The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

I can't always be optimistic.  My apologies.

I did start this HopeForFilm / TrulyFreeFilm blog in the hopes that community action could improve things for us all.  My original lists of 75 problems of indie film remain relevant, alas; and with this latest addition we are almost at 100 such challenges.

But don't be bummed, every problem is an opportunity, right?  To quote the great Walt Kelly of Pogo:  “We are surrounded by unsurmountable opportunities.”  We just need the will, the strength, the hope, and the power to change them.  12 Steps to progress?

I admit, even blessed by my last name, even I can't be always be optimistic, at least not if I want to also speak the truth. Sometimes throwing a brick is an act of love; you know what I mean?  And granted I've thrown a lot of bricks at this indie film thing. What can I say?  There's a great deal really wrong with our culture these days and a hell of a lot that can hurt our business.  We have to work together if we want to build it better.

Let's get started and call these "opportunities" out (in no particular order); maybe they are not so unsurmountable after all:

  1. Filmmakers are unable to earn a living even when they consistently make successful films.  Budgets have been dropping over the years -- and fees go down with them.  Movies are few and far between in terms of years for their makers and without overhead deals or teaching gigs, it's hard for a creator to stay focused on film unless one is wealthy.  And of course, net profits grow more of a joke daily (although they don't have to).
  2. The acquisition price for US rights hovers around 10% of the negative costs -- and no one complains.  Sometimes doesn't it seem like a cartel where all buyers got together and said "let's just offer less"?  If no one breaks rank, other than occasionally, all the buyers benefit -- and the only thing that can drive things is passion -- and the markets are supposed to be devoid of that.  We are better than just letting a market race to the bottom.  We should be able to recognize that the health of a culture is dependent on those that create and innovate being able to live a financially secure life.
  3. "Oops, I Farted" is the dominate "specialized" title of desire in these United States Of America.  Art film be damned.  The gaseous (fictional) title is courtesy of producer Mike Ryan who used it as shorthand for what he saw as most companies' acquisition strategy: the audience-friendly falsely-transgressive youth-focused star title.  Art film is dead.  Distribution companies don't just aim to give people what they want.  They also lead as everyone knows that people generally like what they want (The White Hare syndrome).  Where are we being led?
  4. This is the last year of celluloid.  Here's HwdRptr on it. What could be a better signifier of this than the fact that Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.  People are writing sad eulogies & fond remembrances. Nostalgia arrives in the same year as a passing these days.
  5. Although women directors proportionally make up the as many directors as men do in documentaries, they are not even close in narrative features.  This is true even if the Sundance competition is proportionally represented in terms of gender for the first time ever.  It sure took a long time to reach this point.  And how much does anyone want to bet that it slips back fast?  And what of all the festivals that are not so progressive?  Sure, folks say it really needs to always just be the best films, and I am not arguing for quotas anyway, it's just that we need to acknowledge that the system does not grant the same opportunities to everyone.  And further, equal opportunity has never come close to providing equal outcome .  We need to further the discussion of why there are not more women, youth, and people of color in positions of power in the entertainment industry.  After all they are the top consumers; it would make sense they know better what the people really want.
  6. Great reviews -- even in the most important newspaper in the world -- have no effect.  It used to be that indie & art film was good business because it was completely review driven.  You did not need to do much advertising if the critics gave you love.  Those days are dead and gone.  Two films I produced this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got excellent NY Times reviews, but fat lot it did them.  DARK HORSE even hit the trifecta with awesome reviews in the New Yorker and New York Magazine (Time and LA Times too), but fat lot of good that did.  Granted there are many factors to a film's lack of real cultural impact, but still: it once was that reviews like those films were worth a huge weight in gold.  And not they are not.  Critics were once our guide through the cultural landscape -- and that is how we selected our films.  Maybe it is time for a change, but for now we not only haven't found it, but losing what we once had makes it even harder to distribute what once was recognized as quality.
