The stories are legion. James Joyce was rejected 22 times before his first novel, Dubliners, was published. Stephen King was rejected 30 times for Carrie. Richard Bach was officially rebuffed 18 times before Jonathan Livingston Seagull saw the light of day (though some would argue that the 1970s might have been a slightly less dreadful moment in time had Bach’s rejections run the publishing industry table).
As February gave way to March, we felt ourselves already young veterans of the rejection wars. At least six festivals had told us it was a hard decision but thanked us for our $50 or so and said we should stay home. They would not be showing Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance at their film festival. We had nine more rejections pending and were girded for every one of them.
Imagine our surprise on March 4 when this message hit our inboxes:
Congratulations! Your film has been accepted to be in our 3rd annual Fort Myers Film Festival to be held March 21-24, 2013 in Fort Myers, Florida.
Hot damn. We were elated, and cowed, and collectively broke, so we weren’t sure we could afford the plane fare. We were even less certain when we started going on Kayak to see how much a flight to South Florida in the middle of Spring Break would cost, with less than two weeks’ notice. The answer is somewhere between “outrageous” and “obscene”, and probably settling close to “Jesus fucking Christ!—that’s almost more than my rent/mortgage!”
Cost-prohibitive, in other words.
No ducats, no glory, though. There are a million film festivals in this world but with the exception of your Toronto/Cannes/Tribeca class, most of the festivals with the serious cachet follow one of two rules: Above 8,000 feet elevation or below the 37th parallel.
Besides the fame it promised, though, it should be noted that warmth and natural daylight can be rare commodities in the Pacific Northwest in winter. By the time March rolls around, while suicide hotlines may not necessarily be busier every year, alcohol purveyors are doing a brisk trade that in its animal intensity can come to resemble the Oklahoma Land Grab, or a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
Cost notwithstanding, here we were, presented with an opportunity not only to stake our claim to cinematic triumph, we had the opportunity to do so in an environment where we would be at least briefly free of our Sir Edmund Hilary garb a few months earlier than normal.
After a brief meeting, it was an easy call: On to Fort Myers!
This was exciting. This was Florida: the birthplace of aerospace; the home of Disneyworld, Miami Beach, Mercury Morris and the ’73 Dolphins; one of the biggest states in the Union and a frequent tastemaker. Millions of self-made men and women got their starts in Florida. I would be proud to say that Florida would be the launching pad of our much-deserved cinematic acclaim. They may not have produced a Vice President, but the 1968 GOP Convention in Miami Beach gave us Spiro—what better provenance for our film stardom?
We were all in.
It was a heady buzz we took into that next day while we waited for the festival organizers to contact us and begin filling us in on itinerary and events. In the meantime, we took to the Internet for our own advanced research, and learned:
- The 2013 Fort Myers Film Festival would be hosted by local Emmy Award-winning news personality, Chad Oliver—midday NBC2 anchor and two-time participant on Dancing with the Stars for Literacy.
- Both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford kept winter homes in Fort Myers.
- Fort Myers was clobbered in successive years by Hurricanes Charley and Wilma, in 2004 and 2005.
- Fort Myers holds the unofficial record per capita for alliteratively named celebrity athletes residing in a medium-sized American city, counting among its residents Bob Beamon, Casey Coleman, Walt Wesley, and Bert Blyleven.
- Besides Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, past Fort Myers residents have included Mindy McCready, Jerry Lawler, and Gerard Damiano.
- After the discovery of eight bodies in a wooded area near town in 2007, Fort Myers was featured on a 2008 episode of America’s Most Wanted, entitled, “Unknown Fort Myers Eight Killer”.
- Fort Myers outpaces the national average in murder, assault, theft, and burglary—but not robbery and rape!
This was going to be exciting. No offense to Michael Moore and Traverse City, but this clearly wasn’t some hinterland train crossing that was hosting our film festival. This was a major sub-metropolitan post-exurb we were headed for, with Jamba Juices and Wi-Fi and everything.
We bought our sunscreen and teeth whitener, and some Ed Hardy swim trunks, and awaited further instructions.
Instructions that would be forthcoming, as we were just 16 days away from our date on the red carpet, so every hour was precious. Morning turned into afternoon and Tuesday threatened to turn into Wednesday, so our concern was growing just a bit. Did we say something wrong in our confirmation email? Did we inadvertently make a pejorative remark about Chad Oliver?
We reread our email:
Thank you for your invitation to premiere Veeps at FMFF. We’d be honored to attend. We would like to learn more about how Veeps will be programmed for the festival and also what travel expenses or amenities FMFF offers filmmakers to attend, or additional costs we need to be aware of. We are based out of Portland, Oregon and need to evaluate all the travel costs in determining who in our filmmaking team can attend.
We will assemble a download link for the media kit, and materials and ship a final screener disc.
No. That was perfectly gracious and cordial. These people are simply busy—they have a prestigious film festival to run. The eyes of Inner South Florida were on them and they had celebrities to accommodate. Everything had to be just so—what if a Jonas Brother, or Robert Wuhl showed up? We were unknown filmmakers. Our accommodation could wait.
So, we waited. And waited some more. But they didn’t make us wait for long. After many hours of conspicuous and eventually deafening silence, they emailed us back so that we could make our final plans for the weekend of March 22-24.
We would be staying home.
Mike. I am sad to say that your film was clicked incorrectly. I do apologize for the inconvenience. WAB can be tricky.
