The barn is full of tools, car parts, a tractor, and one zombie. She sits quietly in a corner, while high winds assail the windows and make them shudder in their moldings. The real invasion, however, is outside the barn, and shapes scurry past the glass on every few moments. The owner of the barn is a kindly old fellow named Tim, and he blinks in mild perplexity at what’s happened to his New England farmstead.
Cameras are being set into position against decaying fences. Boom mics and bounces, make-up artists and production assistants, and even the occasional producer have taken over the property in the last four hours. A table of bagels and coffee sits directly before a fleet of plows. The location is a last-minute replacement for one that fell through. Our cast and crew only received the directions fourteen hours ago, and we only negotiated for the right to film here an hour before that.
The sun crawls rapidly across the sky. The transition from writing to producing is a shocking contrast. I’m a writer by training and livelihood. It’s either a solitary process (when I write my novels) or a collaborative one with my friend and screenwriting partner Damian Dydyn. With a blank computer screen, you can write anything that springs to mind, and while there is always agony and struggle in hashing out the turns of plot or sequences of action or development of character, writing is a freeing process.
On set, everything in thinly managed chaos, it seems. Our director Mathew Provost moves about it with quiet confidence, like a sea captain who has faith that the raging storm will indeed slosh over the ship without dragging us under. SELENE HOLLOW is our first Web Series, and this is our first episode, being filmed six weeks ahead of our Kickstarter campaign so we’ll have something to show prospective crowd-funders.
Yet two things are immediately apparent. The first is that our crew of TWENTY knows what they’re doing. Connecticut doesn’t leap to mind as a pool of filmmaking talent, yet every film I’ve worked on here, every networking shindig I’ve attended, every call for actors or visual effects artists I’ve ever had to make, is always answered by hordes of talented people. They come out of busy cities like New Haven and Stamford or secluded forested towns like Morris and Litchfield. And they come from neighboring states too, crossing the map to take part in a project they love, doing what they love.
And that’s the second thing that’s immediately apparent. No one here is pulling in a big paycheck – no one’s getting paid. Damian, Mathew and I have fronted the money for today. But people are here, because as Quentin Tarantino likes to chant on set, “We love movies!” That love will sustain us through a frankly ambitious undertaking. Ancient Rome, the Old West, a spaceship, and a far future colony on an alien world will all come to life before we’re done with the series.
And we’ve got a zombie – Ashley C. Williams, star of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE – who responded to fellow producer Marty Lang’s suggestion that she read the SELENE HOLLOW script and who then followed up her email of acceptance with a tweet of joy. It makes us feel good. It keeps us a little warmer on this forty degree, absurdly windy day, and it calms me a little when I see our jib tip up into barren tree branches.
This kind of organized democracy also extends to our plans for funding. Kickstarter is a way for us to tap into the love and support of would-be audiences. Just as Amazon Kindle and self-publishing venues have skyrocketed in popularity and have given aspiring writers a chance to compete in the publishing industry, so has Kickstarter leveled the playing field somewhat for aspiring filmmakers and other artists. Even video games that studios wouldn’t greenlight are findingâ€¨second chances – the staggering success of game designer Tim Schaefer for Psychonauts 2 is very fresh, very new as we work on SELENE HOLLOW.
After all, we’re all in this because we can’t picture ourselves doing anything else. And Tarantino was right. People do love movies. A single phone call convinced a man to surrender his barn so it could be transformed into a makeshift makeup station, and his property confiscated for severalâ€¨hours by total strangers. He loves movies. He’s confessed his favorite films to me during our call, and his one request was this: “Can I watch?”â€¨“It’s your property,” I remind him. “Of course you can watch. And the coffee and pastries are on us.”
We get the shots and move along, pausing as the occasional airplane goes overhead, as a troop of dogs goes rampaging down the street, as a chainsaw fells a not-so-distant tree. We all move together in a strange dance of expertise and energy, and when the day finally fades into evening and the tallest among us are literally grabbing the last shards of sunlight with our reflectors, we whisper about what is to come.
This, I think, is filmmaking. Later tonight our horde will take over an office after-hours. Tomorrow we’ve got a restaurant to consume. This, I think, is what we all love.