  7. The NY Times and others are going after the film and television tax credits.  These tax credits create jobs and spread wealth.  These tax credits keep our #2 national industry afloat.  Film is a migratory industry and these jobs will flea if they suspect tax policy is not stable. When the press goes after something in such a one-sided fashion, we have to wonder what really is afoot.  Further, we have to start to get serious about combatting such wrong-headiness.  We need to truly quantify the spend nationally in indie film.  If anyone wants to help fund this effort, I would love to undertake it at the San Francicso Film Society (hint, hint).  For more on this, see #13 below...
  8. People don't go to the movies anymore -- particularly young ones.  My tale of my 12 year old son ("I don't like movies, although I love many that I have seen") got quoted globally.  Sure, I need the statistics to back this up, and I hope you send them to me, but we all recognize that youth attendance is dropping.  Isn't it time we woke up from our dream, and started making films that had real youth appeal?
  9. Virtual print fees suck (VPFs are how digital projectors were both financed and indie films are shut out of national chains).  We had to turn down dates for DARK HORSE due to them.  Sure we have a DCP but between the traditional film rentals you a pay an exhibitor and the VPF most indie films can't expect to make money.  Let's say you pay 60% to the exhibitor and anticipate only a $2K gross.  That leaves you with $800.  And guess how much the VPF generally is?  So you  get nothing.  And it is not just in the US that the structure does not work.  Ditto for the UK.
  10. Even worse than not having any transparency in VOD numbers, there is not enough outcry about the lack of transparency in VOD numbers.  How can we make all of this public?
  11. VOD is still treated as a second-class citizen as VOD premieres can't get reviewed in major media outlets.  I am thankful we have On Demand Weekly, but when will the major media publications get wise to it?  And why is this not happening now?  Is it that they fear they would then lose the advertising for the movies?  Would they not be opening up a new advertising revenue source?  What's wrong with this picture?
  12. The US reports box-office revenue figures but not attendance.  How do we know how our business is and culture is doing if we can't get access to the numbers?  When will we truly have transparency in all things?  I thought information wanted to be free.  We were promised jet packs.
  13. We have yet to begin a real effort to quantify the spend on indie film, both directly and indirectly.  If we don't harvest the data our work generates, we don't control the power that is rightfully ours.  Since the only thing that talks in this town is money, we need to be able to speak accurately about how we create jobs, benefit communities, and generate wealth.
  14. The Digital Disaster is digging in deep. There are many aspects of this, but we particularly bury our head in the sand when it comes to preservation of digital works.  Recommended best practices for digital data is to migrate it from your drives every 3 months.  If you don't do that, you can not be assured you will have an archival quality copy.  As of five years ago, very few cinema makers finished their work on celluloid -- which could preserve work for over 100 years.  So in the race for technology to save us, we traded 100+ years for 3 months.  Hooray, right?  Read this.
  15. To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance.”   Grand abundance is not a bad thing; choices are wonderful when you know they are there.  I even argue from a cultural point of view, this abundance is splendid.  The problem is we still haven't evolved our culture or business infrastructure to adapt for this change.  We still rely on the methods of promotion, discovery, consumption, & participation that were built in the era of scarcity and control.  Without pivoting our methods towards this new reality, more movies don't get seen, more movies don't recoup, and more frustration abounds.  Items #1 & 2 on this list are a direct result of this one.
  16. The industry undermines the possibility of creating a sustainable investor class.  We all know about the Harry Potter "net profits".  I have to admit though Napoleon Dynamite was a surprise; how can the creators only get 12.88%?  Even it being legal, it's not right.  The best thing any of us can do for our industry, culture, and community is to make sure that those that create, as well as those that support them, are able to be rewarded for the work they create.  We are so far away from this being a reality, yet I see and hear so little discussion about it.  This should be an urgent matter on all of our leaders' lips.
  17. There is not enough money to teach media literacy in the schools.  We are bombarding  kids with content and yet we don't give them tools to decipher it. let alone defend themselves against it.  It's great all the conversation that Zero Dark Thirty has stirred up, but it only underlines the support we must give our children.
  18. Blog commenting burn-out is the law of the land.  Comments were my favorite things on blogs.  I used to get a lot here.  Now we get "likes" and tweets.  I started blogging because it seemed to me to be a community building tool.  When it is one sided it is not community.  Maybe it is me.  Maybe I am writing in a style that no longer encourages commenting.  Or maybe it is the community itself.  Or maybe all the comments just end up on the facebook page.  Whatever it is, it was more vibrant when people participated.
