Sundance Programmers Explain What Makes a Submission Successful
It's an exciting time when a project you've been working on for months or years is finally complete. However, even after going through all of the stress and chaos of production, looking for film festivals to submit your film to can be just as daunting and complicated as actually making it. But, if you're interested in submitting to Sundance, two of their programmers, Kim Yutani and Lisa Ogdie, offer some considerations for those interested in entering their films, as well as addressing common misconceptions about the festival.
Sundance is the Super Bowl of U.S. film festivals, having received over 12,000 submissions last year, and only being able to screen a fraction of them. Over the years, the festival has grown from a small venue for independent filmmakers, to one that turns Park City into Little Hollywood. It has become incredibly competitive with big studios and independents vying for screenings of their films.
If you're a filmmaker who made a film on a shoestring with a handful of friends, don't fret about going up against the big boys. Yutani and Ogdie shared their insight with Film Independent, who summarize their suggestions for a number of things to think about as you gear up to submit your film to Sundance.
They advise applicants to "focus on the film" itself, as opposed to spending too much time putting together the submission package. The article reads:
What is the most important part of the submission package? Do press materials make a major difference to programmers? Yutani and Ogdie can’t emphasize enough that a director’s focus should be on the final film and not on supplementary materials. Most of the paperwork gets separated from the actual film or discarded during processing. Don’t waste time with excessive packaging, DVD design, or elaborate credits, says Yutani.
It's easy to go overboard with providing professional-looking materials, especially when experienced studios are doing the same. However, Yutani and Ogdie make it clear that what's most important is what is on the screen, not what's in the press package.
The programmers go on to explain that, yes, first-time applicants do stand a chance against festival alumni and well-connected filmmakers. Sound like lip service? Maybe not. Ogdie explains why having connections doesn't necessarily give one the upper hand.
If you know someone, you might get a personal rejection letter. Even having a sales rep or distributor doesn’t serve as an advantage -- [we have] so many relationships with people who rep films that it would be impossible for us to take everything they present to us.
If you've submitted a film to Sundance before and got rejected, it's not the end of the world. Ain't Them Bodies Saints Director David Lowery once said that getting rejected by Sundance is "the mark of a true independent filmmaker." Also, there are many avenues, including other equally promising film festivals, to take your film down to find success. Yutani says:
There are so many great festivals out there. I know a lot of people set their sights on Sundance, [but] it isn’t the only festival that can help you and help your career and be a great place for you to show your film.
Perhaps the best things you can do for the success of your film is to: put everything you have into making it what you want it to be, boldly show it to whomever will watch it (festivals included,) don't burn bridges with those who aren't that into it, and dust yourself off after a scathing rejection and get back at it.
In fact, this year's deadlines are sneaking up on us: August 26th for shorts & August 30th for features, so maybe now would be a great time to get a move on submitting your film.
What do you think about the advice from Sundance's programmers? What was your experience submitting to Sundance, and does it resemble what Yutani and Ogdie described?