Be careful what you wish for…

We were down to the last two days of fundraising. Still short about $20,000 to get to 78% of our budget, which is what we need to realistically crowd fund the rest. I sent out one final email push and waited, watching the clock…

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And then it happened. Another investor. And another. And one of our investors already on board decides to up their investment.

And it happened. We hit 78%. And then 80%. And then 81% And then 82%. We have made it to the next level. We can plausibly crowd fund the rest.

We furiously worked to launch the campaign, which involves submitting pages of material about our project, not to mention shooting a campaign video. We scrambled to schedule two of our actors, John Sloan and Milena Govich, to join me and Catia in the video. Being successful actors, both John and Milena had multiple conflicts but we managed to find 75 minutes when all of us were available at the same time.

Beau brought cameras and a tripod, and we shot a funny little video on our bedroom:

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Everyone did their job and we got our footage.

We bought an urn (for the movie, hopefully not for us). We raced around town for a still photo shoot for promotional purposes.

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Not to mention tons of phone calls, networking, research and hours of work. And in the midst of it all, I had a chilling yet wonderful realization:

We are making this movie.

It’s happening. We still need more money, and a crowd funding campaign isn’t easy, but one way or another we will make it, if I have to personally call everyone I know to kick in at least $25. What has been in the ether for years now is becoming a reality.

Here we go…

How Dare I Do This

It’s been an exciting few weeks since my last update about our fundraising push. We have over 35 investors on board who have pledged more than $80,000 towards making our movie. We still need over $50,000 to reach our budget, but if we can cut the difference in half then we will launch a crowd sourcing campaign for the rest.

Despite having a long way to go in a short time, it is amazing and a bit terrifying that we have raised as much as we have. That’s over 80,000 examples of faith in that I can deliver this movie. Looking at it another way, it’s like more than 80,000 George Washingtons judging me if I fail. That’s like a filled stadium! Too overwhelming. Let’s just say 800 Ben Franklins.

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“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth… wait, HOW much does your movie cost? And what’s a movie?”

Of course there is doubt. I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t, right? As a freelance writer and director I deal with doubt on a regular basis. Successes are fleeting, and rejections sometimes stick a long time. If you have two minutes, Ben Folds and Nick Hornby do an EXCELLENT (and slightly NSFW) job in the song “A Working Day” to describe what it’s like to be a writer. For example: “Some guy on the net thinks I suck, and he should know; he’s got his own blog.”

In fact, the pledges from investors are very encouraging. I feel empowered by their faith and desire to go on the journey with us. Sure, there have been a lot of rejections from potential investors, but that is to be expected and is not daunting.

However, a few rejections gave me pause. The gist of their comments are simple: “I would rather spend my money helping our country right now, as we are in a bad place.” Another potential investor delayed the investor conversation because of planning a benefit to support child refugees.

Yes. Absolutely. There is nothing more important than overcoming the obstacles to human rights in our country in the coming months and years. I have been calling, writing, and marching. I am nervous for the future for us all, especially my two year old son. We are at a dangerous crossroad right now…

…so how dare I think about taking money from the greater good for a selfish cause like making a movie?

Taking this even further, some of the people who have already pledged to invest are going through hard times right now, and I’m talking EXTREME hard times: sudden loss of loved ones, dying pets, career changes. Surely I should let them off the hook with their investment and let them focus on their grief and troubles.

Furthermore:

  • This movie won’t save the world.
  • This movie isn’t important. (I just watched 13th. THAT is definitely an important movie and if you haven’t seen it already, see it tonight.)
  • This movie won’t solve any of our nation’s problems.
  • This movie will cost money that could otherwise go to help people out.

So with all that’s going on out there, why make this movie?

And here’s where I’m drawing a blank. I’ve spent the last two days staring at this screen, willing the words to come. And I can’t. This is where I’m supposed to turn this post around and talk about the importance of art. The importance of going to work every day no matter what. How we should all just keep going with our lives.

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But I can’t say that.

Because this movie is definitely NOT more important than protecting women’s reproductive rights. This movie is definitely NOT more important than making sure people of all color, gender, and sexual orientation are free to live as themselves without fear of the government or hate groups persecuting them. Same goes with religious freedom for those practicing ANY religion, or those who don’t practice any religion. This movie is NOT more important than saving our earth from corporate greed, and protecting the environment from humanity, as if we weren’t the most important creatures on this planet. This movie is NOT more important than helping refugees who are giving up everything they have just to escape danger. This movie is not more important than caring for dying loved ones, burying pets, healing from horrible injuries and illnesses, and putting food on our table while helping others put food on their table.

This movie is so unimportant. And I can’t pretend otherwise.

But I’m still going to make this movie.

The Big Push!

Our investor campaign 2.0 is in full swing. We sent out emails, made phone calls, and would be willing to tap dance for dollars if it makes a difference.

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And investors have responded. As of this morning we have received over half our goal amount. Even better, we are over 75% towards our goal of having enough money to crowd source the rest. And as you read this, over a dozen investors and producers are mulling over their participation, and at what level.

