Proof How Indie Film Requires So Much Support

If we didn't have the Indie Film support organizations, you wouldn't have indie films in the theater.  Cinereach, IFP, Film Independent, SxSW, Tribeca, Sundance, and yes, my new home, the San Francisco Film Society -- it takes more than a village; it takes a freakin' army.

The proof is in the pudding.  Look at all the films in theaters this week.  All these films were discovered at Sundance and supported by these various organizations.  Where would they be without them?  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  And just the start.  If you don't go see them -- and soon -- our very culture will be threatened!

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD written by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar and directed by Benh Zeitlin

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/beastsofthesouthernwild/

 

HELLO I MUST BE GOING written by Sarah Koskoff and directed by Todd Louiso

http://hello.oscilloscope.net/

 

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias and directed by Ira Sachs

http://keepthelightsonfilm.com/

 

LITTLE BIRDS written and directed by Elgin James

http://littlebirdsmovie.com/

 

SLEEPWALK WITH ME written by Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish, and Joe Birbiglia  and directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

http://www.sleepwalkmovie.com/

 

COMPLIANCE written and directed by Craig Zobel

http://www.magpictures.com/compliance/

 

THE WORDS written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal

http://www.thewordsmovie.com/

 

Video: How The Film Industry Has Changed & Where It Is Going

I gave this interview for the film "PressPausePlay" a couple of years back. It premiered at SxSW earlier this year. I would say it a bit differently today, but the sentiment and bullet points remain the same. I must admit I am a bit surprised, but how much I still say is exactly the same today.

We are still looking for an audience-friendly term for immersive transmedia cross-platform creation. I remain restless to abandon this single product impulse-buy centered entertainment economy.

It's a short clip. I rev up as it goes on, so give it the time to reach the end. I feel it grows quite hopeful. Good work will come out of today's problems.

I look forward to watching all the PressPausePlay clips they have put on YouTube.

"Reaching The Impossible" Indie Prod Battle Diary: MADE IN CHINA

Today's guest post is from the star of 2009 SXSW Grand Jury Prize Winning film MADE IN CHINA, Jackson Kuehn.  I had the good fortune of being on the jury (with Scott Foundas and Anne Thompson) that year and was delighted how ambitious, inventive, funny and moving the film was.  As great all of those qualities were, the film also was centered by Jackson's comic and committed star turn.  Jackson and Judi (Krant -- the director) are both the real deal.  I will make a point of watching whatever they do.  And lucky for you: MADE IN CHINA is now up on IFC VOD.  If you love Indie Film, if you believe in ambitious film, if you want a diverse & unique film culture, if you want some good laughs, or just want to see how much can be created with very limited means, PLEASE make sure to watch MADE IN CHINA this month (and tell all your friends likewise). ‘One Hundred Year Old Egg’

by Jackson Kuehn

I was suffering from gastric pain, malnutrition, hot weather conditions, incoherence of thought, so three Lomotil pills later, I decided to stand up for myself and address the situation to Judi Krant during the casting process of our beloved Dorothy.  I let Judi know that agitation had gotten the better of me and I felt that at any moment I was going to die in Shanghai, China; commonly known as the Paris of the East.  At that precise moment, Judi’s highly concentrated eyes shifted my way like a famished, bloodthirsty wolf who had one last shot to feed her babies and to get it through my head that she’s the leader of the pack.  She said, “Jackson, now is the time to fight through it all.  I don’t want to hear any more excuses.  You need to toughen up now.”  I nodded my head and agreed.  Then she said, “For the next three weeks, you’ll be sharing the queen sized bed with Mr. James Choi.”  I replied, “But I need personal time to recover from all of our feverish activity!  I need plenty of time to listen to Mozart and time to take my bubble bathes!” Once again, she stared at me very similarly to a king cobra about to strike a blind burrowing rodent.  The consciousness of one’s own dignity was at stake, so I concurred.

It was time to make our movie ‘Made in China’- indie style.

