There is a sense of excitement that’s indescribable about being accepted into your first festival. There is also this incredible sense of anxiety and fear that comes from that very same experience.
It’s like a mystery burrito of emotions: who the heck KNOWS what you’re going to feel. You’ll probably fluctuate between many clashing emotions through the entire experience, and that can be really scary.
I only say this because recently, I had my very first acceptance into a festival. My thesis film la violencia en colombia. was accepted into the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest, and I traveled to Polson, MT to see it play. Obviously, my experience was very specific, and should represent the 100% bonafide director’s experience having your work screen at a festival, but I thought I’d talk you through some things that you should remind yourself of.
Think of it like a series of motivational sticky notes on how not to freak out.
Breathing is important. People sometimes do this when they want to continue living. But for our situational purposes, let’s do this to let go of all that anxiety of having a frat party in our chest. You deserve to feel physically at rest. So breathe.
In case you forget this, allow me to have Richard Simmons do the reminding for you:
Trust In Your Material
Here’s a shocking discovery: your film is done! No matter how much you want to go back into the cutting room and cut out those three frames, you can’t go back and change things. You did that already, and you should be proud of the work you and your team put together.
And being finished with something is an achievement all on its own. Be proud! Now’s not the time to be self conscious of your work: a panel of people just picked it to show at their festival!
If you ever get anxious about wanting to bring up the sound level up by three decibels, refer back to our trusty friend Richard Simmons once again.
Rejection Will Happen. And It’s Not Your Fault.
This is a tough one. For one thing, it’s easy to feel as if not being accepted into a festival is indicative of the quality of your work. Sometimes it is, and sometimes, the festival committee needed to fill a 5 minute slot for a screening and your film was 7 minutes long. Who’s to say, to be honest. I wish I had that answer for you, as do a lot of filmmakers. Just don’t let that deter you from submitting your film at all.
la violenica en colombia. was submitted to seven film festivals. Seven times, the film was not accepted. I only submitted to Flathead Lake on a whim because a buddy of mine had mentioned it in conversation one day. After feeling the nausea of seven rejections, I pouted about how I couldn’t bring myself to feel disappointed one more time, but he coaxed me into it anyway. And look what happened!
Take chances. Be patient. Face rejection dead on, and wear it like a badge with pride. Submit your films to festivals with confidence in your material.
Don’t Slouch and Pout When No One Shows Up
The plane ticket cost me $700+. The drive to Polson was 4 hours, the weather was not ideal, and only a handful of friends came with me (the finest friends, to be honest). The film was clumped with a series of three other shorts at 10:30 at night in a really small, one theater town in Montana, and when we all walked in?
There were only two people at the screening other than us.
Like a little kid in the backseat of a long road trip, scrunched up with no leg room and a screaming younger sibling, I pouted. This was my first experience seeing something my team and I had slaved over for more than a year and there were 2 people!?
Bummer city. To the max.
I wish I hadn’t though.
Sometimes, things don’t pan out like you imagine. This is very true in most things in life, and from my experience, the way you handle disappointment says a lot about the content of your character. With film screenings, it’s not about wanting everyone in the room to love your film, and by association, love you. It’s about the conversation. Seeing how they react, how they feel.
Just the fact the film was at a festival was an opportunity that I was taking for granted. And selfishly so. I had been chosen, and people were seeing it.
We’re not making films to feel loved. We’re making films so we can reach out our hands to a stranger and say “I understand”. Cinema is a language of connection.
Which brings us to the last sticky note.
Get Pumped For the Next One!
Just like the first Star Wars fan video in your backyard 15 years ago, your first film in a film festival shouldn’t define you. Get excited to make the next one! Keep moving foreword. The filmmakers that we all admire had to get their start somewhere, and have early short films that in retrospect, they’re probably not stoked to know that the public can see them. But they’re so important!
Get back into the writers room and start working on your next exciting, kooky,emotional, fun-loving, action-packed, jaw dropping, dramatic, crazy cool film idea!
(Addendum: Breathe deeply. Smile widely.)
You have a vision. And your vision is wonderful.
Written by: Spencer Mirabal