A retrospective and a preview of things to come

I’m a few days late on this, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ve been on antibiotics and inhalers and cold medications for the past week combating a sinus-infection-turned-bronchitis. I wasn’t left with much brainpower to devote to reflecting on 2014. Or to pondering what’s to come in 2015.

Now that my health is back in order, I have a blog post to write. I’ll keep it brief.

2014 was good to me. I made a movie with Patrick and Jordan and the fine folks at Sequart. I started to call Los Angeles “home” and really settle into this crazy and beautiful city. I got healthier and stronger (excepting the aforementioned sinus-infection-turned-bronchitis) and felt myself become fulfilled both professionally and personally.

An unexpected opportunity arose in 2015 for me to do something a little different. I had the chance to (re)join the development team at Valhalla Entertainment, where I’d interned in 2012, and start in television and film development at the assistant level. In addition to the usual duties, I would also have the opportunity to get involved in active projects and help shepherd them to a screen near you. It’s a chance that I couldn’t pass up, so as of January 5th, I’ll be working at Valhalla at the front desk.

I had a blast working with Respect on She Makes Comics, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I’m enormously grateful to Patrick and Jordan for taking a chance on me when I was fresh out of college and letting me direct and produce my very first film with their support and guidance. I’ve learned a lot from this experience that I’m sure will aid me as I branch off in this new direction. While I will have a new full-time position occupying my time, I’ll still be working to tie up all loose ends with regard to She Makes Comics, and I am still producing Tenspotting. My focus has shifted, and I’m embarking on a new adventure in the development world.

I have a good feeling about 2015.

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She Makes Comics world premiere — it’s a thing!

Well.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for us at Respect. In addition to doing pre-production for our next short, we’ve partnered with the fine folks at Brave New World Comics in Santa Clarita, CA to hold the world premiere of She Makes Comics this coming Saturday. November 15th.

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Someone get me a paper bag and a Xanax.

I’m incredibly proud of the film, and I’m grateful to everyone who has pitched in along the way to this very moment. And now, it is time to send She Makes Comics out into the world. I’m a little nervous, of course, but mostly excited. It’s thrilling to finally share all I’ve been working on this past year. While I’m typically very critical of my work, I do think that the movie came out great and is insightful as well as entertaining.

The world premiere is open to the public. It’s going to be a spectacular event with a red carpet, giveaways, and a Q&A after the film screens. I also hear that there will be a grilled cheese truck, which is where you’ll find me for most of the night.

November 15th. Just a few more days.

The 1-2-3 method of networking

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading on productivity these days, and it seems like every guru out there has a complicated system to address every aspect of your work life. There’s GTD, there’s Kanban…and while these systems do have their merits, it’s tough to adapt to an established routine with so many detailed steps. I’ve found it easier to create my own hybrid routine. I’m constantly hacking my process and trying new things — I get a weird sense of enjoyment (or maybe it’s satisfaction?) from it.

But one area in which I’ve struggled is that of networking and career development. Not that I have trouble connecting with people once I’ve met them: it’s the actual protocol of meeting people, swapping business cards, and following up. I have introverted tendencies, which means that after a day of work I’d much rather settle in on the couch with Netflix than go out for drinks. But in the entertainment industry — and in plenty of others — you need to constantly be expanding your network and keeping up with your contacts. I simply have trouble remembering to schedule coffees and drinks.

So I decided recently to try applying some productivity principles to this problem. Based in part on the various “number” routines like the 1-3-5 rule, this is how I make sure to keep up with my network without sacrificing my mental health:

1 — Attend 1 networking event each month. That is, a larger gathering with more than a handful of people.

2 — Have coffee/drinks/what-have-you with 2 people each week. These can be old or new contacts.

3 — Reach out to 3 contacts from your network each week. This can be as simple as sending an email or messaging on Twitter. Just some kind of outreach that keeps the connection going.

I implemented this system a few weeks ago, and I’m finding that it has become a habit. If you’re like me and you need to delineate steps in a routine, you might want to try creating your own system that works for you.

She Makes Comics panels and appearances

I’m excited to announce that we’re bringing She Makes Comics to a few upcoming conventions! We’ll screen the first footage from the film at all of these events, so if you’re itching to see what I’ve been up to, you should come!

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September 27thLong Beach Comic-Con — Long Beach, CA

My co-producers Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert will join me for a panel discussion on She Makes Comics. We’ll screen the first footage from the movie and talk about the most pressing issues facing women in comics today. Featuring special guest Janelle Asselin!

The panel will take place at 5pm in room 103A/B.

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November 1stVegas Valley Comic Book Festival — Las Vegas, NV

We will be holding a panel for She Makes Comics and hanging out at a booth in Artist Alley, where you can chat with the filmmakers and pick up DVDs of previous Respect movies.

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November 7-9thBent-Con — Burbank, CA

We will be holding a panel for She Makes Comics, featuring special guest Alan Kistler!

Crowdfunding: How to run a successful campaign

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned as a young producer, it’s that money is in short supply and nigh impossible to secure. Indie productions like She Makes Comics do not have the multi-million budgets of studio projects, but like any film, they require some amount of money to produce and distribute. And it’s pretty hard to find financiers in a volatile economy and contracting industry.

In lieu of hunting down investors, crowdfunding has become an attractive option for raising money. The idea behind it is simple: you showcase a potential project to the world and interested consumers pledge money to help it get made. It’s like reverse-engineering a film, with a project finding its audience before it’s even produced. You don’t need a huge marketing budget when the bulk of your audience has already paid for the product, so many filmmakers can make their production budget and even turn a profit through crowdfunding.

