The hardest part about being a filmmaker is the rejection. And there are so many people trying to be filmmakers these days thanks to the democratization of the industry by the digitalrevolution that there's an awful lot of rejection to go around.
"Thank you for submitting your film," The contemporary rejection letter reads. "We had record submissions this year and can only screen a very select few."
"I bet you say that to all the girls," the little voice in my head says in response. "I know you put that line in your rejection letter to make me feel better about not being selected, but in the end I'm just as rejected as the chucklehead who shot a 20 minute hand-held and out-of-focus film about his navel set to a soundtrack of his own mouth breathing."
When you're a filmmaker you become a connoisseur of fine rejection letters and all their subtleties. There're good ones out there: the American Pavillion of Emerging FIlmmakers at Cannes immediately comes to mind. Both "Persephone" and "The Visionary" were rejected from this one and I have to say I feel pretty OK about it. In fact I felt honored to have submitted because they were honored to have my submission. Good feelings abound all around. Who says the French have no manners?
There's the bad ones: *ahem* Sundance who jumped on the "Record number of submissions" bandwagon before it was cool. Sure, everyone submits to Sundance, but there's no need to be a douche bag about it. I realize douche bag is a strong word to use about a film festival that I someday hope to participate in, but there is a certain amount of salt in my wounds about the Sundance Rejection Letter as the result of it being delivered a full WEEK after their official schedule went live. No one likes being strung along like the ugly girl hoping for a date to prom. If I were vindictive (who, me?) I would make 20 minute hand-held and out-of-focus film about my navel set to a soundtrack of my own mouth breathing just to make someone on the submission committee feel my pain.
Then there are the ones who are learning: this year we received a rejection letter from Chicago United Film Festival that did use the "Record Number of Submissions" line but quickly followed it up with a brief statement saying that our film was "in the top 18%". Ok, I can live with that- sure, there are always going to be more films than a program can hold, but I can at least feel good knowing that they thought our film was well done even if it wasn't right for this time around.
Or there's the Elgin Film Festival- still my favorite film festival to date- which screens a trailer for EVERY film that is submitted even if only 5 of them are screened in their entirety.
I guess that the point that has been hovering in the back of my mind that I've been struggling to put into words lately has to do with the difference between rejection and failure. There is a difference after all. I don't mind rejection when my work is validated: the work is good, just not right. But here in America the two are easy to confuse. A film doesn't really count as a film unless it gets into a film festival- never mind how much work went into it or how much time was dedicated to it. It becomes like an also-ran at the races: no one cares about any of the horses except the ones that win, place, or show. Never mind the time and money and hard work that went into getting them into the running. If nothing else, every filmmaker wants their film to Show. If they're lucky they'll Place for an award or two for their category. And if the almighty favors them then they might even Win. Every filmmaker who has completed a film stands at the bottom of this ladder looking up and every rejection letter makes that first rung seem farther and farther away. Is it any wonder that rejection and failure start to look so much alike?
In the end, there's not much to be done except to keep moving forward. It isn't easy, but then, neither is filmmaking.
So I guess we'll be fine.