Talent is not the most common factor in success. You might be SPECTACULARLY gifted but never get anywhere at all. So whose fault is it?
There seems to be one big difference between those who get something done and achieve success and those who do not and that is the way they think about and act upon the opportunities presented to them.
This time last year I was surrounded by paper. I had written a script which I still believe is an outstanding story… but I had no outlet and whilst I threw myself into the writing I secretly saw a huge wall in front of me which erected itself instantly as soon as I considered taking my script to screen. There was no funding around and I allowed that to be the reason not to make it.
So, I thought, if there is no funding… perhaps I need to write a new, bold, exciting short story, which I believe in just as much but which requires less locations, less actors and is ambitious yet achievable.
Thus, MOUSE was born. A short scifi film about a man trapped in a building with a thousand clones of himself which, as a story, challenges what it is to be unique (begging the question, ‘Could you out think a clone of yourself?’) whilst remaining an achievable short film shot in mostly one location with one actor and no dialogue.
I could see this film being made.
But once the script was written… the wall came back. I saw it building brick by brick, no money, no funding in the UK for short film and I became worried that another exciting story would stay on the paper.
The irony is I am a pro active person. I believe in taking action and I practise what I teach (preach) to my students. But when it came to my own projects I had started to believe that maybe I had missed the boat, maybe there was no way I could get my films made, it seemed too big a wall to climb. Maybe… it wasn’t for me.
And then I heard about crowdfunding, the principle of getting little bits of money from lots of people, through the projects for SOUND IT OUT and THE UNDERWATER REALM. The possibility that those things which I had let stand in my way for so long were now in my control was too huge to ignore. And all I needed to do? Take action.
The only thing standing in the way of me making my film was the little bit of money I needed to build a small set and pay a strong cast and the only thing standing in the way of me getting that… was energy, obsession and belief in my story. I had all of those… I just needed to turn them into action. I realised there are many reasons you CAN’T do something, but until you start finding all the reasons you CAN you may never really know what you are capable of.
I started crowdfunding for my modest $5,000 budget just before Christmas and with just under two weeks to go I am over 100% funded, have a VFX team on board who offered their services for free, exceptional composers a talented crew and a choice of some very talented actors. I cannot count the interactions that have happened by taking action and SEEKING MY AUDIENCE rather than waiting for somebody to hand me the tools to make my dream come true.
There are many lessons in Crowdfunding but in my opinion it is not such a revolutionary thing. As new mediums rise and fall the one thing that never changes is who we are speaking to; people. We have to connect on a human level, an emotive level, to promote action.
Rather than expecting somebody to do something because we believe they SHOULD do it, we need to think about making it something they WANT to do instead. What crowdfunding HAS done, however, is given filmmakers the chance to FIND their audience and give them that choice. I know of several other filmmakers, personally, who have been stalled for a while, almost given up and then seen that the choice to make their film happen is now in their hands. That is a beautiful thing.
I don’t think I am a case study in ‘how to do it’ – I’m not the guy who made over a million in the first 8 hours. But I have got there and I’m aiming for more… I didn’t know everything when I started but I have learnt a lot as I’ve progressed and I hope you’ll find the following nuggets of use.
1) TAKE ACTION – This is the key piece of advice I have learnt. If you want something then you must take action every day, no matter how small, towards it happening.
2) BE FLEXIBLE – Sometimes your approach will not work. Some see this as a reason to stop, to give up. You should instead see this for what it really is, a little piece of travel advice on the road towards your target. This road is busy, why not try another? Change route; do not stop.
3) WE’RE SPEAKING TO PEOPLE – Great stories connect with human beings, so do crowdfunding campaigns, why is your project different or right for your audience compared to the other 1000 out there? What can you offer them that they will really want? Why is this of benefit to them?
4) CROWDFUNDING IS A COLLABORATIVE PROCESS – Whether it is the people who fund you, the team you bring together for your production of simply those around you that support you on tough days and celebrate with you when things go well… great things are rarely achieved in total isolation. Build your team.
5) HAVE SOMETHING WORTH SAYING – Crowdfunding has become pretty big, bit it could become very saturated very quickly with every other tweet asking you to support another project. But if you have a story worth telling and the energy to communicate that you will stand out from the crowd. Story is the most important thing, that and finding the right audience for your story. Don’t wait for them to find you, know who you are speaking to.
6) SEEK CRITICISM – People will line up to tell you what they like about your project… but that doesn’t mean you will make any money. I found it important to ask people for some honest critique. And I got it. I had made £500 in the first fortnight and then everything stalled, I was getting little or no money from strangers. After some very helpful responses I was told to use my twitter more effectively to follow appropriate users and start conversations that spread my story. I was also told the tone of some of my pitch was wrong and I needed to BE IN my video (something I knew but was nervous about)… Once I made those changes things have gone brilliantly and, as I say, we hit our $5,000 goal with 18 days to spare.
7) YOU ARE ALLOWED TO DO THIS – You are allowed to have success and you are allowed to try something even if others think it might fail. You must value your project and know that with work you can find the people to fund it. You always have a choice. To go for it or to do nothing, but make no mistake about it, doing nothing is still making a choice (and we’ve all been guilty of that).
8) IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME – Magic can happen when you start putting yourself out there. It is not always easy but you have to step back and look at the big changes. On tough days I could look at the first month, for example, and see it was not only money I had added to my project but friends, audience members and wonderful crew.
9) BUT THEY WONT COME JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE BUILT IT – Crowdfunding is hard work. You have to spend a lot of time on it and if, like me, you have a full time job too then you have to be ready for late nights, working on weekends and getting up early to keep everything ticking over. But then, if you really want it, is it such a hardship to work more on something you really want?
10) BE GRATEFUL – Be grateful for the opportunity, grateful for every little piece of funding, for every bit of advice good or bad. The more thankful you truly are for the opportunity the more those things will happen. But also be grateful because you are truly grateful. Cynicism doesn’t sell.
There are a few days remaining on our campaign. We hit 100% with 18 days to go and have made some amazing contacts. Mouse WILL be made but, with the time remaining, we have seen an opportunity to make our budget bigger and therefore make Mouse the best film it could possibly be. Rather than relaxing into the last bend we have set a hugely ambitious target of hitting 150% funded by 24th Feb.
We have come a long way and value every single piece of support. There will still be ups and downs but we know, beyond everything… this would never have even begun if we had not first… taken action.
Check out MOUSE here.
Justin Tagg is a writer/director who has made several short films in the past, most notably The Paperboy, which screened at over 70 films internationally, won 5 audience awards and an award from the Royal Television Society and the BFI.
He is also a lecturer on the BA (Hons) Creative Advertising degree at the University of Lincoln in the UK.