  19. There is so little that reads as truthful in the press.  It was so refreshing to read this interview with Terry Zwigoff on The Playlist because he told it as he sees it.  And that is so rare.  It is a shame.  Imagine a world where people recognized it was okay to share how you felt -- oh what a wonderful world that would be.
  20. We limit culture by the limits of what we support.  I got to make movies because a few folks recognized that although they didn't personally like my films, there not only were those that did, but also that my films were furthering the cultural discussions.  The success -- and now necessity -- of the various film support labs for screenwriters, fiction directors, and doc directors are invaluable, but they are also limiting.  American documentaries are generally all social issue, personal triumph, and pop culture surveys as that is what our support structures encourage.  Ditto on the fiction tale of triumph over adversity.  And I love all those forms, but there is so much out there that is still being overlooked.  And we even neglect the commercial forms.  Where are the labs for horror films or thrillers, the genres that actually work in the marketplace?  Where are those that really are trying to advance the cultural dialogue?  Is there a way we can start to pivot to widen our reach?  This may sound like something minor to most, but I do think we are doing our culture and community by not supporting more of what the audience wants.  Can this be a symptom of the gatekeepers thinking they know best?  How can we give the community a bigger say in what gets advanced?
  21. The bifurcation of the have and have-nots, I mean the tentpoles and passionate amateurs, has created a possibility gap.  Indie film was once a farm team for the studios.  David O. Russel, Ang Lee, Quentin T., Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, and many many more of our current greats all came through true indie work.  The next wave is being deprived of access to all the colors on the palate.  The drop out of the mid-range picture means that some of our greatest hopes for the future will never get to mix for the Atmos Sound System, will never get to play with something beyond the Cannon 5D camera, will never get the opportunity to build out a full story world architecture.  We are going to limit our dreams of the future by not giving new waves of artists access to experiment with all the tools that are available.
  22. Narrative film, despite firmly embracing micro-budget limits, has no staged-financing structure yet implemented.  Although I definitely want to do something about this, there are very little options available for filmmakers other than raising all their money upfront.  Now, many may argue that is irresponsible to shoot a film without full financing in place, one only needs to look at the doc world to see  the positive results from staged financing.  Doc films have proportional representation in terms of gender in the directorial ranks; could this be related to staged financing?  Since indie will always be an execution dependent art form, wouldn't it make sense to have a structure that allows for proof of principal?
  23. Investors have nowhere to turn to get better information regarding non-traditional film investment.  When they can only turn to the agencies for "expert" advice, they only get one side of the story.  Yes, they can hire high-priced consultants, armed with all sorts of numbers, but where do they usually find these consultants?  Why  from the agencies of course!  The agencies have tremendous insight for sure, just as these consultants do, but it is hard for change to take hold, when all our advice comes from the same source.  Imagine if we had a real investors' summit, led by folks outside of the business or power centers?  Imagine if we had services in place to train new investors in specific areas of  what might become their expertise.  Imagine if we had the structures in place which allowed these same investors to collaborate across projects.
  24. Where are the leaders in indie film?  I was very inspired by both Joana Vicente's & Keri Putnam's move into not-for-profit commitment.  Without them taking a first step, I probably would not have been willing to put down my project-producing magic wand for a time, and focus on rebuilding infrastructure for a time.  But frankly I expected many more at this point to be committed to giving more back. Those that have made a life time of non-profit counter-balance that a bit, but I expected more.  I started the blog because I thought if I spoke up, others would too.  There have been many positive contributions to the blog, and yes new leaders have emerged to some degree, but frankly I would have expected more producers, directors, executives, and screenwriters to step up and say that we have a tremendous opportunity before us and we best act on it or else that window will close.  I still believe it to be true: if you are not on the bus, you are part of the problem.  There may be 99 Problems but make it clear that you are not one.

