John Bruce on "Far From Afghanistan: Mission, Means, and Movement Building"

I think it is more than three years ago now that I first spoke of Truly Free Film. My hope then, as it is now, that artistic, social, and political motivations would harness the new technologies and it's tools to usher in a transformation from a mass-market driven entertainment economy to a community-based approached to media and art. The examples of this are still few and far between. I remain very optimistic nonetheless, and am heartened by all of what "Far From Afghanistan" represents.

Far From Afghanistan: Mission, Means, and Movement Building

“If today I choose to make films it is to remind myself first and foremost that there are a lot more important things than films,” says filmmaker John Gianvito.

Last week, amidst a media brush fire of images from Occupy Wall Street and obituaries for Steve Jobs, the unfortunate 10-year anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan “passed quietly at the White House”, as TIME magazine barely reported. Meanwhile, streaming for free online Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition, presents work-in-progress segments from the forthcoming film Far From Afghanistan, October 6 through October 12, only.

Inspired by the 1967 film, Far From Vietnam (Loin du Vietnam), John Gianvito conceived of Far From Afghanistan as a project to bring together some of the boldest, most politically-progressive US filmmakers. The final version, to be completed in 2012, will also include contributions from native filmmakers throughout Afghanistan. Together they will utilize a mosaic of approaches, and explore issues of shared responsibility, history and memory, in a concerted effort to help accelerate resistance to the war.

Contributing segments to Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition, are John Gianvito, Jon Jost, Minda Martin, Travis Wilkerson, and Soon-Mi Yoo, with a special prologue by Rob Todd and Pacho Velez. From inside Afghanistan several Afghan filmmakers working as part of the group Afghan Voices also provided material.

Operating as a true collective, the filmmakers along with producers Steve Holmgren and Mike Bowes, platform producer John Bruce, and production coordinator Matt Yeager supported one another and enlisted dozens of others in order to make manifest this idea, without the hierarchy or procedure typical of most film development and production. “Putting together this film from scratch in about six months was a massive challenge. It would not have been possible even a year or two ago I think, certainly not in the same way. Working with no budget and with a team who were literally traveling around the world throughout production, we relied heavily on different web technologies to keep things moving… we used Vimeo to host cuts where we could provide comments, transferred final files through Dropbox rather than physically mailing drives, and had regular Skype calls to check in,” says Steve Holmgren.

Exposing selections from a film to audiences before the usual route of a major festival premiere is risky business. Traditional distribution cycles can take many months and sometimes years. Far From Afghanistan as a project has greater goals, beyond successfully navigating business-as-usual distribution channels. With the October 2011 10-year anniversary of war upon us, our mantra became “sooner rather than later”, and thus we made the choice to actively participate in, and ideally spur more, vital dialogue that needs to occur in order for people to better grasp the issues, and move collectively toward greater responsibility and resolution. Further, we hope to foster partnerships and collaborations with individuals, groups, and organizations at home and abroad. Most centrally, the project plans to connect with and provide assistance to humanitarian organizations with aligned missions, both in Afghanistan and domestically.

Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition streams online for just a couple more days. You can watch it on www.farfromafghanistan.org and also on www.fandor.com. Support the project on Kickstarter.

John Bruce is the platform producer for Far From Afghanistan, and works as a strategist for .John Bruce spent over a decade working in feature film and television production for NY-based independent producers. He is currently a strategist for Forward Mapworks, serving media ventures and organizations with social and environmental missions, and is the platform producer for Far From Afghanistan.

Far From Afghanistan: The October Edition brings together some of the best-known political filmmakers from the US, along with contributions by Afghan media makers from inside Afghanistan, in a special online event streaming segments from the forthcoming film Far From Afghanistan, during the week Oct 6-12 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the war.

Koo On "Your Audience is Worth More Than $"

Film may be 110 years old, the Film Industry a century, Amer-Indie, as a semi-organized infrastructure and process, 30 years, but as a creative community we are only a few years, at best, in. Sure the guilds have been here longer, but as an open & transparent, group, activity sharing information and aspirations, it's taken the rise of blogging culture to bring us together.

As much as we are coming together on a general basis, indie film communities come together now around specific voices. Nonetheless, other than Kevin Smith there are very few folks who have truly built and served their audiences to such an extent that that audience is in fact a community that can be depended on to support a film to the extent necessary to move it through production and release. Or rather, until recently. Crowdfunding, more than just a money raising tool, allows us to measure how communities can truly make movies happen. Koo, who has built the much loved and very useful blog No Film School, now is making a film, and as he shares below, he couldn't have gotten so far with the support from the community he has so loyally served.

My crowdfunding campaign to make a youth basketball feature film Man-child has made it most of the way to raising its $115,000 goal (!). I've been working tirelessly since launching the campaign on August 16th, and you can bet I won't be sleeping much until it ends September 23rd (this Friday). I don't know if we're going to make it all the way, but in coming this far, I've learned a lot -- and that's what I'm here to share. This post is also the story of how as a community we got 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson -- arguably the greatest living basketball coach, and someone I've never met in person -- to back my Kickstarter film.

You have at least two audiences

I run the indie filmmaking website NoFilmSchool, and the site's readers comprise my primary audience for the campaign. But even if you don't run a website, you still have a primary audience -- your friends, your family, your high school and/or college, and any other networks that you might belong to. This is your obvious first stop in a crowdfunding campaign.

Whatever kind of movie you're making, your film has a topic. That topic has an audience. In the case of Man-child the topic is basketball, and so in addition to my web site's followers, there exists another community that is potentially interested in my film: basketball fans. This is your second stop: people who are interested in your topic. But I think when you go after the second audience is important, because there's a difference between the people who know you personally and the people who don't. The former are willing to lend a hand because it's you. The second group needs a bit more convincing.

Credibility first

People have mentioned in the past a notorious dead time in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. Without the excitement of the launch or the urgency of a deadline, crowdfunding campaigns begin to resemble a 2-liter of RC Cola with the cap off (they go flat). This is a great time to try to reach out to a new audience, because if you did your job in the first half of the campaign (and didn't annoy your followers on Twitter) -- you'll have more credibility than you did when the ticker read "$0 pledged." Once the campaign was able to demonstrate social proof thanks a number of backers on board -- but only then -- did I try to reach out to the second audience.

Audiences are like venn diagrams

There isn't a lot of overlap between my following of independent filmmakers and the basketball community at large. They're like venn diagrams: two circles that overlap but for the most part exist separately. If your friends and family are in the smaller circle, the point is to reach the people in the larger circle who have no idea who you are. This is how your audience is valuable in a way that has nothing to do with what's in their wallet.

Internet is plentiful, money is not

I launched NoFilmSchool by living out of a suitcase for 10 months. I know what it's like to be short on funds. But during those 11 months when money was nonexistent, what did I have plenty of? Internet. Wi-Fi on a friend's couch. A free connection at Starbucks. 3G. Even people on the other side of the planet who might not ever have a chance to see your indie film in the theater have a 'net connection (and many countries are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to broadband speeds). So when running a fundraising campaign, think of your fans friends and followers as more than financial contributors. They're your allies in morphing the two circles of a venn diagram into one.

Strength in numbers

In the case of Man-child, as soon as we hit the halfway mark of the campaign (time-wise; we were not yet to 50% funded), I wrote a post asking for help from NoFilmSchool readers. Not financial help, but social media help. Along with an instructional video, I included links to lists of NBA players, media members, and bloggers on Twitter. Dozens of us began reaching out on Twitter collectively, asking ball players and journalists to check out or at least retweet the Man-child Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I was totally ineffective. Promoting your own campaign/product/service seems more like spam than someone asking on behalf of a friend, and there is strength in numbers: public figures have tens if not hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, and getting their attention is a crapshoot. They get mentioned so often that you need luck on your side to be in the right place at the right time; the more of you there are, the better your odds.

One success story is worth the effort

Despite my own lack of success, thanks to the efforts of others, several NBA players -- including two-time all-star Stephon Marbury -- retweeted the Man-child campaign. More importantly, Executive VP of the Los Angeles Lakers Jeanie Buss watched my pitch video and became a backer -- along with legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. I saw a jump in the campaign's progress and didn't know where it came from, so I went to look at the backer list, and there was Jeanie Buss. I hadn't reached her, but someone else had. I thanked her on Twitter and we started direct messaging. She told me Phil had matched her pledge. My head exploded.

Your campaign is like a film

Films are better when they have an arc; the same goes for a crowdfunding campaign. In the past, I'd seen crowdfunders issue a press release at the outset of their campaign, but I didn't feel launching a campaign was enough of a story by itself to get picked up by anyone. 10,000 people have run Kickstarter campaigns, after all -- and that's just the successful ones. More than double that number have launched campaigns. But I did think this social media success story -- and the name recognition of having Phil and Jeanie on board -- was a story. So I wrote a press release designed to get the campaign in the hands of the basketball world.

The jury's still out

As I write this, the jury's still out as to whether this press release has successfully brought in more of the basketball world. As a one man band running this campaign all on my own, it took me longer to get the press release out than I would've liked -- even working around the clock -- and I haven't given media outlets much time to write up a story before this Friday's deadline.

When it comes down to it, though, whether or not the Man-child campaign is picked up by a large sports web site, the social media outreach effort was a success -- the story told in that press release has become an integral part of not only the story of the campaign, but the story of the film. And Phil Jackson, are you kidding me?!?

Your audience is worth more than $$$

More people have internet access than have credit cards. In the past month I've gotten a lot of messages from people who don't own a credit card but want to help the campaign somehow. These aren't messages they're sending via snail mail or smoke signals -- they're through Kickstarter, they're over Twitter, they're via email. They're online and they want to help. My personal friends (who aren't very active on Twitter) logged on and had fun seeing if they could get a big name to retweet it. Give your audience something to do other than cut checks!

The "dead" midpoint of a campaign is a great time to start asking for help to reach a second audience. In fact, if my own experiences are any lesson, I would go out with this initiative prior to the midpoint, because you want to give yourself enough time before your campaign ends for your collective efforts to have an impact.

Speaking of which -- my campaign for Man-child ends this Friday, September 23rd, at 11:59pm Eastern. If we don't make it, I will certainly have learned a lot in the process, but I'd love to learn a lot more by actually making the movie! So if you feel like getting some great rewards in exchange for your support, check out my campaign -- a download of the full film is just $10, a DVD is $24, plus you'll be sent the unique frames of the film that you made possible (details in my pitch video below). Best of luck with your own crowdfunding campaign, keep that second audience in mind, and thanks for reading!

The Costs Of Crowdfunding

Filmmakers speak of crowdfunding as if it is free money. It isn't. In some instances it isn't even close to being so. In Indie Film, where filmmakers are routinely asked to take blood from a stone, you'd think the costs would leap from everyone's tongue.

So what platform, puts the most money into your pocket? Well, the answer ain't so easy.

As this is now the era of the six figure crowdfund raise, the answer is a combination of low fees and high user base. How many campaigns truly open up beyond the friends and family base?

The hard facts are a little easier to come by. Costs, in ascending order:

Kapipal • Currently no fee + PayPal processing fee (~2-4%), (must use PayPal, Italian) IndieGoGo • 4% fee if you make your goal, 9% otherwise, +3% credit card processing fee Kickstarter • 5% fee, +3-5% credit card fee (only funded if you make your goal) Eppela • 5% fee + PayPal processing fee (~2-4%), (must use PayPal, only funded if you make your goal, Italian) RocketHub • 4% fee if you make your goal, 8% otherwise, +3-5% credit card fee SoKap • 5% fee, 10% fee on product sold via their marketplace, +3% credit card fee United States Artists • 15% fee + 4% credit card fee

Lynette Howell on "Producing Is Supporting New Talent Through More Than Just Production"

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or follower of mine on Twitter, I think you know that for me a Producer only deserves that credit when they truly commit to support the project from beginning to end. You also probably know how challenging I find the calling of producing these days, when we are required to do more and more, and are rewarded, at least financially, less and less. It is always inspiring for me, when a Producer steps forward, embraces the full demand of the role, and does with a great attitude and recognition of the benefits that come from the commitment. Lynette Howell has not been producing that long, but she has learned a great deal, as we all can from her generosity of a guest post today.

ON THE ICE – Supporting new talent through more than just production:

The kind of exploration into distribution that I find myself doing on my film ON THE ICE is new for me… uncharted territory and truthfully out of my comfort zone, but one that I find myself glad I am being somewhat forced into not only embracing, but championing.

As an independent Producer, I started my company with the mandate of supporting new talent. At first, this was a necessity. I didn't have any relationships with established Directors when I entered the business. Therefore the only way to begin a career producing meant that I had to find projects that other more established producers didn't want to take on - either because they were too challenging to make, or too small for a Producer to earn a living on. This necessity quickly turned into my true passion for discovering new voices and this passion then turned into an understanding of how crucial this kind of support is to the continued growth and evolution of the independent industry.

Since my first movie almost 7 years ago (Ryan Flecks HALF NELSON) I have produced many movies of all sizes and genres, ranging from Derek Cianfrance’s BLUE VALENTINE to David Ellis’s SHARK NIGHT 3D. But it is not the size, scope or scale that draws me towards putting my energy into a project -- it is about finding stories that speak to me, and they continue to often come from new filmmakers.

As an Advisor to the Sundance Creative Producing Initiative, I continue to be a huge supporter in any way that I can of up and coming filmmakers. In 2009 I met Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, the Writer and Director of the short film SIKUMI that was the winner of the Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at Sundance the prior year. He was at the Directors Lab with a script for his feature film ON THE ICE along with his producing partner Cara Marcous who was also a Lab fellow.

The script for ON THE ICE had so many built in challenges to it -- 1. LOCATION -- Set in Barrow, Alaska -- which is the Northern-most point in the United States, deep in the Arctic Circle. The only way in or out during the winter months is by plane. 2. WEATHER -- Temperatures can drop to 40 below with wind chill. All gear has to be winterized prior to shooting. And for some scenes crew cannot have any skin exposed because of the high risk of frostbite. 3. CASTING NON ACTORS -- The script featured an all Inuit cast and Andrew felt it was crucial to work with local non-actors. 4. BUDGET -- Making a movie in these extreme conditions does have a cost and so raising money for this would be extremely challenging. 5. SHOOTING SCHEDULE -- The ONLY month we could shoot in Barrow was April because of weather and light issues (Barrow has 24 hours of darkness in the winter, and 24 hours of sunlight in the summer). Therefore we had a very short window to put this movie together!

But it was such a fresh script, setting and structure for a movie that I simply had to get involved despite all the obstacles

Through 5 different equity investors, a post-production deal, numerous grants, a tax credit and tons of support in kind, Cara and I managed to raise the money necessary to make the movie.

Production was such a challenge because of the above-mentioned issues (and some I didn’t forsee, such as using a bucket for a toilet everyday on the frozen tundra). But we managed to make a very special film that feels unlike anything I have seen before. The movie premiered at Sundance in competition earlier this year and went on to win two awards at the Berlinale Film Festival (the Crystal Bear and Best First Feature Film). The awards validation proved that there was an audience for this film, but we all knew that it was going to take a creative way to reach them.

All the incredible effort from so many people pushing this unbelievably challenging movie from a short film all the way to a critically acclaimed feature film found itself with an uncertain distribution future.

Given the technological advances and through social media, there is an opportunity for my support, your support and the support of many others towards new filmmakers to now transition into distribution in a meaningful way.

