Wake Up, Sundance!


Well, it’s official. My movie, The Great Intervention did not make it in to Sundance. That Mecca of Independent Film, so coveted by indie filmmakers around the globe, recently sent me (and thousands of others) their equivalent of a “Dear John”:

“Dear Steve,

On behalf of the Sundance Programming staff, I would like to thank you for submitting your film to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  Unfortunately, we are not able to include it in our Festival program. We received more than 11,700 films for consideration this year, which obviously did not make our decision-making process any easier.  We selected less than 180 films from around the globe, so the competition was stiff to say the least.  Please know that your film was carefully considered by our team nd we truly respect your hard work and dedication as an independent filmmaker.  We wish you the best of luck with the project and look forward to the opportunity to view your work in the future.”

First of all, let me say that I knew getting into Sundance was going to be a long shot, so I was certainly not anticipating or expecting acceptance. (Kudos to my friend Gregg Turkington, who voiced a character in The Great Intervention, for being in a movie that WAS accepted.)

But WHAT exactly is going on here?!

Let’s take a look at this generic letter, sent to all rejected filmmakers with the click of one button.

“We received more than 11,700 films for consideration this year”

That’s right, ELEVEN THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED entries. While I have heard this number includes short films as well, if we say the average entry is one hour, that also equals 11,700 hours of movie watching.

“the competition was stiff to say the least,” the letter continues.

Yeah, I guess so!

But let’s think about this rationally. How many people can sit through a million-plus hours of movies and still make a fair decision?

Let’s go back to the 11,700 number. Let’s say every judge had to watch 30 movies once.

You would need 390 judges just to do THAT. Are there 390 judges in the Sundance pool? Sundance lists FOUR “Senior Programmers” – David Courier, Shari Frilot, Caroline Libresco, and John Nein; Kim Yutani is listed merely as “Programmer.”

How many of these films do these five people watch? Again, math: They would each have to at least glance at 2,340 films for them to  basically cover the first round.

“Please know that your film was carefully considered by our team and we truly respect your hard work and dedication as an independent filmmaker. ”

How is that POSSIBLE?!

Let’s look at some other numbers. The majority of the films paid about $50 to even SUBMIT their film to the festival.

50 x 11,700 = $585,000 in fees.




The Film Festival circut is clearly broken. There are simply too many films to be adequately considered in a fair way. If this were a Lottery, Sundance would be subject to all kinds of rules, including stating chances of acceptance and other controls to make sure that, while the odds are certainly against you, at least it is more transparent.

Sundance is the leader in the Indie Film world, so I am asking them to step up to the plate and consider some changes to the system, so others may follow.

1. Limit the number of entries.  A film festival should clearly indicate how many members they have on the screening staff, and create a workload that does not lead to burnout. Sundance has about 5 months where they accept submissions. Sure, it’s easier to watch hundreds and hundreds of movies within that time, but the burnout factor is still clearly there. By inviting and accepting unlimited entries, you are not only creating the illusion that all films are created (or at least considered) equal, you are, at worst, possibly engaging in fraud.

2. If you can’t or won’t limit the entries, have a sliding scale entry fee, based upon the film’s budget.  My film cost $5000 to make – I don’t have the deep pockets for entry fees that a film that cost even $100,000 might afford more easily. That way, when you do send out your generic rejection letter, at least the filmmaker can consider that they weren’t hit in the pocketbook as well.

3. Some kind of paper trail should be created, open to outside scrutiny, to insure that all the films were indeed properly watched and considered.  Many festivals shroud themselves in secrecy; perhaps it is an effort to appear unbiased, but it can also cut the other way. At the VERY least, each filmmaker should get a personalized email, with some kind of message directly related to the film’s content – after all we did collectively pay almost half a million dollars in entry fees. A brief critique or note on the film (which can be anonymous) should be included. Surely the judges kept some kind of notes during and after the film – share them with the filmmakers!

4. Any films accepted to the festival but NOT selected by the above practice should contain an ASTERISK next to their selection, indicating that the film received special weighted consideration through outside forces. This should also be a factor in the final awards process.

Sour grapes you might say? Not really. I am merely trying to highlight a problem – which is NOT limited to Sundance – that most of these festivals have. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of them that take filmmaker’s money and offer very little way in accountability for their decisions.

Legislation was created to protect actors from sleazy managers, talent agents, casting directors and the like – perhaps it is time for film festivals to face the same level of scrutiny.

Check out greatintervention.info.


Stephen Moramarco is a writer/actor/director/musician and now a filmmaker. He lives in Lincoln Heights, CA.

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Actor/Filmmaker/Musician Stephen Moramarco shares his tips on How To Make A Movie for $5000.

Also, check out Steve’s prior Film Courage posts: