Accidental Filmmaker Becomes Accidental Therapist Becomes Accidental Financier by Gayle Kirschenbaum



“Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

When I was little all I wanted to be when I grew up was a movie star. I was even convinced that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were my real parents. After all, I had dark hair and blue eyes and so did Elizabeth Taylor. My mother was blonde and more importantly she wasn’t very nice to me. Hence, I must have been adopted.  According to my mother, little about me didn’t need fixing. My hair was too curly and in time, my nose was too big and my breasts were too small.  I found myself retreating to my room to escape and write in my journal and draw.

By the time, I fled home to university at sixteen, I was so damaged that I thought if my mother were dead, I would be free. I was now 200 miles away. My long road to recovery had begun.

I graduated with a major in art. I was born artistically inclined and this had been an easy major for me. However, I never felt a drive and passion to become a fine artist. Something was missing. I just didn’t know what. I became a graphic designer and then started a company that made television commercials.  I was not directing. I was the EP and getting the jobs. Something was still missing.  By the time I hit thirty, I knew I needed to change my life. I was making plenty of money but was not happy. I turned down the Redman Chewing Tobacco commercial after seeing a 60 Minutes story on lip and tongue cancer in kids.

At about that time, I reconnected with an old friend from college. He had been living in LA, made his first feature with Tom Hanks and was building what went on to become the largest advertising agency for movies.  He encouraged me to move to LA and promised to put me into a directing class with him through the DGA. I thought if you could make it in NY, you could make it in LA.  What I didn’t realize was no one was waiting for me.

I took the directing class and took to working with actors like a fish to water. I ended up getting awarded a documentary to direct.  I had never gone to film school, had not been a writer and in fact, was extremely insecure about writing. I didn’t know where to begin.    But somehow I was able to transfer my skills over and figure out what I didn’t know. And what is most important, I had passion . . .organic, natural passion. I felt I was home. I had found the medium that fit me  —  telling stories using images and sound  — moving people to emotion.  As luck would have it, I was I nominated for two Emmys for my first two projects and I won one. I was making documentaries, short and long form, reality TV and writing and developing fiction on nights and weekends.  I partnered with top producers and had many projects optioned.  Unfortunately none got made and my desire to return to my native New York was growing. I watched many of my friends make it big and kept thinking my time was coming. I hung on and hung out in LA convinced it would happen soon.

As fate would have it, I landed a great apartment in New York and that was my ticket back. I did the bicoastal thing for two years and then sold my place in Santa Monica. Soon I had a project I co-created at HBO called Judgment Day: Should the Guilty Go Free and before I knew it they were premiering my first Indiefilm, A DOG’S LIFE: A DOGAMENTARY.

It took moving to LA for me to go into the entertainment business and it took moving back to NY to become an indie filmmaker.  And that’s where this story is headed.  Remember my dream of becoming an actress.  Well, I never became an actress but I emerged in front of the camera with my dog in A DOG’S LIFE:  A DOGAMENTARY. (May Chelsea, my Shih Tzu, rest-in-peace. She died last year.) Legendary documentary filmmaker, Albert Maysles was in it and came on board to shoot part of it. I learned I had a knack for PR.  I started getting press for the film while we were shooting. A two-page front cover feature in the New York Times led to a flood of press. They found my unlisted phone number and wanted my exclusive story. Chelsea and I were all over the media including the Today show. I was in my element.  I felt at home in front of the camera.

Eventually, that led to another short comedic personal film called MY NOSE about my mother’s quest to get me to have a nose job.  The film played all over the world and ended up being therapeutic. It launched me into becoming a motivational speaker and teaching others how to transform difficult relationships by using the “Seven Healing Tools” I developed.

Yes, after many years of tears, pain and hard work, I finally was able to turn my relationship around with my mother. I learned how to render her sharp tongue powerless and today we are good friends and my travel companion of choice.

The audience hungered for more and I’m opening up my life with my new film, MY NOSE: THE BIGGER VERSION about the transformation of my relationship with my mother from hatred to love. The film deals with issues of self-esteem, body image and the highly charged mother daughter relationship. We have been shooting for the last several years. I’ve been financing it myself as I did primarily the last previous two films.   Getting grants has been challenging for these personal films and it’s not like I haven’t tried.

After seeing other filmmaker’s success on Kickstarter, especially Jennifer Fox who set her goal at $50,000 and ended up raising over $150,000 I decided to jump in and run a campaign for my new film.  I got swept up in the euphoria of Jennifer’s unprecedented success and said, if she could do it so can I.  My campaign is more than half way through and I’m 35% funded. I’m hanging in there, working away and getting ants in my pants. I set my goal as $50,000, though more is really needed to complete the film.

Here’s what I’m doing to make this happen:

1.  Getting as much media as possible.  Since the content of my film deals with mental health, mother/daughter relationships, plastic surgery, body image and so on, I’ve gotten coverage in Psychology Today, Psych Central and Jewish and Women Blogs.

2.  I’m calling and emailing close friends and family.  To date, those are my biggest backers.

3.  I’m also getting writers and artists to donate their signed work to the film and making them incentives for pledges.

4. I’ve launched fun videos of my mother called Mom’s Helpful Hints.

And if we don’t get any great movement I might have to ask my mother to do a striptease and upload it onto YouTube so we can go viral.

I’m building a following and a community. It’s a reason to spread the word now. It’s never too early to build your audience.  The folks at Kickstarter said that the most successful campaigns are those that are shorter in length. There is a sense of urgency. People do not wait. My campaign is 90 days, the longest you can run it for. And they say the younger crowd does better because their friends spread the word on social media and it goes viral.

My world probably has more money than the younger crowd but many are afraid to use their credit cards online or get lost in the several steps it takes to make a pledge.  I accept checks and just about anything.

To learn more about my current film and if you are moved back this film, please visit it here and watch the video below.

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Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and TV producer. Her personal comedic film, MY NOSE received critical praise. Kirschenbaum created and Executive Produced several reality shows airing Discovery including I’M PREGNANT AND MAY BE HAVING …, LITTLE PARENTS: BIG PREGNANCY and DWARF FAMILY ADOPTION. Gayle’s film, A DOG’S LIFE: A DOGAMENTARY premiered on HBO. Gayle created and hosts the TV show MELTING POT, a food and culture show which is in pre-production. Gayle is the host and creator of the video podcast series ON THE TRAIL WITH GAYLE. Gayle co-created JUDGMENT DAY: SHOULD THE GUILTY GO FREE, which aired on HBO. Partnering with Caroline Hirsch (Caroline’s Comedy Club) and producer Lori Cheatle (51 Birch Street) Gayle is in development on the feature documentary film, WHAT A MOTHER about the relationships between today’s top comedians and their mothers. She has been featured widely in the media including The New York Times, NBC’s Today Show, Washington Post and Ladies Home Journal.