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So You Didn’t Get Into Sundance…

by
in Filmmaking
on Dec 5, 2009

So you didn’t get into Sundance….

I’m sorry.

Trust me, I feel your pain. As a producer I’ve received both the acceptance calls as well as the rejection ones. (Actually, the rejection call is sometimes not even a call, but a form email or letter.) In some cases, I’ve known that the film probably didn’t have much of a shot, although in others, the rejection came as a shock — one that threw our director and production team into a quandary over the film’s future direction.

So, what do you do if your film didn’t get into Sundance?

The first thing: for a few days, forget about it. Don’t think about your film. This weekend go out to a concert, or a museum, or a park. Watch football. Probably don’t go to the movies. If you were obsessively refreshing this site or Indiewire all week to see the Sundance list, take a break from not only your film but film itself.

Next week dive back into it. And as you do so, recognize the one thing you now have that all those Sundance filmmakers don’t: time. Time to take a second look at the film, screen it, refine it, finesse, or perhaps just find the right post-production vendor. Time to fine tune the DIY marketing and distribution plan that you really wouldn’t have been able to pull together by mid-January.

With regards to your edit, were you as self-critical of your film as you could have been? Did you solicit feedback from both smart friends as well as gathered preview audiences? (And by this I don’t mean test-marketing your film to death, just making sure that if it’s a comedy that people laugh and if it’s a thriller that there are some thrills.) Be happy that you won’t be one of those films that screens at Sundance with a flabby, audience-draining cut. Take the time to finish the film right. And once you are finished being as critical and hard-eyed towards your own film as you possibly can, finish it and then have faith in it. Have faith that what inspired you to make it will inspire your audiences.

Next, if your strategy was simply to “premiere at Sundance sell the film!”, well, it’s obviously time to rethink that. Again, take a hard look at your film. Is it a festival film that just wasn’t appreciated by the Sundance programmers? If so, consider the other upcoming options, like SXSW, Tribeca, the L.A. Film Festival. Just because you were turned down by A-list Sundance, don’t write off Cannes or Berlin or Toronto in the Fall, if you can wait that long. If your film has commercial aspirations, think about a market premiere at Cannes or Berlin. Check out last year’s market guides, research foreign sales companies who might be a good fit.

But don’t stop there. Now is the time to explore your various DIY options. You don’t have to do everything that our friend, the filmmaker from the future, is doing, but you could do a few.

In short, after you get over the Sundance rejection, know that there are many more gatekeepers to approach. But if you learn one thing from the Park City pass, it’s that you can’t rely on these gatekeepers. You need to have a pro-active strategy that doesn’t depend on them for your film’s greater exposure. Ultimately, you are responsible for your film’s success, not a festival programmer, and, once you’ve taken that break, it’s time to get back to work.

Oh yeah, one more thing to take heart in. There will be some good Sundance sales this year. There always are. But there will be many more good films that don’t sell, and those filmmakers will be scrambling to put together their own distribution strategies after the festival. You’ve got a two-month jump on them. Make the most of it.

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