people's tastes. It just it's all Bs, man. It doesn't mean that you don't have a good film. All right, just look at what you've done. Be proud of what you done. And just think outside the box a little bit. And sure, every year if I have a feature film, I'll submit it to Sundance. Why? Because it's literally the lottery ticket. It's just like, why not? You know, it's it's not that much money just to submit it. Let's Let's go VMs as long as you don't do it too late. But you know, just just don't get too depressed guys. And I wanted to kind of do this as a therapy session for all of us, that have gotten rejected by Sundance this year and are getting rejected on a daily basis by film festivals around the world. Your doesn't mean that your movies not good. Just keep talking. Keep going. And keep hustling man. It's all good. I promise you it will get better. It's not the end of the world. I do promise you that. So I hope this episode helped you a little bit get through your rejections and, and hopefully will help you get through rejections in the future. Please bookmark this episode. So when you get rejected by a film festival, you can come back and listen to it hopefully will make you feel a little bit better about where you are and what you're doing with your life. Just because you got rejected doesn't mean that you need to stop doesn't mean that you need to quit. None of that. So you've got to keep hustling. You've got to keep going no matter what These are just people's opinions. These are just people's tastes. If they don't line up with yours, it's okay. You're in good company, many of the biggest filmmakers around the world, never got into Sundance never got into can never got into South by Southwest, or Toronto, or Tribeca, or Berlin or Venice. It's okay. You're in good company. make art that is important to you make films that are important to you, that you love, whatever the genre is, and make it with every bit of heart you have, make it as authentically as you can, and make it come from you as an extension of who you are of your soul. And I promise you, it will work out, it will work out, be smart about how you get it out there. And don't just hang on the lottery ticket. All right. Again, I hope this episode was helpful to you guys, I'm going to put some links to some of the movies. And some of the things I talked about in the episode at the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/282. And tomorrow, I will be releasing all the films and courses and interviews and everything else I have going on for IFH in December, and it's going to be great. And I'm going to be playing around a little bit, probably December, I'm going to release everything at once. But then starting in January, I'm going to start releasing things weekly, as opposed to doing it all as a big chunk, it helps me out. It also keeps things helpful to you guys, so you can kind of keep track of everything going out. So I'm gonna play with that. Maybe I'll do it this month. Maybe I'll do it next month. I don't know, we'll see. But you're gonna get a lot of content. And I'm negotiating right now a bunch of big deals to get even more and more content on to IFH.TV. So and again, if you haven't Do you guys don't know. It is available on Apple TV on Roku. And on Amazon. Right now I'm working on the ISO app and the Android app. And next year, we'll be on Android TV and Xbox. And we will continue to bust out more platforms as they come along next year, and grow and grow and grow. Thank you again so much for your support, guys. And again, I really hope this helped you because I know how it feels. Trust me, I literally know how it feels right now. So talk to you soon guys. And as always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.




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