Monday, October 12, 2009

The Information Black Hole

Filmmakers often work for years to create their films. They love their projects with a mother's eyes, every one wonderful and unique. Then they send their precious children off into the big scary world of the festival circuit where brutal reality often sets in.

Real parents, unlike film parents, can at least be assured they will get honest feedback about how their child is progressing, report cards and teacher conferences. Film parents get little more than an acceptance or rejection. It's akin to sending one's child to school only to have the child returned a few hours later with a big red "No" stamped on Junior's forehead. How's a filmmaker supposed to take that? What does it mean?

It isn't cruelty that drives festival selection committees to accept some films and reject others. They are simply working to create the best schedule possible for their festival. Most filmmakers are savvy enough to understand that even before they begin to mail out screeners. But that doesn't answer all their burning questions. Likewise, it is not the indifference of the selection committee that causes a sudden black hole to form in the pit of filmmakers' stomachs when their films are rejected. It is the lack of answers. In this void created by the lack of concrete answers and, ultimately, the lack of resources (time and $) needed to provide those answers for every submission, filmmakers are left either to languish or to make up their own answers.

Though rejection stings in itself-and the questions arising from rejection are more acute-this black hole is created whether a film is accepted or not. It's an information black hole, and it's created when a film's acceptance status goes unexplained. So, they rejected your film. Is it really because it sucks that hard or because, as filmmakers often tell themselves, it wasn't quite what the festival was looking for (too silly, too serious, too long, too short, too damn brilliant for those idiots to understand)? Or, on the flip side, sure, your film was accepted, but why? What caught their attention? You need to know what you did right so you can duplicate it in later projects. You also need to know what about the project, even though it was chosen, could still stand improving to tighten its appeal and marketability.

I've had the annoying privilege of sitting on the other side of this problem, too much information and no where to put it. I have watched mountains of indie films in my time as a festival director, and until now have never really had a streamlined way of providing feedback to filmmakers, their markets, and their fans. As co-director of The Montana Independent Film Festival and Mockfest Film Festival of Hollywood for the past four years and Shockfest Film Festival of Hollywood for the past three, I have watched every film submission that has darkened our doorway. I've seen scores of films that simply weren't ready for acceptance for one relatively small reason or another.

Here's what to expect from this blog:

1. Indie Film Reviews: Focusing on films accepted and rejected by our festivals, but I'm open to review suggestions.

2. Insights and Trends: As the films roll in, I'll keep you informed.

3. General Film Advice: Common dos and don'ts that can give your film an edge with selection committees (at least with ours!).

4. Questions Answered: Can't predict what this category will contain. That's up to you!

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