Fundraising for AMPeter's "Hacker Ethic" now live on IndieGoGo.com
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Matías: How do you get your first money to make your film?
Bertelsen: The first money is the hardest. I’m sure that’s not a newsflash. Typically it comes from well-established relationships including friends and family. Ultimately, the first money comes when you can demonstrate the reliability of your project. The trick is to get around the whole catch 22 when they say, what have you done before? If there was kind of a magic formula to that, I would have bottled it by now and sold it and paying for the rest of my career.
Kohli: I think before you get into the game, you need very little money to actually build alliances…people who get on board early, which can be organizations or grants…that align with your project.
Rubin: IndieGoGo is an online marketplace to connect filmmakers to fans. We’re giving the tools to filmmakers for fundraising. The filmmakers have already raised tens of thousands of dollars on IndieGoGo. Some of them have already had established films in their prior careers and their building their audiences online to turn that into money for their next films. Many of the filmmakers for the first time are raising between $500 to $10,000.
Bertelsen: Your first money can be a very strategic proposition. It doesn’t require everything up front. It’s about building partnerships, whether it be with established filmmakers, production companies, websites, etc. A lot of times, the early work of getting the first money is just a matter of forming relationships who can give you credibility as a filmmaker and give your story the legitimacy you know that it has.
Matías: Many filmmakers here are everything…we produce, direct, hand out the coffee, edit. How do you feel about that?
Levis: Start with a package that ultimately you want to get to an investor. These partnerships are intended to tell a sophisticated investor what you’re looking for and that the return for them is there. My belief is that you strengthen yourself by delegating to individuals that will strengthen your project. You may be an amazing director, but you find a producer who is better at producing. Just because you’re a great producer, doesn’t mean you’re a great distributor. Finding your alliances and building a team…the bigger the team is that you trust, the further you’ll go.
Matías: When should filmmakers think of getting an attorney as part of the team?
Ramírez: Let me first say that I tend to think of funding as falling into two broad categories:
Levis: The earlier you bring in council (and accounting), the better. Building that team is such an imperative aspect. At times, it may seem a little overwhelming, but there’s a lot of individuals out there that realize that risk. A great filmmaker or producer does not make a good lawyer or account, so asking as many questions as you can and getting free advice, so that way when you are approaching grants or private equity, you’ve got your numbers down. You have all those answers that are so important to them.
Rubin: One of the things that’s important to ask yourself is what are your goals for your movie? It can be just an artistic expression. It can be because you want to change your career and do this for a living…whether it’s a success or not. Be realistic. Christopher Nolan (director of The Dark Knight) is obviously now a rich man. His first movie cost $11,000.
Matías: When thinking about how to raise money, how do you divvy up the budget so you can understand who you’re going to approach?
Bertelsen: I think it starts much like Slava was saying by asking what your goals are. Ask yourself, who is the audience for this film? When you start to examine your project, you make decisions on who would be appropriate person to bring this to. For example, you’re not going to bring a low-budget indie horror film to a structurally themed documentary production company. It goes without saying, but you’d be surprised at how many first-time filmmakers don’t read the guidelines and don’t pay attention to what’s being asked of them when it comes to how to prerequisite their projects. You want to be very targeted. You’ve got to do your homework and know what it is they’re looking for. Tailor your projects to those interests the best that you can.
Kohli: I think it’s very important to do that homework he mentioned. Who are the players in the market and what they do? Exactly the way you have goals for your films, they have goals for their money. You need to be ready to understand who is most interested in your project. Be realistic. Who was the last you? Who did exactly what you’re trying to do? Learn from their mistakes.
Sergeant: Be creative and you have to be willing to really go that extra mile. I was going to do a narrative film depending on what it would cost. When you’re doing a narrative film, anybody who’s an investor or wherever you raise money, they want to know, ‘how can I get this back?’ A movie is one of the quickest ways to lose millions of dollars really fast.
Ramírez: All that information on how prepared you are should be a in a business plan. There’s a series of books out there, one that I’ve talked about on panels before is by Louise Levinson, Business Plans for Filmmakers. You’re going to have to do the research on what the market is and projections. What type of films like yours have made money? You also have to be honest for instance, these films like mine, have not made money, but most have. I was watching Quinceañera…I was so shocked in the interviews…I think they had an idea for a movie. They went to somebody. They had the money before they even had scripts. I had to rewind that. I don’t think that really happens
Levis: With the packaging and everything’s in place, there are so many key elements where things can go awry. It must be frustrating even after you’ve made a few films to locate the money. The global market is such a changing one. Last tear investors on Wall Street were really aggressive, but with the economy changing so much since last year, the opportunities are not there. Europe is looking to us now, because their money is so much stronger. Right now the pound is two-to-one. That means if you can start to talk to individuals there now that for instance say they’d like to shoot in New York City…what would cost 500,000 pounds here, I can easily get $1 million American. Things kind of equal the same. The day rate here, the day rate there. That’s true with a lot of European money. They’re really looking to the U.S. because everyone wants that U.S. affiliation. The opportunity to present yourself with a co-production company out of Spain or France or London…what you’re doing ultimately is giving them the opportunity to send their money and it goes further. Your business plan should also think about what happens outside the U.S.
