Sundance Goes Lo-/No-Budget. Kinda.

About a week ago, on September 2nd, the Sundance Film Festival announced a new section of the festival called NEXT. Sundance’s website describes this as “a new section featuring six to eight films selected for their innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking.” (You can find the full description as well as a downloadable official press release here .)

Low- and no-budget filmmaking !? WOW! Awesome. That is exactly what I traffic in. My first film “Hunting Season” was made for $5,000 and my second feature “Burning Inside” had a budget of $10,000, which is clearly in the realm of “low- and no-budget” films and is definitely “innovative and original”. I had submitted a work-in-progress version of “Burning Inside” for last year’s Sundance fest and was rejected but with their new focus on low- and no- budget films maybe the playing field would be leveled and “Burning Inside” might have a better chance against $10 million dollar films with Hollywood stars attached.

One thing that I have learned in the past 10 years or so is that there is a WIDE definition of “low- and no-budget” when it comes to filmmaking. And one thing that I noticed about Sundance’s announcement was that there was no specificity or guidelines in regards to what actually constitutes a “low-” or “no-budget” film. I can pretty much guarantee that my definition differs from theirs. I was considering re-submitting “Burning Inside” but before I shelled out the $100 submission fee (yeah, Sundance made the “low- and no-budget” announcement when the only realistic deadline left was the one that costs $100 to enter. Not exactly affordable in the realm of no-budget filmmaking.) but I wanted to see if there would be a better chance against the 5,000 films already entered, than there is in any normal year at Sundance. So I did some research.

A lot of articles were written about this big announcement but none had any more clarification than the information on Sundance’s website. In line with today’s journalism status quo, most articles were just a regurgitation of the info from Sundance’s page (I think they call this “aggregating”). I decided to contact Sundance to see if I could get some answers to my specific questions.

The Sundance submissions page has an e-mail address: programming@sundance.org. So I fired an e-mail off to them that said:

I’m sure you’re inundated with questions about the “NEXT” (Lo/No budget) announcement made the other day. I have a question or two:

1) “Lo/No budget” can mean many different things to many different people.  What is the criteria for a lo/no budget film? Is there a budget cap that you will be implementing for the films that fit this category?

2) If I submitted a film last year that will fit the Lo/No budget category ($10,000 budget) can I resubmit it this year (final cut was made on 03/30/09) for consideration?

Thank you very much for your time.

Nathan Wrann
Dalton Gang Productions
www.daltongang-productions.com

Today I finally received a response (after sending a follow up e-mail).  Here’s what they sent in regards to my questions:

“Nathan,

The films that play in the NEXT category, like all of our categories, are determined by the Programmers AFTER the film is selected for the festival. When you are submitting a film, you are submitting to the festival as a whole. Programmers will be making their choices based on atmosphere and aesthetic.

For a better idea of the NEXT category, I would direct you to this article: http://www.indiewire.com/article/john_cooper_we_are_looking_for_creativity_born_of_limitations/

If your film was completed AFTER our deadlines last year, then you are still eligible to submit to this year’s festival.

Best,
Programming Department
Sundance Institute
8530 Wilshire Blvd., 3rd Floor
Beverly Hills, CA  90211″

In the e-mail an article on IndieWire.com is linked to give me a better idea of the “NEXT” section. It’s interesting to note that in the article the film “The American Astronaut” is used as an example. “The American Astronaut” has a budget “between 1 and 2 million dollars” according to the wikipedia page about the film (hardly low-budget to me).

Taking this information, and the information in the e-mail into consideration it appears that it will be business as usual for Sundance. They will select whatever films they select (with no additional consideration for low/no budget, starless features) and then the films (if any fit) will be marketed in the “NEXT” category. In other words a $5,000, $1,000,000 or $10,000,000 “Indie” film all have the same chance of getting selected.

I’m not complaining about the films that Sundance selects or why they select them. They have a place in the whole scheme of things and if their niche is $10 million indie films then so be it. But I don’t think that they should make an announcement that implies they are re-focusing on selecting low- / no-budget films when they aren’t.

If you’re a low- / no- budget filmmaker and were considering forking over the $100.00 submission fee I hope that you found this blog before doing so. Not so that you would be dissuaded from submitting, but so that you will be better informed in your decision.

As for me and resubmitting “Burning Inside“, I’ll be saving my $100 fee. That’ll go a long way toward feeding the cast and crew of my next feature.

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6 Responses to “Sundance Goes Lo-/No-Budget. Kinda.”

  1. Kimberly Dalton Says:

    Great last line!!! As for the rest..I completely agree!!!

  2. Kangas Says:

    Sundance is a scam, as are many of the fests–I have seen some ridiculous stuff going on at fests we’ve attended. And somehow even the little “indie” fests end up accepting 90% films with known actors…

  3. Steve Kaczor Says:

    I am fascinated at how wonderful the content is on this webpage. I have saved this web page and I truly plan on visiting the site in the upcoming days. Keep up the excellent work!

  4. The little festival that could – Zero Film Festival, NYC | Rugarberry Says:

    […] is growing too.  Sundance Film Festival piggy-backed this self-financed idea by creating “low to no-budget” category for the first time in Sundance’s history once Zero Film Festival was acclaimed on the […]

  5. Chester Floyd Says:

    I had zero budget for my documentary since its a video diary from the last 20 years of my life (squeezed into 90 minutes). Do you think my film and others like it might have a better chance in the Next category?

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