So as it turns out, crowdfunding is just not as easy as many might think. I learned that the hard way back in September of last year when I attempted to raise money through Kickstarter for my film Read Me. I was a bit too optimistic, and failed on some key componates to run a successful campaign.
Sure I read the stats that about 60% of all film Kickstarter campaigns are unsuccessful. But all that meant to me was that I had a 40% chance of making my goal. So I jumped right in and built a campaign. That was my first mistake. I didn’t get enough people involved. It was suggested to me that I find some actors and shoot some scenes, or even a trailer, but of course my first thought was, I can’t pay anyone. And I really hate to ask people to give up their time and not pay them for it. Also, it seemed like a lot of work to ask of people for a project that may or may not get funded.
On top of that, when I told people how much I was asking for, which was $25,000, I mostly got the same reaction. “Wow, that’s gonna be tough.” But I had big plans, and I really wanted to pay the cast and crew what they deserved. And there were a few people from out of town I wanted to work with, so getting them to Orlando for the shoot would cost more. So as much as it seemed impossible, I went for it, and launched anyway.
Things seemed to go OK for the first couple of days, but I quickly started seeing the campaign slow down, and I knew that unless I came across an angel investor that just happened to love my idea and trusted that I could get it done, this campaign was dead in the water. Despite keeping active with the campaign the entire month, on September 8th 2013, at only 25% funded, the campaign ended. That was it, all that work for nothing.
Well, not exactly. At no time did I think to myself, “Well, I gave it a good try and I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” Instead my first thought was, OK, I raised over $6000, can I make the film with that? No, well alright, then maybe it’s time to lower the budget for the film and do some of that other stuff that I didn’t want to spend the time on in the first campaign.
First thing’s first, lower the amount I was asking for. This is something that I struggled with all the way up to the time I actually hit the launch button on the second campaign. I talked things over with my producer Aviva Christie and asked her how low can we go. She gave me a rough budget of between 10 and 11K.
Then it was time to start contacting actors. During the first campaign I was talking with a talented actress that I’ve worked with in the past named Michele Simms for the female lead. She had suggested a local actor named Tim Williams to play the lead role of Clark. I had already heard very good things about Tim, and I was coincidentally just on Tim’s website checking him out a day earlier.
Tim and I were quickly emailing back and forth. He sent me a video audition, I sent him the entire script, and we set up a meeting. We met just before Christmas over coffee, and really hit it off. We had a lot in common and it just felt like he really understood the character of Clark he was going to play. I told him my plan to shoot some “test scenes” that I would use in the next fundraising campaign. I was totally up front that I couldn’t offer any pay for the test shoot. That didn’t seem to matter much to him. I think he saw it as, I wasn’t hiring him to play a part, we were collaborating together, and building his character from the ground up and that was exciting. And that is the exact attitude I was hoping he would have.
I also mentioned that since Michele was now living in Los Angeles, we would need a local female to work with since working with anyone from out of town just didn’t seem possible under the new budget. He had someone in mind, and I figured that whoever Tim was comfortable with would work out for at least the test shoot. He put me in contact with his friend Jamie-Lyn Markos. I sent her the script and she said she really liked, Rachel, her character and would like to get involved, so the three of us set up a first reading of a few scenes.
We all met one evening a few weeks after Christmas to talked over the script and the characters. The first scene I had them read was a scene in which their two characters meet. As they were doing the scene, I actually had to fight back tears a bit. It was almost a year after I first created these characters, and after a failed fundraising campaign, now for the first time this story was actually coming to life. They read a few more scenes and I could really see a good chemistry between the two of them. It was clear that I had my two leads. Again, I went over my plan for a test shoot which they were on board with and the evening came to a close. I called my wife on the way home and she asked how it went, and the first thing that came out of my month was, “Well, I met Clark tonight.”
In the next few weeks I met with a local actor I’ve worked with before named Daniel Wachs, who I knew would be a perfect fit for the role of Clark’s father. I also spoke with my friend Bobby Pino, who had worked on some of my earliest films, about playing Clark’s friend Roger. Both Daniel and Bobby read the script, liked it and agreed to shoot the test scenes.
With my Director of Photography Ryan Lightbourn unavailable for the shoot, my old partner in crime Ali Imran Zaidi agreed to help shoot, along with my co-worker Tommy Wingo doing sound. I was amazed how many people were willing to help, knowing there was no money involved yet. Together with producer Aviva, we all got together for only about 3 hours on a Friday evening at my house for the test shoot.
We worked fast, shot bits and pieces of about 4 scenes, we ate pizza and called it a night. By the next evening I had already strung together almost all of the footage that we shot and was really pleased about what we got in such a short time. I put together my pitch video for the new campaign, used some stills from the shoot to create images for the Kickstarter page. My friend Zac Gordon helped me put together a website for the film, and I also started a Facebook page for it. A test shoot, website and Facebook page is all stuff that I hadn’t done with the first campaign. But with this one, I really wanted to create the image that this is a film that is going to happen, not one like last time that, “may or may not get funded”.
I decided on $9,500 for the goal. This was an amount I felt like I could get to, and maybe even before the deadline, leaving time at the end to say, look this is happening now, so if you want to be a part of it, jump on board. Which would give me room to go over the goal. So with that I launched my new campaign.
I got off to a good start, and in the first week I was already at 25%, which was where I had ended last time. I felt pretty good about it, but I had to stay on top of it, everyday posting about it, emailing people, talking to people. I’m really not much of a salesman, and certainly not when it comes to selling myself, but I had to keep plugging away. Besides this wasn’t just my project anymore, this time around there were more people invested in it.
With three weeks left in the campaign I was asked to be a guest on an Internet radio show by the folks at the Grilliant Ideas Radio Show. I called into the show on a Saturday afternoon and had a nice long talk with them about my film, during which the host announced that he would be donating $350 to the campaign and that he really wanted to see it get made. This was a big boost, and it was the start of a great week ahead.
In the next four or five days my campaign seemed to be building momentum and I was feeling pretty good about it. And then seemingly out of nowhere, my first Executive Producer, James Sullivan, came on board and put the campaign over the goal, with still two weeks remaining. I had met James a year earlier when I was assistant directing a film by my friend, Banks Helfrich, in which James was also Executive Producer. I had hoped that he would back my project as well, but I didn’t expect him to push us over so the finish line so quickly.
It wasn’t time to celebrate yet, with still two weeks remaining, I continued to release short video updates with myself or one of my cast and crew conveying the message although we met are goal, we needed to bring in more money to make the film that much better. Interviews updates with cast and crew was also something that was missing from the first campaign.
My second campaign for Read Me ended on May 31st with a total of $12,146, or about 128% funded. A drop in the bucket for a Hollywood movie, but not for us. No one will have their own trailer or personal assistant, but we’ll get this film made. The long month of May was over and I was finally looking at having some real discussions about when and where the production would take place.
I’m working with some very talented people on this project, and I hope I can set up an environment in which everyone can just do their best work. Because after all, with such a low-budget, no one is working on this film for the money. So there must be another reason. For fun? For the expertise? To entertain? To inspire?
I can tell you this, it is going to be a long road ahead for this film and I really don’t know what’s in store for it; how it will come out, where it will play, how it will be perceived. I can really only control a very small portion of all that. But ultimately none of that really matters. As Andy Warhol once said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”