A guest post from director Leslie Harris. I asked Leslie to participate in this series because to me she represents what the older generation of film directors is facing. The way things are being done now is VERY different to the early and mid ’90s when film financing and large distribution deals were plentiful. A time when her Sundance winning film had a full and celebrated release on the Miramax label. New developments like social media, digital self distribution, and the idea that a creator has to gather an audience and build a personal brand have left some of the older generation shaking their heads. Leslie is diving right in and running a Kickstarter campaign for a new film and I applaud her willingness to experiment and adapt her previous experience to this new world of film finance and distribution.

Even though I have made a feature film before, the Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. released by Miramax in 1993, no matter how many films you have made, most filmmakers will tell you making another feature is like starting over from scratch.

Leslie Harris IRT

When my film was released in the 90’s, it was a boom for independent film financing and distribution and somewhat a Renaissance for the indie African-American filmmakers too. Unfortunately, the boom was mainly for the young, hot, male directors not women. Black women both in front of and behind the camera, well… we were practically non-existent except for a few of us.

Fast forward to today, sure there are more Black actresses working, but not in all genres and the recent controversy about the lack of Black Women on Saturday Night Live exemplifies what we’re facing. The numbers are even more embarrassingly low for Black women behind the camera. There’s a lot of work to do to make a change and that’s why I came to crowdfunding. I think crowdfunding works best for filmmakers who have been ignored by traditional film financing sources and have something passionate to say. Projects that artists can take straight to the audience and encourage their support rather than to studios and investors purely looking at the bottom line. My new film, I Love Cinema, is a satirical comedy about sex, race and politics in a ‘so-called’ post-racial world. The story is about Professor Layla Laneaux, sophisticated, educated and African-American. Layla is obsessed with cinema both in the classroom and the bedroom, but the Professor’s film fantasy world is shattered by racial controversy and a media circus all seemingly out to get her.

The same skills that I learned in the go-go 90’s of indie film are still useful to me today. My experience applying and receiving grants from National Endowment for the Arts, American Film Institute and New York State Council on the Arts is helpful because I had to convince people in a concise way that my story is viable and worth funding. Back then, I put together a reel and wrote the grant application. I also approached people like filmmaker Michael Moore and author Terry McMillan, who both supported Just Another Girl on the I.R.T with a check. Now my reel is a pitch video and my written application is the text on my Kickstarter page. In a way, I have already run a sort of Kickstarter, but now I need to reach many more people about my film idea and need to use all of the new tools available to me.

Social media and the internet are basically the heart of a crowdfunding effort…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  I have learned the value of having a great team of people to help with social media, though I found my team mid-way through my campaign…a mistake! You’ll make mistakes, but doing crowdfunding is relatively new so it is a learning process.  I was so happy to find committed young people, especially women, who were internet savvy and happy to volunteer. Search around, it may take a bit of time to find the right person, but there is someone out there to help. My interns are learning new skills that will help them in their careers in film because I think crowdfunding sites for moviemakers is the wave of the future for financing. I couldn’t do this campaign alone. I have learned having your film on a crowdfunding site is similar to making a really small indie film…you have to have a team.

And ya gotta be passionate and tenacious because crowdfunding is a lot of work! I’ve gotten very little sleep, about four hours a night. But my sleep deprivation didn’t just occur during the 30-Days while my project has been live. I’ve been preparing for this campaign for months prior to the launch. First, I did my research about crowdfunding wherever I could find information from blogs, advice from other filmmakers who have done crowdfunding and even You Tube videos to see what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t want to copy what someone else was doing because, in my opinion, every project is unique and your video has to reflect your particular film. I looked at production techniques and editing transitions. For example, it’s effective to use dissolves for this format if you have a one camera set up when one person is talking directly to the potential backers. If you’re not experienced in front of the camera, and most filmmakers aren’t…it’s going to be hard not to flub a line and I flubbed a lot of ‘em! Remember, there are limitations. You can’t use copyrighted material or music in your video unless it is cleared and you have to have permission to use it. So be really creative. Keep your video short 2-3 minutes unless the subject and tone calls for something longer. For example a documentary fundraising video might be 5 minutes or longer because you have a lot of material and it may take a bit longer for the story to unfold with a doc.

Let’s be honest reaching your goal is tough. My advice is to be ultra conservative in determining your goal. Mine is set for $35,000. The style and tone of your pitch video also depends on whether you’re asking for funds in pre-production, production or post. Are you trying to get something new off of the ground or something almost finished into the world?

Remember you have to offer perks and that means you have to produce them and deliver them in a timely manner (don’t forget postage costs!) and make your backers happy. Offer great rewards that are really interesting and valuable, but don’t cost much to produce. For example, I am offering a Production Journal as one of my rewards that will detail my experiences on set during production. It is something I would probably be writing anyway. How much will it cost you to make a T-Shirt? How many do you plan to sell? How much is shipping to India?  I had to use my 9th Grade math skills a lot while deciding what rewards I would offer.

