Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Handling Rejection, or It's Not You, It's Us

Over the last couple of months we sorted through an unusually high number of entries, which also means we had to send out many letters that began with "Unfortunately" rather than "Congratulations!" Nobody likes to be told "No," and we get that. However, this time we received some curious responses to those rejection letters, and we'd like to take a moment to address them. Let's start with this one:

"Iron Mule Team, Thank you 4 your consideration of "[REJECTED FILM]".(Hope U watched it Through. Doesn't make sense til END) Wanted 2 let U know that Comedy Central Late Night(New Division) has bought our project. Your Film Fest rejecting us, will make a Great Story for us to tell to many Future Filmmakers. Maybe also you might want to reevaluate your IMT and their Process of judging.
C U on the air Next Fall.
THIS and another of Our Projects have made it into SUNDANCE. Happy Holidays."

Although a little rough around the edges, this e-mail is a good summation of the more common complaints we receive. (It would also make for a fantastic lecture on English grammar, but, as we all know, in the world of online communication that ship has long ago and sadly sailed.)

As we mention in our rejection letters, we do not consider this to be any kind of definitive statement on the film. There are many factors that go into our decision to accept an entry, including previously-scheduled films, personal taste, time constraints, and a host of other artistic and practical considerations. Mostly, though, we're looking for something different, something unique, so if we've recently received a spate of mockumentaries (please see this previous post), we're not gonna be very enthusiastic about watching another one.

Sometimes, "unique" can simply mean a well-crafted, thoughtfully-executed, short film with an interesting story. Believe it or not, we don't get very many of those. Also, your film may just not work. We understand, we're all filmmakers, we've made things that don't work. Go make another one.

The nice thing about running your own festival is that you get to show the movies you like. There have been several entries we've received, highly-polished and technically-accomplished resume pieces, that we know will play well at other festivals but, for whatever reason, are just not our cup of tea. Our goal is not to predict the zeitgeist or be ahead of the Festival Circuit curve. We like showing things that make us laugh and encouraging filmmakers whose work we enjoy. We're not trying to be Sundance.

Speaking of Sundance: telling us your film, or a previous film, or your DP’s, or lead actor's last film played at Sundance has absolutely no bearing on our decision. There are many things that have played in Park City that we would never consider programming. "Hoop Dreams," for example. And, since one of our goals is to provide a platform for films that may not have found an audience elsewhere, touting your Sundance run might actually work against you. Besides, why would a rejection from a small short comedy series be that big a deal, if your film is so successful? There are plenty of other festivals that will be impressed with your pedigree; submit to them.

Our criteria for accepting a film is not necessarily whether a film is "good" or "bad," but whether it is right for us. There's no hidden reason or secret agenda, and very, very rarely is there anything that could be done in post (editing, sound mixing, etc.) that would change our minds (see previous post about feedback). So, we're at a loss when we receive comments questioning our "process of judging," extolling the virtues of a film we rejected, or explaining that other, more famous people liked it (e.g. "Comedy Central bought our project"), as if a reasoned argument would convince us to like a movie we didn't like. As anyone who's ever told a joke knows: if you have to explain it, then it's not funny. (And for the author of the email quoted above: If your movie "doesn't make sense til END," then what you have is an ending, not a movie.)

We also had somebody recently respond to a rejection letter by explaining that they submitted "only in order to get the short a page on IMDB." We’re pretty sure that's not how that works, but anyway, we prefer to focus on filmmakers who want to share their films with an audience, not chalk up imaginary points with "The Industry." Many of our guest judges are luminaries of their respective fields, from authors to directors to actors to comic book artists, and it never hurts to show your work to people who create for a living. Our monthly series has also seen connections made, collaborations develop, and even a recent wedding. Those who attend the screenings have the opportunity for a relaxed and friendly interaction with fellow filmmakers and film lovers during the Q&A sessions and at our After Party. Not every festival can offer that, because not every festival venue comes with its own bar.

Every entry we receive is watched by at least three people and our decisions are predominately reached by consensus. We take what we do seriously, and we know what we like. Above all, we like to be surprised. Having been rejected from hundreds of festivals ourselves, we know that the only productive response to a rejection letter is to make another movie. And if you really want to get into our festival, check out our archives and see what we've shown in the past. That should give you a good idea if our festival is right for you and vice versa.

