We Can Be the Champions (Of the World)

Five years ago, no one knew who the f*ck I was.

I’d made a bunch of shorts that no one had watched, had tried to make a feature, had written a terrible novel, some awful poetry, and a couple of plays that were varying degrees of slight. I had a blog where I wrote reviews of old movies. Some people liked the reviews, but really I was using it to teach myself film history. I had no training. I’d been making movies, in some form, for 6 years and had a grand total of 11 minutes worth of film that I’ll still show people to this day. 11 minutes. I was nothing. A kid from Maine who’d been valiantly failing.

There was no reason for anyone to pay attention to me.

I was working on a short. It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. I called it gravida (all lower-case, because I was young and pretentious), a 23-minute, mostly silent short about a pregnant woman. If I remember correctly, the camera moves 4 times during the film. We actually crowdfunded part of it via PayPal. It’s on YouTube, so you can judge it for yourself, but I’m pretty sure I had no clue what I was doing. It played in some festivals around the country and I figured that was it. On to the next one.

Then one day I got an email from someone I’d never heard of, running a film festival I’d never heard of. He’d gotten wind of the film somehow and wanted to know if I was planning to submit it to this festival that was sponsored by YouTube and MySpace. I had no intention of putting a 23-minute, nearly silent film online in 2007. Who would watch it? He asked me to send it to him anyway, because he wanted to see it. The next thing I knew, I was a semi-finalist of the NOW Film Festival. And then I was a Finalist and they were flying me to LA to screen my film on the Sony lot.

And that’s how I met Sean Hackett. It’s one of the things that made me feel like a real filmmaker.

The point being that Sean all those years ago took a chance on a complete unknown and you could make the argument that it changed my life.

Cut to the Fall of 2010. I’ve made 2 features by now (one of which is still in post). I’ve met a couple of my heroes. But I’m still some guy with 600 Twitter followers who made this one nice little feature film. I’m in Charlotte (for some reason), homeless and nursing a broken heart, when I get the crazy idea to spend a year driving around the country in my 1999 Buick Century, volunteering on films. It’s a bat-shit insane idea. But I’ve got a Kickstarter campaign for it and somehow I’ve managed to get David and Karen from Film Courage on the phone to talk about it. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to do this, as Film Courage is on my short list of places to get my work to appear, but I’ve got them on the phone and I’m telling them about this crazy-as-hell thing called A YEAR WITHOUT RENT. They don’t hang up.

They put themselves fully behind it a way that I now know they’re rarely able to do. They become the project’s biggest champion, telling anyone and everyone that will listen to back it. They give me my own blog on their site, with carte blanche to post things.

All for a guy they’ve never met, for a person who’s work they barely know. I ended up meeting them a couple of months later. And they most definitely changed my life.

I survived A YEAR WITHOUT RENT. I saw the world. I seemingly know half of the indie film world. Hell, I know where a lot of them live.

I’m a completely different person now because a lot of people took a chance and championed me. From Sean to Film Courage, with dozens of people along the way, people who said, “f*ck it, I’ll help this guy”. People like the cast and crew of UP COUNTRY, people like Tim and Mary Larson, Spoxx, Kent Beeson, Steve Carlson, Adam Woods, Ted Hope, Pericles Lewnes, Jennifer Blyler, Rick Vaicius, David Eger, John Gallagher, Victoria Westcott, Wonder Russell, Marty Lang, Joe Shapiro, Scott MacAuley, and Mark Bell. The list goes on and on and on. I owe not just my career to other people, I owe my life. There’s really no question about it.

Cut to the summer of 2012.

A YEAR WITHOUT RENT is over. I work on Kickstarter campaigns now. I write a column on crowdfunding. My second feature is nearing the end of post-production and I’m prepping my third. I’m still homeless, but in more of a world-weary traveller sense. The broken heart is healed. Now I’m fighting off grey hairs.

A lot of people still don’t know who the f*ck I am, but a lot of people do.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working with a filmmaker I’ve never met on his Kickstarter campaign. It’s a unique campaign, and we’ve worked pretty hard to distill it down to its essence. It’s not the best version of itself, but it’s a much, much better version than when we started. Still, it’s a long-shot. It’s always been a long-shot.

You see, he’s got a big dollar amount he’s trying to raise. And Jack, no one knows who the f*ck he is.

But Jack is going blind, and he doesn’t have 5 years to build something. He doesn’t have the luxury of making a short and working his way up to this film. He has to make his film now.

God willing, I’m going to make a film every other year for the next 40 years, hopefully more. That’s 20 films, give or take. That’s a lot of chances to build a career, a lot of chances to create a filmography, a legacy. When people ask me about my career goals, I tell them I want to leave the sort of films my brother’s grandchildren will be thrilled to discover. But I’ve got 20 more chances, which is a lot. Although, if you check back with me in 40 years, I’m sure I’ll wish I had 20 more.

But Jack Marchetti will probably go blind after making his first film. He won’t have 20 shots to leave that legacy. He’s got a good script, though. It was a Project Greenlight semi-finalist. He’s done the work. He just doesn’t have the luxury of time.

And, sure, he could try and make a different film for less money, but if you knew you could only make one film, wouldn’t you want it to be your best one? When you compare the challenge of raising $100K on Kickstarter to, say, finding a cure for a rare eye disease, it doesn’t seem that hard. Even if it is hard, it’s still easier than going blind. At minimum, it feels like the noble fight.

And so I’m spending my summer doing my best Don Quixote impression, paying forward what so many people have done for me.

Ted Hope always talks about the value of curation, of someone telling their audience what is and is not worth their time. It’s what Facebook bases part of their business model on. In a way, it’s what my career is built on. Because curation takes so many different forms. Sometimes you’re telling your friends about a film you really love and sometimes you’re trying to help an unknown get a chance to show what he can do. They’re equally valid forms of curation, only in this case, I’m trying to help a film find a way to get made, rather than just seen after the fact.

At some point in the timeline, no one knew who the fuck any of us were. We all have our own Sean Hackett. We all have our own Film Courage. We all have those people who helped an unknown and made our careers possible. And then, it’s up to us to do what we can with that opportunity.

The very least we can do is find someone and become their champion, just like someone did for us. Maybe you can help me champion Jack’s cause, or maybe you can champion someone else, but help someone. Anyone. That movie you watched last night in your living room? It took a lot of people to make that possible.

Be one of those people.

Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.