HERE IS THE THING...ON THE ROAD ACROSS AMERICA
Adjusting My Compass
About two years ago I was reaching the end of my rope trying to get my first feature film, Mister Gimp, off the ground. Between the global economic crash, radical changes in indie film funding and development, and all the usual obstacles in trying to make a first feature film, it was looking more and more like a project that was not going to come together anytime soon.
At all the festivals and film markets I went to, everyone was talking about “crowdfunding” this and “web series” that. The internet - this was supposed to be the silver lining to the gray cloud hanging over indie feature filmmaking. Desperation is indeed the mother of invention - so in the interest of actually making something (versus continuing to slog through development hell), I decided to start thinking more like a producer than a director. What resources did I have available to me? What could I make that would cost me ZERO dollars out of pocket? And most importantly, how could I attract an audience?
I had to clarify for myself why I was making films in the first place and boil my project down to the one goal that was most important to me - connecting with an audience in a meaningful way. The blessing in disguise was that I was forced to admit that making a visually beautiful, high production value feature film had a lot to do with my ego, and it wasn't necessarily the only way to achieve my goal.
“Here’s the Thing…”
So, I went into brainstorming mode and shot test pilots for several web series ideas. The one I chose, “Here’s the Thing…”, entails me taking photographs of things in a person’s house, doing an audio interview with them to get the stories behind the things and then cutting it all together to create a short 3-4 minute documentary film. The thing about “Here's the Thing...” is that it costs me virtually nothing but my time – I already own all the gear (a Canon 7D and an audio recorder); I don't need lights (everything is shot naturally); and there’s no need for a shooting crew (I work with only one other person - a producer to help with bookings and to get another creative perspective on things).
Strangely enough, by simplifying down to the bare essentials, I managed to create a project and format that people actually want to see. Rather than a high concept short that plays at a few festivals and is quickly forgotten, people ask me, “When’s the next episode coming out?” The serial format means that I'm constantly building the audience - it isn’t a one shot deal of two years work and then one big release. Production, release and feedback are all intermingled and simultaneous. I can try new things with each episode, wait as little or as long as I want between doing episodes, and enjoy the gratification of immediate audience response.
Shooting episodes in and around my hometown of New York CIty costs me nothing, but my vision for the series has always been to profile as wide a range of people as possible. So, with my zero dollar investment and a growing following, I figured it might be a good time to start raising money to do something bigger with the show: a cross country trip to shoot a whole new batch of episodes.
On the Road, “Across America”
This new “Across America” special edition of the series would clearly have hard costs that I'd need money to cover – food, gas, lodging, a stipend for the producer. So, now I felt ready to pull the trigger and put a Kickstarter campaign into effect. Armed with 17 episodes from the past year, 1500+ Facebook fans, a mailing list of around 2,000 people, and more time and effort to design all the promo materials, I launched our Kickstarter campaign and trip on June 14th 2011.
I set a goal to shoot approximately 15 new episodes for the “Across America” special edition of the show - on people from all different walks of life around the country. But, how would I find these people, and who would I shoot? By the time I had cleared my work schedule (I run a small post studio), I had very little time to prep - less than a few weeks... The show’s creative producer, Jennifer Howd, and I camped out in my apartment for about a week before we left making calls and emailing everyone we knew – “do you know any good characters in New Orleans?” “Send me any rock climbers you’re friends with.” “My friend knows a preacher-cowboy in Oregon, do you want to interview him?”
We had about four interviews sketched out in the South before we set out in our packed Subaru three weeks ago (the rest we've figured out as we went along). I drive while Jennifer produces. And, somehow, it's been working!
The miracles of modern technology have given us mobile wi-fi from an iPhone to our laptops. Our days start with a power up at Starbucks, then I hit the wheel and Jennifer the computer and phones. Most days we shoot an interview somewhere. Every day involves driving - usually at least four hours, sometimes six or more. Motel rooms, meals, waitresses, and geography have flown by, but the episodes have racked up – Erika the homicide detective in Alabama, Gary the hog hunter in Florida, Sonya who runs a lost and found for tornado victims in Joplin, Judy and her UFO Watchtower in Colorado...
It’s been a surreal and wild ride so far. I’ve met more people and seen more interesting things in just 20 days than I’d have thought possible. It’s been incredibly interesting to tweet, blog and Facebook about the trip as we go along, as well as simultaneously raise money for it.
I’ve been collecting all sorts of tourist kitsch to give away to people who back our fund raising campaign and I love all the requests and comments I get on that. All these different parts of the project that usually happen linearly are now collapsed and simultaneous. I’ve been touched by the intimate moments that our interviewees have shared with us, often having known us for all of a few minutes through a phone call or email. And likewise, I’ve been moved by the people who have come out to back our campaign and voice their support.
My mission with the series is to peek behind stereotypes such as geography and profession to reveal the intimate stories that make each of us unique and yet allow us to see each other more fully and connected to a greater whole. I hope to connect even more people together as we bring to life another great batch of episodes with the help of our fans.
Back us on Kickstarter and help fund the “Here’s the Thing… Across America” special edition episodes.
“Here's the Thing...” creator and director Miska Draskoczy has worked in film and TV for over 12 years. His projects have ranged from co-creating a conceptual arts organization purporting to be funded by NATO (NATOarts, profiled in WIRED, i-D, ARTnews, UK Esquire) to directing surreal sci-fi shorts (screening in Fantasia Fest, Fantastic Fest, SF IndieFest, LA shorts fest, and many others) to writing and developing a horror feature (Mister Gimp, Slamdance Screenplay semi-finalist. In addition to his personal projects, Miska has worked as a director, editor and animator through his production company snow23 for a wide range of A-list clients and many of NYC's top ad agencies.
"Here's the Thing..." -Blog & Episodes page:
"Here's the Thing..." Facebook Fan page:
"Here's the Thing..." Twitter @HerestheThingTV