I have made movies that went to festivals before and weren’t able to find a distributor willing to pay a MG, or give the movie a wide, or even aggressive platform release. I have been left selling a film for a very small amount of money and then having it released in five to ten cities and ultimately no one really hearing about it or seeing it due to lack of marketing dollars or the same level of passion and commitment from the distributor that came from the filmmaking team who struggled to make the movie. Filmmakers traditionally feel more comfortable with the idea of a “real” distributor releasing a movie, even without a viable plan to release their film because there is a stigma associated with not having this branding. I believe this stigma is potentially short sighted and want to support the idea of alternative methods of distribution, especially for movies like ON THE ICE which don’t fall into the obviously commercial slam dunk scenarios for most distributors, no matter the size – but that clearly have an audience.

Through the new Sundance Initiative and Kickstarter, we are exploring a different approach to distribution for ON THE ICE. We are trying to raise $80k which will allow us to take the movie to a much broader audience than would be possible had we gone down the traditional path of a somewhat cosmetic theatrical release or a non-theatrical route. I want this movie to be SEEN by as many people as possible. The work that our team has been doing is staggering – more care and attention to detail in how to approach this audience and really use the money raised to reach a much broader number of people is incredible. It takes a lot of effort and determination. But I want to prove it can work, so that we can continue to ensure that the new voices of tomorrow’s filmmakers have a home for their movies.

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are involved in independent film or independent art of some kind. So, you may not be in a position to pledge much money, but I hope that you will consider passing our Kickstarter link on to the friends and colleagues in your life who might be interested in what we’re trying to do. The act of forwarding this on is incredibly powerful for us and it could mean we can release our film.

To support ON THE ICE go to our kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/andrewmaclean/on-the-ice-the-movie

Lynette Howell Silverwood Films

Alex & Andrew Smith on "Crowdfunding = Barnraising: We All Have To Do Some Heavy Lifting"

It's kind of hard to find the appropriate analogy for what we do, particularly these days. Often I am tempted to think it is running full speed against a brick wall without any protective headgear on, hoping that a door may open the moment before impact. But those are on my down days. Usually I can see us all working together, building bridges, fusing connections, doing the labor that will lift the culture in many ways. It shouldn't be so hard to describe that, but I still struggle.

Which is one of the reasons I was so pleased to reconnect with Alex and Andrew Smith, twin brothers, whose go to it attitude and willingness to reach high with their ambition has never been lagging. They look for the truth of it, and don't shy from the honesty of the hard work. Which is why the analogy they unearthed for crowdfunding for their guest blog today is so fitting.

Back in the 70’s, when we were little mop-haired twins, our parents would host ‘work parties” at our ranch in rural western Montana. They’d call up all their friends-- my father’s English Lit colleagues at the university, his graduate students, all their hippie, carpenter, writer, rancher, logger and bohemian buddies– and invite them up, first to do some ranch work, and then to have a party.

And we would all, together, gather stones spit up from the meadow and stack them on rockpiles; pile up old fence posts, rotten lumber, old rusty tractor parts and scrap metal; we would clear irrigation ditches and thin the larch stands.

And every spring we would take on some seriously ambitious, semi-crazy project—trying to turn the basement of an old burnt down farmhouse into a swimming pool, or fusing two old hand-hewn turn-of–the-century log cabins together, to form the “big house” – the house in which we grew up.

In short, a lot of good people would come together for a short period of time, and they’d get something epic done quickly. Then there’d be a softball game, and a feast— chili and salad and beer— and a bonfire with guitars, stories and singing. We still have the Super-8 movies to prove it.

Those mid-1970’s community gatherings, in their “Whole Earth Catalogue” funky, post-psychedelic form, were a reiteration of a much earlier homesteader model— the old fashioned ‘barn-raising’. (Cue the clip of Harrison Ford in suspenders in “Witness.”) The family who needed the barn would do all the heavy preparations. The mapping and measuring. The gathering of tools, the cutting of lumber, the cooking– and they’d get everyone to come over– and they would all, together, raise that barn. And in the next season, this family would pitch in to raise some else’s barn.

And, so, too, now, creative project-makers find themselves returning to that reliable, roll-up-your-sleeves, grass-roots, reciprocal “gather”— and its corresponding “glean”—salvaging the fine apples that the industrial machines left behind-- to get our crops in (the literal ‘roots of grass’), and our barns built, be they actual buildings, or specifically, in this context, the sturdy, scrappy, home-made architecture of indie films. We’re not talking DIY, but rather, DIO—‘Do It Ourselves’. This joint effort spirit is what gives crowd-financing platforms their energy, power, and, indeed-- joy.

Our own father is gone now– he’s been gone a long time. Not all of his projects turned out exactly the way he thought they would: few things do. But on those golden ‘Days of Heaven’-like gathers, magic happened. Serious work happened. It was a truly communal effort: work hard; play hard. Later there’d be dancing— and even some howling at the moon. Almost forty years later, the result of those efforts still bear fruit.

And that’s what we are trying to do with the Kickstarter {Barnraiser} campaign for our film, Winter in the Blood: gathering, gleaning, raising load-bearing beams. Digital uploads and Mail Chimp-generated email lists have replaced Whole Earth catalogue instructions, but the communal work— and the sharing of strategies of ways to best get to our goals— remains the same. “You help us with our project—and we’ll honor your contribution. And help you with yours.”

We’ve been brainstorming and barnstorming for over four years on our film project. We’ve drawn the maps, measured the clearing, cut the timber, smithed the spikes. We’ve stewed the meat, iced the beers, set stumps around the fire, and invited a bunch of good people to join us. The script is written, the cast is cast, the crew is lined up, and we are—90% financed.

Now we just need a little help– to hoist our movie up onto its feet. To anchor it to the ground.

To raise this barn of a film.

Thank you for reading, and thank you Ted for articulating (and being) Hope.

--Alex & Andrew Smith

Alex and Andrew Smith directed the feature film THE SLAUGHTER RULE which premiered at Sundance in 2002 (and starred the incredible David Morse, and the then unknown Ryan Gosling & Amy Adams). They are now crowdfunding for their next feature and the campaign ends July 6th. Please contribute. I did

Due to popular demand to get to know a bit more about the film, the WinterInTheBlood team have provide these additional links to media that they created for Winter in the Blood.

Our presentation about the film- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht0N2UrOnCo

Alex, Andrew & Ken on writing the film- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cehbpHTGDpk

Susan Kirr talks about Producing- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqA0687u17I

A How-To video for Kickstarter- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5beV7FglLo

A word from one of the interns that will be joining us from Long House Media- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpTWaTO-zO4&feature=related

David Morse talks about the project- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBX6jl7gkPE&feature=related

Chaske Spencer talks about the project- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbuzEr5E5i8

Guest Post: Beth B "Who Says An Old Punk Can't Learn New Tricks?"

I moved to NYC in the early 80's with dreams of making films that would change the world. To prime my path, I was prepared to serve first. There were two internships I wanted. Having grown up listening to Alan Lomax's Southern Journey records, he was one. He didn't hire me. The Super-8 No Wave film thing was taking the city by storm -- or at least the East Village. I turned my sights to working for Beth B, one of the key figures in the "Cinema Of Transgression". I got the interview... but not the gig. Although I have had to watch from afar, I have kept track of Beth and her work, and have always found it inspiring and uncompromising. How Beth navigates the challenge of giving her work form while leading her life and not being lead is both a marvel and a mantra. As Beth points out in her post today, it is not easy, it is a struggle, but the rewards prove the choice's righteousness time and time again.

KICKSTARTER LAUNCHED FOR AN UNCENSORED BETH B FILM

Warning: Kickstarter video is NSFW. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1339534802/beyond-burlesque-a-feature-documentary-film-by-bet

I’m in the trenches again. How did I get here? I made a promise to myself ten years ago that I would never make another independent film unless it was fully funded. At this proclamation, I ventured into the world of network television, producing and directing documentaries for eight years.  It was great. I was no longer an independent filmmaker at a time when the term ceased to have meaning—everyone was one! And, I was making money and not stressing about paying the bills for the first time in my life.

But, three years ago, the restrictive nature of making commercial television increasingly closed in on me. It was very subtle. I didn’t realize that my creative, cultural and intellectual expression was eroding. And, over time the passion I had felt for filmmaking began to diminish. Through a long bout of depression, I realized I needed to get back to my roots in filmmaking—I came from Super 8, no budget films. I was determined to philosophically go back thirty years and reinvent myself…at my age, with a daughter to care for and overhead we’ll not speak of. Serendipity brought me to a meeting with Suzanne Anker, Fine Arts Chair at the School of Visual Arts, where I had gotten my BFA and I signed on for some adjunct teaching. Okay, not the money to make a feature film, but it provided wonderful support and faith. Then, dipping into some of the savings from my TV work, I began filming guerilla style, hiring cinematographer, Dan Karlok, who worked for a pittance. We’d go out to clubs at midnight - 2am and shoot burlesque shows on the Lower Eastside at the Slipper Room. James Habacker of the Slipper opened his doors to my film and I was right back there—1978, when I was showing films at Max’s Kansas City, going to CBGB’s, and spending nights in the subculture of a NY that was in its infancy. And, 2008—I was back in the clubs where another subculture of performers was picking up where the uncensored work of Karen Finley and Robert Mapplethorpe left off.

Using the model of television, I thought I would film the burlesque scene for a few weeks and then edit a trailer, show it to some networks, try to land a series. Obviously, I was delusional and the repeated reaction was, “Oh, it’s great, but can you sanitize it.?” This would totally defeat the message and the power of what these performers were dedicating their lives to. So it was a clear choice. I had no money, but was completely liberated, unfettered and had one agenda—mine.

I started filming again trying to narrow my focus and find the more extreme characters. I loved the traditional burlesque performers, but as I dug deeper, I saw the underbelly of the pretty and my characters emerged! This wasn’t a reality show. These performers live on the edge, creating work that is provocatively sexy, comedic, intelligent and sometimes shockingly confrontational and transgressive.  They are dealing with issues of difference including transgender, disability, sexuality, the body politic and exploding assumptions about this subculture. They are pushing boundaries to the limits and questioning "what is normal"...for god's sake, "why be normal?!?!"

True to the “DIY” philosophy of the late 70’s, I was back to begging, borrowing and stealing to get the film done. Very humbling. I went through many DPs, exhausting their generosity and repeatedly the production ground to a halt. Spoiled by my past eight years of working in TV and having budgets to hire and pay crews to do the tech, I hadn’t picked up a camera in years. Two realizations hit me simultaneously: I was out of money and favors, and the performers began voicing discomfort at having cameras backstage (especially manned by men) when they were in various states of undress. They were closing ranks. One of them confided in me that if I did the filming, if I was “the crew”, I’d have better access. The next day, I borrowed the money to buy a tiny camera—the Panasonic HDC TM-700. I mounted a shotgun mic on the camera and became Producer/Director/DP/Sound person. This new approach brought an intimacy to the filming and the performers began opening up, allowing more access.

We’re currently in post-production having cut sixty minutes of the film. I’m working with my Assistant Editor, Amanda Scarmozzino (NYU student intern) and have begun to learn Final Cut. Our genius editor, Keith Reamer, is squeezing in days between his other jobs and my dedicated husband is composing the music for the film. I’ve regained my sense of idealism from the late 70’s and have broken away from the dependence that money grips us with. I recently saw the film, Bill Cunningham New York, and it was all there—the idealism, the independence…not being owned. In Bill’s words: “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do…money is the cheapest thing—liberty, freedom is the most expensive.”

Every few years I’ve had to reinvent myself—to survive financially and to challenge myself intellectually and creatively. I’ve gone from experimental films to dramatic features to network television documentaries. I’ve created large-scale video/sculpture installations at museums. I’ve never had a formula for maintaining my creative independence and financial realities have often derailed my path. Passion for my work and the subject I’m tackling necessitates non-intervention from other entities. In our money-driven, rabidly puritanical culture commercial viability is valued over content. We have forgotten how to view film as an art form and speak our truths. We all know that what appears to be transgressive today will be usurped and mainstreamed, defused, and the original intent lost.  So my mission as an artist is to hold on to the vision and challenge myself creatively by continuing to reinvent and evolve as an artist/filmmaker though my work—uncompromisingly.

-- Beth B

 

Beth B’s career spans thirty years experience in interdisciplinary work including feature dramatic and documentary films and experimental videos, media installations, sculpture, and photography for museums, galleries, public art spaces, theaters and television. B’s films have shown at festivals worldwide including: the New York Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Festival of Festivals, Locarno Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, and Singapore Film Festival.

Ted's Note: Beth B's Kickstarter campaign closes July 17 so don't wait. Contribute. I did.

An excerpt from one of Beth B's 90's tapes:

Ditto on Beth's 80's collaboration w Scott B:

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox “PART 4: How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records”

Two weeks ago Jennifer Fox shared with us some of the lessons she learned crowdfunding (1st six here, next 14 here, next 9 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. If they gave records for quality as well as quantity she probably would have gotten those too.

Jennifer continues her path of profound generosity with another wave of the demystification wand to show how it was done. It is not magic; it's hard work -- but it can be done, and learned from.

Hard to believe, but true: Here are the very last 6 Tips that I learned from our Kickstarter campaign. (Then again, you never know when I might suddenly get more Kickstarter inspiration…)

37. The Advantages of Fundraising for a Finished Film: A New Model?

As I’ve mentioned often, I was terrified of fundraising for a finished film. It seemed to break every rule imaginable. So it was strange to discover is that there are actually advantages to fundraising for a film that is completed. It turned out that the very thing we wrote on our Kickstarter site to sell the idea of donating to our film to prospective patrons is true: Donating to a finished film is a low risk proposition. Why?

• Most films go over budget, take much longer than planned (Oh like 20 years) and God forbid I should put this in print, never get finished. While I am not sure the general population knows all these facts, I think they can smell the “risk” in the ether.

• With a finished film and especially one that is beginning to get noticed and play known festivals like MY REINCARNATION was doing, people can enjoy giving to something that is a sure bet. It is already successful.

• For the fundraising filmmaker, an obvious benefit is the ease at creating “New News” (previous Tip #34): We could film endless additional video updates from the various events the film was showing at and also make “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings” to show them the goods and create buzz. Because MY REINCARNATION was playing at festivals, there was plenty of news, but still the film’s potential of widespread commercial release could not be achieved without further financial help. So there was evidence of success, yet with a clear obstacle to distribution that begged for people’s support.

I am wary to suggest this as a new fundraising model for obvious reasons. The amount of risk to the filmmaker is extremely high: I mean what if you can’t make the costs in this late game effort? Who knows how many years the anxiety about paying off the film’s cost took off my life?

But dreaming into the future, could people “vote” with their pocketbook for the films they want to see once they are made in the same way they vote by buying a ticket to a movie theater. Of course, this is asking them to vote at a higher level then going to a matinee, but for niche films on rarely seen subjects, maybe people are willing to pay $100 or $200 for the price of admission. Just a thought…

On another level, the question is can you translate some of the advantages we had on our campaign to a film that is not yet finished? And like all fundraising efforts, how do you have the manpower or womanpower to launch a campaign of this magnitude while simultaneously finishing your film?


