Every Time You Receive A Rejection Letter From a Festival, Submit to Two Others / by Keith LaFountaine

After months of waiting, I finally got the ever-depressing notice that Sundance Film Festival was not going to be including my film in their festival. While Withoutabox.com -- one of the sites I use to submit my films to various festivals -- still lists it as "In Consideration" the full list of accepted short films was released on Monday, and my film was not among them.

Getting that rejection notice is always difficult. After you put your blood, sweat, tears, and heart into a project it's frustrating to be met with a wall of rejection notices preventing you from moving forward. It is especially frustrating if you have spent money on your project (like I did) and/or have had someone invest in your vision (like I did). You want to get your name out there and you want to deliver for the people who put their time into making your film work -- mainly your producers, your crew, and your cast.

But sometimes it doesn't work out like that.

Sundance is the Holy Grail of film festivals. If you get into Sundance, it means your filmmaker career is officially on the up-and-up. It is also a great sense of accomplishment, given the small chance of being accepted.

I knew Mirror was most likely not going to be chosen. That's not because it's a poor film in any regard. However, with 8,740 short film submissions and only 69 spots available, we had a 0.78% chance of getting in. It was going to take quite a miracle, in other words.

It doesn't make the rejection sting any less, nor does it make dealing with the rejection any less difficult. However, going in with the knowledge that you are going to get that rejection slip dampens the blow a bit.

I know a little bit about getting rejected from film festivals. I also know about getting rejected from publishers, literary magazines, and literary journals. I'm not going to lie to you -- every single one of those rejections feels like a sledgehammer to the gut. After a while, your response to them stops being "why won't they accept my film?" and becomes "of course."

A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

The important thing to understand about this business, though, is that it's a numbers game as much as it is a game of luck. The vast majority of films that get rejected from film festivals are good films. Just, for whatever reason, they weren't the right films for that festival. 

So every time you get a rejection notice, I want you to submit to two more festivals. Use websites like FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. Submit to local film festivals; submit to international film festivals; submit to Cannes; submit to Sundance. Submit to every film festival your film is eligible for. The more places your film is submitted, the higher your chances of it getting accepted are.

A perfect example of this is in that picture above: in the list of festivals you will see a listing for the 44th Student Academy Awards. I submitted my thesis film, Stalker, to that festival last year. They received 1,749 submissions that year, and Stalker was among roughly 87 films (5% of submissions) that were shortlisted. And while it didn't make it into the actual festival, that is a number to be proud of. Too often we dismiss the "almosts" because we don't consider them successes. That is a success, though.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't feel bad about the rejection notices; it also doesn't mean that licking your wounds and being frustrated is bad, either. After I realized Mirror was not going to be in the festival I played Call of Duty to keep my mind off of it, and then I came here to whine about it a bit (while also, hopefully, imparting some wisdom). It's not wrong to feel bad when your films get rejected. You just can't let that rejection keep you from pursuing this career.

You are going to get many, many more rejections than successes. Very few people take the Tarantino route. The road to success in the film industry is paved with frustration and hard work. You just have to put that hard work in. Maybe it wasn't the right festival; maybe it wasn't the right project. But that doesn't mean you will never make the right film or submit to the right festival.

As I said, it's a numbers game. So keep submitting and upping your chances.