With exceptionally clever Judi at the helm and a crew comprised of New Yorkers, Austinites, Californians, English, Swedes, Africans, Koreans and Chinese (all posing as an Italian Documentary Crew I might add) I knew that shooting under the radar from Chinese Authorities was risky.  However, tension mostly resulted from adverse, out of the box ideas, but that’s where natural aptitude is born.  No one was going to deny Judi’s astute, artistic temperament and shooting in Shanghai was a must, not camera-friendly Hong Kong.  Most days hit record highs of 100 degrees, accompanied by heavy rain in the evening.  The humidity was unbearable, even the camera broke out in a sweat.  Up at 5am, home by 1:30am.  Day after day.  I just finished shooting possibly one of the most pivotal scenes for the movie, a scene that captivated the intrinsic nature of the characters soul, a scene so powerful that Daniel Day Lewis and Charlie Chaplin would have been proud.  A couple of minutes later, the scene disappeared from the camera. Due to lack of sleep and ten, fifteen hour long days in a row, I remember throwing up in the train station before we boarded our train to the ancient water city. With all of my doubts and second-guessing, was I suffering the consequences of indie filmmaking?  Nevertheless, I was in Shanghai to examine the mind of a young novelty enthusiast, explore his fundamental core.  All of us were on a mission to prove our unbending indie principles and strong diet of independent filmmaking.

The days unfolded quickly and the 15-day shoot came to a halt. After we wrapped production, I remember sitting in the back of a taxi purposefully staring at neon lights and wondering about how much we all love independent film stories that proceed from genuine feelings.  My eyes welled up because I knew that this was my fate and kept thinking a sense of pride in oneself will only survive through self-sacrifice and widespread respect for others in the indie world.  The universal ‘indie-spirit’ theme we all shared was built upon trust and warm approval of each other’s actions, desires to explore human behavior and to seek the powers of our own imaginations.

The journey back to Los Angeles started.  After all the trials and tribulations in Shanghai, I found myself in the City of Angels directionless and in a consistent state of feeling bored.  I missed the culture, literature, the performing arts, food, the artistic awareness, the good times, the bad times and most importantly the warmth of the Chinese people.  What an ungratifying life not being apart of something you truly feel free doing.  A week passed by and my phone rang, it was Mr. James Choi or Judi, I couldn’t remember.  “Ni hao”, I said.   They replied, “Pack your bags, your going back to Shanghai.”

“Reshoots”.

Made in China is now available on VOD through IFC Films. Check your local listings at: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/made-in-china

Jackson Kuehn was born in Austin, Texas but was raised all across the U.S. from California to New York. He attended New York University Tisch School of Arts and MADE IN CHINA is his first feature as a leading man. Jackson currently resides in Hollywood.

Miao Wang On The Secrets of Her Kickstarter Success

We have a guest post today from Miao Wang, director of Beijing Taxi, set to premiere shortly in SXSW.

A number of people have asked me for my secrets in regards to Beijing Taxi’s successful recent Kickstarter campaign. Frankly, the campaign’s success far exceeded my expectations. As is often the case, I simply had no alternative. I had gotten the last of my rejection letters from the post production grants I applied for. I had just received my invitation to have BEIJING TAXI’s world premiere at SXSW. It gave me a much-needed boost of energy and a deadline to push for! I knew having SXSW’s world premiere would be a crucial element in the fundraising effort, yet it was a couple of weeks before I could publicly announce it. The pressure is on! It was either get into mounting debt for the post production expenses, or do my best to raise as much as I can! It seemed like a win-win situation. I had heard about Kickstarter a few month ago, but didn’t manage to find an invitation to post a project until the last minute. Luckily my friends at Argot Pictures came to the rescue and helped me secured an invitation. I was due to start color correction and sound mix in two weeks!

There were several limitations to the Kickstarter campaign from the very beginning. I knew I had to raise at least $10,000 in a very short period of time. I had to decide whether to go for a lower goal, like $5000, which is much more achievable, or just go for the full $10,000 bare minimum I truly needed to raise. $10,000 seemed like an impossible goal in 30 days, but I immediately decided on a back up plan. I will raise as much as I can through Kickstarter, and if in the last day we’re far from the goal, I have asked my family to essentially be on-call to pledge a “temporary loan” to make sure I don’t lose what has been raised up to that point. I also felt that, knowing the reality of the full amount I have to raise, people will feel more inclined to make a pledge amount that will make a difference.