Keep on dancing, keep on dancing.

It has been an interesting and exciting challenge to fund raise. Sure, I have a mailing list for my writing career (nearly 800 people!) and there are all of you who read this blog (nearly 8 people!), but I had to stretch my circle of contacts further.

Facebook!

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I scrolled through all of my Facebook friends to see if there was anyone who might be a match for this project. Who did I find?

  • Out of work actor
  • Unemployed writer
  • Underemployed actor
  • High school teacher
  • Improv instructor
  • Financial planner
  • Waiter (a.k.a. unemployed actor)
  • Dog trainer
  • Doctor
  • Blogger

Wait. Back up. That’s it!

Nope, the improv instructor doesn’t have any extra funds right now. And that dog walker started a GoFundMe for rent. But wait, hold on… financial planner? Doctor?

Should I reach out to these people? One is someone I haven’t spoken to SINCE HIGH SCHOOL. And for those of you who don’t know me personally, that was OVER EIGHT YEARS ago. And the doctor? Wait, a relative is doing very well. I kept scrolling, and found others who were doing well financially, or at least appeared to be doing well on Facebook.

But why would they want to hear from me about money? Won’t they be offended? Am I good enough to ask for money? Is this project worth it? Aren’t there bigger issues in the world today? Who do I think I am?

And then a voice spoke to me:

“Just ask them, dummy.”

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“Who you callin’ dummy?”

There’s no harm in asking! People can say no. People can be offended.

But I’m not getting anywhere unless I ask. And so I did.

And do you know what happened?

I got a lot of rejections.

But I reconnected with a lot of people and caught up with them. One friend and his wife are gearing up to adopt. Another friend was in a serious accident and is on the long slow road to recovery, but is recovering. Another friend is making a movie of his own and can’t fund anyone else’s movie. It felt very good to reconnect with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. And human contact, albeit electronically, is vital and important.

But it won’t pay for my movie.

But there are a few people who pledged money! And a few others who are considering it. So it was worth it.

If we get greenlit (WHEN we get greenlit!) there will be a lot of uncomfortable moments in the coming months. I have to embrace them. And embrace pushing myself to new and scary places.

This was a good step.

Oh, and if I didn’t connect with you and you want to find out about investing, reach out to me! At the very least, I would LOVE the opportunity to strike up a conversation with you and see how you are doing.

Concluding a Campaign

About six weeks ago we launched a campaign to raise money for Closure, as detailed in the post M Day. Our goal was to raise the funds and immediately go into pre-production. If we remained on schedule we would start shooting on January 9th and shoot for three six-day weeks.

The good news: we were able to get commitments from nine different investors, who pledged a total of $54,000 to making the movie. This is very flattering that so many people had faith in me and this project, and were willing to back up that faith with cold hard cash.

The bad news: while $54,000 is a lot of money, it is less than 20% of our budget. This means that there is no way we can make the movie the way we want to make it, which included paying our actors the union scale rate under a professional contract, having a full crew and support staff, and securing the multiple locations in the script. The amount of money we still need would be extremely difficult to raise via crowdsourcing, and even if we could we wouldn’t have time to get it all before our projected shoot date.

So what does this mean? To put it simply: we failed.

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One word says it all

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. We set a goal, and didn’t come close to reaching it. We wrote numerous emails and made a number of phone calls, but at the end of our campaign we came up way short. Some of the people who turned us down were very positive, offering to connect us with other potential investors and producing partners. Others turned us down outright. Others never responded to our query. All responses (or lack of responses) were to be expected.

But I’m not depressed about it. We’ve heard it all before. “Failure is part of the path to success.” “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And my favorite, from the Book of Curly: “If at first you don’t succeed…” Well, check it out for yourself.

Okay, so maybe I’m a little depressed about it. I wanted to spend the month of December buried in pre-production, then kick of the year by shooting a movie. A challenging but successful three weeks, then a few months editing, some placement in big film festivals, then world domination.

So what now? Crawl under a rock until the holidays are over? Bury myself in other work? Write a new script?

Yes to all of these, but this doesn’t mean abandon Closure. In fact, Beau, Catia and I have a new plan and a timeline to make it happen:

Step one: Revise the budget and script. Beau will create a lower budget version, which will involve fewer crew members, lower pay for the actors (with a lower budget, we can utilize a contract with SAG/AFTRA that allows for lower pay), and fewer shoot days. To help get the budget down, I will attack the script with a sharp scalpel, cutting out characters that may only have a few lines, and assign the important details those characters provide to larger characters. Also, I will cut out locations that may be too expensive (do I really need that restaurant scene?) and generally make this script easier to shoot from a production standpoint.  When: December 2016

Step two: Reach out to investors again. If our investors were willing to be on board with a  larger budget, surely they will come on board with a much smaller budget. There are certainly advantages (and a few disadvantages) to this type of investment. Hopefully they will come through with the same amount, or maybe slightly more. When: First week of January 2017.