Just remember: Lists like this only make the foolish despair.  We can build it better together.

And if that is not enough to get you through the night, I did write a couple of antidotes.  You can always read "The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012"

Critics Agree: See STARLET This Weekend

Check it:

LA Times: "One of the year's most arresting, heartfelt indies".

NY Times (Manhola Dargis): "The bright sun that blasts through “Starlet,” a thrillingly, unexpectedly good American movie about love and a moral awakening, bathes everything in a radiant light, even the small houses with thirsty lawns and dusty cars. This isn’t nowhere, but it’s right next door..."

Variety: "Though named after a party girl's pet Chihuahua, "Starlet" could just as easily describe the two exceptional first-timers making their debuts in this brittle, beautifully understated San Fernando Valley character study"

Village Voice: "An empathic, absorbing tale of the old and the beautiful, Starlet tracks an unlikely intergenerational friendship in the San Fernando ValleyDirector Sean Baker's genuine admiration for these two women extends to their idiosyncrasies, yet they never become fools, whores, saints, or coots."

NPR: "Starlet represents a welcome throwback to the smoggy West Coast character studies of the 1970s"

The Onion AV Club: "Starlet is refreshingly unsentimental in its depiction of both youth and age. Starlet is an unusually subtle, quiet character study that builds to a quietly powerful climax"

And if you want something from the man on the street, how does @RealRonHoward grab you?  "We really enjoyed Starlet Excellent performances"

Need I say more?  The 1st weekend of a film, as you know damn well, makes or breaks an indie.  Please check it out this weekend in New York or LA.

Where Will STARLET Play In The USA?

You missed it at SXSW?  You missed it at Locarno?  You read the great reviews and you want to see what it is all about.  Well you can check out Sean Baker's latest at: Theater Name          City               State                         Date

Sunshine Cinema    New York New York             11/9/12 Elinor Bunin Munroe Center   New YorkNew York   11/9/12 Sundance Cinema Sunset 5   Los AngelesCalifornia  11/9/12 Playhouse 7                                PasadenaCalifornia     11/9/12 Town Center 5                            EncinoCalifornia          11/9/12 E Street                                         Washington D.C.          11/16/12 Westpark 8                                  IrvineCalifornia             11/16/12 Monica 4                                     Santa MonicaCA             11/16/12 Camelot                                        Palm SpringsCA              11/16/12 Camelview 5                                ScottsdaleArizona          11/30/12 Magnolia                                     DallasTexas                      11/30/12 Harvard Exit                               SeattleWashington          11/30/12 Shattuck                                       BerkeleyCalifornia           11/30/12 Landmark Theatre                    San FranciscoCA              11/30/12 Camera 3                                      San JoseCalifornia           11/30/12 Uptown Birmingham                DetroitMichigan               12/7/12 Landmark Theatre                     DenverColorado                 12/7/12 Ken Cinema                                  San DiegoCalifornia         12/7/12 Music Box Theatre                      ChicagoIllinois                  12/7/12 Ritz at the Bourse                        PhiladelphiaPA                  12/7/12 Fox Tower Stadium 10               PortlandOregon                  12/14/12 Arbor 8                                           AustinTexas                         12/14/12

Be Among The First To See Sean Baker's STARLET

Yes, it's true: STARLET premiered in the USA in competition at SXSW (where it won Best Actor) , and just recently made it's international debut in competition at Locarno (where it won the Junior Jury Award), quickly followed by Oldenburg (Germany).  And it's been getting great reviews.  Music Box is set to release in the States late fall or early winter, and we have a whole long list of places you may be able to catch Starlet first.  In fact there are six more prestigious fests that are to screen it that I could not list because they have yet to announce their line-ups.   But check out all the places you can see it first:

Upcoming festival screenings for STARLET:

• Vancouver (Canada)
Section: Cinema of Our Time 
Attending: Sean
Sept. 29th: 6:15pm
Sept. 30th: 10:30am

• Reykjavik (Iceland)
Section: Main Competition
Attending: Radium
Oct 1st: 2pm
Oct 2nd: 8pm
Oct 3rd: 10pm
• Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Sept. 27-Oct. 11
Screening dates tbd

