Art & Money


In the heart of every creative artist, from writer to filmmaker, from painter to sculptor, from architect to coder, is the desire to create something beautiful that truly reflects that mysterious awe or glory that is felt deep inside. Inevitably these fall short. But, it’s possible to get close, and the closer we creatives are able to get to that glory, usually, the more successful we are, in a monetary sense. There’s good reason for that too; everyone feels a touch of that awe. Maybe it’s been a long time, maybe since childhood, but we’ve all felt it. When the artist recreates it, even though the moment may seem unique to the creator, it does, in fact, touch something universal inside us all.

The sad reality is, the more complex the art, the more expensive its production tends to be. All a writer needs is an idea and something to write with, so usually the entry level is about $300 of a cheap laptop. Ideas, they’re either priceless or cheap. Painters need paint, canvas, and brushes, which, depending on where, when and at what quality you buy them, can get pricey. Architects are probably the most expensive.

Then there’s me. A filmmaker. A lot of people say I should build my brand by putting out free content until I’ve got a big enough audience to support a real financial go. The problem is, I’ve got standards. And, making movies isn’t cheap. I’ve managed to budget my current project The Root Kit at a minimum of $50k, but that’s cutting a lot of places. To put into perspective just how low that is, most major studio movies cost well over $100 million to make. Even so, $50k is still not an easy number for me to reach.

You might be thinking, “You’re rambling, Jonathan. Get to the point.”

Here it is: Often times artists don’t think about where money will come from until the end. This is not a wise way to work.

Let’s take Facebook, for instance. Facebook originally had a pretty great product. All your friends were on it and it was a great way to keep in touch with people you would never otherwise be able to. Not only that, but when they incorporated the Twitter-like “Status Update” I got to know pretty much everything all my friends were doing. Sure, it was sometimes more than I wanted to know. But, it also gave me the feeling that my friends really wanted to connect, that they wanted to share and have people interact with their lives. And, when they did the same things I do, it gave me a deeper sense of normality (which is a nice reprieve, for me).

Facebook was awesome. Then, they realized that they needed to make money. First attempt, not too invasive ads. I could take that. After all, they weren’t too invasive. Besides, everyone’s got to eat, right? Then, they did something they should not have, they went public, and opened at a price far too high for what they were actually worth (existential concepts of worth notwithstanding). The early investors got burnt, bad. But, Facebook made some of the much needed money. That was the first time they burnt investors.

Now, Facebook’s burning everyone else.

A lot of my friends have set up Facebook Pages, and have spent the last year or more cultivating a “tribe” of people who like their page, under the assumption that anything they posted on their page would show up in the feeds of everyone who liked the page. But, as is common with tech companies, Facebook changed the rules. Now, when someone updates their page, it only reaches 15% of their audience, unless they pay.

My point isn’t necessarily to deride Facebook (though they’ve got it coming and I believe this will result in a migration to Google+, which has already begun). The point is, if you’re a creative and not at least considering how you’re going to pay for your art, you may end up alienating the very people who believe in what you’re doing.

As I mentioned above, I’m currently raising money to make my movie The Root Kit, about a group of rogue computer hackers. There is a lot in the script that would scare Hollywood away. I really delve into the actual means and methods of hacking. At times it get technical (think: Star Trek TNG and it will be, “We’ll science the science with science” (that’s a quote from my fellow creatives Earl Newton and Matt Wallace), but the plot is fast enough, that those technical parts won’t be an issue to the niche audience I’m aiming at, which is the Geek/Nerd/Computer community.

Equally important to Hollywood is what’s not in the script. There is no sex scene. There is no bloody fights. My hackers aren’t ninjas. I know a lot of computer hackers and only one of them has as high as an orange belt. Most are rather sedentary and would lose in a fight against anyone remotely competent. And, there are no explosions. Oh, and all the actors I’ve cast so far.

The plot is good enough that if I added sex, explosions, and ninjas, it would sell to Hollywood in a moment. But, that’s not true, that’s not the glory I see. And, it would only be done to get money, which is insufficient motivation for me. Thus, the only way left for me to raise money and still maintain the integrity of the script is Kickstarter.

My point isn’t to promote my campaign on Kickstarter. Well, that’s not my only point for writing this. My main point is, as long as we live in a world where money is a factor, the earlier in the process it’s considered, the better, for everyone, artist and art lovers alike. Otherwise, the laptop doesn’t get bought by the writer, the human hair paintbrushes (yes, they exist, yes they are the best, and yes, they are very expensive) don’t get bought, the building doesn’t get built. The movie may get made, but it may end up sitting on a shelf, or given away on Youtube (which can be part of a viable long-term model, if you plan for it). Make good art. Make something that shares the universal glory, that makes me take a breath in awe, and inspires. And, please, do it in a way that will allow you to keep doing it, until we live in Gene Roddenberry’s universe of abundance.

If you’re interested, check out my Kickstarter campaign for The Root Kit:



Jonathan Schiefer has been involved in making movies since 2001. For more information, check out his website


Photos from the November 2011 Film Courage Interactive where we screened Jonathan Schiefer’s short FIDELIS.


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Filmmaker Jonathan Schiefer shares with us some of the challenges he was able to overcome in making his first feature film ‘Hunger’ along with the lessons he learned along the way.

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(Watch the video here)

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