Step three: Launch crowdfunding campaign. Hopefully we can get all we need from investors, but if we need to bridge the gap we are prepared to crowdsource. I have never actually created a crowdsourcing campaign, so hopefully people out there will respond positively. The hard part is that crowdfunding is a big job. Many hours a day go into a successful campaign, and it will be a challenge to find the time between production work on the movie, my other projects, and… well, raising a two-year old. When: Launch last week of January 2017.

Step four: Make the movie! With funding in place, all that’s left to do is finalize every detail before we shoot. Locations, casting, crew hires, props, set, wardrobe, lighting, sound, etc… all this need to be done in advance of the shoot. But we feel we can get everything done prior to shooting. When: Start shooting mid-March, for two weeks.

Ambitious? Certainly. Possible? Definitely. The best way to overcome failure is to not let failure stop you. Keep going. And so we will.

Until then, thanks for reading this blog, have a very happy holidays with those close to you, and stay tuned for more success regarding Closure in 2017.

 

 

Chasing the Money

 

Last post I wrote a little bit about directing, and Natalie Portman. Mostly about Natalie Portman. And I wrote about the many different hats one has to wear when making a film, or creating any kind of art, really. I wrote the script and I will be directing the movie.

But none of that happens without money.

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Let’s get this party started.

This entire journey so far has been hypothetical. Yes, there’s a script. There have been readings with actors. There is a producer on board (and more to come). We’ve even set a date. But it’s all one big “what if.” To go from the hypothetical to concrete plans takes cold hard cash. And while I’m wearing my directing hat and my writing monocle, I also need to put on my producer codpiece.

Right now producer Beau is working on a budget. Two, actually. The first is our practical budget. This is one where everyone gets paid, all the unions are involved and happy, and we have enough crew to make sure no one person becomes a pack mule of equipment. Even I will draw a salary as writer and director. We will shoot for two to three weeks. I can’t go into specifics right now, but this budget will likely involve five zeros after the first number.

The second budget is the “we’re making a movie no matter what” budget. We can’t the money we need, so this is the bare bones way of making a movie. Actors work on deferred pay. Crew gets not much more than that. I will also work for nothing up front other than bagels and Twix bars. We will squeeze the shoot into two weeks with a day off in the middle. This budget will probably only involve four zeros after the first number. And that first number better be smaller than seven.

So where do we get the money? There are a number of ways to get a budget raised and secured for a film:

  1. Be Independently Wealthy

This is the best way to get anything done, for that matter. Take the money from whatever startup you sold to Google, or inheritance from Great Grandpappy  Rockefeller, and write a big ol’ check.

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Alas, number one does not apply to me. If this applies to you, then tell the person you hired to read you this blog out loud while another person prepares your lobster dinner to give me a call and send me a check!

2. Be a Celebrity

Being a celebrity is a great way to get a movie made! People who invest in movies with celebrities get to be producers and HANG OUT ON SET with celebrities! You can even pretend to tell them what to do, and they will smile, showing gleaming white teeth, and say “that’s a great idea. We’ll try it out on set” and then open another bottle of prosecco.

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Invest in their next movie and they will totally take you to lunch.

This also works if you are the child of a celebrity, although it is a little harder. Confidential message to the 17 people who read my blog regularly: I am not a celebrity or even a child of a celebrity. My parents chose the totally un-famous careers as an attorney and public school principal. Why couldn’t one of them have been Kato Kaelin?!?

3. Know Someone at a Major Studio who has Produced your Work Previously

I know OF someone at a major studio. That works, right? Right? Hello? I had a pitch meeting on the Paramount lot once. Still waiting for my big check…

4. Develop Relationships Over Time with Investors

Ah hah! This is a legitimate option. I’ve been a creator of D.I.Y. theater and film for nearly two decades now, and because I strive to create great projects, I have been lucky to meet people with financial means greater than my own who have invested in my projects in the past. Sometimes they come close to breaking even (and sometimes nowhere near close) but they are always involved in the project, and usually take pleasure in helping bring it to fruition.

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The MVPs of Independent Filmmaking

Once we have a budget, we will likely reach out to the angels we know and see how close we can get.

5. Crowdsourcing

We all know about this one. Projects funded by the most important people out there: you! Everyone you know (and some strangers) kick in what they can, from a buck to $5 to $100 to even more. On the surface, it’s simple: pick a platform (like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or Seed and Spark), set your goal amount, set rewards for various levels of donation, then make videos, Tweet, Facebook and email your hands off to reach the promised land. Simple, but definitely not easy. Most people who have succeeded in hitting their budget goals via crowdsourcing say that it’s a full time job.

To be honest, any of these options are full time jobs. Making this movie is my job for the coming months. Which hopefully leads to more jobs and opportunities.

But I can’t think of that now. First, the budget. Once we have the numbers we will figure out which approach is best for this project. Then we chase the money.