• BFI London (UK)
Section: Love
Attending: Sean
Oct 12th: 8:45pm
Oct 14th: 6pm
Oct 16th: 9pm
• Hamptons (NY)
Section: World Cinema
Oct. 6th: 5pm
Oct. 7th: 10:15pm
Attending: Kevin, Francesca, Dree, Allan, Radium, Chris Bergoch, Blake (tbd), Sean (tbd)
• Woodstock (NY)
Section: Narrative Features
Oct. 12th: 2pm
Oct. 14th: 3:45pm
Attending: Blake, Chris Bergoch, Shih-Ching (tbd), Radium (tbd)
• Hawaii 
Section: New American Filmmakers
Oct. 16th: 6:45pm
Oct. 20th: 1:15pm
Attending: Radium
• Mill Valley (CA)
Section: US Cinema
Oct. 4th: 9:45pm
Oct. 6th: 10pm
• Chicago (IL)
Section: World Cinema
Oct. 13th: 4:15pm
Oct. 20th: 9:30pm
Attending: tbd
You will be able to check it out soon, and I hope you do.  I had the good fortune of being able to lend a hand in getting it done, and have an Executive Producer credit as a result.

Kickstarting for Theatrical Distribution: Pro’s & Con’s

by Sara Kiener

One day we’ll say “I remember the film industry before crowdfudning existed,” and newcomers will drop their jaws in disbelief. Kickstarter has made a quick and lasting impression on the industry, opening doors for filmmakers who have reached the end of their fundraising and grant writing ropes. Countless movies have been made that wouldn’t have been made without Kickstarter - many of which have left a significant mark in the festival circuit, in theaters and in our homes. One of the more recent trends that I’m intrigued by is the bevy of films Kickstarting to raise funds for theatrical distribution. Urbanized, My Reincarnation, Tchoupitoulas, Detropia and, more recently, Taiwan Oyster, Starlet and The Waiting Room (the latter 3 are currently active) have been green-lighting their own theatrical releases. With their success, I'm sure many more filmmakers will follow suit in the coming months.
Whether you’re raising funds for a portion of your budget or you're trying to get your movie seen on the big screen following a robust festival reception, here are some factors to consider before you launch:Kickstarting to MAKE a movie:

  • Pro's
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to make your film.
    • You also get to connect with your audience before your film even exists.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies.
    • Through the process of your campaigning, you get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, and you can use this data to inform your outreach and marketing efforts later on in your films’ release. Crowdsourcing is your chance to try anything and everything, and learn how to connect and engage with your audience so come screening time, you’ll have a slew of email addresses and Facebook fans to tell about your exciting news, in a tried and true engaging way.

  • Con’s
    • You HAVE to connect with your audience BEFORE your film exists. You have nothing (or very little) to show to your fans. If you do get backers, it’ll be months and months before you can show them a completed project and, by then, they may have lost interest in your project.
    • If you run a mediocre or not very successful campaign, you won’t be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies. If they do stumble upon your less-than-awesome campaign, you may look disorganized or as if there is no built-in audience for your project down the line.
    • If and when the time comes that you need more money to finish your film/distribute your film/travel with your film/create key art for your film and so on, you may have already tapped out all your favors and asks via Kickstarter.

Kickstarting to DISTRIBUTE a movie:

  • Pro’s
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to distribute your film and hold on to your theatrical rights.
    • You also get to connect with your fans RIGHT before you unleash your film onto the universe. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll Kickstart with a theatrical plan in mind so that you can announce theatrical details throughout your campaign.
    • You get to SELL a finished product to your fans. Digital downloads, DVDs, tickets and community screenings (what people want!) are just a click.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by exhibitors across the country. Once upon a time, regional theaters looked to New York opening weekend grosses to decide if they would book a film. What if they looked at your Kickstarter grosses instead?
    • You get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, as you gear up for your theatrical outreach. So by the time you’re 2 months out from your opening date, you already have a slew of partners waiting and ready to pounce on your promotions.

  • Con’s
    • Somehow you have to finance your film to completion without Kickstarter. Good luck!
    • If you’re Kickstarting to raise funds in order to hire a team to distribute a film (bookers, designers, publicists, grassroots outreach, etc.), you have to WAIT until you have the money in place before you can hire them. It can be a tremendously stressful situation to be in.
    • If you blow your film industry coverage and buzz on your festival circuit and your Kickstarter campaign, who will you turn to in order to create buzz for theatrical? Be mindful of the delicate balance - on the one hand, you need some industry press talking about your kickstarter campaign so that you can hit your goal and release the film. On the other hand, you need some industry press talking about your film right before theatrical, to help get butts in seats when the day comes.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong time to crowdfund. It just depends on what you want to get out of the experience, besides money. As you prepare for your crowdfunding campaign, be mindful of how the above factors may impact your films’ long term trajectory. And then hold your breath and hit the "launch" button!