38. Create ‘Events’:

There are many ways you can create “Events” even if your film is not finished. Any way you can generate new compelling video that is under 5 minutes (and even better around 2-3 minutes) and can be uploaded onto YouTube, your website, your Facebook page, and your Kickstarter page, helps your campaign. Here are a few ideas that came to my mind (you will surely think of more):

• Just like we had “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings” of MY REINCARNATION during our Kickstarter campaign, you can have “Sneak Preview Excerpt Fundraising Screenings” or “Fundraising Soirées” in a host’s home. You can also show the trailer or scenes from the film to an invited group of potential contributors or just interested souls. The key is to videotape the event and then get people’s reaction to the clips they have seen on camera to create a new video post. If possible, another hook might be to ask the film’s subjects to appear at the event with you to talk about the film (depending on the subject matter).

• Honestly, neither of our Sneak Preview Fundraising Screenings generated much money. However, the video we created for the website – of me talking, the protagonist talking, and people’s reactions to what they saw – helped the Kickstarter campaign have life and credibility. From our analytics, we saw immediately that contributions rose when we posted these videos. Remember the Lemming Theory in Tip #30? People will be more likely to join your project and make a contribution if they hear others singing its praises. Any way you can get these video testimonies is worthwhile…

• You can also videotape discussions about the film in the edit room with your editor and yourself and post them.

• You can bring people into the edit room to screen parts of the film and tape their responses. Or ask them discuss the film’s important topic and it’s meaning for the world.

• You can ask your film’s current partners, who are already on board the project, to talk to camera about what they love about the film and why they are supporting it. Then edit that into a string of testimonies for the web.

• If you do any mid-game interviews with press, make sure you tape them and post on your website, your Facebook, your Kickstarter page.

• Tiny Note: My experience is that when you ask a TV station or a print interviewer for a copy of the interview you just did, they always promise to give to you and often never send it to you. My solution is to bring a small Flip camera everywhere and ask an assistant or intern to conveniently film you being filmed. (Make sure they stand as close as possible for sound.) This way you have the video even if the sound is not so good. You can always subtitle the tape if necessary.

39. It’s Not Over Till It’s Over….

As our last week countdown continued we kept up the pressure. It didn’t matter that by the Day 4 of the countdown we had achieved our second goal of $100,000. We had a third goal in the back of our minds since the very beginning: To raise monies for the films theatrical rollout in the USA, which would be another $40,000 - $70,000. So we kept going.

Part of our campaign plan was that in the last week we would post a written update every day. This took a lot of work, but we actually sat together as a team and outlined what topic I would write about each day in the last 5 days of the campaign. Again we had the idea that these letters had to be real pieces of writing and not just a reiteration of the financial appeal. For ideas we tried to draw on things that related to the film topic, Tibetan Buddhism, and to the film’s subjects, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his son. This outline was really helpful. We followed the same procedure as with all my posts. I drafted the letter and then they were passed to Katherine and Lisa to edit and then to Stefanie to do the layout and artwork and post on all sites, It was intense, but it worked, even while midweek I had to hop on a plane to the Krakow International Film Festival where the film was having it’s Polish premiere.

The last couple days we even posted several times a day on Facebook with the hour countdown, mimicking what was on our Kickstarter site. Meanwhile, other people around the world started posting the countdown as well. Pretty cool when you realize others are following the ball dropping on your campaign and urging people to join during the last minutes! I myself kept reaching out to people on Facebook from Krakow until the “0 Seconds Left” appeared on our site.

In fact, there was so much energy at the end of our campaign that people turned to our website to make donations when the Kickstarter site closed down. We got several contributions in the days that followed May 28th.

It’s a good thing for me, because now that we have raised our completion funds and made a dent into our next goal, our theatrical release, I plan to keep continuing the fundraising – off Kickstarter – to raise the remaining costs for our theatrical release starting this October in the USA. In fact, Stefanie just put up a new "Store" (which we will conintue to build) and "Donation" page on our site. But due to Kickstarter, we were able to hire our theatrical booker with the funds we have so far and have started to chart the campaign, including having booked the film’s theatrical opening in NYC. More details to follow. (You can continue to hear about all things related to MY REINCARNATION by signing up on our Mailing List for constant updates and to find out when the film will be at a theater near you.)

40. The “Tipping Point”:

For months I fantasized about that illusive thing called the “Tipping Point”. I wondered how to make it happen. Clearly all the things we did and all the waves that our work generated around the world inside of other people took hold in the last 4 days of the campaign and created a small Tsunami that blew the MY REINCARNATION campaign off the charts. In those last days we more than doubled what we had raised previously in 86 days of work.

Afterwards, people wrote me things like: “Watching the last days of the campaign was better than a good soap opera”; or “I couldn’t stop checking the numbers all day to see how much they rose by”; or “I kept meaning to donate earlier, but somehow I kept forgetting till now”; and “I didn’t plan to give that much, but I just did!” (Said by the woman who bought my beloved Tibetan chest for $7,000 on the last day of the campaign with 6 hours left to go.)

I’d like to tell you it was all the result of our careful engineering and planning, but that would be a lie. Having been making films for 30 years, I know that you can work just as hard as we did and create a carefully constructed campaign, with a lot of good press, and plod along fairly well, but never hit that illusive “tipping point”.

So, I have to go back to my old dad for wisdom on this one. He always told me that 60% of success in life is hard work, 10% is talent, and the rest is luck. I think he is right. After all is said and done, I think we had some of that luck on our side this time.


41. From Kickstarter to outreach and distribution…

One of the things that became very clear to me doing this campaign is that Kickstarter is a preparation for your basic outreach and distribution campaign in America.

• We now had 518 additional people invested in the film and in it’s success in the world.
• We had reinvigorated our previous partners through the campaign’s success.
• We had built our mailing list, adding new individual names and new related organizations across the country and the world.
• We had built up our facebook and twitter presence.
• We had gotten people hungry for the film’s release in their local.
• We had identified and begun to build partnerships with key organizations related to the film that we could draw on for the theatrical release.
• We had raised the name recognition of the film on the web and in the world through the campaign and through selective press.

The biggest thing is that going through this experience has built our own “chops” on how to run a campaign for this film and gotten us in fighting shape for the theatrical to come.

42. Delivery…

Ah delivery, the most unglamorous part of the campaign but the aspect that requires as much or more care. We have not actually delivered to our patrons yet, so there is a lot we still don’t know (perhaps another Kickstarter Update in a few months!). But there are a few things that we have thought about that you might want to consider:

First, just make sure you calculate the cost of Kickstarter, Amazon, the time of the people helping you and the costs and postage of delivering items properly. In my mind, I have made this to be about 15 - 20% of what you raise. In our case between, $22,500 – 30,000 out of the $150,000 we made towards the film. So what we will take away is somewhere around $125,000. Thinking about this ahead of time will help you set the right number goal for your project. But I think it is also important to let you backers know how much is the exact take-away from the campaign, so they understand what you might still need to raise, or why you may have to come back to them in the future. I haven’t yet figured out exactly how to “frame” this to contributors, but I am working on it now.

I think it is important to keep in touch with your patrons after the campaign ends, giving them updates on next steps and how the Incentives will be delivered and the future of the film. These people are your best friends in the march towards completion and getting the film into the world properly. They are your new expanded team, or, as I like to think of them, “Soldiers” for the film in the world. They have a vested interest in your film’s future, because it is now, in part, their film.

* * * * *


Kickstarter is an amazing process to go through. I highly recommend it for its potential monetary rewards, how it expands your network, and challenges your inner conceptions. I would do it again immediately with the right film project.

I do however, have to say one thing: All of us agonize about how to fund our films, and indeed it is a challenge. But sometimes it is easy to forget that the really difficult thing is not fundraising but making good films. Nothing compares to the challenge and the complexity of this unique art. With funding so scarce in America, it is easy to loose sight of this fact. Kickstarter is nothing compared with the task of making a well-crafted, surprising, valuable, enjoyable, emotional, eye-opening visual work that has the power to change the way people see themselves and the world. Let us all keep our eye on the ball as we journey forward!

Coming in the next weeks is a special post from the MY REINCARNATION team – Stefanie Diaz, Lisa Duva and Katherine Nolfi – filled with new wisdoms and perspectives on climbing the Kickstarter Mountain!




Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN and MY REINCARNATION. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot, THE GOOD EGG and is developing the feature script, THE HORSE'S TALE. She has executive produced many films, including LOVE & DIANE and ON THE ROPES. Fox is the film subject in: TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "PART 3: How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records"

Yesterday, the profoundly generous Jennifer Fox shared with us four more of the lessons she learned crowdfunding. This after a run two week's earlier where she shared a host of other (1st six here, next 14 here, next 9 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. Jennifer continues her path of profound generosity with another wave of the demystification wand to show how it was done. It is not magic; it's hard work -- but it can be done, and learned from. Read the next four today.

Here are the next 4 Tips of Kickstarter wisdom I learned along the MY REINCARNCATION crowd-funding path….

33. How Many Times Does It Take? The Rule of Three (at least):

For many years I heard distributors say that you have to hear the name of a film three times before you will go to see it in the movie theater (the same applies for purchasing any new product). I am not sure why this is the case, but the idea is that you have to have a new idea reinforced several times and several ways before you will take decisive action.

This is something I noticed over and over during the MY REINCARNATION campaign. People did not act the first time we sent them an announcement but somewhere down the line – email blast or Facebook Post number 3, 4, 5 or 6 (that they actually read) – they decided to become a patron. Of course this it totally different for those who have heard of the project before – like your long-suffering family and friends – who have been listening to you talk about your dear film ad nausea and make a donation if for no other reason than to have some peace and quiet.

But for strangers and for those who don’t have an emotional attachment to you, the key is to give reasons to keep reading, watching and considering the project so they can hear about it several times and pass their individual saturation point or “tipping point” to make a contribution. But to keep them engaged till they make their decision to become a patron, takes some work…

34. “If You Give, You Shall Receive”:

During the course of our Kickstarter campaign, I became so fired up with crowd-funding that I found myself really sympathetic to email appeals I received to help complete other films on both IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. I found myself making small (I am broke after all) $10 to $25 donations to other film projects I liked. What happened was surprising. Inevitably when I gave a donation to someone they made a donation back to our project. While we didn’t exactly make huge sums from this, it expanded the awareness of the project and they became part of the film’s community (see previous Tip #25). I found this very interesting.

It made me realize that another thing my Mother told me was true. When I was grown up, my Mom made a post motherhood career change to become a professional fundraiser for deafness research and created a foundation called NOHR (The National Organization for Hearing Research). She always said that it is important that she make donations to all her local charities and go to their events if she wants people to give to her foundation. I always found this idea strange, until I saw it happen on Kickstarter.

35. ‘New News’:

Previously I spoke about the idea that our team approached our Kickstarter campaign with the idea that there would be a “rollout” (see previous Tip #3), many people asked me what I meant by this.

A “rollout” means that you have to constantly create new reasons for people to keep checking your site and read your email blasts. This may not be so true on a shorter campaign but on a longer campaign like ours, which lasted 90 days, it becomes absolutely evident. So the question becomes: what new incentives are you giving your audience to continue their involvement or begin their involvement? I have already said in the previous post that fundraising is not a passive act (previous Tip #26); you must grab that potential patron’s attention.

Once you launch your Kickstarter campaign, the excitement of what you are offering – the new video appeal, all those new wonderful incentives – only lasts a certain while. I would give it about 10-days and then all that “newness” becomes old hat. After that you have to start adding “new news” to give people reasons to check your site and read your emails.

Of course one of the things you are giving people are your exciting written updates, that tell people about the film’s progress, campaign updates, and your life following the film’s development (which I have spoken intensively about in previous posts see Tip #14).

But I would say as a campaign goes on, you have to keep upping the ante, which means adding something new, every two weeks, then every week, then every day – until D-day. For our campaign the first thing we thought of is that we have to keep adding new video to our website and Facebook page regularly and point everyone to this video in every eblast we did on our own list as well as on the list serves of other organizations. These videos were created from every screening the film had at film festivals; a video series we created called O.F.F.’s (Outtakes from the Film), where we released various short clips (1.5 – 4 minutes) from the 1,000 hours of unused footage; two sneak preview screenings, one with protagonist Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in Melbourne, Australia, and another with the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City; photos from MY REINCARNATION events as I traveled around the world; and more video and audio interviews with me or the protagonists Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Khyentse Yeshe.

Late in our Kickstarter campaign, when we were searching for “new news”, we started to add new incentives to the original list. Posting photos and descriptions of these new beautiful, precious items day by day gave people a reason to keep checking our site. See the next Tip #35:

36. Late Game Discoveries –What We Wish We Knew 90 Days Earlier:

There are many things we learned in the last days of our campaign – approximately 6 days till D-Day – when desperation set in and we kicked into even higher gear. Some of the things are due to it being our first time out with such a high priced campaign, others are just about breaking those inner taboos that keep you from going all the way to exposing your financial need (and therefore vulnerability) to your friends, family and the world.

• Towards the end of the campaign, with 6 days to go, I realized we needed more medium priced incentives on the site. The lower priced incentives were selling, but some of the higher priced incentives remained and didn’t seem like they would go. I decided to try something new as I discussed in the previous tip. So I raided my house once again and brought out more Buddhist artwork – at lower price points – to add in several installments as new incentives to offer people to buy. The next day Stefanie took pictures and posted the photos, updated our Kickstarter incentive lists, and sent out my new email announcing these objects and suddenly the contributions rose again.


• Silly at it may seem, I was uncomfortable reaching out to the film’s protagonists Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Khyentse Yeshe for support. In fact, it was something I considered taboo for the duration of the Kickstarter campaign till the last days. There are many needs in a Buddhist community, and I didn’t want to ask for more help with something so superficial as a film fundraising campaign. I remember having a light bulb go off the same Sunday I raided my home. We were only at around $65,000 and I was wracking my brain how to move the campaign forward. I was nervous, but before going to bed, I wrote both Rinpoche, and Yeshi, who were both busy with heavy teaching schedules in Russia. I didn’t know if they would see the emails I sent them or even respond. The next morning I awoke to an email from Yeshi – donating a fantastic Buddhist statue – and then Rinpoche responded two days later offering a personal diamond ring to sell. We immediately posted pictures of the objects everywhere (in fact you can see the second one still up on our Kickstarter page now). These objects sent a clear message that the protagonist’s supported the film to the worldwide Buddhist communities that caused the contributions to go flying. Why people needed this sign, after the protagonists’ had given so many others – including letting me film them for 20 years and after the film was finished doing Q & A’s at screenings with me in different parts of the world – I don’t really know. It is one of the mysteries of human psychology. But certainly one of the many lessons is that people need constant evidence to keep donating to a long campaign like ours. In retrospect, I could have made this request sooner. But it also opened the idea of other contributions…

• In retrospect, I could have canvassed many people in the community and backers and asked them to donate personal items to the Kickstarter campaign. This would have allowed us to keep adding incentives and also to enroll more people in the effort without only asking for money.

• It wasn’t till the last week of our campaign that we realized that you could keep adding photos and video to our actual Kickstarter page. We always posted the visuals on Facebook and our website, but not on Kickstarter. Adding new visuals to the Kickstarter page each day in the last 5 day countdown made people come back to see what was “new” and they ended up contributing more.

• It’s amazing in the last days to realize the people you haven’t contacted about your Kickstarter campaign. One of my realizations came from yet another phone conversation with my mother, who was always trying to come up with new ideas to help me. She asked, “What about your high school? Have you announced the campaign to them?” No I hadn’t and I wish I had. I know it would have paid off. Same with your college class (I never graduated college so that was moot for me.) Any groups or organizations you have been part of – anytime during you entire life – are good candidates to tell about your film, since many still think filmmaking is glamorous and may very well enjoy being part of a film effort.

