SUBMITTING TO SUNDANCE? Q&A WITH FESTIVAL PROGRAMMERS
With the Sundance Film Festival submission deadline almost upon us (Monday, Aug. 27), Film Independent offered our members an extended Q&A with Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer John Nein and Shorts Programmer Mike Plante.
They discussed everything from the festival’s programming philosophy to what type of films they look for, while dispelling some myths and suggesting do’s and don’ts when submitting your project.
With over 4,000 feature films submitted annually, the programming team has to be incredibly selective to narrow their choices down to just over 100 final selections. “Yes, we do watch your film all the way through!” Nein declared, setting the record straight.
So, what is the programming team looking for? Projects that are ahead of the curve. “We’re all looking for something we haven’t seen before,” Nein said. However, “we don’t have to all like your film in order for it to get into the festival. It’s a collegial process. Being an outlier can work. Who wants to be the programmer or festival who misses a great project?”
If an aesthetic or genre doesn’t match with a programmer’s taste, they will pass it along to someone else who may like it in order to get a different perspective. “We try to build in ways to double-check.” When making decisions, “we do not put the best 16 films in a program. We put the best program together that we can,” Nein explained. The goal is to bring diversity across all fronts of the festival and to adequately support all of the films.
The quality of your story and the way you tell it is more important than the quality of the format in which you submit your film. According to Plante, “we watch mostly rough cuts” and consider works in progress all of the time. In regards to DVD screeners vs. online screeners, it matters not to the programmers. They are both convenient and “the quality is not a huge factor. We know your film will look better on a big screen,” said Nein. Submit something you’re happy with.
Timing (or, Don’t Rush):
If you submit in the spring, your film will not be forgotten. “We watch the films as they come in, shortlist them, and then re-watch them with the entire group of programmers later in the year,” Plante said. Don’t rush your film just to meet the Sundance deadline.
“There is a pressure that a lot of people feel to submit to Sundance,” Nein said. “It can be good because it can push you. But it can also be bad if you rush to make the deadline and hurt your film as a result.”
Anytime you submit your film without finalizing all of your licensing, you’re taking a risk. In regards to legal issues, you must accept all legal responsibility if the film is accepted and plays in a festival. Out of all of the Sundance submissions, “Jon Brion was the most temp-tracked composer last year,” Nein said. If your indie film features songs by the Rolling Stones, “we know that it’s temp. We have an odd relationship with temp tracks because we have to assume that somehow you will find a way to make that film good without the temp track.” Be careful not to get too attached to your temp track.
Films with running times of less than 50 minutes are classified as shorts. Fiction shorts generally run between 5 – 15 min. Documentary shorts may run a little longer; up to 30-45 min. Plante recommends editing your project down to the intended final length (or as close to it as possible) before submitting. “If your film should be 5 minutes long and the running time is 15 minutes, that can really hurt your chances of getting in.” He also adds that if you’re submitting a short, “you do not need more than 30 seconds of credits.” Don’t have long credits leading into a short film, leave that for the features.
Sundance has no premiere requirement for shorts. Other festivals will, though (Tribeca, for example). “We will play stuff that is already on the internet. Shorts need all the help they can get,” Plante said.
—Lee Jameson, Film Education Coordinator
Once you’ve finished submitting to Sundance, get your questions answered about the Fall festival circuit too — tickets are free for Film Independent members!
August 21st, 2012 • 10 Comments