An Honest Festival Rejection Letter

I've always contended that film festivals and screenwriting festivals are completely subjective. The work that is accepted or approved isn't always the best work. We've all seen a film that was horrible or read a script that sucked. And we wondered, "How did this piece-o-shiite make it through the gatekeepers?"

Ahhh, the Gatekeepers. These folks are the festival programmers, the reviewers, the watchers-of-films, the readers of scripts, etc. They are the ones who give your film a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Some say they often are unaccomplished, overworked festival admin clerks with 200 films to watch or 50 scripts to read. Are they looking for a reason to hate your work? If so, why? Perhaps because you and your crappy script and your dumb-arse film are easily to dismiss. Once you and your film/script are dismissed they can move on to the next victim.

I've always believed that if you catch a festival programmer on a good day with a good film, you're IN. However, if you catch that same programmer on a bad day with a good film, the results are catastrophic for you and your film. Film festivals won't admit to this human element in how they review films. They want us to believe:

  • They've truly watched your film
  • They've watched your film in its entirety
  • More than one person reviewed your film
  • The festival honestly, truly wanted to accept your film, but...

[cough]* Bool-shiite!! *[cough]

It's all bool-shiite. To wit I offer you this true example of a rejection letter. Screenwriter and novelists know about those robotic form-letter rejections with all the pleasantries and substandard arse-kissing. You know the kind: the rejection letters that try to convince us that the agents, festival programers, and readers were up late at night, tossing and turning, struggling to find a way to squeeze your film or script or book into the festival (or contest). You know, the rejection letter that ultimately tells you to "kiss off" very pleasantly as an anonymous person wishes you "best of luck" in your career. Maybe the next festival, contest or agent to whom you choose to submit your work will find a place for it..

So on to the rejection letter. This is a real rejection letter from a top tier (tier 1 festival). I've submitted my film, Broken Hearts Club to twenty-four film festivals in all. I'm now 4-24. I finally was accepted into the Hollywood Black Film Festival after 2 years of submitting. Later I was accepted in the PortoBello Film Festival in the UK, the Wreck-Beach in Canada and I received a special screening request from Italy.

In my 10+ years as an indie filmmaker I've probably spent several thousand dollars on film festival submission fees. I've submitted my films to Sundance, SXSW, Slamdance, Palm Springs International, Toronto International Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival and the Zero Film Festival. I always wondered what these festival reviewers were thinking. This one said it all:

Dear Angelo,

As the festival programmer of the XXXXXXX Film Festival, I would like to thank you for submitting your work to us, and I truly appreciate your hard work and dedication as an independent filmmaker. Unfortunately, we are not able to include your film in XXXXX Film Festival 2009.

For the first time in our Festival's history, we received over xxxxx submissions. While this gives us the unique opportunity to consider work that spans a wide spectrum from around the globe, it certainly doesn't make it any easier to narrow those entries down to an entire program of just over 200 films (most of which are reserved for studio films). I'm sure it is no consolation to you that we are forced to make these difficult decisions, but I do believe that there certainly is an audience for your film and I anticipate that you will find the appropriate platform for presenting it (read: try another festival, bro). I regret not being able to include all of the films that we appreciate, but we simply don't have the room. We look forward to having the opportunity to view your work in the future (read: we'd appreciate your submission fee for next year.

Not bad, right? It contained the appropriate amount of arse-kissing -- you don't want to pee-off the next Steven Spielberg -- and it wished me well. But that wasn't the end of the rejection letter. The rest contained a venomous diatribe full of pained emotion and vitrole. So much so, that I found myself on the floor laughing out loud, uncontrollably!

Here, dear reader, is the post script to the rejection letter:

Thank you again for your romantic comedy. Sorry we couldn’t find a place in our festival for your film at this time, but quite frankly I didn't want to find a place for your bloody film. Why? Because it made me remember that witch, with a capital B, who dumped me six months, two weeks and three days ago. I didn't need your stupid film bringing back painful memories and I'm sure our esteemed audience doesn't need that crap either. Your film threw me into a tidal wave of despair and hopelessness that not even the finest recreational drugs could free me from.