Rubin: The Hollywood system has a term called pre-selling of foreign territories.
Matías: Historically, it has been difficult for us as Latinos and Latinas to be able to break into making these films and finding this money. Have things changed? Is it easier? Do we have topics that people want? Are our own communities willing to support what might not be mainstream, even by indie definitions?
Bertelsen: It is an increasingly global marketplace. I think that only adds value to our stories as Latinos, as people of color, and women in a world where we have to make up the majority. I think the goal is to find a way to reach that audience.
Ramírez: I often hear that a film has to have a universal appeal. How as a filmmaker of color and you want to make a film that portrays the experience of your community in a way that’s appealing? How can we make films that can get picked up by distributors?
Kohli: From a South Asian angle, filmmakers like Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta tell South Asian stories, but these are not stories for the South Asian market. These are stories that people all over the world want to hear. I think a good film from any angle, the simplest way for you to have a barometer is if people can somehow relate to it. A story we can feel, we can be a part of. That in the simplest form is a success. If you can take what is in your film to an audience that is not you…you don’t want people like you sitting in the audience watching this film, but you want people who are not like you to be able to see like you. Vanaja that went to over 100 festivals and won about 30 awards was released by Emerging Pictures, it did numbers that were less than 10% in South Asian markets. Be able to convince someone who’s not you about the story. I think people want not to educated the audience with every film. Try not to beat them on the head with it. You can get the story across in a way that delivers the message, but if you’re going for an audience that’s not your core audience, you need to make it slightly easy for them.
Bertelsen: The onus on us as filmmakers of color is to prove those economics. In addition to all the things to get in the room, be prepared to make the argument with the market research.
Matías: To get back to the issue of Quinceañera, the film did not have a script when they got the money. They had an idea. They had lived in the neighborhood. They had been involved with the whole ceremony of the quinceañeras. They were connected to a whole group of people who had money. It was the group of people who gave them the money, and they said, now I have to go out and make a script. They made the script in a very short amount of time. The reason that film works is they worked with the community. They found the Madrina, the woman in the community who really knew how to teach everyone how to participate in a quinceañera ceremony. That’s really what gave the film its authenticity of a right of passage for a young woman.
This past weekend, I helped out filmmaker and frequent contributing notetaker AMPeters (NO Cross, NO Crown) begin work on Hacker Ethic, a provocative feature documentary that explores the politics and culture of the latest generation of hackers. One resource we'll be utilizing to raise funds for the film is the online social marketplace IndieGoGo (which The Film Panel Notetaker previously reported on here , here and here). IndieGoGo prides itself on its Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) methodology, which in short gives filmmakers the tools to reach out, provide incentives and engage their personal audiences. This is what Peters and I hope to do for Hacker Ethic, and this is what another production company, ISFilms, has already started to do.
The film Inspiration is the cornerstone project of IS Films, a student-run nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for college and high school students to get direct experience working on visual media arts projects. IS Films is dedicated to helping develop quality media and a diverse pool of highly skilled creative talent.
Inspiration is closing in on $4,000 in donations and they only have three days left in their IndieGoGo fundraising challenge! They need $1,200 more. To help them reach the magic number of $5,000, visit their IndieGoGo project page . Also of note, Inspiration last week received a Panavision 35mm GOLD Film Equipment Grant. The package includes 10 prime-lenses, 6 super-speed lenses, 20 Filters and Flex Fills... and a $325,000 custom-made Panaflex Film Camera...a grand total of $500,000 of professional equipment to help make a beautiful film. Way to go!
You can also visit Hacker Ethic's IndieGoGo project page, where fundraising will soon be started. I'll keep you posted on that.
IndiePix has hired Ryan Harrington to head up Indiepix Studios, the world's first virtual studio for independent filmmakers that provides a major new production and distribution outlet. Harrington will be responsible for overseeing all of the filmmaker relations as well as managing the productions which IndiePix has invested in - by taking on executive producer responsibilities. In addition, he will coordinate the DVD and digital acquisitions and help to develop individual and tailored distribution strategies for movies submitted. He will also oversee film sales and acquisitions to broadcasters both domestically and internationally.
