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What happens after you make a movie
One dude's tale of spending way too much money submitting to film festivals
After “completing” my short film (is any movie ever REALLY finished?), I entered it into 11 festivals.
First, the big ones. Sundance, TIFF, Cannes, because why not? A boy’s gotta dream!
Then, the more realistic, local showcases for aspiring amateurs. Basically, anything with New York/New Jersey/Long Island in its name so I wouldn’t have to rent a car or book a flight. A boy’s gotta budget!
After sending my $40 (often with “insurance” in case the festival was “cancelled”) and a Vimeo link to these tastemakers, I waited. The notification dates were often months away.
Most of the time, I forgot my movie even existed.
Then, the first rejection came and I very quickly became self-righteous about the film I had barely remembered just days before .
Immediately, I DM’d the festival curator via Instagram since they’re sort of a mini-celebrity in the short film community and I wanted to start a polite dialogue and show I’m a cool dude.
Here’s what I wrote:
“Hey! Saw my short wasn’t selected for ______. No hard feelings but would you mind sharing some notes? I worked for two years on the movie and would love some feedback from pros I admire.”
They didn’t write back.
However, the message was marked as “read.”
Something must have been wrong. I sent a follow-up clarifying which short was mine.
This was more than a bit upsetting. I dropped $35 to apply (a steal of a price for the film fest racket) and their team doesn’t even have the decency to tell me why I was rejected? My blood was boiling.
Another rejection came in a few days later.
Now I’m 0 for 2 batting .000.
Maybe my film was no good? If so, this was a harsher truth than radio silence.
Do I suck? I must suck.
I sent a message to their team asking for notes.
These folks replied and wrote back:
“Hi Matt. We score on a scale of 1-5, it scored a 3.75. The selected films all scored 4 and up. Some of the comments are that it played a little long for a couple of the screeners’ taste, (though) they liked the actors. Hope that helps. I'm sure it will find many festival homes.”
OK! Now we’re getting somewhere.
Soon after, I fired up Adobe Premiere and began editing a project labeled “Final Final.”
This person was right. Fat could be trimmed. My movie slimmed down from loose 19 to a tight 15 minutes.
Three months later, my first film fest acceptance popped in my inbox.
Wow. Validation. My first thought was “is this one of the legit fests?”
THE FEST MEET AND GREET
On Thursday, Aug. 3, Anna and I attended the Chain Film Festival’s meet and greet.
It was packed. Wall to wall filmmakers with badges hobnobbing. This was what I moved to New York for. Not only did I want to be among filmmakers, I wanted to belong with them and, for one night, I did.
There was only one problem. The room was so loud, it was nearly impossible to network. Groups had already formed and I didn’t want to muscle my way into a conversation.
Anna and I stood on the outskirts, observing.
At moments like this, I wish I was better at rubbing shoulders and jumping into groups but the last thing anybody wants to hear while chatting is “what are you guys talking about?”
So, rather than putting myself out there and risking being annoying, Anna and I made small talk with a few other outsiders who were also too timid to jump into a group. These people were nice but I felt I didn’t really connect with any strangers there.
Walking home, back to our baby with her sitter, I felt like a failure.
“You got into the festival,” Anna said.
That’s really true.
Time to get over myself.
This was what I wanted and I needed to stop moping and enjoy the moment.
The following Thursday, I headed back to midtown for the screening of my short in the Chain Film Festival’s fantasy block.
For a minute, it seemed like only my lead actor (the incomparable Manny Simmons) and I would be the only people watching the movie on the big screen.
Makes sense. It was rainy as hell that day. I almost didn’t want to go.
Thankfully, more folks showed up at the last second. My pals Blair Johnson and Belton Delaine-Facey popped in. Dianna Fuller, a fantastic actress who played the mom in my short, dropped in with her cousin right at 7.
Finally, time to see the flick on the big screen. Cinema!
Well, after awhile.
There were six shorts in my block and mine was last.
When it finally came on, I felt a sense of relief. I’d been holding in pee for so long. Couldn’t wait to go.
As for the movie, it was fascinating to see with an audience. While it was an incredibly special experience, all I could see were the mistakes I made. Coverage I didn’t get, cringeworthy editing decisions, unnecessary sound cues.
Anything that didn’t feel real, fell very, very flat by my estimation.
Subtlety isn’t something a lot of short films traffic in and I’m certainly guilty of in-your-face choices.
Simplicity and quiet should be rewarded. This is really hard to understand if you haven’t seen your motion picture in a theater with a crowd.
Now that I’m on my soapbox, I’m gonna keep ranting. Here’s an important note for all short filmmakers:
Keep your credits tight. All the shorts screen back to back and no one wants to sit through a minute of names.
I learned this the hard way.
Basically, watch your movie on a big screen before seeing it with an audience. You’ll catch so many small things you’d never have noticed on a laptop.
After the screenings, a moderator called the directors onstage for a talkback.
“Was this your first movie,” he asked when he got to me.
“No,” I said, “although it may have looked like it.”
Maybe too big.
At home, I stayed up all night playing the movie over and over in my head.
I couldn’t wait until the weekend when I could chop the movie up. There are still four festivals I’m waiting to hear back from (Sundance, if you’re reading this, I’m talking about you) and I want to send them the best possible product.
Dropped three more minutes from the movie. The short is even shorter, now just a tick over 12 minutes. Everything that wasn’t essential to the story is gone.
Either way, I’m grateful it happened. All fests have applicants that don’t get in and I should be happy that even if my movie wasn’t perfect, it was accepted.
what happens next?
Well, hopefully, I get into a few more fests and don’t send any more embarrassing DMs.
Truth be told, I’m still not above it. It could def happen
PS: I’m already working on my next short. If you want to be a part of it in any capacity — you could join the crew, read the screenplay or we could just chat about movies — hit me up.
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