Most Important Crowdfunding Lesson For Filmmakers by Don Swanson

Hi! My name is Don Swanson and I’m the writer and director of Occurrence At Mills Creek Movie. We are currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to make a feature film based on a short film. Which certainly isn’t anything new but our approach is kind of unique to it that our short film is in actuality the opening act of the feature film.

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All of this started back in 2016 when I was working on another project with a young actress named Alexa Mechling. And she was being kind of hyper or whatever and so I joked with her and said that if she didn’t settle down I was going to write a script where cut her throat.

And about a year and a half later she asked me what was going on with that idea and basically at the time we had come off of that feature, had done another project and quite honestly I was pretty tired and was just looking to do something kind of fun on a weekend where we could do some cool, cool horror stuff. 


“Ultimately the short film for us is something to show. It’s our start, it’s our ability to say we’re doing this. It’s not just an idea, it’s something that actually is happening. And people can get a sense of what we’re about and what we’re doing based off of that and then decide for themselves if they think we’re worth supporting or not, which of course, I hope they do.”

Writer/Director Don Swanson


And the idea that I came up with was what is the worst fate that a daughter could suffer. And in my mind that would be emotionally and psychically and mentally tormented and betrayed by her mother and so that’s where the throat idea came in and everything. The idea that a mom was messing with her daughter, kind of punishing her mentally and emotionally before taking the price of her life.

And I kind of worked on the script and got it to a pretty good point and some people became aware of it. And that’s how we landed Betsy Lynn George ultimately and it was actually Betsy who suggest maybe it was the sister because she saw the mom as more of a caregiver. As soon as we took that direction all of these different threads started to grow out of it. Before long I had so much kind of backstory and possibility for these characters that it was well beyond the base concept of a 10 minute character of thriller piece dealing with that moment before the daughter’s death.

And we kind of took off based on the people who were getting involved and everything and we realized that there was so much more to the story. Not just bulking up that bit but that it was just like a chunk of a story. 

We kind of went and restructured that to bring a little more depth to the characters that were involved and these ideas of where it could go, what it could all possibly mean.

As the short kind of came into focus it became apparent that it was more psychological than horror and it was more family drama. And with that being the case, there was much more to tell than just that little bit.

I had been involved on crowdfunding projects before. More in like a support kind of role. This is the first time that I’ve been the person responsible for it and in charge of it. But in both of those instances we had something to show. One that I did with a collaborator John-Patrick Driscoll in 2012. We’d shot the short and were seeking funds to complete it. And one that I helped out with Tom Willimas and Chris Lee. We actually shot a very professional and very structured concept trailer using who was going to be our talent and everything.  And from that experience I learned that you want to have something to show (if at all possible). You don’t just want to get up there and be like Hi! I’m so-and-so. I have a great idea and you should give me money. We wanted to actually show something. And also if we could see if it would potentially work.

My initial plan was to let the film play the festival circuit for about 6 months or so to kind of build some buzz, some awareness (things like that) and then go into the crowdfunding. But as it kept progressing, more and more people found out about it. More people wanted to be involved with it. And basically we’d just kind of gotten to place where it would work against us to wait more than it would help.

The way that it was structured is the last scene of the short film is designed to work in two ways. Literally just two or three shots changed the entire scene. One version ends the short and it keeps it exploring kind of a psychological illness and disillusionment. And the other one springboards it to what could be one or two years in the future. And it picks up again where the character Clara (played by Ava Psoras) is actually working through the issues that she experiences in the short.

In that way it’s almost like a sequel to the short but it’s told in one story and the short in and of itself explores these themes. It is a complete story. It has the beginning, middle and end but ends on a more ambiguous challenge for you to think about it in a reality kind of way. Whereas by tweaking the last scene, it gives us a springboard to jump into the future and basically see the effect that all of this had on Clara. And then it gives us even more fun to play around with her in a psychological sense because then we get to do all kinds of things where what’s real and what wasn’t real? What from the short actually happened? What from the short didn’t actually happen and her entire reality gets to be blurred.

And so basically the short is centered around this whole idea of her dealing with guilt over the sister, we take that and we just run wild with it in the feature. We begin to pick away her reality. We’re able to give her a life and take it away from her. We’re able to give some kind of backstory, some kind of a depth to her family because at the root of it is really is about these three girls. And we’re really able to get into those notions of family. And it’s really cool because we’re concentrating on these female characters specifically and we’re looking for kind of mother and daughter relationships (sister relationships) and we’re adding this kind of stress, this kind of family dynamic which is dramatic by nature and we’re putting it in a horror blanket except we’re kind of playing with it psychologically.

Basically we set Clara up in the short and we knock her all over the place in the feature. And we take all of these ideas and we run with them further and we kind of complete that story.

We are using the same footage, we are using the same actors. I mean that was the plan once we start rolling on the short. That this would be one quarter of the film. We’re independent, we’re very independent. We’re ultra-low budget. Everyone who is working on this is because it’s a passion project of some sort. We all believe in what we’re doing and ultimately we don’t have the luxury or the time to reshoot anything actually. 

We were able to basically restructure the opening act from the short film so Ava is still Clara. Betsy Lynn George is still Emily. Alexa Mechling is still Cassandra. Some other actors who appeared in the short are also coming back for the feature including Joe Fischell as Victor (Emily’s husband and the girl’s father). Lynda Marnoni who worked with George Romero in the 70’s in THE CRAZIES and SEASON OF THE WITCH is coming back as Anastelle as well as some others.

All of the same actors. All of the same footage. It’s quite literally two or three shots that transition the short. The short is as stands the opening to the feature with those few changes.

As I said before my initial idea was to wait 6 months to a year before going on with the feature. But we had so many amazing opportunities kind of present themselves such as Mia Zanotti and other cast members and other opportunities and places to shoot that it would actually hurt us to wait.

The short film is being used as our ability to show we’re more than just an idea. We’re doing this, we’ve done this, we’ve started this. And that’s probably from my personal experience in crowdfunding the biggest piece of advice any filmmaker who is looking to do it on any level. But be more than just a talking head saying we’ve got this great idea. Have something to show even if you have to rack up the credit card a little bit to put together some kind of a concept trailer with the talent you hope to use, have something to show.

Ultimately the way it ended up playing out where we are, the short film for us is something to show. It’s our start, it’s our ability to say we’re doing this. It’s not just an idea, it’s something that actually is happening. And people can get a sense of what we’re about and what we’re doing based off of that and then decide for themselves if they think we’re worth supporting or not, which of course, I hope they do.

About OCCURRENCE AT MILLS CREEK:

Betsy Lynn George, best known as Devon from the David Fincher directed music video for Billy Idol’s classic Cradle of Love, parodies the iconic role which solidified her sex-symbol status as an all-time top video vixen in the Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for her return to the screen, Occurrence at Mills Creek.   

Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Don SwansonOccurrence at Mills Creek is a psychological horror film that examines the dynamics of strong female characters against a supernatural backdrop through failing reality.  Ms. George returns to the screen after a nearly 20 year hiatus as Emily, a role that she describes as a “very in-depth and interesting character.”  The cast also includes Lynda Marnoni of George Romero’s classic horror films Season of the Witchand The Crazies, Mia Zanotti from the 2015 season of NBC’s The Voice, and The Langshaw Twins from Furious 7.  Production is underway with over 25% of the project already shot. 

The Indiegogo campaign is now LIVE until Wednesday, April 17, 2019. 

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Occurrence at Mills Creek is a psychological horror film that examines the dynamics of strong female characters against a supernatural backdrop through failing reality. Now on Indiegogo until April 17th, 2019.