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“Sorry Film Not Ready” by Janet Perlman

What happens if you fill out a festival submission form and submit a film that you haven’t actually made yet? That’s the situation that Oscar-nominated NFB filmmaker Janet Perlman faced when she concocted Sorry Film Not Ready. Here’s the backstory:

This film was made by accident using experimental animation invisible to the naked eye. At least that’s what I wrote on the festival entry form for a film called “Llama Cookin'”, which didn’t even exist. I then started making the film but abandoned it after a few days, and changed the film’s title to “Sorry Film Not Ready”. Two weeks later I received a notification saying that the festival had not yet received “Sorry Film Not Ready”, but that the deadline had been extended by one week. I then decided to make the film after all, in one week. It got accepted into the festival (Ottawa Animation Festival), and to date has been accepted into three others. But it’s still not ready.

  • doop

    Pretty mesmerizing, really liked this accidental film, haha.

  • Another bit of brilliance from Janet and Judith. The film just sings . . . and it IS finished.

  • Mr Gaines

    Which only comes to show that, when you want to be featured in a Festival, being a “recognized” filmmaker is way more important than actually having a film.

    • Yes. There is value in putting in the time and effort to build a career. Nobody is ever just “handed” something. They have to work for it.

      • Mr Gaines

        But when it comes to selecting content for a festival, I think that you have only to consider the films themselves. It´s not fair to the folks attending.

        I just think some people get a free pass. That´s it.

      • Mr Gaines

        And this situation illustrates it perfectly.

      • I don’t consider this situation to be a free pass at all. Janet Perlman was faced with a tight deadline and made the most of it.

        The Ottawa Animation Festival was under no obligation to screen the film, nor were the other festivals that subsequently screened it.

        Your problem seems to be with the film’s title and backstory. You’ve made no comment about the film itself.

      • Mr Gaines

        I considered the film a nice exercise. But that´s about it. Something you could put up on the web as a curiosity. But in no way representative of what you´d expect to see in a world-class Festival.

        The backstory is the interesting part. I think if this wasn´t submitted by an “Oscar-nominated NFB filmmaker” it ust wouldn´t make it. And I´m truly not saying this to diss on Miss Perlman. I think she did what she wanted to and that´s fine. It´s just a comment on the festival mentality as a whole.

        For example, I think Bill Plympton has some brilliant films. But sometimes he puts out a dud. It´s bound to happen with such a prolific guy. Nonetheless, every one of his films qualify to every single festival. Should they? How much of that is riding on his name and influence alone?

        The same could be said to Woody allen, for example. An auteur I truly admire. I guess it´s a tough question.

    • Paul N

      I’m with Mr. Gaines. Consider that this film very possibly took a slot away from someone else’s film on the basis of Ms. Perlman’s name recognition alone. Or, to put it another way – if an “unknown” had submitted this film, would it have been accepted into the festival?

    • amid

      Mr Gaines – You do realize that there is no such thing as an objective selection criteria for an animation festival, big or small. Festivals reflect the taste of their programmers, just as awards like the Oscars and Annies reflect the taste of their organization’s voters. In this case, the person programming Ottawa, Chris Robinson, decided that he liked the film and that it would be a good fit for the audience, plain and simple. Indeed, it went over well in Ottawa. Janet’s film has gotten into other festivals since so apparently other festival programmers have enjoyed it as well.

      • Mr Gaines

        It´s a tricky subject, Amid. I don´t really need to say that all I´m saying is my opinion, right? There´s no right answer. I just feel (emphasis on “feel” – totally subjective) that sometimes films are chosen for its pedigree and not actual quality.

        While I *feel* that each film should be judged on its own. Regardless of who made it and how long it took to make.

        I don´t know. I just find this sort of discussion stimulating. I don´t intend to offend anyone here on CB. I take pride on being a pretty well-manered 12-year-old (wink wink).

  • Ha! Nice! A fun bit of arguably unfinished work.
    It would have been ironic if she’d won an award for it.

  • Brilliant – but then I feel that way about anything Janet does. . .

  • Jim

    I have no idea who Janet is or what she’s created previously, but when I saw this at Ottawa it was immediately obvious why they screened it. The film worked perfectly in contrast to so many of the overly serious, plodding, abstract animated films on display (and I say this as someone who enjoys experimental animation, however challenging it may be at times).

    It’s short and funny, with good rhythm, and it works really well in a festival atmosphere because chances are the audience has just sat through twelve minutes of a fly buzzing around someone’s eye. The irony is that many “finished” films are not ever ready; most could benefit from the hand of a skilled editor. Directors consistently overestimate how interested their audience will be, to the detriment of the final product, and Janet’s piece here works as a good counter to that — short and entertaining.