Chinese new year always felt like an auspicious date to pick for a fundraiser, especially given it’s appropriateness for the film’s China theme. This year, Chinese new year was on February 14, 31 days away from the date I received the Kickstarter invitation. However, I had already started brainstorming creative ideas for pledge rewards a few days before that, so that I would be set to post and launch the project right away!

In terms of pledge rewards, I feel like it’s important to create some value in the rewards. I always believe that if you put your heart into creating something, people will sense that, and more willing to stand behind that. You’ve put all your heart into this film you’ve worked on for so long, your rewards should in some ways reflect the same heart and attention you’ve put into the film and not just something you slapped together. In two previous local NY based fundraiser parties, my team and I have obsessively handmade art objects like flipbooks (made from sequential frame grabs from the film) and an art book made with images from the film. We still had a bunch of the flipbooks and one art book left, so I naturally included them as part of the rewards. I diligently looked through some of the most successful projects on Kickstarter to get inspired for ideas as well as see how I can cater them to my project. I also wanted to think about cultural related reward incentives specific to Beijing. The dumpling class, a personal tour of Beijing with the director seemed like enticing rewards for those with deeper pockets.

To get the word out for the Kickstarter campaign, I set out on a major push in two phases. I signed up with a mailing list manager service (Mailchimp). I exported all my contacts from my many different stages of life into the mailing list manager. This allowed me to send out a beautifully designed graphics rich email campaign, and not just a text-based email. I sent out my first email blast as soon as I launched my Kickstarter campaign. In this first blast I was not yet allowed to publicize SXSW, so I just posted the headline as “accepted for premiere at a major film festival, details coming soon...” I also included some BEIJING TAXI updates from the last year, including grants received and labs attended. I knew SXSW was to make its press release on February 4, 10 days before my Kickstarter deadline, so I had to be ready to go on a massive e-blast campaign right away. As expected, the first phase brought in some pledges from closer friends, but it was far from enough and pledges started to trail off a week or so after the email blast. I couldn’t send out too many blasts because I wanted to send out the important announcement of SXSW on the 4th. In the meanwhile, I posted the Kickstarter widget on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website, tried to plaster my Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as reach out to my funders and supporters to help with the outreach. Many friends have kindly cross posted on their Facebook and other social networking sites. My diligent intern Aiyana Parker also helped me research film blogs and Asian related blogs. We made a list of those to reach out to once SXSW is announced. Phase two – SXSW announcement. As soon as SXSW news is released, I added the SXSW laurel on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website. I also sent out my second email blast with the headline “BEIJING TAXI : World Premiere at SXSW!!” in the subject line of the email. Sure enough, pledges starting flooding in. Aiyana emailed all the film blogs and Asian culture related blogs to help give a shout out to the Kickstarter campaign that was to end in 10 days. The sense of urgency prompted many to help.

I can’t say enough that I have been so moved by all the wonderful family, friends, clients, co-workers, colleagues from my entire life who have pledged their support to make this campaign a success. It would not have been possible without them. Aside from the loving support of those who know me, Kickstarter’s website has been in itself an incredible outlet to reach out to new supporters. The biggest pledge for our campaign actually came from someone who just stumbled upon the project while browsing Kickstarter. This backer sent me a message and expressed interest in making a significant pledge. We exchanged a few Skype video chats. I mailed him a preview screener of the DVD. He decided he liked the project and went ahead with a pledge at the $5000 level! Some other associate producer ($500) level pledges have also come from a group of volunteers for a non-profit organization called Wokai.org. A couple of people were interested in supporting the film. They approached me about possibly having a private screening event for a very small group of people interested in making an associate producer level pledge. It was less than 8 days before the end of the campaign. They helped throw together this small private home screening party where we met. Three people from the group made a pledge as a result.