Yes, raising funds this way is a tremendous amount of work.  While I’ve launched, there is still a lot more to do during the campaign. Update! Update and Update!  I keep my page current with photos, links, video and press…Indiewire’s Shadow and Act did a great piece on our film. This experience for me has been exciting. It’s new. Implementing the social media, creating a video that is spread around the world is very cool!  I’m a storyteller. The crowd-funding process is all about telling a story.  Ask yourself…why does my film deserve funding? Put yourself in the role of a backer.

Who knows if I’m going to make my goal…so take what I have written with a grain of salt, it’s just one experience. For me, it’s been rewarding already. I’ve reconnected with many friends and colleagues. Actress, Jennifer Williams, and my production team have been wonderful in making the video.  I couldn’t have done this without my Editor, Jack Haigis. My producer, Erwin Wilson has been at my side all the way. Great people who supported the project… and that’s gold! I’ve met and worked with great women who are savvy in social media. I know I am doing my best. I can always sleep after December 8th the last day of my campaign. So wish me luck and stop by my Kickstarter page. I could really use your support!

November 29th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crowdfunding November starts with a guest post by director Pete Chatmon who is using new platform Seed and Spark to fund his feature documentary Click Here: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Making Movies

When picking a platform to bare your soul (aka crowdfund), it’s important to consider several factors. Sometimes the most popular platforms may not be the best for you. I remember when we ran the festival circuit for my debut feature Premium there was a lot of internal debate about where we’d premiere the film. Ultimately, I championed the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) and we went on to secure a distribution deal, limited theatrical run, and Showtime Cable premiere. I chose MIFF because Nicole Guillemet (formerly of Sundance) was at the helm at the time and their team’s commitment to filmmakers was evident.

As we’ve taken to a platform to finish our documentary, the thing that I liked most about Seed & Spark was their team, their passion as filmmakers, and the fact that the site is geared toward the life of the film — not just the fundraising.

The film I’m crowdfunding is called Click Here: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Making Movies. We are chronicling the chaotic (r)evolution striking the entertainment industry and using the film to create a path for how more storytellers and audiences can connect. One of the first of 30 interviews I did in NYC was with Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, and over the course of our conversation this was what I learned:

– the site acts as a studio (for crowdfunding) and cinema (for distribution and viewing)

– filmmakers create a “registry” on their studio wishlist so contributors and supporters get a transparent view as to where the funds will go

– filmmakers can also use the site to find crew for their projects (many of the members are filmmakers so this can yield awesome results)

– members gain “currency” on the site in the form of “sparks”, allowing them to take advantage of discounted offers for filmmakers and to watch films in the cinema

– the Seed & Spark team partners in spreading the word via their social media platforms as well as finding press outlets

What was most attractive to me was the ability to engage supporters beyond the finite weeks of a crowdfunding campaign. I also like the level of engagement amongst the community on the site.

At this stage of the game, it’s not a free for all submission process. The team seems to be curating the content across both sides of the site (studio and cinema). It will be exciting to see how the platform grows over time, but I feel confident that the folks behind the site have the filmmakers interests in mind.

Now, as for crowdfunding, that’s been quite the learning experience and our journey will surely be documented in the final film. We raised $520,000 for Premium and now need $50,000 for Click Here. Our campaign ends November 15th. The fact that this film is even possible at this budget is a testament to the changes striking the industry and the opportunities that filmmakers now have.

Click Here pitch video

Which leads to my final point.

Compared to the all or nothing model of Kickstarter or flex funding on Indiegogo, projects in the Seed & Spark studio are given the greenlight at 80% of funding. The thinking here is that the film will be produced on the same level as the filmmakers intended, just with a little more bootstrapping required. The bootstrapping required of any indie filmmaker.

Take a peek and see what you like on the site. There’s a lot to get familiar with and it’s worth joining to get a sense of the community to see whether or not your project may find a good home.

Pete Chatmon
Director, “Click Here: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Making Movies”

November 6th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

Tags: , , , , , ,

sxsw 2013 film guide

Upon returning from the constantly evolving confab of everything tech and media that is SXSW, I was asked by a friend to describe in one word what attending the festival was like. Without hesitation I uttered, “spam”.  SXSW is a little bit of everything. This is both what continues to make it a viable event and also its Achilles heel.

For those who have never been, here’s are some quick facts on what differentiates the festival from other major fests in the US (Sundance, Tribeca, Telluride, LAFF, etc):

SXSW is a FOR PROFIT.  Filmmakers pay their own way to attend (though badges are comped).

There are no press and industry screenings and there is no formal sales market. You either have a film badge or you don’t and it’s first come first serve. This means you could go to a screening and 20 people are there or the line could wrap around the block.