  • Great soundtrack. Combined with the visuals it makes for a classic bit of irony.

  • Mr. Critic

    It looks like it took a week to make. Perhaps this is why mainstream audiences prefer the work of Dreamworks, Pixar, and other Hollywood Studios…

  • Evan

    Steve Schnier: “Nobody is ever just ‘handed’ something. They have to work for it.”

    How do you explain Sofia Coppola?

    And why was this film accepted? There’s not a single redeeming quality about it.

    • RE: Sofia Coppola?

      Nicholas Cage would be a better example. But who ever told you that life was fair?

      About the “not a single redeeming quality” – consider that the real pro’s on this thread – the ones who have actually WORKED in the industry are applauding Janet, while the mysterious little people with sly ‘nom de plumes’ (who we all know are 12 year old animation experts) are up in arms.

      Listen guys, make a film, write a book, do something. Get out of your Moms’ basements and actually work in the biz. Then you’ll gain some appreciation for other people’s work.

      • Evan

        Hey Steve, sorry I don’t like the same film as you…

        Not all Industry professionals are the best judge of quality. Katzenberg works in the Industry, does he know quality? Anyone who worked on any of the shrek films are considered Industry. Are they authorities on quality? No, certainly not. Stan Brakhage, Larry Jordan, Harry Smith, Jiri Barta, and Yuri Norstein, never worked in the “Biz,” yet I’d much prefer to listen to them than you or most industry professionals. Because those people actually had something interesting to say about the medium of film and animation.

        Oh, and I don’t live in a basement or with my mom, and I do make films – but don’t worry I’m sure you’ll find no redeeming qualities in them.

      • evan

        And my first statement may have been a bit harsh in the wording. I didn’t mean it’s a bad film. I meant, for me personally it does not impress or inspire, which does not mean it won’t impress or inspire others who see it. Of course I love the idea behind its creation, just not my type of film.

      • Was My Face Red

        A bit harsh? You’ve gone from “The film has no redeeming features” to “for me personally it doesn’t impress or inspire which doesn’t mean it won’t impress or inspires others.” Why don’t people think before they type?

      • Hal

        Nicholas Cage is awesome. He makes some odd films, but by God does he make the most of the roles before cashing that check and I don’t think there’s one film he makes that doesn’t have a role he wants to play. Also, LOST IN TRANSLATION is awesome and VIRGIN SUICIDES has merit. Why all the Coppola hate? Next you’re going to bitch about Duncan Jones’ MOON because he’s Bowie’s son. So what if some people get opportunity, as long as they actually make work of merit and have a unique voice good for them. Perlman made a damn fine film instead of throwing in the towel – yay for stepping up your game.

      • Thanks! My father sold car accessories. Those fuzzy dice were definitely an advantage in furthering my career.

      • Was My Face Red

        You father sold fuzzy dice? No fair! Mine only sold those little cardboard trees that smell of pine. Now I know why all the films I haven’t made would have been rejected!

  • Bobby

    Would this film have been accepted at Ottawa had it not been from Ms. Perlman?

    I think very likely it would NOT have been accepted.

    Which then we can conclude it is not purely a meritocratic endeavor. You need fame (maybe fortune) to maintain your laurels.

  • Emmett Goodman

    Brilliant. Great way to motivate the artist. Just brilliant.

  • if you’re thinking I get a free ticket,you should know there was an eight year stretch where nothing I made got into Ottawa. That includes films I worked on for over a year, put my soul into, blah blah blah, such as Dinner For Two and Bully Dance. My track record for Annecy is about a third get in. My track record for Hiroshima is zero. Everything I have ever sent to Hiroshima (still a great festival BTW) has not gotten in. I do not complain, start boycotts or go on hunger strikes. No one should expect special consideration.

    I’ve been on a few preselection juries, and I know it is an impossible job, and never completely fair. But I think only the most insecure festival programmer would rely on a a filmmaker’s reputation when selecting films. I will concede though, that a programmer will pay attention to a film I send, based on my reputation or previous films in that festival. But no. it will not necessarily be accepted.

    I had this urge to make a really silly film, and this subversive idea to start with a festival entry form really was how the Sorry film started. I had in mind the possible advantage of it being one minute long – it would be easy to watch it right through, and easy and fun to throw in with a block of long message-laden films. Plus: easier to make! This film would have been torture at three minutes. The film was made with complete spontaneity, and I tried to compensate for what would be missing in terms of craft and polish, with dollups of self-referential humor and a satirical message. So no, it is not a masterpiece or tour de force of animation (except maybe the sock puppet). It’s a one-minute satire.

