Let's just say that the five days leading up to the film submission deadline for Sundance suck.
If you play the festival game like most indie filmmakers, this is the day that will make or break your chances at Nirvana. Nerves are fried. There's no sleep in the forecast, and the pain of the ticking clock beats picturing Rush Limbaugh and Bobby Jindal sharing an award and an onstage kiss.
Then, when you miraculously manage to miss the deadline because (a) your film isn't ready or (b) your film gets tied up in a morass of technical problems that make it not ready, you have to console yourself with weepy eyes, supportive friends and a bottle of wine, beer or meds. You'll be left to peep in on the festival from the sidelines (wherever you manage to roll out of bed).
This year I took a front row seat in Los Angeles, binoculars out, waiting to hear word that at the very least Sundance had shot an elixir of steroids into the indie film marketplace, leaving invigorated buyers -- fresh out of the proverbial shower -- rushing to take off their mittens again and again after every screening to make the big firm call that would trigger a release.
Apparently, the gloves came off for chapstick and cigarettes. Words like "not commercial," "slow," "pretentious," "mediocre" and "nothing to cheer about" peppered the daily blogs and bulletin boards chronicling dashed expectations for a bulk of the offerings.
So if the vast majority of Sundance entries failed to thrill, where does that leave the rest of us? And where does that leave a filmmaker whose film would have never satisfied the sin quotient of blood and vice that was apparently on abundant display at this year's festival?
What if I tell a prospective buyer that my film is likely everything the festival programmers didn't want? What if I mention that there are plenty of provocative characters in it, but no one gets killed or strips off their clothes? What if I note that there's no kinky sex, knifings or explosions?
For extra credit I could legitimately ask them to imagine the John Waters-hair-and-make-up-inspired characters populating the parallel universe storyline in my movie as my version of blue people. I could ask them to consider the lack of A-list star power as a nod to "Paranormal Activity" and to sum up the ensemble, character-driven cast as more than a curtsy to Woody Allen.
It's a cartwheel for the audiences. I could gamble big and mention the buzzword "microbudget" and add that it was shot on an SI-2K, the unsung camera that looks even better than the RED and did a slam dunk job of launching "Slumdog Millionaire" into the stratosphere.
Then again, spelling out the divide between us castaways and Sundance is dicey, at best. As "American Idol" is to the music business, Sundance is to the film business: it delivers all the latest, greatest, and freshest faces from its glittering wings. The filmmakers of this year's festival hits, like "Buried," "Holy Rollers," and "The Kids Are All Right," are clearly winners, as is everyone who can brand their artwork with the Sundance logo.
Everyone else, it appears, is on crutches and a defibrillator, limping along, restoring their drive (and crashed hard drives), lining up for a CGI facelift to make it through to the next submissions cycle. Or maybe something fishy really is going on in the minds of the snow-weary execs whose checkbooks have finally thawed. They pull them out with a twinkle in their eyes.
Something good, they're thinking, is on the other side.