• The last day of the campaign I started to post individual messages on friends’ Facebook pages. This had enormous success and people contributed with hours to go. If I had to do it over again, I would have done this much sooner and more widespread. In fact, I would have slowly posted on all 3,500+ facebook friends I have built from the campaign of my last film. I wouldn’t make the posts obnoxious, just personal with a link to the MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter page.

• Beyond Facebook, I think I would have reached out to more individuals on our email lists and asked them personally for help in passing the word. We did a lot of mass mailings but the personal emails were harder to write. Yet often they are the most fruitful.

* * * * *
Next up is the last blog post with my remaining 6 Kick-Tips…



Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN and MY REINCARNATION. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot, THE GOOD EGG and is developing the feature script, THE HORSE'S TALE. She has executive produced many films, including LOVE & DIANE and ON THE ROPES. Fox is the film subject in: TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox “PART 2: How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records"

Two weeks ago Jennifer Fox shared with us some of the lessons she learned crowdfunding (1st six here, next 14 here, next 9 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. Jennifer continues her path of profound generosity with another wave of the demystification wand to show how it was done. It is not magic; it's hard work -- but it can be done, and learned from.

OK, so I promised one last Blog Post and this one has already morphed into three posts. But I swear that these last three posts are my last words of wisdom about Kickstarter for a while (the final words of a self avowed Kickstarter addict).

Before I take a break and move onto other subjects, I want to let you know that there is a fourth post coming down the pipeline from the MY REINCARNATION team – Stefanie, Katherine and Lisa – who are working on another article filled with their words of wisdom and perceptions of what they learned doing our campaign.

As you can see, the short form is not my strong suit. I am a serial storyteller, not one for getting it all down in one neat punch. To me, the dramatic structure of life is episodic, which is why I have always loved the serial form and have made two documentary series and am now preparing a fiction television series. Even the new feature I am writing is told in episodic chapters.

Crowd funding is the same. It is a series of small dramatic arcs climaxing in small successes (after those failures I mentioned in the previous post). It would be misleading to talk about a Kickstarter campaign like it was one big Hollywood blockbuster. So here are the next 4 Tips, with 9 more coming, consisting of a lot of small dramas:


30. “The Lemming theory” Meets “The Power Of One”:

Everything I know about fundraising and distribution comes from my not so original, “Lemming Theory”. Human beings want to follow. So if the campaign is doing badly, people stay away but if those numbers are rising, people want to jump on the boat. Before people choose to support you they want to know the crowd is already voting for your project. No one except your mother or your father – and perhaps but not for sure, your lover/wife/husband – will back you without evidence. The “Lemming Theory” means that most people don’t want to be the first one to take the lead.

So how does anything ever happen in the world, if no one wants to stand out? A crowd doesn’t magically form. Usually it takes one courageous person who is respected – in the community or communities that the film addresses – to stand up for your project. Then other people see that individual, figure things are “safe”, and start to join in. That means that you, as the campaign team, are always searching for “key people” to embrace your film or your campaign and lead the way. And usually, it is a series of “Ones’”, over the course of the campaign that will get the project funded.

In fact, when you get many key individuals standing up, that is when the crowd turns into a stampede. (That is what happened in the last days of our campaign when donations suddenly went crazy, but more on that in the coming post Tip #40). To be clear, these key individuals are not necessarily famous people, although they can be since they have a lot of that “respect factor”, it depends on the project. But they are people who are trusted in the community that you are reaching out to for funding. Sometimes too, when you cast a wide net, people unknown to you turn up and embrace your campaign and lead the charge…

31. Team Web – Spreading Your Reach through People and Press:

There are many reasons to build a Kickstarter team (see previous Post #1 and previous Tip #2). Besides handling the sheer volume of Kickstarter work, a team expands your idea base, and also your contact base. As I have mentioned earlier, our core MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter team consists of Stefanie, Katherine and Lisa – each bringing different skills and experience to the campaign.

At the beginning of setting up our campaign, Katherine, suggested we write down all our existing film partners and contact them to see if they would help in spreading the word about the campaign. It was a given that we would engage the Buddhist Community of the film protagonist, Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, and his son, Khyentse Yeshe, with whom I have good contact. (This is the key benefit to having a niche audience as I discussed in the previous Tip #22.) But we were also looking for some traction in a wider circle of people than the obvious ones we knew.

Our Executive Producers and Funders were the first people we contacted about our plan. Perhaps wrongly we did not engage our European film partners at this level, since crowd funding is still new in Europe. (In retrospect, why not? They might have made good outreach in their communities. Oh well, next time…)

Interestingly some of our partners and EP’s took no interest in our fundraising project. They adopted the attitude that they had helped the film enough already and my current financial crisis was my problem, which is fair enough. Others like Executive Producer, Dan Cogen, from IMPACT PARTNERS, became a real source of support, blasting news of our campaign, Sneak Preview Screenings, and answering email questions immediately no matter how busy. One of many examples of his help relates directly to this post.



In a late a game brainstorming session – after we had met our original goal of $50,000 but were trying to make $100,000 – our team was discussing strategies of how to push the campaign forward. Among the many ideas, Lisa suggested that we needed to get people writing about our campaign. We discussed trying to get someone to write about our campaign at the Huffington Post. Lisa loves the blog “Hope for Film” and thought we should contact Ted Hope, whom none of us knew except by reputation. She set about searching the web for his contact address, but came up with nothing. Then I found him on Facebook, wrote him, but no reply. On a lark, I emailed EP Dan to see if he knew Ted, and indeed he did and immediately wrote him, pitching the story of our campaign, which led to our first Blog Post on the site. What I didn’t know is that now Ted would also become a strong supporter of our efforts and keep publishing our story as it spread to three blog posts and now five.

Another example of how your team can help expand your contacts is the way we were able to connect with the Rubin Museum of Art and the programmer Tim McHenry. We were looking for a place to do a “Sneak Preview Fundraising Screening” in NYC but were afraid of the costs. The Rubin Museum came up but I knew no one there. I put the word out to the Buddhist community and one of our big community supporters in Massachusetts, named Anna, came to the rescue with a name, which she contacted for me and then passed to me. Once I reached out to the person at the Rubin, the ball was in play, and she passed us to Tim, who viewed the film quickly, loved it and offered to host the screening. The Rubin also has a press office that went to work for the event. There were several journalists who came to that screening, most agreed to hold their articles till the film would be released. But also at the screening was someone from the Religion Department of the Huffington Post, who afterwards expressed interest to Stefanie that I write a blog. I did so and it was published five days before the end of the campaign, called, “Buddhist Samaya and the Making of ‘MY REINCARNATION’”. So another idea of Lisa’s was realized.

This is how “Team Web” works, everyone on your team – from the current team to all those you have partnered with during all phases of the making of the film – if contacted and enrolled in the effort can spread your reach exponentially in ways that you never could have dreamed when you started. Every person on your team is like the center of the web with endless potential contacts.




32. Blanche Dubois & Depending On The Kindness of Strangers:

While the above stories are perfect examples of getting help from people you know, the Blanche Dubois axiom is about the unexpected support that can come your way. Many people along the campaign heard about the film and our need to complete the funding and took up the cause of raising funds as their own. This is where the web is truly a miraculous tool to reaching out and connecting with like-minded strangers.

One woman in Italy – named Frauke – who couldn’t afford to donate, emailed me that she wanted to help our cause. Then another person from Argentina – Raul – wrote me the same thing, asking if he could translate our Kickstarter page into Spanish. Both criticized some of our message, saying it was hard for people outside the US to understand what crowd funding was. They asked us to make it clearer and better. At first I was pissed off. I stalled them both. People wanting to help seemed just like more problems to me.

Quite honestly in the beginning I was afraid of these offers. I thought, “I don’t know this person, the Buddhist community is a bit tricky, what if he or she writes the wrong thing...?” I have always been quite protective of my projects, working by that old axiom, ‘too many cooks spoil the pudding’. But Kickstarter was busting all of my other notions, why not this one. I knew we needed more traction in the world, so I gave them rein. I did communicate with them about the importance of what was written about the fundraising. Sometimes I had to say no to some of their ideas. For example, Frauke asked me to get the film protagonist Chögyal Namkhai Norbu to write an endorsement of the film, but I didn’t want to bother him with this, which seemed too pushy, but we were able to quote something he said at the fundraising screening of the film in Melbourne, which seemed to work as well.

Suddenly everywhere on Facebook were posts from Frauke or Raul. It was strange but glorious, because we didn’t have to do the work. Our reach expanded and I loosened up a bit. Others offered help. A German woman, Christiana, wrote me, worried that the shipping of single DVD’s to Europe made them too costly (One of our incentives was a 2012 Commercial DVD pre-sale). She asked if she could collect monies for the Commercial DVDs and make one big donation, but then have one person bring them all to Europe. I said fine not thinking too much about it, when three weeks later she wrote that she had pre-sold DVD’s to the tune of $6,300, could she make one large donation to the site? I said yes, floored. When a $10,000 came on the last day – the donor wrote us that she represented 60 people in China who had pooled their monies to make one large contribution! Oh Blanche, it’s a shame you never knew about the web!

* * * * *

Stay Tuned for the Next Two Parts with 9 more Kick-Tips…

Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN and MY REINCARNATION. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot, THE GOOD EGG and is developing the feature script, THE HORSE'S TALE. She has executive produced many films, including LOVE & DIANE and ON THE ROPES. Fox is the film subject in: TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records & Raised $150,000"

Two weeks ago Jennifer Fox shared with us some of the lessons she learned crowdfunding (1st six here, next 14 here). Since then, she has gone down in the record books for both the number of donations and the amount thereof. If they gave records for quality as well as quantity she probably would have gotten those too. Jennifer continues her path of profound generosity with another wave of the demystification wand to show how it was done. It is not magic; it's hard work -- but it can be done, and learned from. The best part is, this ain't all. There's still more coming next week! Thanks Jennifer.

It was only last week, but I have to admit: I have a bit of nostalgia for those heady last days of our Kickstarter campaign. Now when I open up my computer and press gmail, I stare at the few new emails despondently. I wonder if I will ever wake up again to hundreds of Kickstarter messages on my computer screen announcing donations. Even our supporters have written to say they miss the daily excitement of checking our site to see if – and by how much – the dollars rose.

I am reminded of something one of the protagonists of MY REINCARNATION and son of Namkhai Norbu, Khyentse Yeshe, said to me in an interview once:

“Whenever you try to do something difficult, you fail and fail and fail, until you succeed.”

When Yeshi first said this, I didn’t relate at all. The word “failure” is very un-American. In fact it is something almost extinct from the American business and political vocabulary. (Have you ever noticed that no American president has ever failed at anything?) But Yeshi is Italian and being so he is more comfortable with a wider spectrum of experience. The more I thought about what he was saying, the more I realized he was right. It is a very good description of our Kickstarter campaign: We failed and failed until we succeeded (at the first goal $50,000) and then we failed again and again until we succeeded and surpassed our second goal of $100,000. The main thing we did as a team was to take our failures as key pieces of information, pointing us towards what to work on next.

Midway through our campaign my cousin, Ken, sent me an article from Tech Crunch, spouting the success of the new crowd-funding platform, but also stating that 43% of the Kickstarter projects fail and never reach their goal. Reflecting on this together in our team helped us recognize some of the pitfalls when we hit them, and change course so we could ultimately succeed.

Now that the dust has settled, here are our 9 additional tips (13 more to come) that we learned doing our campaign to add to our previous 20 (from “Hope for Film” Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3):

21. Kickstarter Is Not For Sissies:

No one can prepare you for the amount of work a Kickstarter campaign involves. Don’t start your campaign until you make the time, mental space and have enough pressure on yourself (meaning financial need) to do so. No one fundraises because they have nothing else to do.

It is the same advice I give to young documentary filmmakers when they ask me should they make their new film idea?  I always say, “If you can walk away from an idea, do so immediately, because making films is too hard. Only make the film that you can’t walk away from…”

Same with Kickstarter, if you have any other means to raise money, do so, because it will be easier. Kickstarter is all encompassing. You have to be ready to make your campaign your J-O-B.


22. Not Every Film Is A Kickstarter:

One of the first questions a journalist asked me at the end of our campaign was: Is every film right for Kickstarter? The answer is absolutely not. But evaluating what will be successful on Kickstarter is probably very different from the way most broadcasters or distributors evaluate a potential film.

Kickstarter definitely works best when a clear-targeted audience can be identified for the project, classically called “niche audiences.” These audiences are perfect for web based projects because ostensibly you can identify and reach out to every person with similar interest around the world. Niche audiences tend to be very devoted to their subject and therefore passionate about wanting to see a film about their issue, subject, pastime, or obsession.

In our case, the film MY REINCARNATION works on two basic levels: First, it is a classic father-son story, that everyone can recognize, which is why many broadcasters have already signed on to air it. But this is too general for web-based fundraising; you can’t find that group and target it (because it’s everyone).  So in this case, the second storyline is crucial: Since the film is about a Tibetan Buddhist father and son, the Tibetan Buddhists were an obvious niche to target.

But unbeknownst to many outsiders, the Tibetan Buddhist community is not one entity. It is divided into little groups of supporters backing each school and teacher.  It is hard to get those not directly connected to a teacher or school to support a project outside of their frame.  We had to start shifting our campaign and write each sub-group differently to address this problem. We positioned the film as a film for all Buddhists, in any school, in fact, anyone interested in religion. Get to know the sub-groups within your niche and experiment with the language that best speaks to each group within the larger whole.

23. The Magic Number:

Our team agonized over how much we could succeed in raising for MY REINCARNATION. The fact that you don’t get your funds unless you make your goal loomed heavily. We knew that most people seemed to set their target between $3,000 and $15,000 on the site. But we had a huge deficit ($100,000) and this was our last ditch effort to reduce it. If we set the goal too low, it would only be a drop in the bucket. On the other hand, if we set the goal too high, we might not get any funding at all.  We estimated that we could comfortably raise $30,000, so we pushed up the tension and put our goal at $50,000.

Once we made the $50,000 goal in half the time (46 days out of 90) we felt safe, no matter what we would get the donations, but then we had another problem: How to reset the goal to keep going?  First thing we did was put new copy on the front page saying the new goal was $100,000.  But that raised a credibility issue.  Some who previously donated wrote to me and asked why we needed more? 

In reality, we had always written that we needed to raise $100,000, but were only going for half.  We even said that in a perfect world we needed to raise $140,000 to 170,000 to include US theatrical distribution.  But that didn’t register to many of the people donating.  It took a lot of emailing and Kickstarter Updates to clearly explain the situation. I would say the campaign lagged for a while as it turned this bend and we had to work very hard to reset people’s minds toward the project.

24. How Many"Web-Days" Is Right For Your Campaign?
:

Another nice fact I learned after we finished our campaign came from one of the Kickstarter staff members, asking me why we decided to set our time limit at 90 days. She wrote:

“90-day campaigns actually have the lowest success rate of all durations (with about 30 days typically being the most successful). How did you find that 90-day duration to work for you?”

This is a perfect example of naiveté working for us. Our team didn’t realize that shorter durations have higher success rates. We were still in the old model: More time is more opportunity. We thought that $50,000 is a lot of money to raise and we were afraid of the time pressure. Our longer campaign did give us time to reset the goal midway after achieving our stated amount of $50,00 to $100,000 and then to find a way to lead people to picking up the challenge a second time. But it was just that – almost like two campaigns.

