The script for 'Reservations' was inspired by a campfire story I heard when I was a 12 year old boy scout. By the way, camping in dark woods is kinda scary, but it's much worse when you've got 'animal-fast' indians on the mind.
Later in life, I became friends with someone that had spent a lot of time on a Navajo reservation. He told a personal story once that matched up to what I had heard years earlier as a boy scout.
So I decided to make a short film about skinwalker folklore!
I only spent money on two things 1) renting a 4k monitor/recorder (in the picture it's the thing on the banana stand) for the borrowed Sony FS-700 camera that we shot with and 2) food for the crew (who were some amazing volunteer friends).
We shot the entire film in a single Saturday in January 2015 a few miles west of Salt Lake City Utah (got home around 4am). Because the whole film takes place at night, we needed to get creative about how to utilize the day time hours of our shoot. Which is why we shot all the internal car scenes inside a dark garage. (I know, movies are so fake)
These types of projects are kind of like a startup business, you end up doing every role in the company. You end up writing, producing, directing, location scouting, running craft services, acting (in this case I'm the voice on speaker phone), editing, etc.
The last piece of the puzzle before we submitted was finding a voice actor to read the Crazy Horse quote in the beginning. I wanted it read in authentic Sioux, but there's only a handful of people in the world that still speak it, and a Navajo speaker proved to be easier to find.
We submitted the film to Sundance Film Festival, Boulder International Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival, and a bunch of other smaller and first year festivals. It was rejected by all of them. Ended up getting a bunch of emails like this one.
The odds of getting into Sundance were the slimmest of all the places we submitted, so I didn't feel bad about not getting into this one. They are actually slimmer odds than the 1.5% the director writes in the email. Because we submitted a short, and about 9ish thousand of those 12,793 submitted films are shorts, not full features. So if they accepted 72 shorts and there were, let's say 9,500 shorts submitted, that's actually a 0.8%.
The selection process is interesting and worth noting. It starts with programmers, and for Sundance Shorts, there are like 6 or 7. The programmers will divide and conquer the shorts, each of them will personally watch over a thousand and select the top 50. Then each of the programmers shares their top 50 with the others and they all watch the 300 or so shorts and narrow it to the 70-80 final selections.
Each of those final selections, fill certain category slots too. For example, they can only allow a certain amount of films for the category 'horror short'. Which means that my film was fighting for what probably was just a handful of slots of that total 72 short films that made it in.
Why I'm Glad We Still Made It
Movies are magical pieces of art. I knew I wanted participate in making one ever since I was a young kid listening to the commentary track on the first DVD my family ever owned, Austin Powers (listening to Mike Myers talk about making the film is the funniest thing ever).
It's not worth justifying the reasons my first short film didn't make it into any festivals, because in the end, it just wasn't good enough. It didn't stand out. It wasn't so good that they couldn't ignore it (as the paraphrased Steve Martin quote goes).
Going through the process I learned so much, and future projects will be better as a result of it.
To sum up my feelings: You make a first film, so you can make a second.