Here’s some advice if your film didn’t get into Sundance:
So you submitted months ago, and you were waiting to hear…and waiting. And though you know the odds (it’s easier to get into Harvard!), you still kept hoping. It’s a good film. It’s better than half the shit that was there last year. But the call never came, and then you realized…your film hasn’t made the cut. So, what now?
First, if Sundance was (and is) a big dream of yours, allow yourself the chance to grieve. Seriously. Give yourself one day for each of the stages of grief as outlined by Kubler Ross. One day for denial (there must be a mistake), one for anger (fuck them! Wait until my film premiers at Cannes!), one for bargaining (the film just wasn’t ready, I’ll resubmit next year), and one for depression (why can’t I catch a break? Maybe I’m not talented, maybe my film sucks. Why did I even bother?). And after that, it’s time to jump in the saddle of acceptance and ride on to Plan B.
Here’s the deal: being an artist is hard. We put our hearts and souls in to our work (not to mention our time, energy and life savings) and at the end of the day, we want someone to look at our offering, to look at our heart, and say: you are worthy. You are good. You are smart and brilliant. I see you. Validation from Sundance is the like the ultimate badge of “all your hard work and years of sacrifice, it was all worth it”. And of course, we all dream of being the one who wins the lottery, the one who is picked out and catapulted into a different life, a life of dreams.
I’m here to tell you now, much as validation from outside sources is lovely and wonderful – you don’t need it. You are worthy. You are good. You are an artist and you must keep working on your craft come what may. You never will control the outcome of your work. That is a very, very hard thing to understand and accept, but it’s true and the sooner you embrace it, the better chance you have of staying sane as you continue a life in this crazy hard business of making films. So let me say it again: you never will control the outcome of your work. Make peace with it.
You have a dream for your work, that is healthy. You might have a dream for your kid too: I want them to go to Harvard and become a doctor. Yeah, well, your kid might have other plans. So too with movies. Movies have a life of their own. You are their parent, you birthed them; you do everything you can to help them thrive and be the best they can be, but then at a certain point you have to let go. You have to trust they will find their right and true path, and support them and love them and guide them to that, even if that path is far away from what you dreamed or imagined when you first cradled the idea of them in your mind.
So ride on. Remember, Sundance truly is not the only rodeo in town. There are dozens of festivals in this country alone, hundreds in fact, that are awesome. The key is to know your film, the soul of your film, and seek the places where it will naturally be at home. Who is the audience for your film? Think about it deeply and be as specific as you can be. Seek out festivals that resonate with that audience. Don’t give up. I often think you have to be like a zombie to work in this business – they keep shooting you down, but my god, you just keep getting back up. You have to.
The fact your film didn’t make it to Sundance doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t good enough – it just means it wasn’t right for them. For whatever reason, it didn’t fit their program this year. Don’t be saddened by that. Be grateful. There is a better place for your film. Your job is to find it. Your job is to connect your movie with the audience who will love it. You might not even need festivals to do that. There are a thousand ways to get people to watch a movie. Think creatively and out of the box.
There has never been a better time to be a filmmaker than today. I really believe that. Because of technological developments, we have unprecedented access to the means of production, and most excitingly now, thanks to platforms like VHX and Vimeo on Demand, to the means of distribution. The old models are collapsing. Stay focused on what it is that made you want to make a film. Stay true to your path and keep fighting the good fight.