To me, the success of this Kickstarter campaign is not only in having over-reached our pledge goal, which is on its own an incredible feat, but also in the new supporters and interests in the film that has been gathered along the way. More than just a fundraiser, the campaign has served as a fantastic promotional and outreach tool for the film.

Beijing native Miao Wang has a B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago and a M.F.A. in design/film from Parsons. Her award-winning documentary YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN has screened at over 20 venues and broadcast on WNET Thirteen. She apprenticed at Maysles Films. Miao has been awarded grants from Sundance, NYSCA and the Jerome Foundation. She is a fellow of Tribeca All Access, IFP Filmmakers Lab and the IFP Market.

BEIJING TAXI http://www.beijingtaxithefilm.com
FACEBOOK http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beijing-Taxi/61435502672?ref=s
TWITTER https://twitter.com/beijingtaxifilm

PS.  Word of Miao's success has started to spread.  Lonely Planet just covered it.  Spread the word.

Is Art Sabotaged By Thinking About An Audience From The Start?

I have been falling behind on my blogging; I admit it.  Luckily, information never goes away. Nor is there anything like a shortage of things that need to be said.  We have so many hurdles to jump in the indie film world.  Or is it walls to break down?  Even after we made it through once, the same challenges face us again.  Even when one or two lead the way, the path gets overgrown immediately, and the rest seem to be lost all over again.  So here's to the better late, than never camp, a post on some old but still relevant news...

There is a good post from several weeks back on Spout "Five Thoughts on Independent Filmmaking from SXSW".  There's a lot in it that merits further discussion, but one thing said by indie distrib Richard Abramowitz leapt out at me: “It’s always a delicate situation to talk to filmmakers about finding their audience beforehand,” Abramowitz said on a panel about self-distribution. “Presumably, you’re making art. To think about the end user in that particular way is kind of a corruption of the process. It’s the producer’s responsibility to work off the director and understand who the audience may be.”
This could be considered a nicely condensed version of Brent Chesanek's post(s) here several months back, and certainly captures the thoughts and attitudes of many I know and have heard. I get it.  It makes some sense to leave art to the artists, business to the business types, marketing and distribution to the relevant experts, right?
I don't feel this attitude captures the realities of the time.  In my humble opinion, and particularly for the independent filmmaker, you are not being responsible or realistic if you keep thinking your job is simply to build it (and then to trust that they will come).  You need to build the paths and bridges to get the people there.  You need to have the pen to keep them there once they have entered the field.  You need to have the apparatus to help them tell their friends and family to join them.
You don't need to do it alone though.  You just need to find the right people to collaborate with and a plan on how to get them to work with you (money helps).  Sure it would be great to find a producer who knows all of this already (and yes this is what they should be teaching in producing programs at the "film schools"), but I have always found there to be far fewer producers than there are writers and directors who are looking for the help.  Presumably all filmmakers work a very long time prepping their films.  Unless they are working in the studio world, all filmmakers invest a tremendous amount of time without any promise of financial return.  With all that energy and effort, doesn't it make sense to figure out how the work may actually reach an audience?
I am not a marketing expert, but my thoughts on marketing have helped get many of my films made.  Before pitching the financiers, we try to come up with the different handles on how we will get an audience in to see our film.  This effort is for naught if they don't respond to the script in the first place, but once they want to meet, I better have an answer to those standard questions of who is the audience and how do we reach them.  If I can come up with ten or fifteen decent approaches, the financiers assume their marketing team can up with a host of even better strategies.  
Every step in filmmaking and marketing is a collaborative effort; it is our responsibility to help our collaborators do their jobs better.

The Future Of Film

Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't have the answer as to what the future of film is.  

A lot of people though do have some good ideas as what the future may hold and what it is needed, from the small step to the big picture.  I got to sit down with a nice group of very smart people while I was at SXSW and talk a bit about what I might be.  Scott Kirsner who organized the breakfast has put the whole conversation up on his blog.  The other participants are:
filmmaker Lance Weiler 
conference organizer and producer Liz Rosenthal
technologist Brian Chirls
outreach guru Caitlin Boyle
 filmmaker Brett Gaylor
producer and Filmmaker Mag editor Scott Macaulay