What I learned (see previous Tip # 20) is that web time expands in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Ninety days could have been a year the way we lived it, how hard we worked, and the amount we accomplished.  To function a campaign has to keep momentum, which is why less time is easier to handle and stay strong.  Human beings want to follow.  If the campaign is doing badly, people stay away.  But if they see the numbers rising, they want to jump on the boat. Better to have a short fast-rising campaign than a long campaign that moves little.  The time limit pushes people to make a decision.  Push the people closest to you to act quickly and to help the ball rolling as soon as possible.

25. Define Your Real Goals – It’s Not Just About Money:

When we started this campaign, if you asked me what I wanted from potential supporters, I would have bristled and said, “Their money, stupid!” But I have to say as the campaign evolved, I realized I wanted and needed more than just money from contributors.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we developed the idea of a donor level called, Outreach Partner (previous Tip #15) for people who couldn’t give any more than $1. In the beginning we thought that many people who can’t give money, can get involved by blasting their friends.  Later, I realized we wanted everyone to do this, and in fact giving more money sometimes made people more invested in the project than those who couldn’t give much.  So now, in the aftermath of Kickstarter I would say I have different goals. I want contributors:

– To participate in the campaign in every way they feel they can.
– To feel they have a stake in the film achieving it’s fundraising goal.
– To take up the cause of the film and the message of the film as their own by passing the news about it onto their friends, relatives, co-workers, the world…
– To care enough about the film to donate more than once (if necessary to make the goal and they can afford to do so.)
– To become a soldier for the future of the film, so when the film goes into distribution, the person wants to help it get out in the world (see next post’s Tip #41).

26. Fundraising Is Not A Passive Act:

This might seem obvious but I have started to notice the number of organizations that have the button “Please Donate” on their website. It is sort of the “flypaper” approach: if someone passes by, they may get caught. In a modern world, where our attention is being competed for from everyone and everywhere, I doubt many people just happen to press that “donate” button. Do you?

Running a Kickstarter campaign has made me realize that fundraising only works if you actively go out to the potential donors and grab their attention by talking to them directly in a compelling way, whether virtually via email, facebook, twitter, by phone or Skype or god forbid, in person.

While doing MY REINCARNATION, I donated to a few other campaigns, but sometimes when I read their Kickstarter updates, I wanted to write back to them and ask: “Do you think that post makes me want to engage more? Does it make me donate a second time?” I remember reading one filmmaker’s update, announcing the campaign had made their goal, but that with 3 days left to spare, it was still possible to donate again. There was nothing in the letter about why I should give more: What would it buy the film? Why would it make me feel better than I did the first time I donated? I didn’t anti up nor did many others. If there is nothing for me to gain – either through what I will tangibly get, or as a Patron of the arts, in my desire to help get the film further, I will never give again.


27. Words Are Everything – What Is Your Message?:

In our team, we constantly evaluated our success and changed direction from each evaluation. One of the very simple things we did was evolve and adapt the way we wrote about the film in response to what we learned. We kept rewriting and rewriting our pitches to hone in on what worked. We also wrote different pitches for different audiences – Buddhist, Filmmakers, and General/Family population.  From years of watching political campaigns and my own experience with fundraising, I learned that words are everything.

In the middle of our campaign, I was at my brother’s Passover with my cousin Ken, a successful entrepreneur (the same one who afterwards sent me the Kickstarter business article mentioned earlier). I overheard him talking to my Uncle about this crazy new company that was making millions, getting people to give them money without any equity in the final product. He spoke about it like a Ponzi scheme. To my surprise, he was talking about Kickstarter. Of course, as an artist I never saw crowd-funding this way. Artists throughout history have survived through patrons; Kickstarter, and platforms like it, are modern, democratic forms of arts patronage where people donate money to get art made. But listening to the way my cousin saw it made me realize that one of the key hurdles of any crowd-funding campaign is to figure out how to frame the request.

I slowly began to realize that the word “donation” was the wrong word to use in a campaign like this. First we changed the word to “Support,” but even that was not far enough.  Finally, we changed it to “Participate.”

It must be clear that you are making an exchange with your supporters: they give you money and you give them back something of equal value. The question to consider is exactly what are you giving back?

28. Start With The SUBJECT of Your Email:

If your emails aren’t being read, you don’t have a prayer in hell of doing an Eblast, list-serve, based campaign. One of the things I started to think about is what gets me to open an email.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I only open mass mailings when I think I will receive something: perhaps a new idea, new video tidbit, new advice, new stories, etc.  I noticed the emails I don’t open are those that say “UPDATE” or “March News” or “Bulletin #23.”  The description in the SUBJECT of your mass email matters.  It had better be interesting; we all know how little time each of has to read our 6,482 emails per day.

What makes a sexy SUBJECT heading? That of course depends on your film and your target audience. But it is worth thinking about it with the same concern you think about your film’s title.  There are many ways to hook someone’s attention: A SUBJECT can be so strange that you want to open it up to see what’s behind it or it can promise something inside that the reader wants to read or see. The imagination is limitless.  Also beware that a good SUBJECT can be right for one target group and not another, so tailor as you go.

There’s a simple test to see how well your SUBJECT headings are doing. Most mass email services (we use Vertical Response) have an analytic report where you can see how many emails have been opened and which links have been pressed.  It’s good to get in the habit of using this as a way to get feedback so you can up your game.


29. So What Are People Really Getting From Participating in Your Campaign?:

I really believe success depends on reframing the campaign from “taking” to “giving.” First, you select and curate “incentives” which are gifts that correspond to each donation level and to the film itself. (See previous Tip #6). This of course gives the contributor the feeling that he will receive something concrete. However, this is only the tangible thing people “get” from your campaign – and I would argue less important. There are so many intangible things people receive from being part of your film’s Kickstarter Campaign. I think it is important to be aware of them, so you can build them in your offer:

– They become part of an artistic endeavor outside of their normal life. One German man wrote me that as a tax accountant he felt little creative excitement in his life.  Suddenly, participating in our film, he felt a lot of newfound creative joy. He became very active on our Kickstarter, donated three times, blasted his friends, sent out a mass email urging all who had previously given to double their donations, and came to a screening at the Munich Film Festival and met me.

– One of the things donors “get” is contact with the creator. I wrote personal mails to everyone, especially in the first three-quarters of the campaign. We corresponded often throughout the campaign. Since I was traveling I encouraged people to come to screenings in their territory and introduce themselves.

– In a world that is increasingly disenfranchised, supporters get to join a team or group that has similar values to them.  They become part of a community doing something good for the world.

– Supporters are able to get their political and social values out into the world in the form of the film. They no longer feel invisible and ineffective as many do in the modern experience.  If the film succeeds, they have succeeded too.

– Many talk about offering donors the chance to participate in the glitz of filmmaking by getting their name on a film, being invited to a screening, and meeting the filmmaker. The glitz seems less important than I would have thought, but nevertheless it is one of the incentives.

Giving something back is also the reason why I began to write longer, more serious posts. I tried to write stories that let people into the filmmaking, fundraising, distribution, and festival process. Little written gifts to thank people for participating in our journey.

Every project is different, but the key is to begin to identify what you are giving so that you can frame your campaign that way. No one wants to give without getting back. Too often in fundraising campaigns, we appeal to people’s selflessness, which rarely works. Even on a Buddhist film! What does work is appealing to their positive needs and positive desires.

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Stayed tuned for the next – and I will try to make the last – 13 Tips for making a kick-ass Kickstarter Campaign!


-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an award-winning filmmaker and educator known for her ground-breaking features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN and MY REINCARNATION. She recently co-wrote the half hour television pilot, THE GOOD EGG and is developing the feature script, THE HORSE'S TALE. She has executive produced many films, including LOVE & DIANE and ON THE ROPES. Fox is the film subject in: TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "The Next 14 Things I Learned From Our Six-Figure Kickstarter Campaign"

Yesterday, Jennifer Fox shared with us six things she recommends doing BEFORE launching a Kickstarter campaign. Today she brings the list up to twenty. She's giving us a lot. She's got a few days left on her campaign. Perhaps you can give back?

The campaign continues and we keep marching forward. There’s nothing like this excitement as we approach our 90-day goal! Doing Kickstarter is not just about the work, but it’s also about creating that right frame of mind. Here are some more tips my team and I have gathered during the last 85 days campaign of Kickstarting:

7. Write, Write, And Write:

As you may have noticed, my writing style can be a bit longwinded. Early on in the process, I would send my eblasts to my team to edit. We thought one page max – so they cut and cut. Then we noticed that we were receiving the most donations following longer, more personal messages. They received overwhelmingly positive feedback. What at first seemed like a weakness, turned out to be one of our strongest tools. Writing became fun. As some of you may know, being on the road with a film can be the one of the most uncreative jobs one does over the course of film. But suddenly, writing these weekly Kickstarter updates and email blasts became a creative outlet for me. That leads us to #8:

8. Turn Your Negatives Into Positives:

I think the key to any creative producing is to turn your circumstances into strengths. In our case, we were really worried that the film was already screening on the festival circuit. I couldn’t change that, so I used it as an excuse to make regular video updates for our website, eblasts and pitches. The other thing I started to do, which I would have never thought appropriate, was talk about our fundraising campaign during every MY REINCARNATIONfestival screening. Here is an example of one video (Part 2 of 2) we posted from the film festival in Singapore. We made postcards with the Kickstarter pitch on one side and the film’s artwork on the other. I hand them out at every screening. I aso privately ask festival programmers to ask me a question on stage about financing during the Q & A, giving me an opportunity to talk about the campaign. I always try to have one of my postcards conveniently in my hand to wave at the audience to remind them! Most of you reading this will not have to raise funds for a completed film that is already touring. But wherever you are in the process, try to use that place to generate stories and images to support your campaign.

9. Evaluate Your Email List.

Thanks to Peter Broderick and many others, every filmmaker should know that you need to build a mailing list to survive as an independent in America. We already had a 7,000-person mailing list built during the theatrical campaign for my previous film, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. The problem was that it was not exactly the right list for a Buddhist film! So we had to work hard to broaden that list.

10. Build your mailing list.

Everyone tells you to have people sign up for your mailing list on your website. But I have found that very few people do this. Most people prefer to get film updates from our Facebook page (which we post to frequently). However, many people are not on Facebook, especially the older generation. Building an email list requires active, ongoing work. We ask people to sign up on our website, get names from festivals goers, and as with the NYC Sneak Preview Screening, gather all ticket buyers’ emails addresses. (It is important when making deals with venues to try to get them to agree to this as the Rubin Museum of Art did prior to making a screening agreement.) In addition, we actively built our US mailing list by researching every Buddhist, spiritual, Tibetan, New Age, religious and family organization on the web. We are still building that email list now. When we have the time, we make phone calls to organizations to get them to personally connect with the film and share information about our Kickstarter site with their members.

11. Reach out to Appropriate Partners to Help Blast for your Campaign / Befriend the Tastemakers

The first tier we reached out to were listserves connected to the students of the film’s protagonist, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Rinpoche has centers around the world, so we regularly write new, special updates to be blasted to their membership. These letters are less chatty than the ones I send to the general mailing list or post for our Kickstarter patrons. In these letters, we always try to have additional information – such as upcoming festivals or new video clips – so that it is not just another request to donate. We started a web series called OUTTAKES FROM THE FILM (O.F.F.) that we edit and post online and in our Buddhist eblasts to give those communities new video to enjoy and entice them to become more involved with the project. So far we have posted five O.F.F.’s. They have helped assuage Buddhist students around the world, who are anxiously waiting to see MY REINCARNATION and are not so happy that they have to wait for the distribution rollout. The other thing we did – but could only do with the Sneak Preview NYC Fundraising screening – was offer incentives to appropriate organizations to blast their membership on behalf of our campaign. We gave the heads of each organization a free ticket to the screening in exchange for sending out an announcement. And of course, this is laying the groundwork for establishing partners and building and audience for the film down the line.

12. Use Web 2.0: Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers…

This is absolutely obvious in today’s world, but we are posting updates on social networking sites many times a week. We work hard to build up our Facebook and Twitter pages daily. We also post on other organizations’ and individuals’ pages and walls – searching for related topics like “Buddhism,” “Tibet,” “Spirituality,” “Religion,” and “Yoga” – with information about the Kickstarter campaign, new videos, incentives and screenings.

13. Blast Often, Regularly, and Best at the Beginning of the Week

Get those eblasts out on Monday or Tuesday. Later in the week they get lost in people’s over-loaded inboxes. It’s important to keep up the pressure. It’s hard to know what the “tipping point” is for someone to make a donation. It can be the first letter or the twentieth letter that brings them over to the Kickstarter site.

14. Write Personal Letters and Ask Questions

When I write my patrons back on Kickstarter, thanking them for their donations, I ask them where they heard about the campaign. I often get answers back proving the wide reach of the campaign. By asking questions you engage your patrons’ participation. In a post to the entire group, I asked for advice on how to get the message out and I got several good solutions, one of which was to improve our web page and clarify some of the writing. Three of our patrons decided to make it their personal hobby to help get the word out and have been eblasting and working the web. One person wrote a letter on Kickstarter asking everyone to double their donations and several people responded by doing so. When I get an interesting letter, I often post it in an update. It takes a village and this is a community movement.

15. Widen Your Team:

Since many people in the Buddhist Community do not have much disposable income, we wanted to make one of our incentives non-monetary. We created the first level incentive – “Outreach Partner” – at a donation level of $1 for people who want to get involved by spreading the word about the campaign and the film. By spreading the word, they get their name on our “Donor’s Wall” on our website. In fact, every level of donation, large or small gets their name on our “Donor’s Wall,” giving an immediate level of gratification like having your name in the film’s credits.

16. Cultivate A Positive Attitude:

No one asked you to be an artist in the most expensive art form in history. Being a filmmaker is a privilege. Have perspective; some people have “real” jobs. Having to raise funds is a rite of passage. Try to find a way to frame the campaign as fun, playful, and joyous. This is where building a team (Tip #2) really helps. Laughter is key.

17. Stay Away From People Who Are Negative About Fundraising.

There are always people who think asking for money abhorrent and will find all sorts ways to pull you down. Don’t let them inside your head. They can still be friends or lovers, but it’s better to avoid the subject around them. But don’t forget about # 18:

18. Be Aware Of Cultural Differences.

Crowd funding is a very American way to raise money that may seem strange to many outside our borders (although it is slowly coming to Europe). Be ready to explain the system, and back off when your “go-get-em” attitude is too much. We were semi-blacklisted from one main international Buddhist listserve, because the manager felt I was asking for money too much. Rather than confront him and risk being kicked off that site forever, we broke up the territories and tried to get on individual country’s Buddhist listserves. Not as effective, but better than nothing. In certain countries – such as Singapore – donors prefer to give cash or checks than to donate on the Internet. So, we have also accepted some cash donations…

19. Go Beyond Your Limits

Every step of the way on this journey, I have had to go beyond my comfort zone to publicly ask for money: on the web, in emails, in person, on stage – over and over again. At every point, I have had to push through my reticence, fear and a general “I just don’t want to do it again!” attitude. Facing these inner demons is necessary if you are going do this type of campaign. Forgive me, but once again there is a Buddhist teaching in this! We all fear being the fool and being foolish. Believe me, crowd-funding certainly pushes those buttons, but it also requires you to let go and not listen to your ego so much…

My motto is, “Never say die!” Despite years of experience facing rejection, it can still be hard to pick yourself up each time. Somehow we have to find a way not to take rejection personally and move on. Of course, with some potential funders, you just have to give up, back off, and try somewhere else. But I am often reminded of something my Father said when I was making my first film, BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, “No is never no, it’s just maybe.” A person, who says no today, may still say yes tomorrow. If you give them new evidence to change their mind, they often do.

