‘How I Was Rejected by Over 35 Festivals and Lived to Tell It’ by @PrincetonHolt

PRINCETON HOLT – FILMMAKER

The plan was simple: We made our latest feature film, THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CHLOE, on a small budget. The stakes were set up to be low. We would experiment with form. We would experiment with storytelling. We would shoot it with no script, no rehearsals, and no shot list. We would completely self-release, but use traditional promotion avenues like reviews, blogs, interviews and film festivals to spread the word of our release.

My partner in crime in this experiment was Naama Kates, an LA-based artist whom I had cast in my first feature. As producers, she doubled as my lead actress and I doubled as her director. We began discussing this project – this crazy 4 day shoot character piece concept with no safety net – and before we knew it, we were meeting in downtown Nashville, she flying in from LA, me from NY. With no other cast members or crew in mind, we had only ourselves and our DP (and co-producer), Christopher C. Odom, whom I had met only about a month prior.

So why not release the film in the same spirit in which we produced it?

As an indie film producer whose company has experimented with every other possible method of distribution – selling films to distributors, online VOD streaming, DVD pick up deals, and direct-from-website sales – many to varied levels of success, this would be our way of completely bypassing all middlemen and digital-rights aggregators. We would make our film directly available to viewers, and we would completely control our own release. So, we got our film reviewed (mostly positive, thank God), some bloggers wrote about it, and some interviewed us; all we needed was that final festival push where we could “piggy-back” off of their corporate, promotional engines. Simple enough, right?

Wrong.

Naturally, we started by submitting to the Nashville Film Festival since, essentially, the film is a love letter to the city of Nashville. We got great feedback from them, but I broke my own well-known rule (see #4) and submitted a rough cut. Never, EVER submit a rough cut of your movie to a film festival. Just don’t. After impatiently sending our rough cut to two other festivals, we finally completed our final cut and sent out them only from then on. So far that was 3 rejections.

Then we got around to the regionals. All rejections. In less than about 6 months, 18 rejections from regional film festivals, and 21 total. You may need your calculator at this point.

By the time we got to 21 rejections, prime festival season was rolling around again, and perhaps because we were then in production on another feature, and in development on still another, we proudly convinced ourselves that maybe this was all happening for a reason. Maybe we weren’t meant to play those other festivals. So we forged ahead. After the obligatory DANCE submissions (they all said ‘NO’), we began concentrating more intently on which festival was right for our film. After 3 of the 4 festivals that we felt were right for our particular film said ‘no,’ we began to get a little discouraged.

We were beginning to feel like we just sucked. “People hate the film, no one cares, we suck.” Ask Naama: we had conversations with these exact quotes. Yes, in our case we snagged some cool awards from private juries/contests, etc, but still, no one wanted to screen our film for their audience. It got a little weird. Even when you remind yourself that it-doesn’t-matter-because-you-are-self-releasing-your-film-anyway, it still felt weird – especially because of the accolades we were getting from critics and other people. And also, I was honestly very, very proud of my actors – for example Naama and Jason Burkey delivered fantastic performances and shared incredible on-screen chemistry. Their moments alone and together felt real to me, and the storytelling was structured a little differently than the average indie film, with strong European sensibilities fluttered throughout. And that is something of which I’ve always been a fan, as well as friends of mine and most film festivals.  So what’s up?

After we picked ourselves up, we submitted to several more. Rejection, Rejection, Rejection. By now, your calculator probably has smoke coming from it. 36 Film Festivals submitted to, so far 34 said “NO!” Then number 35. 35 rejections. Even with good feedback from festivals about your film, it still doesn’t change the fact that they rejected it.

While continuing to work (always advised) and watching out of the corner of my eye for the last one to come in, I reflected on the odd, crapshoot nature that is the film festival circuit. As indies go, there are many different reasons why our films are rejected, and there is very little conclusive evidence as to why. Sometimes they want name actors in their program (even though they will swear and lie to your face that they don’t look for that). Other times, they only want premieres. Other times, they program nearly 90% from OTHER film festivals, leaving only 10% to new discoveries and world premieres. And other times, as quiet as it’s kept, they leave it to some college kid who is bored to tears with your opening 5 minutes…doesn’t like it…checks their iPad and iPhone and Facebook messages with your DVD on as background noise. You don’t even make it to phase 2: having a second round of eyeballs view your film.

Where does this crapshoot leave us?

It should leave us empowered, that’s where. Even further proof that there are many ways nowadays to get your work seen. Who needs a middleman? Screw them. Most of them are not even considered “cool” anymore. I was reminded that we still controlled our own release, our own destiny. The film is up on the website; it has been available for all to see via a donate-what-you-want system that directly gets you the password to the film on Vimeo – even for as little as a dollar. That’s where we’ve set up our own virtual, digital screening room. And all are invited.

As our 36th festival letter came in, to my relief, I opened it to read that the prestigious Calgary International Film Festival watched and enjoyed our film. They invited us to Calgary to screen it! It just so happened that after all of the rejections, the festival that was on my personal top 5 wish-list accepted the film. I have dreamed of premiering a film at CIFF every since they screened some films I am personally huge fans of including Maria My Love (starring the late, great Karen Black), Swanberg’s Autoerotic, VHS, REC 2, Julie Delpi’s 2 Days in New York (starring Chris Rock), Sophia Takal’s Gabi on the Roof of July, Teddy Bear, and Myth of the American Sleepover. They even screened Woody Allen’s stuff there! So this was both a pleasant surprise, but also quite possibly one of those “things happen for a reason” moments. They happen to be the best festival for our film.

We will be premiering THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CHLOE in Calgary on the 21st and 22nd of September, at 9:30pm and 2:15pm, respectively. To celebrate, we will be making the film available FREE to view simultaneously as our Canadian audiences are watching the live screenings.

In closing, if your stakes are low enough, you can shoot your film how you want, whenever you want, and release it however you want – as long as indie film fans like myself can see it. For years there have been corporate rules to this industry. But new rules are suggesting that there shouldn’t be any rules at all. I think it’s time that we ourselves do some rejecting.

BIO:

Princeton Holt is the prolific producer and head of One Way or Another Productions. As his company’s first few films were being completed, he began working in the production office of the hit TV Show “Law and Order SVU” Seasons 10 & 11. Alongside his production company, Princeton began building a catalog of award-winning, ultra low budget feature films, several of which were picked up and released via multi-platform distribution. The 10 Commandments of Chloe his second feature as a director, is set to premiere at the Calgary International Film Festival. The Butterfly Chasers, his 3rd feature as a director, is currently in production.

 

Watch THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CHLOE HERE!