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 process.
==> 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."