But that chilly weekend was only the beginning. It was only a stepping stone. For as hard as we worked on those cold days in April we had yet to face any true adversity with this project. Enter Kickstarter. We worked with Lucas McNelly to design our Kickstarter campaign and his research suggested that starting on a Monday and ending on a Friday maximized our chances of reaching our goal. So we planned to launch on April 30th and run for 26 days, ending on May 25th. This would have allowed us to avoid Memorial Day weekend while taking advantage of Mother’s Day with an promotion we had designed that we called the “Don’t eat my mom!” Mother’s Day Event. Things were looking up and we were excited to get started.
Unfortunately, we hit our first stumbling block instead. A combination of technical difficulties forced us to push our campaign back a week after we had announced to our audience that it would be starting on the 30th. Kickstarter was quick to respond to our call for help and quick to fix the issue, but we had missed our window for kicking off on a Monday.
So, almost a month after wrapping the first episode, to the day, we launched our Kickstarter campaign on Monday, May 7th at 9:00 AM and waited for that first donation. An hour went by… nothing. Another and still a brazen zero hung there on the page, taunting us. We grew tense and started to wonder if we had missed something obvious or if the delay had shot us in the foot before we had even begun. Then it happened.
Twenty-five dollars. We breathed a sigh of relief as if that first pledge had put a crack in the dam that would lead to its eventual crumbling, allowing a steady stream dollars to follow. And more donations did come in, but we quickly realized we were behind our projections. Well behind.
By the end of day two we had raised only one quarter of what we had hoped we would have by that point. Consulting our graphs and spread sheets we scrambled to find something that would make it all make sense, but there was nothing. We had simply come out of the gate slowly and were going to need to work hard to make up the lost ground. Constant reminders that we still had time and that one large donation could turn us around in a hurry felt hollow so Damian and I got together on the third day of the campaign to adjust our strategy.
The first thing we did was extend our Mother’s Day event but starting it earlier than planned. We announced it that morning, uploading the video we had shot the weekend before. We examined the lists of web sites, blogs, podcasts and local radio stations we had planned to tap into and expanded that list as much as we could. We pushed up our schedule for contacting local businesses for potential corporate sponsorship and decided to approach them for Kickstarter donations rather than investment.
In short, we panicked. And while we did, a funny thing happened. The flood gates opened a bit and in a few short hours, our total donations more than doubled and we found ourselves more or less back on track. Things slowed down again in the following days, but by then we had realized that this process was going to be far more up and down than we had anticipated and decided to stick with out adjusted plan for the rest of the month. We needed to be aggressive and try to keep from falling behind our projections again.
And this, I think, is filmmaking. We’re not out of the water yet, and we may never actually reach dry land, but that feeling of swimming against the tide no matter where you are in the process of creating a film or television show or even a web series is filmmaking. We will always struggle and there will always be adversity to overcome. There is always ground to make up.
Yes, this is filmmaking. It is frustrating and difficult and will pound you into a pulpy mess on the concrete if you let it, but this is filmmaking. And in a strange, perhaps even masochistic way… this is what we love.
Selene Hollow is an ambitious science fiction, thriller web series with plenty of laughs by writer/producer Brian Trent (LADY PHILOSOPHER: THE STORY OF HYPATIA, THESEUS WOMAN) of Rahotep Productions and writer/producer Damian Dydyn (BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, RIGHTEOUS KILL) of Evil Hand Productions. It is directed by Mathew Provost (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, COMANCHE MOON) of Studio Seven7 Films.
Production will take place in and around Connecticut in the first two weeks of July and consist of primarily Connecticut based crew. It stars Alexander Platt, Amanda Ruggiero and Ashley Williams.
The Kickstarter campaign for Selene Hollow is ongoing here and will run until 11:59 PM on June 1st.
BRIAN TRENT is an award-winning novelist, writer, and producer living in Connecticut. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and writer for The Humanist, he is the author of the acclaimed historical novel Lady Philosopher: the Story of Hypatia and has had work published in over 100 venues. Recent production credits include being writer/producer/actor on the forthcoming The Theseus Woman (2012).
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