Not only are films screened, but they have a comedy festival, a music festival, a tech conference and it all overlaps with the film festival. They fill the fest with literally hundreds of panels and discussions on just about every topic you could think of.

What makes the festival work is its completely open atmosphere. People who otherwise might be closed off to a filmmaker are not only accessible but they are often willing to talk. At the SXSW closing party you had shorts filmmakers rubbing shoulders with Brie Larson while local college students conversed with distributors over shots. It was truly a sight to  see.

I have been going to the festival for a few years now and this year’s crop was a real eclectic and fresh bunch of films. The documentary slate was WAY, WAY stronger than the past few years, but there also wasn’t a clear stand out. To my mind, it was also the gayest year on record with no fewer than a dozen docs that prominently feature LGBTQI+ story lines.  Even the non queer films I saw like Unhung Hero were packed with gay men enjoying a virtual tour through a Penis garden in South Korea (literally).

I would also like to personally applaud the filmmakers of those docs for supporting one another. It was great to see how many of the producers/directors showed up to one another’s screenings. This is yet another distinction from the festival standard. Filmmakers at SXSW find the time to go see a few films from other filmmakers (honestly I have no idea how with so much going on, but the point is that they do it).

Which brings me to the one constant theme that I heard from people during the fest. It is just too many things going on at once. Sometimes fewer choices is beneficial. I will attest that creating my schedule for SXSW took me 3x as long than creating my schedule for Sundance. While SXSW had about 25 or so fewer world premieres, they actually screened almost 20 more films in total. They also do not start film screenings till 11:00 AM so you have one less screening slot per day.

But even if there were no films, there is still the tradeshow with hundreds of vendors, mock casting sessions, panels, meet ups, over 3000 bands performing, parties on each corner, sponsored stations, and dozens of brand new startups. In fact, one of the most rewarding things during the festival that I did was go to a meet up of new film oriented companies.

The fest this year extended more premieres into the second half of the festival (when the much larger music festival often results in a mass exodus from the film venues) and it did seem to help. Attendance was clearly up during the second half of the festival. In some cases, films were even able to fill up which I would not have imagined possible judging from previous years

The deals this year have been a bit slower than in year’s past, but expect them to trickle down in the coming months. Interestingly, the two of the three distributors (Drafthouse and Magnolia) that have acquired world premieres from the festival have deep ties to the state of Texas. Drafthouse Films bought the midnight film Cheap Thrills and fellow midnight entry Haunter was acquired by IFC Midnight. Gross out horror comedy Milo was bought Magnet (The genre arm of Magnolia) and indie darling, Joe Swanberg, sold his film Drinking Buddies to Magnolia.

Other films to announce deals at or just before the festival include audience award winning docs The Punk Syndrome (GoDigital) and A Band Called Death (Drafthouse Films). Fellow doc, These Birds Walkwent to Oscilloscope.  Sundance breakout Muscle Shoals was acquired by Magnolia who clearly had a busy festival. It is worth noting that the producers have chosen to donate all profits to two different music organizations.

SXSW has solidified its place as the younger, hipper, indie version to Sundance. The films tend to skew more towards genre fare, there are plenty of comedies, the docs go more human interest than overtly political, and often what the films lack in polish they make up for in gusto. This is the festival that has recognized some of the freshest voices in indie film like the Duplass Brothers, Amy Seimetz, and of course Lena Dunham.

In talking with filmmakers, it is clear a lot more are willing to take matters into their own hands and pursue DIY. There is very little of the big producer ego permeating through the festival and for filmmakers who attend, they can see what will be the norm in the next two-three years by embracing the new tech companies whose presence, while a distraction, is also part of the charm.

I also would like to applaud the festival for staying true to its Austin roots. There were a large amount of Texas based films that made it into the festival. Austin is an indie film pioneer and playing with the big boys of NY/LA. The commitment to championing their own is admirable, but the truth is these films by and large are as good (if not better) than fellow entries from the larger and more typically thought of film hubs.

While SXSW still has work to do in shaking off the image of being the second choice to Sundance, the fact is they are growing at a rapid pace and the quality of films is constantly improving.   Since it takes place after Sundance and Berlin, it will never be able to equal their heights on the sales front, but if distributors were smart, they would intentionally hold out for a SXSW film or two to add to their slate. Especially if they have a good VOD/Digital operation in place.

Finally, I can’t in good conscience finish this post without mentioning that I won $70 in gift cards from Fandango by twice stumping their guru on 80’s film trivia. Thank you Fandango and I look forward to using the gift cards to see more of the films from SXSW as they enter into the theatrical marketplace.

March 23rd, 2013

Posted In: Film Festivals

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,




© 2017 The Film Collaborative. All rights reserved.