In Official Rejection, filmmaker Scott Storm takes you along while he promotes his indie feature Ten ’til Noon across the country.
How to survive and thrive
Storm reveals the hazards of promoting independent films. He often felt frustrated, ignored and disrespected. Many like him live with the stress of high credit card bills and broken marriages.
“The biggest misconception that filmmakers have about film festivals,” says author Chris Gore, “is, they’re gonna go there, they’re gonna show their movie, someone’s gonna buy it, they’re gonna have a million dollars, and they’re gonna have a great career!”
That isn’t so, says Gore, who writes The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide.
Thousands of film festivals are held each year. Scores of filmmakers apply so they can meet potential funders, gain publicity, and even win awards.
Lure of the big festivals
In North America, four events set the gold standard: The Sundance Film Festival; The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); The South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW); and a relative newcomer, The Tribeca Film Festival.
Indie filmmakers often apply to the big festivals first, says Paul Osborne, who directed Official Rejection and wrote Ten ’til Noon. If their movie premieres at a lesser known festival, they are sure to be rejected by the big ones.
Living with rejection
Applying to each festival costs $50 or more. There are forms to complete and DVDs to burn for each submission. When Sundance turns him away, Storm is stunned. He thought his movie was worthwhile and similar to others at Sundance. As the rejections pile up, he becomes more disappointed.
Storm discovers that other indie filmmakers are being turned away too. A rejection does not mean that the film is bad, however. It may not meet specific programming objectives. So many films, so few slots: Sundance recently had over 2,000 submissions for only 16 competition slots.
Corporate sponsors and moneyed “Indiewood” studios have co-opted the major indie festivals, according to filmmakers. Take a look at the corporate sponsor logos on major festival websites. It’s all about connections and who you know. Sexual favors are traded, say some insiders.
“Suddenly you can’t be the film from nowhere that just explodes,” says filmmaker Kevin Smith. Gore adds, “Sundance has become a victim of its own success. . . . It’s the stepchild of the studios.”
Sundance Founder Robert Redford, quoted at Movieline.com, answers charges of commercialism: “We’re doing it the same way we always did . . . our job is to provide, not to necessarily decide.”
Smaller festivals show interest
Resolving not to give up, Storm eventually gets Ten ‘til Noon accepted at 14 lesser-known festivals. On his road trips, he documents everything from broken projectors and scarce food to skimpy SWAG bags (souvenirs, wearables and gifts, also known as “s–t we all get.”)
Storm shells out more for movie postcards and posters. His family and friends help him distribute and post these before each screening. Politician-like, they shake hands with passersby and urge them to “Come see a movie!”
As Storm learns the ropes, so do you. Interviews with filmmakers, festival presidents and programmers shed light on the process. Small festivals slam one another and scramble for prestigious “premieres.” Gore suggests that indie filmmakers manage expectations and learn from it all.
Many bad films are submitted, according to programmers who must watch hundreds of submissions. One admits that he cannot watch every film in its entirety. How to get around this?
One filmmaker sent a blank DVD to Slamdance to see if anyone would notice. When Slamdance’s organizer called him, he had the chance to schmooze with him briefly before quickly sending in his movie.
Storm learns to respect the lesser-known festivals. He takes you behind the scenes in San Francisco, Riverside and Phoenix.
Best, worst festival experiences
His best festival experience? The Newport Beach Film Festival, where organizers make filmmakers welcome and talk with them about their ideas. His worst? Chicago Indiefest, a disorganized nightmare run by an elusive head honcho and invisible volunteers.
A high point for Storm is connecting with his audiences in post-screening Q&A sessions. One fan follows him from city to city. To hear how much viewers appreciate his movie is deeply satisfying.
Ten ‘til Noon eventually wins the Best Narrative Feature Award at the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival. The film is now available on DVD. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Official Rejection, you might enjoy: I Am.
Official Rejection 2009 / NR / 1 hour, 47 min
Cast Overview: Paul Osborne, Paul Alessi, Scott Storm, Andy Dick, David Faustino, Kevin Smith, Jenna Fischer, Chris Gore, Bryan Singer, Lloyd Kaufman, Blayne Weaver, John Daniel Gavin, Traci Lords, Jennifer Tilly, Danny Trejo
Director: Paul Osborne
Genre: Indie Documentary