I'm a Sundance Reject

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET

So, yesterday Sundance announced their 2008 lineup. Similar to a
cheerleading or football tryout, the anointed were posted on a
bulletin board, the world's largest: the Web. I scanned the list and
my documentary, Dialogue,
was not there. I didn't make the team.

After 4 years and spending over 100,000 thousand dollars, I dreamed
of having my little independent documentary make it to the Indie big
time: SUNDANCE! It's not as though Dialogue had a chance in the big
budget Sundance race, however. True independent, small budget docs
rarely get into the big festivals any longer. And, besides, my movie
is not really a "social issue" doc, has no celebrity attached to it,
has no inside connections, is not controversial and there's very
little nudity.

But this rejection comes at an especially bad time since I'm spending
my last chunk of credit card debt on the color correcting, finishing,
DVD authoring and printing process. I just needed a bit of
encouragement that all this time and money is not going to waste.

There are many colleagues for me to commiserate with, though --- 937
Producers (they chose 16 docs out of 953 submitted) to be exact.
It's sometimes a long, lonely journey producing and self-funding a
documentary. In addition to all the production and funding problems
along the way, a new set of plaguing doubts creep in at the end,
"What if it's boring?" "Will anyone get it?" "I should re-edit..."
"Maybe it's going to be a big flop" "Will anyone even watch it?"
"What have I gotten myself into?"

My four year, first-time, documentary producing process kind of went like this:

==> I had an idea to produce an inspiring movie about the creative
process, public spaces and our common humanity. Specifically, the
subject would be about planning & creating a public art installation
and following its tour across the United States. I thought it would
cost around $50,000 and take about a year and half to finish. (Note
to self: double or triple your original estimates.)

==> After sketching out some ideas, I plunged into an extensive
production schedule. I bought camera, sound, light and editing
equipment and took classes on how to use it all. I also hired crews
around the country to tape the installation scenes during the
national tour. In spite of some major production issues, over 140
hours were captured during three years.

==> For nine months, I reviewed all the footage and edited dozens of
scenes. For another few months, I sketched out ideas about what type
of movie I actually had and started coming up with the basic story
structure, scene order and focus. Constructive and sometimes
wince-inducing feedback from friends and colleagues helped guide this

==> I then hired an editor, graphics supervisor and composer. We
began the difficult process of cutting the seven hour "rough cut" to
88 minutes. Important moments, entire story threads, brilliant
interviews and beautiful shots landed in the little electronic trash
bin. The story shifted, I received more feedback and it shifted some
more. There were an infinite number of cuts and paths to take. My
head was spinning at times, until finally I said, "It's done!"

Now that the movie is done, there is this entirely new set of
challenges. How to reach an audience and, hopefully, recoup some of
the production budget. Plus, the emotional trauma of rejection and
negative feedback. Ugh!

Crazy as it sounds I'd still like to produce another documentary...about the challenges and joys of producing documentaries. And,
following a creative dream. But, I think I'll wait and see what
happens with this one first.

I've applied to a total of 60 film festivals around the world, so the
pain is just beginning. But a few acceptances will be the perfect
salve. Toronto, Cannes, Tribeca, Telluride ... are you listening?
Sincerely, "a Sundance 2008 reject."

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