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.” (more…)
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In terms of proven storytelling talent The Canyons might just be the biggest project to plant a banner at Kickstarter yet. Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) has written and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Auto Focus) will direct this thriller about the quest for love, sex, success and power in contemporary Hollywood. The film is scheduled to go in front of the lens this summer.
The writer-director team, along with producer Braxton Pope, are self-financing the film. The trio have turned to the crowdfunding site as a means to up the production value, and start building awareness, for a project they chose to keep out of the studio system.
“We didn’t want to be in the position where people perceived it as ‘Oh these guys are begging for money. Why would they be doing that?’” said producer Pope in an interview last week, at the start of the campaign. “I saw someone tweet ‘Why don’t they ask Martin Scorsese for a loan?’”
Pope has been working with the luminaries of the independent film world– directors like Gaspar Noe and Gus Van Sant– for over a decade now. This is his first time dipping his toe into the crowdfunding pool.
“I think I foolishly had some reservations about it,” said Pope, “but once I really discussed it with Paul and Bret, once we explored it a little bit, we realized it was kind of a no brainer. Especially with the new model that we’re embracing to get the movie done.”
The “new model” Pope refers to is the DIY one, from production all the way through distribution. After a different film from the trio fell through at Lionsgate, a company that Pope has a long standing relationship with, they chose to strike out onto the self-produced path with The Canyons.
“We decided to be autonomous and take control and not have to push dates. Not have to hire actors that might not be best for a given role. That we could just make it and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it.”
The campaign for The Canyons is aggressive in its reward offerings. On the day that the campaign went live, Turnstyle’s crowdfunding columnist indie filmmaker Lucas McNelly expressed strong reservations online and in a conversation over the structure of the campaign. In short: McNelly felt that the producers were putting too much into the rewards relative to the money they were looking to raise. More than one film project has tripped itself up by over-promising on the rewards.
Pope, as it turns out, is an avid Twitter user, and was watching the feeds.
“I read Lucas McNelly’s tweets because I was curious to see his explanation for his critique. Look, I’m by no means a crowdfunding expert . This is the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve initiated, so I don’t presume to know things I don’t know. What I can tell you is that one of the people who is working with us has been through Kickstarter before, is very fluent in Kickstarter and one of his jobs on the production is to oversee the rewards. Get the posters printed. Mailing them out. The DVDs. All our rewards. He’s priced out everything, so there’s no reward that we’ve posted that we haven’t budgeted and accounted for the hard cost.”
One key factor for The Canyons vis-a-vis its generous rewards is the goal of the campaign. The film is going to get made one way or another. What Pope, Easton Ellis and Schrader are looking to do is with the campaign is different from what we usually see at this stage of production.
“It is true that we have more rewards than kind of comparable campaigns, but the reason for Kickstarter wasn’t just trying to get financial resources. A big part of it for us is engaging the community and getting people to participate. We very self-consciously wanted to try and be generous with our time. Giving people access to us and creating a lot of rewards so that people feel invested in what we’re doing.”
This kind of strategy is similar to the self-distribution campaigns we’ve seen for films like On The Ice. Here the filmmakers are looking to get around the huge costs that can come with marketing a movie right from the start.
“In the past when a studio puts up all the P&A (prints and advertising), then you have to sit behind those dollar figures and those spends before you recoup and that can be very, very costly.”
Pope is thinking differently about the fate of the film and putting those thoughts into action right from the start. Before the era of digital distribution and social media an indie film faced a virtual cliff face of obstacles in order to find an audience.
“You were still in the trap of once you’ve executed this movie: how were you going to get it seen? What’s the marketing, what’s the distribution plan?” said Pope. “In the past if a movie went straight to DVD then that was essentially perceived as– in a lot of cases– as a failure. With VOD I don’t think there’s any kind of stigma and I think it’s really opened things up, because there’s been a shift in how people consume films and consume media and content with streaming.”
While our conversation focused on the campaign as a marketing and distribution tool, the campaign will have an impact on the quality of the production. Pope notes that the dollars raised will add days onto the production, and give them the option of exploring “the ARRI Alexa’s which are very difficult to get for free, [but] we can ge them for reduced rates. It may mean some different locations that we may not have had access to, because now we can afford to get them permitted or rent them out as opposed to just exclusively getting locations for free from friends.”