    • Nancy Beiman

      I’ve been wanting to make a festival film parody like that for twenty years. It’s a lot of fun.
      Some great art has been created to short deadlines, by the way.

      • True, true, although actually I was not intending to make a film festival parody. I just wanted to make a good film, and to do it really quickly. I am sure I am not the first person to make a film in a week. Maybe it seems like it’s a parody now because I have just revealed the order of events in the film’s production, but people didn’t know about that when the film was shown. There is parody, though, for instance “quality animation product” …

  • I love it. It’s a great example of how a ridiculously tight deadline can give you focus, spontanaeity and inspiration.
    Inspiring in itself.

  • Tadpole

    Did something not finished need so many certification marks? :)

    I can actually see the semblance of a plot in there, though! Especially with the running at the end.

  • Theo Ushev

    Sorry Comment Not Ready.

  • This is probably an disappointing story for anyone who has entered a film festival and not been accepted (disclosure: I am in that category.)

    Was the deadline extended for everyone or just this film-maker?

    If it was extended for “everyone”, what sort of effort was made to inform everyone besides this film-maker?

    Was everyone whose film had not arrived by the deadline given this same courtesy notification?

    If she was the only one told, that is rather similar to extending it only for her.

    Were all the other films… submitted in accordance with the original published rules… that could have taken the place of this one if this film had not been available… unworthy of screening?

    If all other candidates were unscreenable then I can imagine the festival making this desperate deviation from the published rules to avoid audience tears, but is Ottawa really that hard up for good films?

    Whoever’s film didn’t make the cut because this one did instead has good reason to be disappointed.

    Overall it contributes to the sneaking suspicion that, yes, these things really are fixed and for club members only.

    Isn’t there some misrepresentation involved in submitting an application for a film that’s not made and isn’t going to get made?

    Aside from all the above, I’m really tired of “ironic” films about the animation process. I can imagine the most cloistered academics getting quite a hi-larious chortle out of “Sorry Film Not Ready” but beyond that?

    • I too am infuriated by hypothetical situations which may or may not have occurred at film festivals which I didn’t enter a film into, attend or have any involvement with or knowledge of the inner workings of.

  • Hi robcat 2075 – FYI the extension was for everyone. I received a direct notification because I had sent in an entry form. That’s when I decided make the film after having abandoned it. Finally it had a good title.

    I had filled in the entry form with every intention of making a film. I was encouraged by the fact that some friends had made a film in a week that had been shown at the Ottawa Fest a few years ago – a year when my film was not accepted (see note above about years of rejection misery). Now if I hadn’t sent a film, and it got accepted into the festival sight unseen – that would be unbelievably unfair.

    This film was within the rules. Like many other festivals, there was no requirement that a film accompany the form, and the production date fell within the right timeframe, and there were no minimum hours required to have spent on the film (that would be weird, wouldn’t it?). And just so you know, no one at the festival was aware of this back story that we are talking about here. It was accepted on the basis of the content of the film, not the back story. Just so you know.

    BTW, my Quality Animation Product is totally self-financed, and the budget was $0. and It cost $0, except for a few Beta copies which I need to make, and postage for the DVD’s to send to festivals.

    And hey I did try to make the film entertaining, too, and many people think it is. You don’t have to like it, though maybe you can like the “film almost over” part. I hope for others it is, at the very least, better than “unscreenable”. Which gives me an idea for my next film.

  • akira

    wow HOW postmodern!.. who cares what’s in today’s crappy animated film festivals when you’ve got the looney tunes dvd collection, and fantasia on blu-ray.. now if only they’d put out a good tex avery set.

    • Was My Face Red

      Yes, all those animation festivals in the entire world just show crap. Why can’t we just have cats and the dogs chasing each other in the 1940’s forever?

  • Gummo

    I’m not a professional and I thought it was adorable.

    It’s goofy and self-deprecating, rhythmic and fun to look at and listen to. What’s wrong with that?

    Limits and restraints often make for good, or at least interesting, art.

  • Caresse

    I like the music and I like the dancing dog and the dotted line background design.

    At first, I have to admit I was on the side that was annoyed by the intentional irony and the idea that perhaps it was Perlman’s fame alone that earned this film’s acceptance…


    I thought about it for a few days and looked at it a few times, and now I see it as animation Dadaism, beyond the satire, it’s an epiphany happening right in front of our eyes. An explosion of understanding. Like Vegeta turning trying.