Sara Kiener is the co-founder and marketing director of Film Presence which has implemented grassroots outreach and social media campaigns for over 30 films as they've prepare for their theatrical, DVD, broadcast, festival premieres and Kickstarter launches. Film Presence places an emphasis on organizational partnerships and community building. Highlights include the 2011 Oscar Nominated WASTE LAND and 2011 Oscar Nominated HELL AND BACK AGAIN. Twitter: @SaraKiener @FilmPresence

Five Lessons We Learned While Making STARLET

by Blake Ashman-Kipervaser (producer)

As a film producer I find that each production I work on has its own unique set of challenges and the process can feel a bit like a roller coaster ride at times. Yet somehow things always seem to work out, and hopefully after its done you feel you've learned something or become stronger at what you do. With STARLET undergoing finishing work and getting ready to be released later this year I've thought back on some of the recent close calls and other experiences we survived during the making of the film and how fortuitous many of them seem to be in hindsight.  Here are five examples which I hope will help other filmmakers in some shape or form. 

1. The right place at the right time 

While developing another project STARLET director Sean Baker,

executive producer Shih-Ching Tsou and DP Radium Cheung shot tests with a DSLR camera and a vintage Iscorama anamorphic lens adapater Sean had purchased on Ebay. The results looked promising. We thought we’d be able to use the adapter on the STARLET shoot even though we'd changed cameras to the Sony F3. As it turned out when we finally had a chance to test the F3 with the Iscorama adapter the results were not acceptable. This left us in a major bind scrambling at the last minute to find a set of anamporphic lenses that a) were available and b) were affordable. Both equally challenging!  The risk being that if we couldn’t find anything that worked we'd have to compromise by shooting the film in the flat 1:85 format instead of scope 2:35 which Sean and Radium had always envisioned.

A year earlier while researching options online Radium found a person who appeared to rent and sell anamorphic lenses. We got back in touch with him and it turned out he was living in a trailer park sixty miles north of LA and had one set of lenses available for rent. When we visited him at the trailer park we looked at the lenses and sure enough they were the real deal.  Russian lomos from the 70's but in perfect condition.  Despite the fact that they weighed a ton they were great lenses.  He explained to us that he had acquired a stockpile of Russian lenses just after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Sort of a right place, right time situation. He was introduced to the right contacts in Moscow and went back several times to purchase more. He'd been making a living off renting and selling them for the last 20 years. We were lucky he had this one set available. When we went back to him during post for a reshoot he had already sold them.

 (l to r) Shih-Ching Tsou, Sean Baker, and Adam Kolkman at the trailer park testing a lens.

2. There are others out there just like you

Our script included a few scenes in which some of the main characters play a first person shooter style video game. We needed to find a game that would allow us to use their footage in the film, and for a reduced price. Because STARLET does contain some explicit content we tried to only approach companies that wouldn’t have a problem with this. We had an ally who is well connected in the video game industry help make the initial calls for us. After receiving rejections from the first couple companies approached we learned of one that seemed excited about working with us. They gave us permission to use their footage and we filmed it off the monitor during production. Contractually we agreed to show them the scenes with their footage in the final edit before they signed off so they could be sure we weren’t depicting their game in a derogatory way. Very deep into post-production we sent them clips of those scenes and everything seemed to be ok. They sent an executable copy of the agreement to our attorney which I signed and sent back.  Then all of a sudden they came back and insisted we show them the entire film. Once they saw the sex scene in the film they pulled out (no pun intended).  Due to the corporate nature of their business they just couldn’t be associated with something so risque.  Ironically, they create games for adolescents that revolve around killing everything in sight.

