Slamdance Founder’s Opening Night Wisdom is Tough Love for Filmmakers

Bernard and Huey
Filmmaker and Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish pulls no punches in this annual Slamdance tradition.

Dan Mirvish isn’t known for pulling any punches. After all, he co-founded the Slamdance Film Festival—Sundance’s edgier cousin—which pokes at Redford’s event by taking place in the same mountain town at the exact same time. Mirvish also has a reputation for sharing no-BS advice with other filmmakers, as he has in his book The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking and on this very site

“You spend two more years writing, a screenplay or bible,
Your spouse may have left you, but at least you've gone scribal.”

Mirvish's new film Bernard and Huey (trailer below) is a satirical comedy from a script by Oscar/Pulitzer-winner Jules Feiffer. It will be the closing night film at this year’s Slamdance, after having already played successfully over the past few months on the global festival circuit. Among Mirvish’s many roles at the fest is to write and deliver the infamous opening night poem, which he has shared with us below. But don’t think love sonnet—per Mirvish’s MO, this is a hilariously accurate take on a life in independent film and an important reality check for all of us.

That's Great, Kid

by Dan Mirvish

You have an idea, for a film or a series,
Now you want to pitch it, you make all the queries.
To Hollywood companies you need a greeting,
It takes you three years but then you get a meeting.

They like your style,
your dreams they won't thwart.
That's great, kid, 
but now let us know when you've got a short.

So you go out and shoot a concept for proof
The short film's amazing, it's more than a goof!
It plays at Slamdance, and wins an award
Hollywood will come knocking, trust me, you've scored!

You go back to the exec
and so you beseech her.
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've got a feature.

So you work out an outline, a long form you believe is
Worthy of doing, so you do a super-cool pre-viz
Or work out an outline, put cards on your wall
You workshop with actors, research in Nepal.

Then you pitch them, while 
on their coffee they sipped.
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've written the script.

You spend two more years writing, a screenplay or bible,
Your spouse may have left you, but at least you've gone scribal.
You apply to some labs, Sundance and New York in
Your mentor rewrites you, but he's Aaron Sorkin!

Now your screenplay is written
and you stand there aghast.
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've got your cast.

You attach Tom Cruise, he'll play your hero!
Jessica Chastain, and then Bob DeNiro!
It takes you four years, but now you've amassed it,
The best actors on earth, even Angela Basset.

You return back to the Man
with demeanor so sunny.
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've got some money.

So you try crowdfunding, and you find some investors,
You sell your left kidney, you hit up ancestors.
It takes another five years, but now that you've raised
enough money to shoot, for sure they'll be amazed.

So you return to the meetings,
They say, just between us
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've got dailies to screen us.

To get Emanuel Lubezki, to friends he's called Chivo,
He can't shoot for two years, so you give him the heave ho.
Then you get Ed Lachman, 'cause he shoots on emulsion
You wait two more years, 'cause that's his compulsion.

You show beautiful footage
In you walk with a strut.
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've got a cut.

You spend three years on Premiere, give closeups to faces,
You've fired three editors, two of them ACEs.
Now you're cutting at Starbucks, you're broke and moustached,
You know your cut's done, 'cause the hard drive just crashed.

So you show your first edit
and they say just for kicks,
That's great, kid, 
now let us know when you've finished your mix.

You've run out of money, the flow you must stanch it,
but when Skywalker frees up, you decide that you'll Ranch it!
To the sound gods, you've reached the goal that is holy
Even though they say you have to do your own foley.

So you screen your film,
expect to be put on the pay list.
That's great, kid, 
as soon as you're in a festival that's A-list.

Festivals you apply to, you get into forty!
From Europe to Guam, you feel so airporty!
You get killer reviews, and your poster's got laurels,
You even won a trophy that's made out of corals.

So you get back to the exec
I don't mean to impugn her.
That's great, old timer,
but what we REALLY wish is you'd come to us sooner.

If you'll be in Park City next week and want more filmmaking gems from Mirvish, he's doing a book signing Dolly's Bookstore (510 Main St., Park City) on Sunday, Jan 21 at 2pm.     

Featured image from Dan Mirvish's 'Bernard and Huey'

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Your Comment


Dan's the man, and this poem is the best thing I've read all week. Thanks for sharing!

January 19, 2018 at 10:46AM

Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom

This poem speaks the truth. It's a crazy world and it doesn't seem like there are rules. Sometimes you get a David F. Sandberg that rises up from shorts then you have a David DeVos who makes multiple low budget features and is still fighting for his deal. It's extremely tough out here. Honestly, I spend at least one night a month full of doubt. My girlfriend asks if I'm okay and I lie and say I had a bad dream. I'm too much of a chicken to say I hadn't slept and all I can think about is maybe I'm not going to accomplish my dream of making a movie. That's why I cling on to days where I feel like I'm on my path to making something. You can allow yourself to feel self-doubt but don't let it stick around. You're better than that. You've working years towards this dream. You've envisioned yourself working on the big sets. You're almost there. Don't let that little voice drown out your dream.

January 19, 2018 at 7:30PM, Edited January 19, 7:30PM

Julian Terry