20. Be ready – to be absorbed. It is a full-time job.

I couldn’t have imagined how much work a Kickstarter campaign is. I have had many sleepless night thinking about how we could achieve our goal, but I have also felt enormous glee when a wave of donors contribute. It has been a huge learning experience that I suspect has changed me for the better. I’ve come to realize that time moves differently on the web. When we started, I thought 90 days would never be enough to achieve our goal. But then I noticed how many unique things could happen in 24 hours. Every day provided opportunities to reach out to people. Everyday people wrote us. Most days at least one person (and often more than one) joined the campaign from somewhere new. Even on Sundays. The campaign has shown me how a time limit can work for you. Today is day 84 in our campaign and it seems like I have been doing this for a lifetime.

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In my next post, I’ll talk about how Kickstarter Campaigns create communities that dovetail into distribution and outreach campaigns. I’ll also share important information about the positive things people receive from participating in Kickstarter campaigns: a crucial thing to understand to properly craft a campaign.

Stay Tuned as we countdown towards D-Day… Our Campaign ends on May 28th and we are still hustling to get to those 6 figures!

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced many award winning films, including LOVE & DIANE, ON THE ROPES and UPSTATE. She teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally at institutions such as New York University, the Binger Lab in Amsterdam, the University of Zurich and many others.

Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "The First 6 Tips For Launching A Six-Figure Kickstarter Campaign

Last week Jennifer Fox shared with us her 22 year process to getting her latest film made. Today, she share what she has learned about aiming for a six figure raise on Kickstarter. Will she make it? Well, it all starts with you.... Make it happen. I contributed. And now she's giving back to the community -- perhaps you can complete the karmic chain and give to her. There's less than five days left!

The first thing everyone will tell you about a Kickstarter campaign is Tip #1: Reach out to your family. I must say this is not news to me. I have been reaching out to my parents all my life, long before Kickstarter. The older I get, the more I wonder if I could have lived such a high-risk artist’s life without their support. To give you just one example: when I dropped out of NYU film school at age 21, after only one year, to shoot a film in the war in Lebanon, they didn’t blink an eye. When I made a six-hour series on my sex life (and the lives of other women including those in my family), instead of disowning me, they came to the Sundance Film Festival and did a Q & A with me on stage. My parents always had a unique vision: My mom was a professional musician who loved art, film and theater, who would only give me blank sheets of paper to draw on as a child (no coloring books) – so that I would develop my creativity. My dad, who was a homebuilder and businessman, regaled us with the joys of entrepreneurship at the dining room table each night, the way some fathers talk about baseball. They succeeded in instilling in me a profound belief in my own creative vision, something that is very hard to teach. I often wish I could rent my parents out to my film students. In retrospect, that I am a film Director/Producer is just a neat amalgam of their passions.

My Jewish parents have a very hardy approach to life – neither of them has a penchant for wallowing in emotions (like I do); they are big believers in “ good attitude”. This has rubbed off on me despite my own tendencies. From them, I have learned that attitude and passion are what sell. I often hear film directors say how much they hate fundraising. The problem is that someone who hates what he or she is doing moves no one. From my parents, I learned to check my attitude when setting out to do something and if it isn’t positive I try to reframe it. And if it slips, as it always does, I reframe it again. Granted this is a very American, Reganesque approach, but there are things to take from everywhere. If you are going to be a filmmaker – particularly in America – you’d better figure out how to find joy and creativity in raising funds. From my Mom, I love creating and directing films but from my Dad, I love the challenge of figuring out how to fund something that no one thinks they want – only to discover that it is what they need. Making films for so many years, I learned that you don’t have to ‘win’ all the time, only a percentage. Every film that I have ever made has a drawer full of rejections. Perhaps I am negatively motivated, but those rejections often spur me to prove the world wrong. And again perversely I find this kind of fun….

Our team is now on Day 85 of our 90 day Kickstarter Campaign. There is a lot we’ve discovered and are still discovering. Like all creative endeavors, fundraising is a “process” that evolves and develops as you do it. Here are 6 of our top 20 tips so far. Some of them are about the actual work and some are more about what I would call, “psychological warfare”, so necessary for the game:

1. Reach Out to Family and Friends:

Unlike what many will tell you, I must say that for me family (and friends) are more about getting emotional support than money, necessarily. It is very dicey to ask people you know and love to give you their hard earned funds. I had some friends tell me that they felt offended that I was emailing them about our campaign. Discussing this with them led to some very interesting insights about why I feel this is a democratic and legitimate way to support the arts. But I am not here to proselytize. I immediately backed off. In a way what they are saying is true: they don’t ask me to fund their passion, why should I ask them to fund mine? However, that’s not exactly how I see it: I believe that the film project, MY REINCARNATION, has a greater good for humanity and is a contribution to people’s lives. Hence, it must be seen and is worth funding…

2. Build a Team:

Filmmaking is a collaborative experience, but so is fundraising. It takes a lot of brainstorming and thinking out of the box. It takes multiple skills that one person rarely has all of. Without a team you just can’t get the traction and the reach into the world (see previous post). But also it helps with the fear factor. I don’t know about you, but this kind of public fundraising scares the shit out of me. My team keeps me from losing it. Having a team is also essential for Tip #3 (and Tip #16 in the next post):

3. Brainstorm the Campaign as a Rollout with Different Phases:

Our team, Katherine Nolfi, Lisa Duva, Stefanie Diaz and myself, discussed how the campaign would start – rather simply – and how we would keep rolling out new facets over time. We knew this had to be an international campaign since the film’s subjects are international and the Buddhism has an international reach. This meant that everything we did had to be done for the USA and abroad, often country by country. This included building email lists, adding new incentives, and creating regular new videos for our website, facebook and twitter that could be linked with our consistent updates on Kickstarter. We saw our campaign as having three initiatives: the web campaign; seeking out and approaching larger private donors to become Producers, and setting up “Sneak Preview Benefit Screenings” in key locations (so far we have held screenings in Melbourne and New York City). The screenings were part of our plan because we had a unique problem: we were fundraising for a film that was technically finished, but that no one had seen. We hypothesized that people might need to see the finished film to give it money. In the end, festivals also helped on this account (see the next post, Tip #8). But I also learned that the film's trailer was often enough for people as in point #4…

4. Make a Good Trailer:

Of course “make a great trailer” is common wisdom for any kind of film fundraising. However, MY REINCARNATION was such a difficult film that I didn’t edit a trailer during the fundraising process. When I looked for funds, I always showed edited scenes assembled in a half-hour or hour format. (Probably why we failed miserably much of the time.) We didn’t have a clear narrative for 18 years into the shooting, making it impossible to cut a trailer. One we finally cut the trailer, right before launching at festivals, it was rather easy to do because the story arc was so clear. Now I’ve been told by some people that they cry when they watch our trailer. It has helped many people to make a donation when they haven’t seen the film yet. As our Kickstarter campaign continued, we wanted to add an additional fundraising pitch to our trailer, perhaps on-camera, like so many directors have done. I filmed myself speaking to camera while at the Singapore Film festival, sent it back to NYC and Lisa edited it. But, we rejected it. Quite frankly, we have been showing my face too much in our effort to get moving images up on the web (posting a lot of Q & A Videos from festivals). I feel it’s the wrong message for a film project on a Buddhist theme, where I am beginning to look too much like a “Star.” So finally, Katherine came up with another approach using testimonies from our “NYC Sneak Preview Benefit Screening” last week. She edited them this weekend and the new video for our campaign will go up later today, with just 5 days left to our campaign (so check back on our Kickstarter site this afternoon to see the new video live).

5. Craft your Kickstarter Pitch Carefully:

Our team started by looking at the best-written pitches we could find on KICKSTARTER and basically mimicked their format. We liked the ones that explained everything, including how KICKSTARTER works. Since we were reaching out internationally and to an audience that was not in the arts, we felt this explanation necessary. Then we had to carefully frame why the film was still looking for money when it was technically finished. We made the explanation general, instead of giving a precise cause (which I am not sure was the right tactic in retrospect). Then we tried to turn a negative – that the film was finished – into a positive: this was a no risk venture because the film was already guaranteed distribution all over the world. We just had to find the last chunk of funds to pay for its costs before it could be delivered to television and other markets. This is very difficult to talk about simply because you are fighting people’s misconceptions about the film business and money, which come from Hollywood Blockbusters. They think films make big money – and get paid big money in distribution, which is not the case for documentaries (see my previous post).

6. Incentives:

Since you can't really put many images on your own Kickstarter page, Stefanie created a full brochure of pictures of the Kickstarter incentives on our MY REINCARNATION website so people could see what they were getting. She used the PBS pledge images as her model. We gathered a mixture of incentives, some Buddhist oriented and some film community oriented. One thing that we did very early on, even before the Kickstarter campaign began, was to offer a “Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD” for sale on our website at a very high price: $108. This DVD is a ‘vanilla version’ without extras or multiple language subtitles. We started to sell this a good six months before our Kickstarter campaign to help keep our office running during the festival release. When we put up the Kickstarter, we decided to offer the DVD in two ways: the Commercial DVD in 2012 at $25 and the Limited Special Edition Pre-Release DVD in September 2011 at $108. This has been our most successful incentive. For higher priced items, I raided anything I could find in my home: there are two of my own museum quality paintings by a very well known Buddhist Painter (one is sold and one still remains so far) and a beautiful antique Tibetan chest that my parents gave me (which I asked them first if I could sell, guess what they said?), still available. I even put up a limited edition watch I received from being on the Zurich Film Festival jury last year (gone). Basically nothing I own was off limits. It’s been a great Buddhist teaching to struggle with – and let go of – my attachment to my objects (that chest is one of my favorite possessions)!

What we learned for MY REINCARNATION is that the Buddhist incentives work much better than the film incentives. So far no one seems to care much about me or my career to purchase say a “Consultation with an Award–Winning Filmmaker". So much for my ego and 30 years of hard work!

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced many award winning films, including LOVE & DIANE, ON THE ROPES and UPSTATE. She teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally at institutions such as New York University, the Binger Lab in Amsterdam, the University of Zurich and many others.

Guest Post by Jennifer Fox: "Change Or Die: How 22 Years On One Film Lead To Desperate Measures

I have been producing for about 25 years now. I have routines, methods, and even rituals that help me get done what I have to get done. But if there is one thing that is constant in the film/media biz it is change. If we don't remain eternal students, we don't evolve and grow. Both our art and our business requires that we sometimes abandon all we have learned and take new approaches. We have to learn new tricks and embrace them with the love of a true amateur. Not surprisingly, I am inspired by tales of filmmakers doing just that. It would be hard to find a story that captures this necessity more than Jennifer Fox's 22 year ordeal with her latest film. Thankfully it brought Jennifer both all the way through and too a point that we can all now join in and share in both the process and success. We can learn from her guest post today.

As a 30+ year documentary veteran, there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s “change or die.” And while I am spewing out truisms that I've collected, I’ll share another one, “survival is winning.” I love making films, I certainly don’t expect to get rich, but what I do hope for is to be able to wake up each morning and to do what I am so privileged to do: work on a film and every few years, make a new one. So far I’ve succeeded. But this current film threatened to sink my boat more than once.

I must say I always knew MY REINCARNATION was a difficult project. I walked away from it many times, saying it was impossible. But something always drew me back and after 22 years, we had a fantastic story that we were launching in the world. It seemed that my worries were for naught. The film had several European television stations onboard as co-production partners (more on this in my next post), had been sold to PBS’s premiere series POV, and was invited to top festivals around world. So, at the end of last year when I discovered that one of my European co-producers, through no fault of their own, had failed to raised their promised $100,000 towards the budget, the wind went out of my sails. As the main Producer, I was responsible. In fact I had already technically “spent” that money finishing the film, I just hadn’t paid the bills. My brain went into an exhausted tailspin.

(For those of you who may have fantasies about the money you make once a film is finished, I hope I don’t ruin your day. My experience is that the majority of funds have to be raised before the film is finished. There are very few films that make large sums of money in distribution. To give you one example: a country might pay $50,000 or higher to get involved in a television co-production, but once the film is finished, that same territory will only offer a fraction of that to buy the film outright. Meanwhile, all European film subsidies and US foundation grants are for development, production and post. No one gives money backwards.)

So there I was on New Years Eve 2011 with a big problem: How could I raise funds for a film that was technically completed?

Making MY REINCARNATION I had already been forced out of my fundraising comfort zone. In the past, my films were funded with television pre-sales and foundation and government grants; I didn't "believe" in documentary investors because I thought it was too hard to pay them back. Moreover, I had never figured out how to approach private donors. This time, trying to raise funds for a spiritual subject, I faced a whole new set of challenges. It took 12 years before the first trickle of funding came in and 18 years before any substantial monies. Throughout the production of the film, I was forced to think out of the box: I privately approached and successfully brought on several private donors in exchange for producing credits; I ran a lottery and auctioned off most of my valued personal possessions; I pre-sold DVDs; and then I took my first ”investment/loan” through a deal with IMPACT PARTNERS.

This year I faced a whole new problem. With the film already playing at festivals, I racked my brain, what to do? Ideally I would find one large patron to complete the production costs, but I had exhausted my contacts. When I delicately returned to the people who had previously donated monies to tell them my sad tale (which is what all the books tell you to do), everyone politely declined to pony up additional funds. I was running out of options.

There was only one straw left. I knew I had listen to my own mantra. (You know that one about “change/die”). Early last year, I was introduced to crowd funding when my singer/song writer friend, Ana Egge, emailed me to ask if I would donate to her KICKSTARTER campaign to record her new album. 'Who could turn down such a talent like Ana?' I said to myself. So, I gave her a small donation and really enjoyed the updates and the feeling of being part of her creation. I even gave her a second contribution mid-way through the campaign. I saw the democratic power of this new arts patronage. I was intrigued. 'But it's not for me...' I thought.

When it came to my own project, the idea of going public with my financial problems and holding out a hand to the world terrified me. To me, asking for money is something private to do behind closed doors one on one. I was embarrassed to tell people I had this funding challenge; what would the community think of me?

But desperation is a powerful motivator. I didn’t know if I could do a crowd funding campaign. However, one thing I knew for sure, I couldn’t do it alone. I was exhausted from the last 22 years of pushing the ball up hill on this film. Honestly, at my age the idea of a “web anything” can be a bit daunting. Moreover, I was already committed to a heavy festival tour with MY REINCARNATION as part of its outreach and distribution. How could I be on the road and running a campaign that would surely take so much work?

So I decided to look for help. I reached out to another girlfriend and filmmaker, Katherine Nullify, who had done a successful Kickstarter campaign for her first feature UPSTATE last year. She brought in another filmmaker friend, Lisa Duva, currently making her first feature CAT SCRATCH FEVER. We all worked together several years ago on the web 2.0 theatrical outreach for my previous film FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. These were women who could do anything and quite honestly I needed their juice. I wanted to enroll them to help me out.

My idea was to do a crowd funding campaign, but also to look for new larger donors to offer producing credits. I had the crazy idea that we could re-credit MY REINCARNATION in the territories that we hadn’t delivered the film yet – primarily the USA. I pitched the idea to Katherine and Lisa and they thought it would fly. Since I was broke, I offered them a percentage of the funds we would raise as payment. Thank god they accepted.