Pope aims to use the campaign to build a community, one that can act as advocates for the production, and that also has a say in the film. One of the more interesting parts of the reward structure is access to the casting process. Backers will be able to vote on finalists for the film at LetItCast.com.
“We want to be transparent and we want to be open and inclusive. Hopefully at the end of it we’ll have created a movie that is compelling and works artistically,but I think bringing people into the process is an important shift for us,” said Pope. “When you do movies with studio partners there’s a lot of control over releasing information. There’s a lot of secrecy. In this social media era there’s a new transparency and I think it’s different and exciting.”
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Like almost everything else in my life over the last couple of years, this is an article that starts on Twitter.
Some backstory: more or less accidentally, I’ve gotten a reputation of someone who knows a lot about crowdfunding. It wasn’t planned, but when you spend enough time in the space and run a couple of successful campaigns, suddenly people start asking you for advice. And now, to pay the rent, I’ve started consulting on crowdfunding campaigns, mostly because people started offering to pay me for my advice.
It doesn’t make any sense to me either.
I say that partially as an introduction and partially as a disclaimer. If I’m writing about a project I’m working on, I’ll let you know.
But back to that tweet. One of the things I say to people over and over again is that one of the most important things about your perks is that you have to give people the impression that you’ve put some thought into them, and one of the best ways to do that is to come up with a creative perk that could only really apply to your campaign. Doing a documentary about coffee? Send people personalized bags of coffee. Making a film in a small town? Put your backers in that town. Stuff like that. But it’s not just perks. It’s gimmicks. It’s pitch videos. It’s updates. Nothing turns people off faster than a crowdfunding campaign that’s so obviously by the numbers. Part of your goal is to get people to connect with your project. What’s special about it? Why should people give you money over the dozens of other campaigns running at the same time?
That’s the genesis of this column. We’re going to take a look at some specific things that current campaigns are doing and how that both relates to their campaign and moves the interaction with their audience forward. Hopefully we’ll shed some light on some deserving artists in the process.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER by Brea Grant
Disclosure time: I worked on this film. As in, the actual production of the film. I was the Best Boy Electric.
First up is a project with a big hurdle to climb. Brea Grant (Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Dexter, etc.) is funding the post-production of her directorial debut Best Friends Forever, an apocalyptic road trip movie that filmed this past fall way out in West Texas. The film is female-centric all around, with women serving as lead actors, director, writers, producers, director of photography, and a litany of roles down the chain. It was also shot in Super 16mm, making it one of the more unique indie film productions around (see the $500 perk level). There’s girl power all over the campaign, but I want to focus on something else.
There’s two videos in this campaign that are kind of perfect examples of what people can do to get people behind their cause. First, the emotional one, from producer Stacey Storey:
Kickstarter for Best Friends Forever from Stacey Storey on Vimeo.
You’ll notice a couple of things, but the chief two are the emotion that’s clearly involved here, but also the fact that the video was shot on the last day of production, when it was all fresh and before everyone scattered to the wind. It’s a real moment, the kind of thing that people sometimes try and keep hidden, but plays well in this environment.
And then there’s this one, which is just fun:
1-2-3–go! from Stacey Storey on Vimeo.
This is their goal video for $15,000. It does a couple of things for the campaign. First, it’s fun. It’s something shareable, which is especially helpful when you’ve got a public figure as the face of your campaign (see also: Brea’s Reddit Q&A). It makes you as an audience member want to be part of the group that’s flash-mobbing a library. You want to join the team. There’s a built-in fan base here that should theoretically respond very well. But it’s also applicable to the project. Brea’s character in the film is a librarian (hence the library), and the song is a song from the movie. Not some dance track they found, but something that ties in to the actual project. And I know that sounds simple, but you’d be surprised just how many videos for campaigns fail to do something as simple as using music they have permission to use.
It’s kind of a perfect video for this campaign. But it’s made even better when played in contrast with the first one. It’s a ying/yang approach.
And it’s not just those two videos. As of right now (around 4p.m. EDT on Wednesday), they’ve posted 39 updates, most of them with video. That’s a lot. They’re reaching out and putting in the work, but they’re still roughly $20,000 from their goal with five days to go (as of right now).
You missed your window to flash-mob a library, but you can still join the team. They’re doing karaoke for the $50,000 goal. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned for the end.
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.
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