The Sundance Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, with indie film blogs and glossy TV entertainment new shows alike converging in Park City to spotlight this year’s crop of would-be Tarantinos. The narrative, of course, is that you make your independent film, get into Sundance, and wow the potential distributors, prompting a fierce bidding war, theatrical release, and rock-star treatment now and forevermore. (Though, as we discussed last week, the translation of Sundance buzz to box-office dollars isn’t always as easy as it looks).
But what of the thousands — literally, thousands, every year — of filmmakers who don’t make that brutal Sundance cut? For the filmmaker, that Sundance rejection letter can feel like nothing less than a death certificate for their labor of love. And while a spin at the ‘dance can certainly help an unknown film’s chances of breakout success (see Reservoir Dogs, The Blair Witch Project, El Mariachi, sex, lies, and videotape, and many more), there are plenty of Sundance rejects who found success anyway. Here’s just a few of them.
Few films in the bumper crop of 1990s indies have (on the surface) as prototypical a back story as Doug Liman’s Swingers, which was a minor hit in its 1996 theatrical release, but a cult smash on home video. Jon Favreau wrote the script as a showcase for himself and his actor friends (including Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and Heather Graham), shot it for peanuts, sold it to Miramax, and watched their careers explode. But they hit an early bump: Sundance turned the picture down. (The filmmakers reportedly made the mistake of submitting a not-quite-complete cut to the Sundance folks.) Undeterred, the film’s producers rented out a theater in Los Angeles a few weeks after Sundance, invited distributors to a one-time only screening, and sold the picture to Miramax for $5 million. (Sundance didn’t make the same mistake again: Liman’s follow-up, Go, premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.)