They say it's about who you know. "You gotta know somebody," the filmmaker says. "It's all about connections, and I don't have any. It's a club, an inside game."
You've heard the above lines connected to every element of filmmaking. You need connections to get someone to read your script. Or give you money. Or distribute your film. Or just take you seriously.
I heard a bunch of this this week when the Sundance list came out. "Unless you're a lab film, Sundance alumni or have stars, plan for rejection," one filmmaker tweeted to me. But here's the thing: this year a lot of people who knew someone didn't get in. (It's like this every year, I suppose, but this year I seemed to know more of these folks.) Another filmmaker who was supported by the Sundance Institute told me that not only did he not get in but five films by his casting director didn't. And neither did another five films of one of his crew members.
More people are making more films these days. Sundance said they had over 10,000 submissions. And social media means we're more connected. We all know more people than we used to. Festivals like Sundance get older, so they have more alumni who keep making even more films. It's really just math. Not everyone who deserves to get in - and not everyone who knows somebody - can.
Personal connections, here's what I think they're ultimately good for: personal rejections. If you know someone and your film is rejected, you're more likely to get a phone call or a nice email instead of that form letter saying how more people than ever submitted this year.
But there's a larger issue here, which is your film's business model. At the end of too many business plans are the words "and then we go to Sundance." And you know what? The films of these business plans, they do need to go to Sundance, because there's no other place pictures with their particular defining qualities can garner the initial support from audience and industry to justify the distribution deals needed to make financial recoupment or even simply audience exposure a possibility. These are films that would die at the AFM, wouldn't premiere at a European festival, aren't marketable without a festival launch and don't have at their helm producers or directors able to manage the audience building and DIY strategies needed to self-distribute.
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post titled, "So You Didn't Get Into Sundance." It's a good post, it got a lot of response, and if you didn't get into Sundance, I still recommend it. But there's something about it that's been nagging me, and I haven't been able to put my finger on it. I've wanted to update it, and I haven't been able to figure out how. And then I realized that it's not really about what you do when you don't get into Sundance, and it's not even necessarily about having, as I wrote in the post, "a pro-active strategy that doesn't depend on [A-list festivals] for your film's greater exposure." It's really about thinking hard about what you're making before you make it. If you decide to make a film that needs to go to Sundance, or one of the other top festivals, to have any kind of shot, then you've got to make that film pretty damn good. There's no room for "interesting" noble failures anymore. There's just too much competing work out there. But if you want to play, to experiment, there are new forms, new outlets and new ways of premiering that await you. Many of these new forms screen at Sundance -- I'm thinking of its excellent New Frontiers section -- but they are not dependent on it.
So, think hard before you even make your film. If you are making what can be categorized as a festival film, it's got to go to a festival. But you can make other things too, films and projects that can reach audiences in other ways.
To be continued...
See you next week.
Upcoming at IFP
Independent Filmmaker Lab Fellows Meet for Final Week of 2012 Program
The 2012 "class" of IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs fellows has returned to NYC this week for the final leg of the Lab program - the distribution component. The Independent Filmmaker Labs are a highly immersive, free mentorship program supporting first-time feature directors with projects in post-production as they complete, market and distribute their films. The primary focus of the Labs is on guiding filmmakers to concretely and constructively plan for their films' lives beyond post-production, with sessions tailored to maximizing each team's opportunities given the particular assets of each film. With all 20 projects (10 narrative, 10 doc) now in the final finishing stage or completed, the distribution sessions work with each team to focus their efforts on strategies to get their films out in the world. Lab leader Jon Reiss along with IFP staff leads this week's sessions, with specific project advice also given by expert mentors Joshua Blum of Washington Square Arts, Caitlin Boyle of Film Sprout, Jim Browne of Argot Pictures, Dylan Marchetti of Variance Films, and Erick Opeka of Cinedigm. Several of the 2012 Lab projects have already made or are about to make their festival debuts: Benjamin Greene's documentary Survival Prayer premiered at the Camden International Film Festival with a follow-up at Vancouver International Film Festival, and Alex Meiller's Alias Ruby Blade just world premiered at IDFA, while Alexandre Moors' Blue Caprice and Stacie Passon's Concussion will premiere at Sundance in January. Applications for the 2013 Labs will be available in January here..
New In Theaters
Only the Young
Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet's Only the Young focuses on three teenagers whiling away their days in a small Southern California town. Surrounded by a desolate landscape and lack of recreational outlets, these kids are short on fun things to do. That doesn't stop them as they find excitement through the everyday drama of love, loss and just plain growing up. Best U.S. feature winner at this year's SilverDocs, Only the Young has been praised for its quietly affecting meditation on adolescence. Tippet and Mims were selected for Filmmaker's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" this year, and you can read their profile here.
Bill and Tuner Ross' Tchoupitoulas documents the misadventures of three adolescent brothers in the streets of New Orleans. The documentary follows the trio as they plunge further into a vibrant abyss of lights, music and an assortment of colorful characters. Tchoupitoulas has been described as a highly lyrical, hazy dream of a movie that takes the viewer through a personal journey through one of the greatest cities in the world. You can read Alicia Van Couvering's take on the film here.
In Our Nature
In Brian Savelson's In Our Nature, Seth (Zach Gilford), a young Brooklynite, takes his girlfriend (Jena Malone) upstate for a romantic retreat at his family's vacation house. Their getaway takes an unexpected turn when Seth's father (John Slattery) decides to pay a visit with his new and younger girlfriend (Gabrielle Union). Savelson's directing debut In Our Nature premiered earlier this year at SXSW, where it received accolades for its excellent ensemble and tense portrayal of family dysfunction. Click here for Byron Camacho's interview with Brian Savelson.
This Week on FilmmakerThis week on the blog, Adam Cook evaluates Whistler Film Festival 2012 (pictured left), David Rosen investigates Rupert Murdoch's Media Monopoly, and Zach Wigon discusses Oslo, August 31st and more in The Truth in Ambiguity, an analysis of open-ended films.
To read more, click here.
Newest Web Article
Five Questions with The Sheik and I Director Caveh ZahediBy Dan Schoenbrun
Caveh Zahedi is no stranger to boundary pushing. His filmography, a blend of narrative and documentary, has covered everything from drug tripping to sex addiction, all from a decidedly first-person perspective. But Zahedi's latest, the bitterly-titled The Sheik and I, is perhaps his most flagrantly subversive (not to mention personal) work yet. Banned by the very government body that commissioned it, The Sheik and I finds Zahedi let loose on the Middle East. As he pushes boundaries in his attempt to "make a film about trying to make a film," the resulting work, premiering at SXSW, promises to call into question many of the region's civil rights and free speech issues.
Festival DeadlinesLos Angeles Film Festival
Earlybird Deadline: December 7
Regular Deadline: January 11
Late Deadline: February 15
WAB Deadline: February 22
Festival Dates: June 13 - 23
Seattle International Film Festival
Regular Deadline: December 7
Late Deadline: January 7
WAB Deadline: February 1
Festival Dates: May 16 - June 9
Florida Film Festival
Late Deadline: December 7
WAB Deadline: December 14
Festival Dates: April 5 - 14