The third person of the team was already in place. Luckily for me, for the last year I had been working with a young, self avowed, web geek, Stefanie Diaz who had built our MY REINCARNATION web site and could do anything web. She loved the idea of a Kickstarter campaign – it was right up her alley.

The team was ready to go. The biggest question left was how much to aim for? We knew that most campaigns only try to raise between $5,000 – $15,000. But that would be a drop in the bucket. There was no way we could target the $100,000 we really needed, because it seemed impossible. So with knees shaking we launched our 90-day MY REINCARNATION Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $50,000.

I have never been so nervous in my life. 46 days and endless sleepless nights later, we hit $50,000. So with 44 days left we decided to keep going and try to make it to $100,000. How we got this far and what we came up with during those nights will be in my next blog post…. Meanwhile, with only 9 days left, I better get back to the web to write some Kickstarter thank you notes and beat the drum further…

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced scores of films and teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally.

Guest Post: Leah Warshawski on "Navigating Rejection With Grace"

The process of getting a film made is a long climb through rejection, neglect, frustration, and even some hostility. Those that "know", tell you that it is impossible -- but still tens of thousands of films get made every year despite this knowledge of the "experts". Being a filmmaker takes incredibly thick skin. But it not just bullheaded arrogance that is needed to navigate through the difficult climb to completion. You need to turn rejection into a tool.

Today's guest post by first time feature filmmaker Leah Warshawski captures these necessary lessons well -- and even for the seasoned pro are crucial reminders of how to get it done without losing perspective.

My father is my hero. He is also my toughest critic, most trusted advisor, and has recently transitioned into our team’s biggest cheerleader. Naturally (as his daughter) I feel a particular kind of “pressure” to finish our documentary Film Festival: Rwanda (www.inflatablefilm.com) 4 years in-the-making in a way that warrants his respect. My father, Morrie Warshawski (www.warshawski.com), teaches workshops on filmmaking and fundraising, with an emphasis on documentaries and the hordes of people crazy enough to make them. His books have become “manuals” for creating (and funding) successful documentaries.

So making my first feature documentary should be easy, right? Somewhere in my subconscious, I naively assumed that growing up around my Dad meant I had a head-start on some kind of “super-fundraising osmosis.”

You can imagine my surprise four years ago when I excitedly called my Dad from Seattle to tell him the good news - I had decided to make a film about a new generation of Rwandan filmmakers on the opposite side of the world. “Well, are you sure that’s a good idea? Could you pick somewhere a little closer to home,” he said with hesitation. My heart sank. Partly because I knew he was right. Partly because (like every other filmmaker I’ve ever met) I had never felt so determined and passionate about anything else in my life so far.

Four years later it turns out my Dad was right. We have made three trips to Rwanda, completed production, and are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/365442215/film-festival-rwanda-a-documentary-film?ref=live) to finish a rough cut. It has not been easy, but the challenge and process have been worth the struggle. People always assume I have a clear path to funders and grants because of my Dad's connections, but I can tell you (after 2 years of rejection letters from almost every major documentary grant organization) that is far from the truth. The reality is that I’m still applying for grants and still being rejected, but our film has brought my father and I closer through our mutual understanding of how difficult and rewarding the process is - and that is priceless.

So how do you gracefully navigate rejection and still get out of bed in the morning? Very carefully. I’ve learned a lot from my father and I feel obligated to pass along a few things that have helped me the most over the last four years, in case you don’t have a professional fundraiser in your family.

Rejections are opportunities:
You spent weeks and months working on grant applications and isolating yourself from everyone you know. You’re angry, sleep-deprived, and you couldn’t drag yourself away from the computer long enough to go for a 15-minute walk. How can you not follow-up and ask for an explanation?! Use your rejection as an opportunity to contact the organization through email. Not everyone will give you feedback, but most people (when asked nicely) will at least respond to your email. That relationship will be helpful the next time you apply or have questions. Everyone respects “professional persistence.” You may even get a nice surprise when someone replies with constructive criticism on your application! Use that to your advantage and make your application better for the next round!

Social media = The best friend you’ve never met!
Make a Facebook page for your project and spend 10 minutes a day recruiting new fans. Post to other people’s walls, ask everyone on your mailing list, and keep it simple and useful. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I made a friend for life when a woman noticed our project and offered to host a fundraiser without ever meeting us in person first! We ended up making a few thousand dollars from her event and she remains one of our most enthusiastic supporters.

Switch it up:
Let’s face it - rejection is never pretty. No matter how much you prepare for the letter, it doesn’t get easier. And when you go into a dark place to hide after the mail comes, you expect your parents to give you a few words of encouragement, right? I thought that was standard fare before my father gave me some advice that changed the way I navigate rejection. He said, “Just expect that you’re not going to get any grants and then maybe one day you will get lucky - and that would be a nice surprise!”
As filmmakers we have an abnormal sense of perseverance and somehow believe that if we work harder it means we are also smarter and better than everyone else who applies for the same grant. Switch up your thinking, and understand that nobody owes you anything - we are all in the same boat.

Don’t forget to come up for air:
…because the rest of your life depends on it. Someday you will be done making your film and all that time you used to spend writing grants and fundraising can now be spent with family and friends. Force yourself to get some air, go outside, and take the time to cultivate relationships. We all know that those are opportunities to fundraise as well and that you never go out without mentioning your project... and you never know who you might meet on your walk around the block...like I did. He’s now my future husband. Oh, and I’ve convinced him to be the post-production supervisor for our film!

-- Leah Warshawski

Leah Warshawski is based in Seattle, WA. She is a global film and television producer who is currently raising funds to complete her first feature documentary - Film Festival: Rwanda. Visit her project at: www.inflatablefilm.com.

Guest Post: Rodney Evans on "Building Communites & Embracing New Models"

Why do we wait so damn long for our projects to come together? Do we fetishize "permission"? Is it akin to waiting for Prince Charming or the like? Is patience really a virtue for creative endeavors? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking we can depend on anyone other than our family, friends, and collaborators? In telling how he is putting together his latest project, filmmaker Rodney Evans sums up a feeling many filmmakers know too well: "Enough of the bullshit, the jig was up."

I have never been big on career strategizing. I tend to follow where my passion leads me and trust my gut instincts. After several years and endless meetings on a larger period film ($1.5m – larger in my world) I started to crave the idea of doing something contemporary on a really small scale with the minimal resources that I had immediate access to.

This idea was also sparked by my experience at the Binger Film Lab’s Director’s Coaching Program in Amsterdam (binger.nl) where I managed to shoot a 10 minute short film in 8 hours with a 3 person crew and 2 actors. This short BILLY AND AARON, part of the larger period film DAY DREAM, premiered at Tribeca last year and has played 25 film festivals since then. It was a startling reminder of how little was actually needed to make a good film that you could be proud of.

Coming from a documentary background where I was used to working as a one man band it felt very natural to be working this way and would be an asset to certain types of stories. With the experience of shooting the short fresh in my mind I had been back in NYC for a couple of weeks in the summer of 2009 and was invited to a production of a play called THE HAPPY SAD by my friend Ken Urban. I had seen an earlier reading of the play at Playwrights Horizons and found it genuinely funny and profoundly moving while also dealing with topics like open relationships, internet hook-ups and fear of commitment that I saw playing out around me in so many of my friend’s lives (and my own). These issues seemed so prevalent within my circle of friends but were so rarely dealt with in films in any kind of realistic or meaningful way. I immediately saw its potential as a film and when I mentioned that to Ken he told me he had already begun adapting it into to a screenplay. After reviewing each draft and giving my feedback, the third draft really struck home and I knew I had to direct it. It would still need focusing and more revisions to fully transform from the stageplay into a film but the essence of it was there.

With the finished screenplay in hand it became time to think about how we would raise the necessary production funds to get the cameras rolling this summer. After a great info session hosted by Yancey Strickler at the Kickstarter headquarters the idea of crowdfunding started to feel like a viable option for starting the fundraising process. As I walked to the subway with a filmmaker friend we discussed how difficult it can be to ask for the resources that you need to make work and that for artists at a certain stage in our careers (beyond emerging but not yet mid-career) we both had the feeling that we should be pretending that there was enough support from grants, foundations and traditional industry resources to make our films. We needed to get over the shame about the fact that these resources were not forthcoming and start pursuing different models. Enough of the bullshit, the jig was up.

I think for filmmakers of color who are not interested in doing genre material but more focused on pushing aesthetic boundaries while still also being emotionally engaging, the deck was stacked even more against us. Instead of going to the same doors over and over again only to find them closed for the umpteenth time I decided to utilize Kickstarter to reach the communities that tend to embrace my finished work and actually see it as a reflection of a personal experience that they rarely get to see on screen. In short, I was going where the love was.

It is now day 8 of our 30 day Kickstarter campaign and we are 25% of the way there and it has been a lot of work to get this far. (Ted: I wanted to post this last week but was in Beijing -- so now the time is even shorter!) It’s taken 3-4 hours of email outreach per day plus the help of friends and supporters in spreading the word virally. My laptop and I are closing than ever before and we still have 22 more days to go! I see this effort as larger than myself though and it points the way towards more community-based models for filmmakers to use in order to get work produced and distributed.

A great source of inspiration over the past few months has been the distribution efforts launched by Ava Duverney with her first narrative feature, I WILL FOLLOW. Here was a self financed, microbudget feature with impeccable writing, acting and directing from an African-American filmmaker who decided to stop waiting for someone to give her permission to make a film. The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement or AFFRM (https://www.facebook.com/affrm) is the distribution model she created with much success by pooling the resources and organizing power of the largest African-American film festivals in the country. It was great to witness the large turnout on her opening weekend to support an independent filmmaker’s vision all fueled by grassroots, inexpensive marketing techniques. It’s a new successful, community-based model that works. It got me thinking about how so many of the sources and inspiration for the stories that I tell come from relationships and experiences that I see around me on a daily basis. How could those communities be brought into the filmmaking process to tell alternative and original stories?

As an educator I worked at a non-profit organization called Reel Works (www.reelworks.org) from 2009 to 2010 where I taught a documentary lab for at-risk teenagers. I currently teach in the Film and Media Arts Department at Temple University in Philadelphia 3 days per week. Over the years I have been greatly inspired by the process of helping young people to tell their vital stories and by the bravery and daring they exhibit during the process before anyone tells them what they can and can’t do. These are qualities that I absorb from them and also try to nurture as I help guide their films to completion.

With my microbudget feature THE HAPPY SAD centering on alternative, risk-embracing twenty and thirty-somethings looking to expand “proper” notions of romantic relationships it seemed like a no-brainer to incorporate these students into a collaborative filmmaking process since they showed similar traits and qualities in their own lives and artistic practice. It seemed like a natural extension of the dialogue that had begun in the classroom with students able to receive course credit for hands-on experience in feature filmmaking. It’s a model that merges my roles as an educator and indie filmmaker while also providing students with their first foothold in the industry, working side by side with experienced professionals. It seems like the right production model for this film and exemplifies a lot of the ways that I have been rethinking the means and methods of filmmaking.

I used to pour all of my passion and energy into one project that I would focus on for many years until it got done. As I evolve, I have learned the value of not placing all of your eggs in one basket but having 2-3 different projects of different size and scope so that I can continue to make work under different circumstances. I think directing skills like most other skills atrophy when not put to use so this is a way to stay nimble and keep exercising those muscles while providing opportunities for emerging film professionals as well. I mentioned this new project and its trajectory and production model to a filmmaker friend. His email response (posted below) made me feel less alone in my quest for new models in the face of an industry that has collapsed but also never functioned as a support mechanism for our work in the first place.

“I think we came to similar moments, as I’m planning to shoot a lower budget film this summer also, and I just had to put the long simmering project on the side for the meantime. We are too old to wait around forever, and I think we have to be creative daily as filmmakers to figure out how to keep making films.”

So here’s to an adventurous summer of collaborative filmmaking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To support the Kickstarter campaign for THE HAPPY SAD go to:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1309653304/the-happy-sad-from-the-director-of-brother-to-brot

-- Rodney Evans

RODNEY EVANS wrote and directed BROTHER TO BROTHER which won the Special Jury Prize in Drama at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film was nominated for 4 Independent Spirit Awards in 2005 including Best First Film, Best First Screenplay and Best Debut Performance for Anthony Mackie.

DEALS & DIY: A Film Distribution Duet

Today's guest post is by Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative(TFC), the first non-profit, full service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Orly was featured as one of HFF's Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010.

*This is Part II of the “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance...

*Part III to will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

Sundance 2011, insofar as distribution was concerned, saw a spike on both the traditional sales and the DIY front.   26 deals were done so far and more to come. One difference between this year's Festival and those of recent years is that several acquisitions were done prior to the Festival and more deals occurred right at the beginning of the Festival rather than taken several days or weeks to materialize. In addition, some of the acquisition dollar figures were bigger than in recent times. There was a definite sense of ‘business is back’  (though mostly still for bigger films with either name directors or cast or both – and this we address below).  And DIY is seeing a new dawn with directors like Kevin Smith announcing a self-distribution plan and Sundance’s solidified commitment to helping artists crowdfund (via Kickstarter) and market their films (via Facebook for example) access certain digital distribution platforms (in the works and TBA).

Starting with the deals. So far I counted 26 (one at least was a pre-buy / investment in production) and two so far are remake rights deals.

I only list the deal points that were publicized… meaning if no $$$ is listed then it was not announced.

Deals done Pre-Sundance:

1.     Project Nim (James Marsh who did Man on Wire)  – sold to HBO for a hefty yet unreported sum.

2.     Becoming Chaz – produced by renowned World Of Wonder and sold to OWN (actually we gleaned OWN invested in the film and at the fest Oprah announced her commitment to doing for docs what she did for books via a Doc Club).

3.     Uncle Kent went to IFC

4.     The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock) – went to Sony Classics.

Deals done at Sundance according to sections:

US Dramatic Competition:

5.     The Ledge: sold to IFC

6.     Like Crazy: (Director of Douchebag)  - Paramount for a worldwide deal - $4,000,000.

7.     Martha Marcy May Marlene: sold to Fox Searchlight, congrats to TFC Board of Advisor EXP, Ted Hope.

8.     Circumstance: Participant is funding the release and will (along with the filmmakers) choose a distribution partner, we hope Roadside Attractions.

9.     Homework: Fox Searchlight

10.  Another Earth: (Mark Cahill) – Fox Searchlight – a $1.5 - $2 mil deal with aggressive P&A as reported and for US and all English speaking territories.

11.  Gun Hill Road: Motion Film Group

12.  Pariah: Focus Features

Premieres (‘names’ in films):

13.  My Idiot Brother: TWC - $6,000,000 for US and key territories.

14.  The Details: TWC - $7,500,000 MG and $10,000,000 P&A

15.  I Melt With You: Magnolia (reported mid-high 6-figure deal reportedly w/ healthy backend)

16.  Life in a Day: NatGeo Films

17.  Margin Call: Joint deal with Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions

18.  Perfect Sense: IFC

19. The Future: (Miranda July) – Roadside Attractions

U.S. Documentary Competition:

20.  Buck: Sundance Selects

21.  The Last Mountain: Dada Films (MJ Peckos and Steven Raphael)

22. Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: Magnolia and Participant

Park City at Midnight:

23.  Silent House: Liddell Entertainment

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

24.  The Guard:  Sony Pictures Classics

Not distribution deals per se but Fox Searchlight bought worldwide remake rights to

25. The Bengali Detective &

26. TWC bought remake rights to Knuckle.

Please let me know if I missed any deals and feel free to comment in this blog. Of course more may be announced even as this posts and I am on a plane.

