Rejection is increasingly becoming part of my daily life as I stumble through the process of submitting a short film to festivals for the first time. I was also recently informed that I didn't even make the cut for interviews for the National Film & Television School's MA programme. One after another, the rejections keep rolling in - non-specific and impersonal and peppered with encouraging platitudes. Every time any budding filmmaker receives a rejection letter it's entirely possible that somewhere in the world this is playing on Nickelodeon:
There can be any number of reasons why one's work could be rejected and most of them probably lie completely beyond the applicant's control. I aim to publish a longer article on the reasons why festivals might reject a film, which the filmmakers can and must take full responsibility for and how to deal with them. In the meantime I encourage all budding filmmakers to tattoo this number on the inside of their eyelids: 12,218. That's how many films were received by the Sundance Film Festival's programming staff in 2013. Only 187 films were selected for the 2014 festival, which premiered debut features like Whiplash, Dear White People, 20,000 Days on Earth and God Help the Girl. Only 1.5% of all the shorts and feature films submitted to the festival made the cut. Among those who received their rejection letters was Israeli writer-director Avishai Sivan, whose website proudly lists 124 rejection letters, dated from October 1998 to June 2015. Most are written in Hebrew but can be read in English from the world's best known international film festivals, from Sundance to Cannes. None offer any feedback on the quality of the film submitted or sensational insights into the selection process. They just keep piling up.
Sprinkled throughout Sivan's long list, however, are 14 letters of acceptance, the two most recent of which were delighted to inform him that his third feature film, Tikkun (2015) was accepted to the 32nd Jerusalem Int'l Film Festival (9th - 19th July) and the 68th Locarno Int'l Film Festival (5th - 15th August). Screendaily reports that Tikkun took the Haggiag award for Best Israeli Feature, along with awards for Best Script, Best Cinematography and Best Actor at the Jerusalem Int'l Film Fest's awards ceremony on 16th July. This will surely help the film's profile as it jostles for attention in the crowded marketplace of Locarno.
Sivan's extensive list of rejection letters is a list of achievements rather than an appeal for pity or an indulgence in self-deprecation. It is a list that all filmmakers should keep for themselves to look back on regardless of whether or not they ever make the cut for a festival line up, let alone win top honours in their category.
Si Horrocks' recent blog post for Kosmos argues that the more successful an artist becomes the more likely they are to be rejected over and over again as their work graduates from niche programming to a commercial marketplace. Once a film is in cinemas, on TV or online with even a modest marketing campaign to back it up it becomes more likely that consumers will be making the choice between watching a film about an ultra orthodox Jewish scholar and his father grappling with a crisis of faith or paying good money for the latest wet fart from Blue Sky Studios in an effort to mollify their squealing, nose picking kids for ninety minutes. Instead of watching your worthy, meticulously crafted and relatable tale of human struggle most audiences will be perfectly content to watch a bar of soap break Michael Shannon's neck.
Learning not to be crushed by every rejection is only an early step towards becoming a successful artist and many creative people never get past it. Far more advanced is the ability to use every rejection as guzzoline for your spiky, tricked out hog to drive against the winds and get close enough to your goals to be able to take another shot. Rejection is not the filmmaker's worst enemy, it's a whet stone on which they must sharpen themselves (feel free to reject that mealy-mouthed metaphor but please don't throw the baby out with the bathwater).
As I soldier on in my attempts to put Petite Mort (2015) in front of the general public's gleaming peelers I'm mindful that all good charges into battle need a rousing score and Joe Bataan wrote mine in Chick-a-Boom! Every time it plays someone in the world gets another rejection letter and it's on them to cry out, "BY TRYING TO KEEP US DOWN, YOU'VE MADE US STRONG!"