The above is an excerpt from a rejection email I recieved for my documentary film. In total, I received 21 similar emails. Everyone’s decision was difficult. Everyone was sorry. Everyone rejected my film.
It’s been several months since my last rejection email and reading the excerpt still makes me sad. Usually my endeavors turn out well. Usually, I can make an “A” on the project. This was puzzling to me but more importantly it felt terrible. It felt like I had failed.
Among the volume of rejections, I did have one acceptance. And not only was the film accepted, it went on to win Best Documentary for the entire film festival. But I couldn’t enjoy the acceptance or win. I just kept thinking about all the rejections. All the people that I felt I had let down.
Four years earlier…
“I wan’t to make a movie about the band.” I told the head band director.
I don’t remember his exact reply but I do remember his reaction. He was surprised and became thoughtful almost immediately.
“I don’t know what I’m doing but I promise you can trust me.” I said over and over again as I pitched my idea to the other band directors, the students, the parents, the administration… to myself.
“You can trust me.”
And they did.
I spent day after day at the school with the band. I struggled to learn about equipment, camera settings and audio. Most days I showed up to film totally confused and unsure of what I was about to do. To ensure the movie would have quality footage too, I hired a production crew when I knew I was in over my head. Together we followed the Northside High School band and the Band Directors for an entire school year. Our journey covered more than 800 miles of travel with the band and resulted in 150 hours of video. The end result was a 90 minute film.
My end goal from the beginning was to shine a light on something I felt the world needed to see. I wanted the world to see the grit, determination and love that was all happening in a band program within a public school system. It took over four long years to bring the movie from conception to finish. I fiercely guarded my end goal the whole time.
When I had completed the movie, it felt like the only path the film was going to take was up! I had several screenings in the town where the movie was filmed. I had a special VIP screening for the cast and my closest supporters.
We had a special reception at the local university to raise money for a scholarship fund to help high school students pursue their dream of a college education. After five screenings, over 800 people had seen the movie. It was exciting and emotional for all of us. Especially for me. To me it felt surreal.
I was very proud of the finished film and the brave students and directors that had shared their lives with me. The film was good. I knew it.
And then all the excitement and attention for the movie went quiet. This may sound extreme but it reminded me of when my father passed away. I was 19. When he lost his battle with lung cancer, my mother’s family filled our home. She had a huge family. There was food, talking, laughing, commotion, emotion and no room to be alone. And then the day after his funeral, they were all gone.
I was left alone with the movie and all my promises of trust that I handed out. I was left alone with the movie and an enormous question that would eat at me for the next nine months.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Put the movie on YouTube. Give it to the band kids, the band directors, the lovers of band and the people that need to find it.” A soft voice deep within me would whisper.
“I can’t do that!” I would almost shout back. “I have to try the film festival circuit. Try to get it on television. Try to get it discovered. That’s what everyone says I should do.”
“Put it out on the internet. Let the movie find its own way.” The silly voice would say to me.
“I can’t DO that!” I argued. “I owe it to the kids, the directors, to everyone that helped me and believed in me. I told them they could trust me.”
“Let the movie find its own way. Maybe it’s time for YOU to trust.” I heard in a gentle whisper.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And the film festival rejections flooded in. I hung in my head in shame. I was unable to to trust anything except the voice in my head that told me I had failed.
On November 16, 2017…
Twenty-one rejections later, I was nearing the end of the film festival season. I could no longer carry the burden of the movie with me every day. I decided it was time to listen to that soft voice that had been whispering to me all year long. After all, it was that same voice that had told me to make the movie in the first place.
I wondered what that voice would say if I came to it with the big enormous question that I had asked when I had finished the movie. I wondered if that voice’s answer would be the same as it was back then. So I asked. And I handed out one more promise. I made a promise that this time I would listen.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Go and buy a helium balloon. Buy a gold one. Let that balloon take on all your hopes and dreams for the movie. Let that balloon take on all your shame and feeling of failure in not getting it out into the world as you had planned. Let that balloon take on all of the goodness, kindness and light that lives within the kids and directors that shared their lives with you. And once you have said your goodbyes, let the balloon go. Trust. And let go.” The voice gently instructed.
And so I did. Shortly after I released the helium balloon, I put the movie on Vimeo and YouTube.
When I had completed the movie, it felt like the only path the film was going to take was up. I believe that now more than ever. I also believe that I honored the trust placed in me in making the movie. The movie is beautiful, emotional and real. Very real. It tells a true story that can be trusted. It tells a story that needs to be told. It tells a story of rejection and resilience. It tells the story of life.
I’m proud of this movie. I wish it well as it follows its divine path through this world. I’m confident those who need to see it will find it. I’m confident those who were part of its creation received what they needed during the creation process. I’m confident that although rejection can be so hard, it can also lead to a place of complete peace… if we let it.
One more thing before you go…
Curious about the movie? You can learn all about it here. And here’s my favorite movie trailer AND the full movie link on YouTube. The film is good. I know it 🙂
Interested in more of my stories? Go here to read my most popular blog post. Curious about the post that started it all? You can find it here. Want to read them all? Start at the top right here and work your way down.
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