So we see mostly name filmmakers or cast but also definitely a few non-names generating deals the details of which are not publicized thus far.

AND NOW ON the DIY side:

RE: SLITTING RIGHTS & DIY: Andrew Hurwitz and Alan Sacks wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter addressing all the same stuff TFC has talked about before, splitting rights, working and sometimes conflating windows and not settling for bad deal terms when one could do better on one’s own working with consultants etc. It’s nice to see trades addressing this in a context that speaks to more traditional industry players.

THE FLAT FEE MODEL EXPANDS: Distribber (now owned by IndieGOGO) announced a partnership that has been brewing with one of our Cable VOD partners, and TFC Board of Advisor Meyer Schwarztein of Brainstorm Media. Basically it expands Distribber’s flat fee digital distribution offerings to include Cable VOD (and also Hulu).  If a film gets onto all key MSOs the fee is set for now to be $9999 and there are prices per platform if a film cannot make it on to any given platform so that one is not paying for a platform or service they are not getting onto. As per the press release: “The films will be presented to audiences on the new "Filmmaker Direct" label; consumers who purchase films on "Filmmaker Direct" will know that 100% of profits go directly to the filmmaker, instead of to a parade of "Hollywood Middlemen.” For more info check out: http://www.distribber.com.  My only cautionary note: this is not a great idea for smaller films for which the gross revenues that would not justify the flat fee. One must remember and always know to ask about the splits that the Cable VOD aggregator is getting from the MSOs. They range, to the best of my knowledge to-date, between 30% and 60% depending on company and films. Studios get the higher splits for the obvious reasons. And so one has to do the math. And of course also evaluate MARKETING (which will be the focus on the 3rd and final part of this Sundance Blog series).  In any case, we work with both Adam Chapnick at Distribber and Meyer Schwarzstein at Brainstorm and are fond of and trust them both.

BRAND NAME FILMMAKER DIY: Kevin Smith fueled the torch of DIY in his own flame-filled way.  He auctioned off the distribution of Sundance Premiere Selection RED STATE to himself and has pre-booked theatres and plans to be his own decider in distribution, sans print ads (Amen). We wish him well but caution his very “old world” production and release budget (4mil Prod & and 2.5mil to release (for prints etc)… immediate launch broad release plan… a slow build never hurt anyone.  David Dinnerstein formerly of Paramount Classics and Lakeshore consulted on the release.  For more on this topic just search the WWW.

ABOUT THE SHORTS:

DIY Hats off to the Sundance SHORTS filmmaker such as Trevor Anderson and I believe 11 others who are on Sundance’s YouTube Screening Room Initiative with tens of thousands of views. Anderson exceeded 94,000 views as of the other day and has put all his shorts including this year’s HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE on www.EggUp.com which allows him to monetize them via transactional digital sales.  TFC regularly refers filmmakers to EggUp and now also TopSpin though our gury Sheri Candler advises TopSpin works better for filmmakers with an already robust following.  Whilst Anderson may not be getting rich just yet, it’s a perfect model for a prolific and vibrant filmmaker who is building a brand and getting his/her work out there.

Last but not least, Sundance announces its DIY oriented initiative.

Sundance Institute announced (I’m now quoting from its press release) its Three-Year Plan with Kickstarter as Creative Funding Collaborator / Facebook® to Provide Guidance to Institute AlumniA new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support…The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.  A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects… In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues.  The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.  As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service…Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support.  In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.”

I have been championing festivals getting involved with exhibition since and distribution beyond the festival itself since 2005 and discussed some options and ideas with Sundance staffers last year and am thrilled about this powerful and liberating announcement that so connects up with TFC’s mission whilst having some serious muscle and we look forward to being involved in some way hopefully.

MARKETING IS KING:  One thing no one talks about in much detail is MARKETING. Of course the big guns have the cash to buy marketing but the small distribs and aggregators are starting to be difficult to distinguish at times, and yet sometimes distributors do earn their fees by investing real talent and expertise and even money in marketing. So comparing what one can do oneself (if one does not get the big fat offer) with what traditional but small distribution deals bring will be the focus of the 3rd and last post in this series to come after Rotterdam but hopefully before Berlinale.

Over and out for now. Questions and Comments always welcome!

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema.  Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

Sundance Teams With KickStarter & Facebook For New Initiative To Connect Artists With Audiences

Official Press Release:

PARK CITY, UT -- Sundance Institute today announced a new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support. These essential services will act as building blocks for future program components which aim to provide filmmakers access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms. Adding to the nonprofit Institute’s acclaimed programs for Screenwriters, Directors, Film Composers, Producers and Theatre artists around the world, the new services were developed based on research and input from filmmakers, industry advisors, its Technology Committee and its Board of Directors, including President Robert Redford. The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.

A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project's creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects.
“Technology now allows filmmakers to fund and make films in ways we could never have even conceived. Just as we did 30 years ago, the Institute is responding to a need, with a responsibility to help the individual artist,” Redford said.
“Today’s media landscape presents opportunities for audiences and artists to connect in new and exciting ways. This program is a natural and much-needed extension of our mission,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute. “With unparalleled recognition worldwide, Sundance Institute is in the unique position as a nonprofit to bring together a wide range of services and lend invaluable promotional support.”

Creative Funding Support

Kickstarter has agreed to provide branding, educational, and promotional support to Sundance Institute alumni. More than 350,000 people have pledged over $30 million dollars to projects on Kickstarter since its launch in spring 2009.
To launch the collaboration, the first alumni workshops took place at the Sundance Film Festival this week, conducted by Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler and attended by a range of artists from first time filmmakers to seasoned veterans. Beginning this spring, the Institute will curate alumni projects at Kickstarter.com and drive alumni and fans to support projects in various stages of funding. In addition, Sundance.org will showcase projects and interviews with artists on a monthly basis for even further reach.

“We're excited to be working with the Sundance Institute and its esteemed community," said Kickstarter cofounder, Yancey Strickler. "Kickstarter has been an effective tool for artists of all stripes, and we're looking forward to the projects that this collaboration will bring to life."
Education and Resources

In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues. The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.

As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service. Earlier this week at the Sundance Film Festival, Facebook led the first in a series of hands-on workshops for Institute alumni. During these workshops, artists received unique training on free tools and apps for social engagement, education in the types of pages and profiles they can utilize, and insight into Facebook's advertising opportunities. Artists needing more direct assistance were able to share Pages while Facebook staff assisted them in making improvements and changing settings. Facebook and Sundance Institute have had a relationship for years and last year provided Page assistance for films including Waiting for Superman, A Small Act and Restrepo among 20 others.

All Sundance Institute artists from Sundance Film Festival, Labs and Grantees, will be the first to gain access to the programs. Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support. In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.

To execute the program, Sundance Institute has hired Christopher Horton as Associate Director of Filmmaker Services. Horton, who will relocate to Los Angeles after nearly a decade with Cinetic Media, will work closely with Joseph Beyer, Director of Digital Initiatives, Katie Kennedy, Associate Director of Development, Corporate along with the Institute’s Program Directors.

Legal Services for Sundance Institute have been graciously donated by O’Melveny & Myers LLP, headed by a team including Paul Iannicelli and Chris Brearton.

Kickstarter
Kickstarter is the largest platform for funding creative projects in the world. Every month on Kickstarter, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars and help bring creative projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields to life. The Kickstarter community features projects by Oscar winners, Grammy winners, TED Fellows, New York Times best- sellers, Pulitzer Prize finalists, and thousands of others. Kickstarter is open to creative projects big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and avant-garde. www.kickstarter.com

Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover and support independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America. www.sundance.org

Most Read HopeForFilm Posts Of 2010

I wasn't sure what to call this post. "Top Posts"? "Most Popular"? They are not necessarily the most engaging, as they don't always correspond with the "most commented" -- if that qualifies for engaging that is... But I thought it would make some sense to see what was the most viewed.  I thought I would learn from it.

One of the things that I am proud of regarding this blog is the fact that it has become a community forum.  I learn from the comments people post.  I have made new friends from such comments (and identified a few I hope to avoid!).  It's been really great how much people contribute, and I love that almost half the most popular posts are from folks other than myself.

So, what were HopeForFilm/TrulyFreeFilm's most read post of the past year?  Surprisingly, they are all quite recent.

38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today - With over 10,000 views this clearly hit a nerve.  Everyone likes lists, but I like to think  so many folks went to this for a dose of preventive medicine.  We are going to conquer this right?

Ten Things To Do Before You Submit A Script - Getting your script read by the right people will always be a challenge.  As will making the best film you are capable of.  We all need advice, and I probably can come up with a few more posts like this.  You certainly want it.  I have listened.  I hope the advice was helpful!

The Hard Truth: Filmnaking Is Not A Job - I aim to be 100% truthful about what I do.  I want to demystify what producers do.  I think the readers of this blog and the community around it that you have built wants us all to say like it is.  I must confess that occasionally I let the struggle of getting movies made and seen, get me down.  Fortunately I get great support from my wife and friends, yet nonetheless sometimes I produce posts like this one!

The Good Machine No Budget Commandments- Oldies can be Goodies.  I always got a lot of demands for this list that I drew up for a NYU Grad screenwriting class.  It's nice to see people still use it!

Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition - clearly this is going to have to be an annual tradition now.   It looks like the community needed something that pointed more to ideas than just to the work at hand.

Miao Wang On The Secret Of Her Kickstarter Success-  This was the year that crowdfunding really came of age, and everyone wants to know how to do it well.  We will only learn the answers by all of us sharing, and people responded well to the lessons Miao learned.

Filmmakers vs. Aggregators: Distribber Speaks Of A Win,Win! - Adam Chapnick contributed this post on the dawn of Distribber being acquired by IndieGoGo, and outlined the problems facing all filmmakers in placing their work online.

Jon Reiss on Proper Prior Planning Prevent Perplexing Problems - The most commented post ever!  It's surprising that it remains a question how much filmmakers should focus on the distribution and marketing of their films, but it something that people love to talk about it, and Jon is one of the best at it out there.

Thoughts On The New Festival Model -  Film festivals are evolving, and when Tribeca announced their VOD initiative, people took notice.  I wasn't alone in my commenting for sure.  And there is still a lot more to say on the subject. I expect more big moves in 2011.  As a post format, I enjoy this kind of "thinking out loud" pieces, and wonder if this is a vote for more of them...

Children Of Invention: Why They Turned Down 8 Distribution Offers- Mynette & Tze were some of the Brave Thinkers of 2009 and it is precisely due to posts and actions like what they share here.

There were also a couple of old posts from the prior year that were viewed enough times in 2010 to place them in the top ten.

The 21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film 2009 - The prequel to this year's #4 hit -- all of them worth noting as much for what they did in 2010 as the year before.

38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns - This was the prequel to this year's most popular post.  I guess I am going to have to dig up another 38 for 2011 to keep the tradition going.

Well, it is a new year.  Let me know what you want to discuss.

Road Trip! A Creative Work To Unite Filmmakers

Today's guest post is from filmmaker Lucas McNelly.

Earlier this year, I made a film in the middle of nowhere called UP COUNTRY, a thriller about a fishing trip gone wrong, set deep in the Northern Maine woods. It’s tricky making a film several hundred miles from a city, in a town that has so few residents it doesn’t even have a name. There’s no rental houses, no hotels, no Starbucks, no airport, and no community of filmmakers to work with. You have to bring everything with you, including the cast and crew. There are no local resources. And while that’s a daunting hurdle to overcome, in the end it frees you, allowing the production to pull people in from all over the country. You quickly realize that there’s great filmmakers all over the place, not just in the usual places, and not just where you live.

Sure, you already know that, but it’s something else entirely to see it in person.

It got me thinking about how over the last year or so there seems to have been an influx of filmmakers who are making a name for themselves outside of NY and LA, thanks to the rise of social media and transmedia all those web 2.0 buzzwords we’re always hearing about. Whereas before, you had to be in NYC or LA to get your projects made, people are starting to find ways to be successful in out of the way places like Minnesota and Idaho and Georgia and the deep woods of Northern Maine. How? What are they doing to make that happen? And just how connected are we by social media and all of our hip technology?

That’s why I’ve decided to embark on quite possibly the craziest project around. We call it A YEAR WITHOUT RENT (http://www.twitter.com/YearWithoutRent). Essentially, I’ll spend a year travelling the country and volunteering on indie films around the country. I’ll basically be an extra set of hands for the project, doing whatever needs to be done. (Have you ever been on a set where they couldn’t use an extra set of hands?) Along the way, I’ll document the entire experience using geo-tagged photos, video, and blog posts. Think of it as a travelogue meets a series of DVD extras. The goal of the project is both to help these filmmakers get their films made and to start to introduce them to a larger audience.

One of the things Ted Hope talks about a lot is the idea of curation, of using what soapbox you’ve got to tell people about things you think they’ll like. Or, to quote Ted:

...with such a plethora of great work being made we need to offer audiences better filters to sift through it. What’s up with our collective failure to deliver more Oprahs, individuals whose support will lead to action?

And that’s really where part of this idea comes from. It’s a karma-centric approach, but I really think that the film community isn’t a zero sum game. If your film does well, then that makes it easier for everyone else. Maybe there’s a finite level of success out there, but we’ve managed to access such a small fraction of it that we should be doing everything we can to build as strong and as wide a community as possible. It’s no secret that the tide is turning and no one’s really figured out how the hell things are going to work going forward, so this is an opportunity. At least, it seems like it should be.

So here’s important part if you’re a filmmaker and you’ve got a project that’s going to be filming this year. We will come to where you are filming, help in whatever way you need, and tell people about you and your work in progress in places like, say, Film Courage. Sounds good, right? There’s gotta be a catch. Nope. No catch. Nada.

We want to canvas the indie film landscape and that requires working with all different types of filmmakers on all different types of films at all different stages of production. That means helping you with your film.

Anyway, that’s the project. Right now we’re crowdfunding on Kickstarter for a couple of reasons. First, because gas is expensive and we want to make sure the filmmakers we help don’t have to worry about covering our expenses or anything. And second, because I really feel like crowdfunding is the best way to build a motivated and emotionally invested audience, and there’s no way a project like this can survive without that. So one thing we tried to do was create a series of interactive perks that will last throughout the course of the year, stuff that will mimic a road trip experience. My favorite perk is the $35 one, where we will adapt your haiku into a Instant Polaroid (well, the Fuji equivalent) you can put on your fridge. We’ll send you mementos from the road. Hell, we’ll even send you a birthday present. Not everyone can take a year of their life and just travel the country, so we’re trying to let the audience and the backers experience that as much as possible from the comfort of their homes.

Plus, if part of our job is telling you about all these projects we’re working on, there’s no point in doing that if no one is paying attention.

We’re partnering with some innovating companies like Tripline.net and Shuttercal.com in a hip, interactive way. As an example, check out the Tripline.net Bizarro World Map where we’re creating alternate realities of our $25 and up backers.

Of course, this all becomes a lot harder if we don’t hit our Kickstarter goal and, honestly, it’s going to be something of an uphill climb. We’ve gotten a great amount of support from places like Film Courage, but the backers have been slower rolling around than we anticipated. Hopefully that has something to do with the holidays (but if there’s anything we can do to clarify our project for you, let me know). If we’re going to make it, it’ll take a hell of a rally. Cross your fingers and check out the campaign. Every little bit helps.

Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly) is the filmmaker behind UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t.