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