Congratulations to all of the lucky filmmakers who were bestowed with Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film for 2008. The Film Panel Notetaker has been very fortunate to have met many of these talented filmmakers in the past year. Below is the list of all 25 of the filmmakers highlighted in the magazine. I've embedded links into the ones that The Film Panel Notetaker has covered either in the form of panel or Q&A notes or One-on-One Q&As. For those that have no links, hope to meet you around the circuit.
Congrats to indieWIRE, which just got snagged up by SnagFilms, a new social networking website that offers free instant streaming and viral sharing of hundreds of documentary films. indieWIRE will provide archival and news content for SnagFilms and the company’s virtual movie theater widgets, including breaking news from the indie sector, comprehensive film reviews and analysis, and the top relevant blogs. iW Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez offers a detailed look into this new venture. Read it here.
(Transsiberian Director Brad Anderson.)
Wednesday night in New York, a special advanced screening of Brad Anderson's newest film Transsiberian was held at the AMC Loewes Village 7 presented by GenArt Film. Anderson's previous features include The Machinist (starring The Dark Knight's Christian Bale), Next Stop Wonderland , Session 9 and Happy Accidents. Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretchschmann and Sir Ben Kingsley, Transsiberian opens in limited release in New York on Friday.
Before the film began, I had a brief conversation with Anderson mentioning to him that I saw him speak at the IFP Market back in 2004 where he and Bale presented a case study of The Machinist. Here are my notes from that (See p. 7 in the PDF). Anderson told me that several years before that, his very first feature film, The Darien Gap, was in the IFP Market, which was actually known then at the time as the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM), but is now called Independent Film Week. Not only that, but The Darien Gap also opened the very first GenArt Film Festival in 1996.
As the program began, GenArt's Aaron Levine introduced the two films of the evening. The first was a short by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean called Sikume (On the Ice). Levine said he was excited about the program because it's been so hot in the city lately and both of these films take place in the snow. "Be prepared to be very cooled off," Levine said. Levine said of Sikume that GenArt loved the film, but couldn't find a slot for it in its annual GenArt Film Festival (held this past April which only shows seven features and seven shorts), but they selected the film for Wednesday's program because it plays together brilliantly with Transsiberian.
While there was no Q&A after the screening, the two filmmakers got up to say a few words beforehand. MacLean said Sikume was shot in his hometown in Alaska. "It was very cold up there all the time," he said. Anderson further reflected on his first time at the GenArt Film Festival when The Darien Gap opened it up. That film was made for just $60,000 and played at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, which was followed by a party in a big abandoned church on the Upper East Side. "I remember that very well, because it was such a small movie in a very big space," he said. On Transsiberian, Anderson said it's "been a long journey in the making" that started about 20 years ago when he took a backpacking trip through Asia. He started in India and ended up in China where he stopped in Beijing to purchase a ticket for $130 to go on board the Trans-Siberian Railway, which goes all the way across Siberia more than 5,000 miles to Moscow. "It's like the longest, most epic train journey on the planet," he said. For Anderson, it was a moment that inspired him 20 years later to make the film. He went back a couple of years ago when prepping for the film, and took the train again, hadn't changed at all. "It's the same exotic shady people on the train. The same vodka flowing ceaselessly," he said. Anderson said what he's trying to do in the film, beyond telling a good story, is capturing the raw experience of what it was like taking the train.
So is Transsiberian worth the ride? It gets off to a somewhat slow start, introducing the central characters, a married American couple played by Harrelson (Roy, a train enthusiast) and Mortimer (Jessie, a photographer), who after spending time helping kids in China, decide to journey across Russia on the train to rekindle their romance. On their trip, they befriend fellow passengers Carlos (played by Noriega) and Abby (played by Mara), who seem to have some secrets. Not until the film's second act does Transsiberian really take off. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but let's just say that some Hitchcockian twists and turns shake things up for Abby, and most of the rest of the film is pure nail-biting suspense. Things get even further complicated when Russian narcotics detective Grinko (played by Kingsley) enters the picture as he investigates drug trafficking taking place on the train. The film does an excellent job of playing tricks on the audience as to who is good and who is evil, but then eventually turns to a rather over-the-top finale. While Transsiberian is often a bumpy ride, it's definitely worth the trip.
Sujewa's now back in Kensington, MD, after his road trip with girlfriend Amanda to meet and interview indie film bloggers for his documentary The Indie Film Bloggers: A Portrait of a Community. Sujewa and Amanda made stops in North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Among those interviewed were Noralil Ryan Fores of ShortEnd Magazine (who has a really great podcast interview with Sujewa & Amanda), Chuck Tryon of The Chutry Experiment and Atlanta Film Fest's Gabe Wardell & Paula Martinez. Also previously interviewed on Sujewa's last trip to NYC were Tambay Obenson and Brandon Harris. Sujewa returns to NYC July 25-27 where yours trully's brain will be picked for the documentary. I am very excited to be a part of this project, and can't wait to see how it's all put together.
