Six months ago, I hadn’t even heard the phrase “crowdfunding,” or of the site Kickstarter.com. I had a Twitter account but thought it was sort of annoying, like bad ADHD theater or reality TV on fast-forward. I was on Facebook, but only to keep in touch with former high school pals, brag about the amazing vegan dinner I’d just had, and stalk future exes.
Now, these three sites are about to determine much of the fate of my future as a filmmaker.
If you have any sort of hope of making your independent movie, you better stop reading this article right now and get on these three sites. If you’re not blogging, start after you figure out how to Twitter (so… tomorrow). If you’re not networking with investors through LinkedIn, join. Still have a MySpace account? Keep it—your grandma the DJ might still want to know what’s going on with your movie.
In short, indie filmmakers today must be open to, and savvy about, all methods of self-promotion via social networks. It’s the new norm and really, it’s already old news.
If you think you aren’t good at that kind of thing or that technology isn’t artistic (like I did- I’ve since changed my tune), chances are nobody will hear about your movie because they’re too busy checking out the amazing Kickstarter video another filmmaker’s shot for their project.
Filmmaking IS technology (see Avatar?), and the savvier you are about what’s out there in terms of social networking the more likely it is your independent feature will see the light of day. I know, because my producing partner and I launched our first Kickstarter campaign about a month ago and in that time I’ve had a learning curve that rivals my college Philosophy of Feminism course for sheer steepness (I love ‘em, but feminism profs are more brutal than any Hollywood agents I’ve met).
My best friend of 25 years and the executive director of the Portland, Oregon Women’s Film Festival (or POW Fest), Tara Johnson-Medinger, and I had a little dream that started 2 years ago. I had just finished the script for My Summer as a Goth, my second film script, and we started having the “what if” conversations. What if we could get funding for this and get it made? What if we produced and directed it ourselves? What if we shot it in our hometown of Portland? What if it were picked up, had a theatrical distribution, and people actually SAW it?
It was a lot to think about, but two years and 17 versions of the script later, here we are: raising development funds for a DIY independent film project and living our dream of working and creating together, outside the Hollywood studio paradigm.
My Summer as a Goth is about a 16 year-old girl, Joey, who reluctantly spends the summer with her grandparents and falls prey to the nefarious Goth neighbor boy, Victor. She undergoes a My Fair Lady-esque transformation into a Goth goddess at Victor’s hand, and struggles throughout the summer with her new identity and competing feelings for Victor and her high school sweetheart, Danny.
The film draws inspiration from the films of John Hughes, On Golden Pond and the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady story—but mostly, it is born out of my teenage years spent with my best friend Tara as the high school drama freaks. We wore a lot of black, and now we are making a cute, entertaining, even somewhat empowering movie about an experience that we believe a lot of teenagers will relate to and 40somethings will reminisce about: summer love.
And that was our first of many light bulb moments (Oprah calls them “a-ha moments” but that gets the high-pitched song “Take On Me” stuck in my head and suddenly I’m being chased by pencil-drawn cartoon villains- I’m nothing if not a child of the 80s, folks). We figured out we had to reach a distinct audience and we had to define who that was, and we had to ask them for money. Once we identified who they were, we went after them: Goths of all ages, hip 40somethings, alternative teenagers, and people who love us and support our vision.
I’m going to tell you all right now, get comfortable with the concept of asking for money. The worst that anyone can do is say “No,” or possibly “Get a job.” It’s not as big a deal as I thought it would be, really. People have been patronizing the arts for centuries and despite what anyone might say about our failing economy, Americans are still the richest people on the planet. There are people who can financially support your dream: find them, ask them, and thank them profusely for their generosity, whether it’s a $10 or $10,000 donation. They could spend that money anything else, but they chose to spend it on your dream. What a compliment that is!
It takes a village to raise an indie film these days, and you need more than cans and string to get word out to the villagers. If I’ve learned anything from my experience, it is to seize every networking opportunity possible and not sit back and hope people learn about the project on their own time, through some sort of cultural osmosis. I’ve already seen very worthy projects, by more experienced local Portland filmmakers than I, fall short of their Kickstarter goals because they did not have a clear idea of who their audience was or how to reach them.
Let me say this: I didn’t become a scriptwriter to become a marketer. I wanted to be a storyteller, to express my worldview and entertain people like me by writing the movies I want to see myself. However, I’ve chosen not to limit myself to what I can’t or don’t want to do. I remain open to doing whatever helps the film move forward, and my experience thus far has taught me that when I remain truly open, the guiding signs will be there to lead me. Follow them and the project moves happily forward to the destiny that ultimately awaits it—hopefully into a nice theatrical run in summer 2013! We will keep in touch with the folks at Film Courage and let you know when our black carpet premiere is happening.
As I write this, our fundraising goal has been almost 80% reached in under a month. We have 17 days to go, 196 backers (donors) and 1,700 people like our Kickstarter page. I don’t know 1,700 people personally, do you? We don’t even have a movie yet; just a video telling people why we should have a movie and showing what it might look like were we to shoot the actual movie. Yes, the support astounds us too.
Are we lucky? Sure. But did we work our behinds off to get the word out, schlepping postcards out to Goth clubs and chatting, blogging, e-mailing, tweeting and Facebooking (yes, it’s a verb now) late into the night until our fingers ached and heads pounded? Damn straight we did.
In this age of social networking, we are extraordinarily lucky as independent filmmakers to have these multiple avenues available in order to get people excited about our film. We don’t want to do it the typical Hollywood way, and maybe now we won’t have to.
We are so grateful to be able to tap into this enormous e-village and see our dream slowly come to fruition, with the help of our friends, family and fans. It’s an exciting time for us and for independent cinema, to be sure.
Portland, Oregon, resident Brandon L. Roberts is a freelance writer and independent filmmaker. His first screenplay, In The Morning Glory, was a semi-finalist (top 10) in the Sundance and Scriptapalooza screenplay contests. His second, My Summer as a Goth, begins shooting in June 2012; he is also working on his next script and first novel, both due in early 2012. Roberts lives in sin with his dog, Franklin, and four chicken sister-wives (Gypsy, Jazz, Zinnia & Josephine).
Tara Johnson-Medinger is the co-producer of My Summer as a Goth, as well as the executive director of the Portland, OR Women’s Film Festival (POW Fest) and principal at Sour Apple Productions.
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