Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Aug. 9th
When last we talked with Gabriel Diani, of the comedy duo Diani and Devine, he was in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for their adaption of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn: Robot Edition was a rousing success, gaining attention across the internet.
Now Diani and his partner in all things Etta Devine have returned to the crowdfunding mines in hopes of scoring a theatrical release for their feature film The Selling. We met up in a cavernous coffee house near their Koreatown apartment in Los Angeles to talk about campaigns new and old, and the struggles that DIYers face in the entertainment industry. [ProTip: the TomTom's coffee we went to is an amazing place to write in the middle of the day. Talk to me on Twitter if you want the details.]
“This time around it’s a bit more stressful,” said Diani, “because the first one was just a lark that we did.”
“It was also the perfect storm of a great tweet and a great thing to go viral,” adds Devine. “Where, ‘Hey, help us with our movie.’ isn’t as much of a draw.”
The Selling, a horror-comedy written by Diani and Devine and directed by long time friend and collaborator Emily Lou, had a great run on the film festival circuit. It was the audience response to the film that prompted the pair to make a run at crowdfunding money for a release.
“We’ve been intending to start either our web-series or a new movie and it just came up that we really needed funds for this,” said Devine.
That need is defined in part by the realities of DIY film promotion. Even in these days of digital distribution and torrent feeds a theatrical release can have major influence over how a film, especially an independent film, does in the online markets. Diani told me that his distributor made it clear that a non-festival theatrical release is a powerful bargaining chip with the online platforms like iTunes and Amazon.
“They can get better placement on the trailer for those platforms,” said Diani. “That helps get more eyeballs on the movie, to try to get it seen and sold.”
It all boils back down to the fundamentals.
“You can’t like something if you don’t know it exists,” said Devine. “Which is why places like Laughing Squid, Boing Boing and the Nerdist are so important; because they are the aggregators of what’s cool.”
The difference between the campaigns extend beyond the stakes involved. Crowdfunding has evolved, audiences are more savvy now, and so too has the crowdfunding platform. The pair are happy with some of the changes that Kickstarter has put in place on the back end of the system. Diani points to metrics on where pledges are coming from.
“How many people are actually watching your video,” Devine chimed in. “Which we would have loved to have known for the Huck Finn video.”
There is room for improvement on the site. At one point in our conversation– underscored by K-Pop versions of Blondie’s Heart of Glass– we collectively lamented the lack of a good mobile solution for crowdfunding. Diani told me that Emily Lou was thinking of holding a Kickstarter party for the film. The logistics on such an event would be clunky to say the least: unfortunately beer and laptops don’t mix so well.
Devine pointed out that even smaller changes could be useful. The backer email list, for instance, can’t be searched. This can make managing a campaign with a large number of backers difficult.
“Someone would email me through Kickstarter,” Diani added to his partner’s concerns, “so I had their name. Then I’d go in through the dashboard and I couldn’t find who they were in order to answer the question.”
Diani and Devine think that the current campaign, which would bring their film to four theaters and cover the costs of converting the film for digital release, will make it.
“It will be close and we won’t go that much over,” said Devine. “but 90% of projects that make it to 30% make it. It seems to be that you just make it, or you fail miserably.”
Crowdfunding has helped build up an audience for the pair’s work. Their devoted fans (like me) are still anticipating a second edition of their “Mary Olsen” web series, and they may return to the well for that kind of project. Diani, at least, is somewhat wary of overplaying the crowdfunding hand.
“I don’t think we’re there yet but there is this question in our minds: ‘How many times can we do this?’”, said Diani. “We really had to ask ourselves before doing this (one) because we really would like to make something new.”
Amazon • crowdfunding • Diani and Devine • DIY • DIY Film • Emily Lou • Etta Devine • Gabriel Diani • Huck Finn • Huck Finn: Robot Edition • Huckleberry Finn • iTunes • kickstarter • Mary Olsen • The Selling • TomTom's