For those who would prefer to send us snarky e-mails rather than start their next project, we say: "Success is the best revenge, and we look forward to being thoroughly humiliated by your inevitable fame and fortune."

And to everyone else, we say: "Thanks for sharing your movie with us, and we promise we'll give it a fair shake."

Monday, December 28, 2009

R. Sikoryak to Guest Judge Janaury 2nd Screening

We are thrilled to have acclaimed artist R. Sikoryak as our guest judge at our first screening in 2010.

R. Sikoryak is the author of Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly), "where classics and cartoons collide." He’s drawn comics and pictures for Nickelodeon Magazine, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The New Yorker, The Onion and Mad, among other media giants. In his spare time, he hosts the cartoon slide show series Carousel.

Sikoryak will share some of his latest work with us on the big screen at the start of the show. Don't miss it!

Click here for tickets.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Notes from our December 6th Screening

For those who braved the cold and rain last Saturday, there was a warm glow of laughter to be found in our recent showcase of short comedy films. After host Jay Stern excoriated New Yorkers for being weather wimps (and co-host Victor Varnado politely pointed out that present company was of course excepted), we launched into our first block of films.

Starting off the holiday-themed mayhem was a film from the Iron Mule vaults, "White Blood Cell Saves Christmas," an animated short by Dano Johnson. As for what it's about, well, the title says it all. (If you want to check out this or any of our other selections, click here for our archives.) Following that was our very first (and hopefully not our last!) holiday film in Gaelic, "Nollaig Shona (Happy Christmas)" by Orla Murphy. Christmas is not so happy for the protagonist, who gets dumped on Christmas Eve and has to console himself with an overdecorated tree and a persistent stray dog. And concluding the holiday trio was a celebration of "Balls," in all the different forms they take, by Iron Mule favorites dpShorts. Filmmakers dp and Kasey Williamson were on hand to talk about the film, their second in a prolific year-long collaboration that also brought us Audience Award-winner, "My Apartment." They'll be back next month with one more short, "The Lake."

Moving beyond the seasonally-appropriate, our next film was by another Iron Mule alum, Josh Bass ("The Ninjews," "Debt Consolidated"). An epic of no-budget satire, "Joey & Jerome's Artistic Meaningful Independent Film," shows just how easy it is to crank out your very own Oscar-bait Indiewood masterpiece in under 3 hours. This was followed by "Knock Knock," our third of four films by Jack Ferry. The movie, a suspenseful mindgame starring comedians Pete & Brian about a joke with a potentially lethal punchline, has shown at CineVegas, Slamdance and SXSW, and we were honored to have it in our program as well. Jack was on hand to talk about how the film came to be; he said he heard the first few lines -- "Knock Knock," "Who's there?" "I'm seriously thinking about killing myself." -- and was sold.

Our last block of films began with our second film from France, "Yulia," by Antoine Arditti, an animated black-and-white film about a woman's surreal adventures in a room full of levers, and which one will bring her to love. And in closing, Iron Mule stalwart Will Carlough shared his latest with us, "Hungover Movie Pitch." Much like our first film of the evening, everything you need to know is in the title as Will skewers the usual criteria for pitching a Hollywood blockbuster, and the pitifully unprepared condition you can do it in and still be successful.

Before moving on to our Wanna Be A Star? film for the month (for more information, click here), hosts Jay & Victor shared war stories about their respective no-budget super-fast feature films which were shot during the last month over 1 (Jay) and 3 (Victor) days. See previous entries on the blog for more details and photos. For those keeping score at home, this officially means that Jay has met Victor's challenge from last February and will not need to host this February's show naked. The audience heaved a sigh, but it was hard to tell whether it was in relief or disappointment.

Then came "Shedge," directed by 92YTribeca programmer and Iron Mule BFF Cristina Cacioppo, and starring Wanna Be A Star? winner Ellia Bisker. Our first WBAS? movie shot on film, "Shedge" follows a hapless misanthrope and her encounter with a mysterious rock star. After discussing the difficulties of shooting on Super-8 in a dimly-lit concert space and editing in camera, the ballot counting was complete and we were ready to announce our winners.

The Audience Award for the night went to "Yulia," and the Judges Award was given to "Knock Knock." Congratulations Antoine and Jack! And join us Jan. 2nd for more by Jack Ferry, dpShorts, the latest episode of the hit web series, All's Faire, and other fun surprises.