Simply put, I hate you. I hate the characters in your film. I hate your F-ing film! I watched your protagonist and his lover suffer together through tremendous odds–and ultimately find love. WTF? Why can't I find love? Why can't that slut realize what a good thing she had? I loved her and she kicked me to the curb like a stray puppy. I watched your film and I wanted to put my foot so far up your rectum that you'd have to untie my shoe laces to take a dump!!! You vainglorious basterd! You mean, egotistical, apathetic basterd! I was appalled.

How could you submit such a film to me in my time of pain? No one wants to watch a film where people actually get together in the end. That's not reality. Filmmaking is about reality, not fiction. Pig!! Ass!! Here's me sticking my finger up at you! Better luck next time! And just so you know, I'm calling my friends at other festivals and warning them about your boolshiite film. You're not a filmmaker. You're the devil! The devil I say!!

Nice. Thank you very much Mr. Festival Programmer.

At least he was honest. After I caught my breath from laughing, wiped the slobber from my mouth and took three Advil to ease the pain in my side (I had stitches from so much laughing) I framed the letter and hung it above my workstation. It serves as a reminder that in this day and age of industry bullshit -- Love ya! Mean it -- there are some who tell the truth. You just have to make them suffer first.

UPDATE (11-30-2012)

My film Broken Herarts Club has now been screened and/or has aired on television in the US, the UK, Italy, Belgium, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. The 2-hour dramedy was edited into six 22-minute episodes and has aired on the following international networks

  • AMGTV
  • PunchTV Network
  • Fetch TV
  • Simply ME
  • ZillionTV

You can find the film on Amazon Instant Video as well.

We hope to be live on Roku soon - they have been working on the Roku QA demands for the past few months. Next we are going to roll out BHC to Boxee for VOD and/or pay per view.
Goliath Promotions, my sales rep, is still working on a new network launch. They did the TV Upfronts to help and received $5.8 mil in ad bids for prime time and outside of prime-time hours.

BROKEN HEARTS CLUB - Official Trailer

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Comments 7 comments

7 years ago

Love the honesty, and while I'm sure I would still like your film, I concur with the sentiments expressed therein:)


Frank Degennaro 5 years ago

Very cool I have a good idea abfor a documentary on this subject


G. Melissa Graziano 5 years ago

"Filmmaking is about reality, not fiction." Um, what?


Emily 3 years ago

I am totally wowed and prepraed to take the next step now.


Driando 3 years ago

Comme nos voix ba da ba da da ba da ba daChantent tout bas ba da ba da da ba da ba daNos cœurs y voient ba da ba da da ba da ba daComme une ccanhe comme un espoirComme nos voix ba da ba da da ba da ba daNos cœurs y croient ba da ba da da ba da ba daEncore une fois ba da ba da da ba da ba daTout recommence, la vie repartCombien de joiesBien des dramesEt voile0 !C’est une longue histoireUn hommeUne femmeOnt forge9 la trame du hasard.Comme nos voix ba da ba da da ba da ba daNos cœurs y voient ba da ba da da ba da ba daEncore une fois ba da ba da da ba da ba daComme une ccanhe, comme un espoir.Comme nos voix ba da ba da da ba da ba daNos cœurs en joie ba da ba da da ba da ba daOn fait le choix ba da ba da da ba da ba daD’une romance qui passait le0.Chance qui passait le0Chance pour toi et moi ba da ba da da ba da ba daToi et moi ba da ba da da ba da ba daToi et moi ba da ba da da ba da ba daToi et moi ba da ba da da ba da ba daToi et moi.


chikabee 2 years ago

I am a film festival programer - London base for years. On average I have watched over 750 within 5 months and create data base that is readable for the rest of my collegues on Apple and PC format. There is only one time that i have rejecteted a film and that was because the film was provoking racism. Anon.


Dan Gottesman 2 years ago

I never tried these guys, but I am going to, they cover pretty much everything your talking about...have you ever submitted a film to them? http://www.makeriff.com/#!submissions/ct7o

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