My name is Chris Penney. My wife, Amy and I own a small independent film company, Dogbyte Films. I work a full-time job, but in my free time, I am a film maker. Making the first two of 5 feature-length films was fun, liberating. My crew was very small. We were run-and-gun shooters, with a camera, a light kit, a script, and what is most important to me, my vision.
Fast-forward to my 5th film, “Small Change.” This film was entirely different in that we had held more intense auditions, had more locations, thousands of dollars in equipment, and a much larger crew. We shot the film on weekends and did the editing during the week for 8 months.
The difference between the other films and Small Change was that we had since discovered social media- Facebook, to be exact. The amount of support and enthusiasm toward the film was overwhelming. The community gave us incredible support by spreading the word, offering free shoot locations, free advertising, costumes- too many great things to summarize.
We found ourselves in the middle of media frenzy, with interviews at film events, on the radio, television and had several articles written about our company and the film in the newspaper. Michigan Film Magazine ran an article about us, and Sony Vegas (the editing software I use) contacted us and featured the film and an article about us that was seen by thousands of people. When the film premiered, it sold out all three nights. We were invited to show our film at the Michigan Film Festival and it was received enthusiastically. We felt like local celebrities and had high hopes for the future of film.
Now, here’s the part where I will end up offering you to a great bit of advice: Since this film was at a much higher caliber for us, we wanted to make sure that it was presented in the most professional way possible, so we’d hired a color-correction professional (prior to release), a marketing firm (prior to release) and a film distribution company (post-release).
They were all extremely enthusiastic toward the film- that is until we’d paid them, and suddenly, little to no communication occurred and no acceptable services were rendered from any of the services. The total cost for these combined services was $7,280, which includes the need to purchase two new hard drives, one of which we have not received back. I could go into details, but won’t (unless you ask me to).
Needless to say, we were crushed and lost hope. But after all was said and done, after all of the bad experiences we’d had with the companies we’d hired, and the utter disappointment we’d felt for being taken advantage of, we’d discovered things that transcend all of the negativity: I am now competent in color-correction and we realized that we knew how to market and distribute our film on our own all along. It just took a huge chunk of wasted change and a personal kick in the ass to realize it.
Some of the lessons we’ve learned are lessons that we never wanted to learn, and had never anticipated. On the flip-side of the coin, the good, meaty lessons, which were also not anticipated, truly outweigh the bad ones, beyond belief.
So my advice to you is to do everything yourself, as you will find that you either already know or can easily learn to do these things for little to no cost. It might take a little more work and ingenuity, but it can be done if you put your mind to it. Utilize the resources in front of you- graciously, of course. Don’t waste your hard-earned money on businesses who truly only care about one thing: making money for themselves, not you. Do not allow yourself to get burned by your own project.
Following the release of Small Change and the financial losses we decided to go into a different direction. I found something that gave me not only a change of focus, but an entirely new idea altogether- combine my two passions in life: film making and hockey. Since we are avid hockey players and fans, I approached the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League – who are the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings to do a pilot episode of a reality/documentary following the team.
We spent 4 days with the Detroit Red Wings and the Grand Rapids Griffins filming at training camp in Traverse City Michigan and 4 days filming at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. We were fortunate enough to film some of the highest level executives from the Red Wings along with their top players, crew, and fans.
Not only was this an incredible experience for the fans in us (we interviewed some of our idols), it also introduced us to a different style of film making, in that it is not scripted and it is necessary to be at different places at the same time- which takes a lot of run-and-gunning from a crew of 2-3, including myself. It is a style where the story may not unfold in front of you right away, or if you have a specific vision for your story, you may find that the footage you capture may take you in a whole different direction.
The awesome irony in this project is that it brought me back to my roots, to the way my film career began and reminded me of how fun and liberating film making really can and should be. It revived the original spirit I had way back in 2005, when I picked up the camera, shouted “Action!” and started shooting my first film.
We are currently in the process of sending out the pilot of our documentary to different networks with the hope that there will be interest in a full-blown reality series following the Grand Rapids Griffins throughout the entire season.
Wish us luck, as we wish you the same with your projects, and remember: this is your project and you have the ability to take it anywhere you want it to go.
Chris Penney from Grand Rapids, Michigan wrote, directed, filmed and edited Small Change. It is his fifth full length, completely independent, self funded film. Chris’ other films include Sleep Disorder, Return of the Curse, Bigfoot, the Making of a Documentary, and the Basement. All of these films were based in the horror genre. His first two films were picked up for distribution by Pendulum Pictures. The other films are available on Indieflix.com. He is currently working on a documentary about the Grand Rapids Griffins, the prime AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
Chris is a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University, Colorado Christian University and he received his Masters Degree from Central Michigan University. He also attended Compass Film Academy.
Chris is employed full time at Spectrum Health as a multi media specialist developing online learning for medical staff. He has also worked in human resources and mental health.
When not making films Chris enjoys playing hockey, archaeology, horticulture, his four dogs and the outdoors.
He is married to Amy Penney, who has starred in and worked camera on several of his films and is also his business partner. They reside in Plainfield Township.
Facebook: Small Change Movie