I did enjoy your film but we were NOT able to put it into this year’s programming.
This was what essentially constituted a revision of their previous email. When they said, “Congratulations. Your film has been accepted to be in our 3rd annual Fort Myers Film Festival to be held March 21-24, 2013 in Fort Myers, Florida,” what they actually meant was, “I can’t even guarantee we watched your movie, but I do know for certain that you aren’t invited to show your film, because computers are tricky and we clicked the wrong box. Sorry we let your hopes get up to 30,000 feet before we popped the balloon.”
And like Al Gore, the 2010 Colts, and Tony Montana, our hopes were tantalizingly close to being realized, only to be cruelly murdered in Florida.
I don’t know want to throw stones here. I can appreciate how hard it is to put on an event like this. Some corners need to be cut here and there, whether that entails borrowing as your slogan a parody of a five-year-old national beer campaign (“Stay Indie my friends.”), as they’ve done for this year’s festival, or offering a team of filmmakers a letter of acceptance and then having to retract it because you mistakenly clicked the wrong box, since using a mouse on a computer on the Internet is really hard in 2013.
I get that, and I’d like to be constructive here. From a diplomatic standpoint, they could have been more politic in their damage control. Yes, this was a significant error, and the nearly daylong radio silence that ensued while they ostensibly fretted how to address their error was unfortunate. But the film business ain’t beanbag, as the phrase goes, and this wasn’t quite in the realm of offering up erroneous medical test results, or informing the wrong family of the body found burned to a crisp in a restaurant fire.
But from a public relations point of view, this was a potentially delicate situation that they probably could have handled better.
We had already accepted and made arrangements to come—it was clearly that important to us. They surely know from experience that persons in expressive mediums are hard-pressed to hide their disappointments quietly—or at least disappointments inflicted upon them through no fault of their own.
We’re not all that smart. With a little creativity and even less money they could have mollified us. They could have, for example, had their web team knock out a half-assed graphic, or even a tiny text link, and slap it on an inconspicuous corner of their web site, announcing Veeps as part of their “FMFF Political Showcase”.
Surely, someone has a contact at the Red Roof Inn in Fort Myers—they could have gotten loan of a paneled conference room in the sub-basement, down by the vending machines and the janitors’ offices, so far off in the God-forsaken bowels of FMFF that the dialects were different from the rest of the festival attendees, at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning. If they wanted to add an extra touch of authenticity, they could have dispatched an intern or two, or someone’s kids home from college to sit in metal folding chairs and pretend to watch our movie while they texted and nursed their hangovers.
We would have sat there with stars in our eyes and been none the wiser.
And we would have come back west like the pliable hayseeds we are and crowed about how we got into an actual film festival, lavished praise upon the organizers, and had nothing but great things to say about them and the fair city of Fort Myers.
Instead, we stayed at home nursing the bumps on our heads from hitting the floor after the rug was yanked out from under us—stewing, simmering, twitching at any mention of “Florida” or “Fort Myers” on television or in conversation, and ultimately acting out like the hypersensitive artists we are, lambasting the festival’s organizers and associates by name, and debating whether the phallus we were slipped went into our collective eye or into a much deeper orifice.
Worse, in our scorn, we made every effort in our juvenile ranting to associate the “Fort Myers Film Festival” and the name “Fort Myers”–rightly or wrongly–with every ignominious touchstone of Florida’s sordid, dishonest, disreputable history, even invoking things that have little or nothing to do with Fort Myers or the Fort Myers Film Festival. Things like:
- The 2000 Presidential Recount. (Fort Myers was never a battleground in one of the most discredited election aftermaths in U.S. electoral history, and never contested. Bush won handily and fairly here.)
- Mark Foley. (This former U.S. Congressman and serial House page predator was not from Fort Myers, which is in the Florida’s 14th Congressional District, but from Florida’s 16th Congressional District, which is near Fort Myers.)
- Debra LaFave (It may seem like it from the online tabloids, but Florida, and specifically Fort Myers, does not lead the nation in the statutory rape of students by their teachers, and Debra LaFave was not from Fort Myers.)
- Santo Trafficante. (He controlled Tampa and Miami, and his racketeering empire did not extend to Fort Myers.)
- Ted Bundy (He never murdered in Fort Myers).
Fortunately, we limited our outbursts to electronic communication with friends and colleagues, and friends and colleagues of our friends and colleagues, and only occasionally in large public gatherings. We chose not to broadcast these unflattering and tenuous associations across the Internet, lest the casual reader unconsciously and intractably associate Fort Myers with scandal, depravity, crime, incompetence, and moral and ethical delinquency.
We would have had even less to say, though, and had infinitely more respect for their efforts if they’d followed the time-honored American political route and attempted to whitewash their error.
Our quest goes on, though. Any bitterness or enmity we’ve worked out of our system, and bear the good people of the Fort Myers Film Festival no ill will, and we won’t trot out the old tired jokes about their alleged qualification to organize two-car funerals. We’ll find our place for our film, even if it is in farther north in the hemisphere, with less sunshine, and fewer women with orange tans and breasticles.
There are surely a few more takedowns in our future before we find our footing. Overnight success didn’t happen overnight for Stephen King, after all, nor for James Joyce, nor Richard Bach. Not even, one presumes, for Chad Oliver, and look how far he’s come.