    It’s not that her fame won her spot, her EXPERIENCE made her process in this one case less time consuming.

    How many hours have you toiled on a design before narrowing it down to something so simple you can’t believe it took you that long to arrive there?

    I know for myself, the best way for me to arrive at spontaneously good work is to spend hours on highly structured not necessarily good work.

    Sure this film may have physically taken a week, but actually, it is the result of years and years of work.

    So, kudos to Perlman. Haters gonn’ hate.

  • Janet – I really enjoyed the film. I especially enjoyed that it was under a minute. I am currently sending a few films that around a minute in length seeing if festivals want to program something so short. In my opinion, I feel really short films should be programmed to help either open a block or close it as well as sprinkle in between bigger pieces. I find myself wanting to make lots more short short films. What about you? Do you like this length of time or would you go back to longer short films?

  • Vik

    Looks like a student film that was quickly done after the prof gave a one-week extension.

  • Thanks, Brian. I love the one-minute length, especially for a non-narrative film. I think programmers are very receptive to it, for exactly the reasons you say, and it’s perfect for the web too – surfers have short attention spans. Production-wise the length is easy to manage and it doesn’t suck up a whole chunk of your life. That said, I also like doing a longer film that I can really sink my teeth into. I like to work with a real script with drama and developed characters.

    • Mr Gaines

      Janet, I´m really sorry now for stirring up all this controversy. I really just wanted to start a conversation about a film´s merit “on its own” versus its “pedigree”. And I guess, because this is the internet, it attracted some trolling your way. Not fair.

      I was questioning the festival system, not your personal talent and merits.

      At least, we got to hear your very charming side of the story. I have my own opinion about the film, but now I see it as an experienced animator just having some fun with it. And if the festivals want it or not, it´s not really your problem or concern.

      And thinking about it a bit more, filling up that submission form was a very creative way of motivating yourself.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • Thanks, Mr. Gaines. You raised interesting points. I totally agree that a film should be judged on its merit alone. I think that that usually is the case, but I’ll bet sometimes not. I have sat through many a horrendous long film, thinking about my own film which didn’t make the cut. All I can say is it is a very subjective process, even when juried, and there’s no accounting for taste. Being shown in a festival is not a measure of a film’s merit, though I know it doesn’t feel that way.

  • Animation shorts screenings would be a lot better if ALL the films were 1 minute long and made in a week. :)

  • The song is stuck in my head, and if that’s faint praise then you can damn me with it.

  • Caresse

    * I meant to say Vegeta turning Super Saiyan after he stopped trying, I dunno why that part got cut out

  • Loved the film.

  • Chris Robinson

    Ah…nothing like more OIAF related kerfuffle on CB.

    First, every entrant is notified if their film has not arrived. You do not need a membership card to be notified.

    As Janet noted…outside of a TV episode she made the year before, she hasnt had a film in competition in Ottawa for years. In fact, I know that some folks were pretty pissed off at me about that – and told me to my face.

    From my view at THAT time, it seemed like it was ‘member’s club’ moaning.

    I got a lot of that for a while before people realized that I was a programming genius.

    Janet’s film is funny, inventive, original and clever. I like it. My colleagues liked it. The audience loved it.

    end of story.

    • I’d be curious to see the film that would have made the festival if “Sorry Film not Ready” had not arrived.

      And I’d be curious to hear that filmmaker’s reaction to such a circumstance.

      What were the reasons for changing the rules? Was there really a shortage of entries at the original deadline? It’s not like the OAIF is some unknown backwater that has trouble attracting interest.

      It’s your festival; you can run it any way you want, I doubt there are many actual statutes regarding such events.

      But to dismiss someone’s interest in how these things are operated as a silly “kerfuffle” is condescending.

  • ‘What happens if you fill out a festival submission form and submit a film that you haven’t actually made yet?’

    am I missing something here? Submit a film that doesn’t exist?… I think I better reread this post

    Is this a bit ironic type of thing? Like having a wedding where everyone buys sausages in different butchers rather than attend the ceremony?

    I remain ironically in the dark

    • I’m going to submit my film that doesn’t exist to a festival that doesn’t exist.

  • Chris Robinson

    We always take films late. I watch stuff well past the deadline—-as a courtesy.

    There was NO shortage. 2100 entries is quite sufficient.

    Plus…remember this is a 1minute film. I can pretty much guarantee you that no film would have replaced it. If there was a film that would replace it, then it would have been shown.

    Are you gonna really tell me that this is more than a kerfuffle? Clearly, you got a problem free life if this is a major issue.