Big Money, Little Film by Liz Rizzo

Liz Rizzo, Director

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As I write this, the Missing Miranda Kickstarter campaign is entering its second week. It’s an ambitious five-week campaign for a romantic comedy feature film with a funding goal of $65K. I think of this as a magic number – it’s simultaneously big money to raise on Kickstarter, but very little money to shoot a feature film. Especially when you take out fees and taxes.

While Missing Miranda is a little film by Hollywood standards, it involves a large cast and many locations. As the director, I felt it would be irresponsible to set our funding goal any lower than what we could actually shoot the film for. So the challenge, then, is a big-money Kickstarter campaign for a fun, romantic little film with an ensemble cast you probably haven’t met before.

For better or for worse, our main Kickstarter video is straight-forward and sincere. I think it conveys a good sense of us and our project, but it’s not a clever video a stranger would share on its own merit. In the video department, what we’re hoping will gain traction is our series of character vignette videos. We’re rolling one out each week, with backers getting an exclusive early sneak peek. We essentially shot a web series to promote our feature Kickstarter campaign!

But let me back up a little bit to how I found myself suddenly shooting Kickstarter videos this past May. How did I, Liz Rizzo, meet the brains behind this operation: writer/producer/actress Deborah Sanchez?

To answer that question, I have to go all the way back to my first year in L.A. when I met producer Cindi Rice of Epic Level Entertainment in the PSA committee of Women in Film. Cindi didn’t produce my Kids Korps USA PSA, but she invited me to a monthly dinner that I’ve been going to now since 2003.

And in 2009, I directed three spec webisodes for Epic Level Entertainment for a series called Earth Force 5 written by Matt Vancil. That series didn’t get picked up, but our costume designer, Pheobe H. Boynton became another good friend. And fabulous costume designers know other fabulous costume designers, so soon Stefanie Cytron joined the fold. And Stefanie Cytron went to the University of Florida with Deborah Sanchez.

Connections in L.A.: they’re like a chapter of the Iliad.

Did I mention that I graduated from Florida State University Graduate Film School? Oh yes, imagine a Seminole on set surrounded by Gators. I’ll be remedying that during principle production and hope to have a set full of Seminoles and Gators shooting a movie in harmony. Or something vaguely resembling harmony. We’ll totally have to have a school spirit T-shirt day and take a pic.

So early in May I met Deborah Sanchez at Four Cafe in Eagle Rock. Cindi said she had a romantic comedy called “Missing Miranda,” and she was working on a Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve met A LOT of people in L.A. For years I would say that I was looking for my Brian Grazer. It felt like that children’s book, “Are You My Mother?” “Are you my Brian Grazer?”

I didn’t say that to Debbie, but I enjoyed the “Missing Miranda” screenplay, and I was blown away by her motivation and organization. So I offered to come direct the spots to see how we worked together. Yes, I’m directing a feature where all the main roles were already cast when I came onto the project. It’s an interesting situation, but a smart move in anticipation of a Kickstarter campaign. A movie that’s cast is a movie with a group of talented people vested in promoting the fundraising for the film.

So directing the spots gave me an opportunity to meet our wonderful cast (check them out on our Kickstarter page), our awesome director of photography, Nathaniel Sticco, and field mixer extraordinaire, Dan Jaspar. When it quickly became apparent that we were a great team, I jumped on board for the whole shebang. And I’ll be bringing my long-time editor and FSU Graduate Film School alum, Randall Harmon Waldrop, along for the fun. And the school spirit.

But first, there’s the matter of that $65K Kickstarter campaign. Can we do it???

I’ve been thinking of our first week as a soft launch week. We’ve reached out to our closest contacts and our Facebook community, and Debbie has been working hard at PR efforts. The first week has turned out to be a great opportunity to tweak our page and our reward levels and build our base of support.

That said, I was hoping to hit $10K and/or 100 backers in the first week, and as I write this, we’re at $7,110 and 75 backers. We’re 10% funded. Not too shabby.

In week two, as our second character vignette launches, we’ll continue our PR efforts and widen our outreach. I’ve been blogging on my personal blog, Everyday Goddess, since 2005, so I intend to reach out to my blogging community and to romantic comedy lovers across the interwebs. I know you’re out there!

We also need to kick up our Twitter action, and we’re sending personal emails to an ever-widening group of contacts every day.

My Kickstarter advice so far is to:

1. Have a team in place. The more the merrier. Not only will a team extend your outreach, but you’ll find that everyone has different strengths that help the campaign in different ways.

2. Keep it personal. Our video isn’t flashy or catchy, but it’s well-made, honest, and genuine. Which matches our vibe as a team. Our success so far has been due to personal and authentic communication, including regular updates on our Kickstarter page.

3. Think about how you’re going to sustain momentum throughout your campaign. We hope that our vignette videos will allow us to have a consistently building campaign that doesn’t stall out in the middle. Or the end. Or ever.

That said, I’ve also learned that reading about Kickstarter campaigns can only tell you so much. The minute you launch you start learning things in a much more visceral way, much like how you’re constantly learning during any given production. And I’ve always been a proponent of eschewing rules other people set for the Internet. Read everything you can get your hands on, think about it, and then do what makes sense and works for you and your project. Aim high and take risks.

Yes, you probably don’t want to make your campaign too long. And yes, those lower level rewards and your $100 reward level are super important. I definitely recommend thinking about how you’re going to sustain interest throughout the length of your campaign.

But do you have to have named talent to raise big money? Do you have to have a main Kickstarter video with viral potential? Do you have to raise big money in your first week to make it to a big number? Well, we’re about to find out.

I guess the biggest surprise for me so far, is how much fun I’m having and how good I feel about it, come what may. This is definitely due to some personal growth over the last ten years, but it’s also because the project and the people feel so right. I believe in “Missing Miranda,” and our cast and crew is truly amazing. No matter what happens in the next few weeks of our Kickstarter campaign, I’ve found a whole new group of people to work with in the future. And there’s nothing more valuable in this business than that.


BIO:

Liz Rizzo graduated from Florida State University Graduate Film School. She has directed numerous film shorts including the award-winning “Every Little Girl’s Dream.” In 2005, Liz shadowed director Duane Clark on the television shows “Medium” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” “Earth Force 5,” 3 spec webisodes written by Matt Vancil and produced by Epic Level Entertainment, was completed in 2009. A member of Film Independent, Liz Rizzo has lived and worked in Hollywood since 2002.