As you can imagine this was an extremely stressful situation for us. We were warned by our contact in the game industry that we wouldn't be able to find anyone else. However, we refused to believe that as we knew that the game community has just as many independent creators as the film community. It had to be a good opportunity for somebody!  We searched Kickstarter and IndieGoGo for crowdfunding campaigns and sent messages out. Within a couple days we connected with Jason Welge of Panzer Gaming Studios who responded enthusiastically to our request. He was psyched about having his game ‘Left to Rot’ appear in the film. And it worked perfectly for us. It was a win win for all.

3. Dreams do come true 

Our co-lead character Sadie is an elderly woman living in the Valley. Initially we wanted to cast an aging starlet for the role. Along with our casting director, Julia Kim we approached several famous actresses for the role. We got one of them on board. It was an exciting moment in our pre-production. But just as quickly as we got her attached, she dropped out.  Ultimately, we weren’t able to meet her budget needs. Around the same time our executive producer Shih-Ching Tsou was exercising at a YMCA in West Hollywood when she discovered Besedka Johnson. When she approached Johnson and asked her if she’d ever acted, Johnson’s eyes lit up and she responded “I’ve never acted but I’ve always dreamed of it.”  A few days later we auditioned her for the role and she immediately won us all over. We cast her and the rest is history.  At SXSW she was awarded a Special Jury Recognition for her performance. She told the audience at the premiere "Dreams do come true". 

4. Strike quickly when opportunity knocks

During pre-production while we were out scouting one of our locations, Talent Testing Services, a very well-known adult film performer Manuel Ferrara was on his way out as we were walking in. Sean had been considering him for an important role in the film and had mentioned this to me a few days earlier. Shortly after Manuel exited the clinic, Sean leaned over to me and whispered “That was Manuel, should I go follow him and talk to him about the film?”.  I nodded yes and Sean chased him down in the parking lot.  When Sean returned a few minutes later he gave us the good news that Manuel said yes. 

5. Divine Intervention

One of our greatest challenges during the making of STARLET was finding a car for our lead character, Jane.  We wanted something with some character, a little beat up, and a little outdated, but nothing over the top or quirky. It also had to have working air conditioner as we were shooting in the Valley in August which is hot as hell, and it needed to be automatic for our actress. That last condition we failed to make happen.  We spent several weeks searching used car lots, rental places that specialized in renting damaged cars, as well as asking all of our friends if they knew of anything.  Finally we found something that worked. A late nineties Saturn. We paid too much but by that time we were desparate. And we had exhausted all our other options. We later found out it had a lein on it too but that’s another story... 

The car lasted us a couple good weeks of shooting before it broke down, erupting with heavy smoke while I was driving to set on the 405. We were exremeley aggravated at the thought of throwing more money into trying to fix it, after already having spent too much to begin with. Later that day, while shooting a scene, our DP Radium Cheung was framing a shot, looking into the lens when he saw an identical looking car stopped a red light in the deep background. He yelled “That’s our car!!”  I literally ran into the intersection and pitched the female driver the possibility of renting it to us for the rest of our shoot. Amazingly she agreed! If that hadn’t happened I’m not sure what we’d have done. 

As these stories suggest, filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. Those 5 lessons only scratch the surface of what we’ve had to overcome to make STARLET. One final lesson is that sometimes, even when the stars align, you still need help to get to the finish line.  We were very fortunate to have premiered the film at SXSW and received positive responses from audiences and critics alike. This led to a N. American distribution deal with Music Box Films – a company whose work we admire and who believes in our film. It also led to Rezo Films acquiring the film for international sales. Both of these companies are taking a risk on STARLET and will have to work hard to ensure that it finds its audience. There is no easy path for true independent films.

That is what brings us to Kickstarter. We have been short on funds for a while as we’ve tried to take the film to completion.  Due to lack of time and money we screened the film at SXSW before having done a proper sound design and mix, and color correction. We licensed only festival rights for the music. We went into debt just to be able to attend the premiere. And now we need your help. We will be able to get this film out there in the way that we also intended if we are able to meet our goal on Kickstarter. We hope that you will be interested in supporting our project and our future filmmaking efforts.

Blake Ashman-Kipervaser is an independent film producer based in New York.  STARLET premiered at SXSW 2012 and will be released later this year by Music Box Films. They are currently raising finishing funds on Kickstarter. Please visit their page here: to support the film.