As previously reported, I met filmmaker and blogger Tambay A. Obenson a few weekends back when Sujewa Ekanayake was in town shooting interviews for his upcoming documentary, The Indie Film Bloggers: A Portrait of a Community. Here is my One-on-One Q&A with Obenson.
TFPN: How did the idea of Beautiful Things come about?
Obenson: I’ve always been interested in exploring relationship dynamics. We seem to spend a significant part of our lives in some stage of coupling – we’re either looking for a partner, or we are with a partner and are working to make the relationship long-lasting. The need for companionship is after all very human. I wanted to deconstruct that notion on film.
TFPN: Is the story at all autobiographical?
Obenson: Not really, even though I play the lead male role. It’s not based specifically on any previous relationships; but as the filmmaker, I certainly drew from my own personal experiences as I created material for the project.
TFPN: Were you actually dating Hallie Brown (who plays Schola) while you were shooting the film, or was she merely someone you just cast in the part? Your chemistry seemed very realistic.
Obenson: Hallie was an actress I cast for the part. We were not dating, and never have. While there was a script for the film, about a third into production, I threw out much of it, and decided that I’d rather use improvisational methods to give the film as realistic a look and feel as possible. I felt it was crucial to do so, given the subject matter and my intent.
TFPN: I noticed your hair grew out from the "interview" segments compared to the "flashback" scenes or main action of the film. Was there a time gap between shooting those segments? How long did it take to complete the entire film?
Obenson: Yes there was a time gap of about 2 years between the flashback scenes and the interview segments (which happened in the present). During that time, I let my hair grow a little, although the film had no influence. So, the results, the effects it had on the film, were unintentional - happy accidents, I suppose. I completed the film – production and post – in about 2 years; however, not continuously; there was a lot of down time. Actual shooting happened over 9 total days between 2003 and 2005. Post production (editing, sound design, etc) lasted maybe 4 months.
TFPN: Can you talk a little bit about each of the short films that are also on the DVD? Were those made when you were living in San Francisco?
Obenson: Yes, both I made while taking a film workshop in San Francisco in 2000/2001. Both were first and second attempts at filmmaking for me. "She Is," the longer piece, was a rather spontaneous production. I had no idea what I was doing; I just wanted to get as many "interesting" shots as I could of the young lady I was dating at the time, at various locations, and then eventually edit it all together into something coherent. The second "Eye See" was planned. With Hitchcock as an influence then, I storyboarded the entire film, from the first frame to the last, in detail, prior to production. I haven't worked in that fashion since then because it was quite labor-intensive, but I'll admit that it made for a much more fluid shooting effort, even though I slipped a few times. I haven't made a short film since, instead choosing to focus on feature narratives.
TFPN: How long have you been doing The Obenson Report? Why did you create it? Has it been helpful to you as a filmmaker?
Obenson: The Obenson Report started as a Podcast before becoming a blog - a podcast I created in the summer of 2007, and which I hosted through February of this year. My focus was on black cinema and still is mostly, even with the transition from audio to the written word. I created the podcast as an extension of the work I was already doing - beating the drums for change within the realm of black cinema. But the weekly schedule proved to be quite consuming, and earlier this year, as I went through my usual New Year self-analysis, I realized that I missed the filmmaking process, and wanted to return to it. So, I gave up the podcast in mid-February to focus on writing. The blog picked up where the podcast left off, although my focus has broadened a bit. I found blogging to be less involved - not as much prep time, and much more organic to me. I figured that I already spent a lot of time gathering news and opinion pieces on and offline, for my own use, so simply moving those interesting bits and pieces of information onto a blog made sense to me. The transition hasn't been difficult, though it still takes time to put together. Has it been helpful to me as a filmmaker? Yes, certainly. I've been able connect with people like yourself, and many, many others - bloggers and readers alike - and it's boosted public awareness of me and my efforts, generating interest in people like yourself, as implied by this profile questionnaire.
TFPN: What is your next film project?
Obenson: I've been writing a screenplay off and on for the last 4 months - it's something I'm hoping to produce later this year, or early next year, provided I can raise the necessary funds. I can't give much info about it just yet, as I'm still discovering it myself. But I'll definitely announce its arrival when I'm much more certain of it.
TFPN: Are you looking forward to seeing yourself in Sujewa Ekanayake’s documentary about film bloggers?
Obenson: I most certainly am! I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing others share their individual stories, and how Sujewa puts it all together. I think it's a timely piece of filmmaking, given the "cold war" that's been brewing between the old and new school. It's certainly topical, and I think it could generate a lot of interest and dialogue.