Transmedia, Brand Sponsorship, & Crowdfunding: New Methods For A Long Gestating Project

Guest post by Zeke Zelker.

Ted: We are trying to find new ways these days.  New ways to tell our stories.  New ways to build community around our work.  New ways to bring audiences out to support our work.  And new ways to fund our work.  As we take these steps down these bumpy paths, it is our communication with one another that will bring forth the best practices.  Zeke had been speaking about some of these such steps that he was employing, and kindly has chosen to share them with all of us. Below Zeke outlines his new film, and then reveals what has made the process unique for him.

I’ve been working on this project for over ten years. Generally I let ideas percolate in my mind, on paper and screen before I set out to embark on bringing the movie to life, my ten year gestation period, is one hell of a pregnancy. I’ll pitch the project to various people within the industry, observe their reaction then go back to rewrite, rebuild, rethink. This project is different, sure we ALL say that, but this one is on two fronts, how we’re funding the project and how we’re telling the story.

Brief Synopsis: Why would four people give up everything to live in a tent, thirty feet in the air, on a catwalk, eight feet wide by forty-eight feet long? To win a mobile home and “ninety-sixty hundred” dollars? Desperation? Greed? Attention? Escape? No matter what their reasons, Clarence Lindeweiler is trying to capitalize on them to save his struggling alternative rock radio station WTYT 960.

At first a laughing stock of the community, Clarence’s hair brained scheme to drum up listeners garners national attention, pulling his radio station from the ratings basement to number two. As the contest wears on, the novelty wears off and ratings start to dip. Clarence takes the do-anything approach to right his sinking ship however his shenanigans backfire. The community and media turn on him, calls ring out to end the contest but success has gone to Clarence’s head. Who will become the lucky contestants? Who wins the grand prize? Tune into WTYT 960 to find out.

The story for Billboard, an Uncommon Contest for Common People! was inspired by true events from my childhood. I recall driving by a billboard, in the early eighties, on our way to the mall, where three men lived, to win a mobile home. Times were tough then; high unemployment, people couldn’t afford housing, high fuel prices, does this sound familiar? Seeing those men waving at us, as we drove by them, has stayed with me.

Within the framework of the project we’ll be exploring many things about the human condition using the platform of transmedia to help engage the audience and interact with them much like the real contest did close to thirty years ago. This is a challenging project and we need a lot of help in its creation.

Those three men became dependent upon the community and business owners to sustain them, much like how we are launching this project. We’re funding the project through crowd funding and offering the opportunity for companies to sponsor billboard space in the movie. The offering of branding space to help fund the film has always been a part of the project from day one, but it has now metamorphosed into being a part of the story. Can you help us? Will you become part of the story?

[http://www.vimeo.com/15513404]

We’ve made a 10% rule for ourselves, we want to raise 10% of the funds required to make the movie from friends and family and from the area where we plan on shooting the movie. This happens to be my hometown where we have already made a number of features, having had a significant impact to our local economy. Will my own community step up and support us or will this become a hurdle that we will have to overcome?

So far we have only raised $700 since our announcement two weeks ago, we have $29,300 to go. We have had some local press, pushed out emails to over 9,000 people, put it out via facebook, etc. which has resulted in over 130,000 impressions for the project thus far, which businesses could have already been capitalizing on, hmmm I guess we’ll have to take the wait and see approach on this.

We feel by having 10% of our budget in place, will also prove to those people who are on the fence of support, that the project has some legs and carry them over to the other side of support. We are offering some great perks: parties, merchandise, a shout out on the radio in the movie, a seven course meal cooked by me, small billboards that appear in the movie, on the website and possibly in the trailer and commercials, and the large billboard that is the backdrop for most of the movie and will appear in ALL key art promoting the film, posters, letterhead, DVD covers, website, anything and everything that you can think of. Oh and we have fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas where donations and sponsorships are tax deductible. I feel this could be a deciding factor for some, that the close of the tax year is upon us.

Those people and companies who donate will have a leg up on others when we release information about the movie, after all we will have their direct contact information. There will be chances to win prizes, be in the film, play games, listen to a new virtual radio station and many, many other things that we’ll be announcing over the course of the two-year project.

I am not discouraged by our dismal performance thus far. I know it takes time for people to warm up to a new idea and I know once things start to unfold, people will become more inclined to help. I believe that. I also believe as we get the project out there, that companies will have that ah-ha! moment and understand what we’re doing, capitalizing on the idea of transmedia and seeing the plethora of branding opportunities to target to our 13 to 35 year old demographic.

I’m kind of glad that it took me ten years to finalize my plans for this project. Waiting so long enabled certain technologies to be developed and opportunities to present themselves. It gave me time to craft a better script and it to develop a very immersive story telling experience where we’re offering the community to get involved and many artists various opportunities to share their work all within the frame work of the Billboard story experience.

This is all very exciting to me, the convergence of story telling, brand involvement and technology to entertain people. After all, if we’re not creating something that is entertaining do we even have the right to be in this space/medium?

I believe that Billboard is not only an entertaining project but also an important one. Billboard examines the root of humanity, that piece in each one of us who struggles to get ahead, to get noticed or to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the type of project where we look at ourselves and those around us, observing that at our core we need human beings to be human, to propel our existence. Sure these are some lofty ideas for a comedy but that’s what the project is truly about. We may even laugh at ourselves in the process.

Stay tuned… I’ll share what is working and what is not over the course of the project. I look forward to hearing people’s comments, helping me learn and understand the new story telling frontier. And yes, I would love your kind financial support, pledges can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/billboardmovie

Life may just imitate art!

Zeke Zelker is a Lehigh Valley, PA native whose first exposure to the film industry was in John Waters’ film Hairspray, as a dancer in Corny Collins Council. A critically acclaimed, award winning filmmaker with a number of films to his credit: The 2005 Sundance Film Festival favorite Loggerheads, Affairs, Fading, A.K.A.-It’s A Wiley World!, Getting Off, Southern Belles, Just Like the Son, a documentary on the Dalai Lama, A University Prepares, and his most recent film InSearchOf, the sixth most viewed drama on Hulu all time. Zeke has been an early adaptor in using technology to make, promote and market his films.