But crowdfunding your film is not as easy as posting a project to Kickstarter and watching as the money rolls in. A guy looking to make potato salad may be able to raise $40,000+ through the Internet-fueled absurdity of his project, but a cursory look at the film and video section of Kickstarter shows nearly 37,000 projects. Accounting for those campaigns that have already ended, it’s still an incredible amount of competition for the hearts (and dollars) of potential backers. And sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo will only continue to see an increase in the number of projects as creators wise up to crowdfunding as a viable financing option.

That’s not to say that crowdfunding isn’t worth a try. My film raised $54,000 on Kickstarter, and there are hundreds if not thousands of other film projects, large and small, that have run successful campaigns. Crowdfunding works for a lot of creators.

So what makes a film project attractive to backers? How do you get the word out about your project and ensure success? From my experience, here’s how to best run attract backers and run a successful campaign.


Define your project.

Is your film a supernatural horror flick, or a stoner comedy? Backers want to know what they’re getting into, so be sure that your film has a solid pitch. It doesn’t matter what the genre(s) may be but rather that your film’s concept is well-defined. People will hesitate to support a film that straddles several genres and has a lot of experimental elements, and most Internet strangers will not be sympathetic towards a campaign to fund what is only touted as your “passion project.” Like any good script, your project needs a solid logline that defines what backers will get when they pledge. If you’re relying on an existing audience to fund your film, consider gearing your project towards existing “fandoms.” Horror, sci-fi/fantasy and other geek-oriented projects seem to do very well, as they often have large existing fanbases looking for the next big thing.

Aim low; dream big.

Hash out a budget for your film and make it as lean as possible. Can you make it on $20,000? $10,000? $5,000? Set that figure as your goal. Backers want to be sure that the money is being used efficiently and will be more willing to give if you set a conservative target. There’s always the possibility of exceeding that amount, at which point you may want to consider adding stretch goals (discussed a little later). On Kickstarter, if you set a $50,000 goal and make $10,000 by the end of the campaign, you’ll lose it all and be back at square one. But if you set a goal of $10,000 and make $50,000, you receive all of it. Other sites like IndieGoGo offer “flexible funding” options through which you keep whatever is pledged regardless of the goal amount, but on Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing.

Be sure to factor in Kickstarter and Amazon Payments’ fees when creating your film’s budget. Also include any costs to fulfill rewards, including production of rewards (like merchandise and DVDs) and shipping costs. These hidden costs of running a campaign can take a big chunk of the money you earn if you’re not careful.

Create the greatest video in the history of crowdfunding.

Okay, that might be tough, but it’s not too hard to make an impassioned plea to your backers that is engaging, informative, fun, and most of all – compelling. The Veronica Mars movie’s video is one great example of what a fun video can do to drum up interest for your film. While we don’t all have access to high-profile celebrities, there are numerous other ways to craft a video that will get your message across and get backers interested in your project. If you have existing footage, put together an amazing trailer from your best shots and scenes. If you haven’t done any filming yet, do a quick weekend shoot, ideally with your cast, to give backers an idea of your film. Shoot interviews with your cast and crew talking about what the project means to them and why it needs support. Regardless of what you choose to do, always be sure to include a clip of yourself talking about the film and your passion for it. Put a face to the project.

Tap your resources for interesting and unique rewards.

The most common rewards for film projects is a copy of the completed movie and some sort of “Thank You” in the credits. While your overall goal is to get your film into the hands of backers, consider offering up some unusual perks aside from the DVD or digital download. Hire a professional artist (or ask a talented friend) to create a logo and produce a line of merchandise: t-shirts, stickers, and other easily mass-produced items. Offer phone calls, Skype calls, or even home-cooked meals with the filmmakers, cast and crew. For a much higher price, you can offer walk-on roles and producer credits on the film.

This is where you should call in some favors. Is one of your cast members relatively well-known? Leverage their fame through perks: signed autographs, Twitter follows, personalized greetings, whatever s/he may be willing to contribute. Do you have friends or family (or friends of family) who are notable in the industry? Ask them to contribute signed copies of their films, Skype chats, and other fairly “mild” rewards (don’t ask for things that would cost them too much money or time, unless they are feeling generous).

Start out with around 10 solid rewards, and add the more unique (and expensive) ones later on in the campaign. Unveiling additional rewards each week will renew attention and boost interest in your project.

For She Makes Comics, we asked some of our friends in the comics industry to help us out with rewards. We offered a chance for a backer to get their comic script read by a professional editor; we gave one backer a voucher worth several hundred dollars to a cosplay and corset maker; we offered the original art commissioned for the film, drawn by popular artists. While we paid up front for many of these rewards, you may be surprised by what your network would be willing to offer you on the cheap or even free.

Get the pot going with your own cash.

Nothing will make a backer hesitate more than seeing $0 and 0 backers in the first few days of the campaign. Start things off by putting a bit of your own money into the pot, or better yet, asking family and friends to donate to get things started. If your first few backers see that 6 people have already pledged $250, it’s more likely that they will think the project viable and dig into their pockets. In crowdfunding, you do have to spend money to make money.

Plan out a 30-day PR extravaganza.

While a lot of projects are found simply through browsing Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, your best bet in finding an audience is by getting some press in the early and final days of your project. Start out by making a list of news outlets (film sites, crowdfunding-specific sites, blogs, etc.) that you think would publish a press release or an article on your film. Send dozens of inquiries in the first hours of the campaign. Do the same in the final days of the campaign to remind your press contacts of the looming deadline. Often, a campaign will start off with a flurry of attention (and pledges), then drop off in the middle, and kick back up towards the end. The urgency of needing to make a goal by a certain deadline will often appeal to news outlets otherwise hesitant to post about your project. Be persistent, offer to do interviews (or have your talent do interviews if they are notable actors), and get as much exposure as you can. If you have press contacts, this is the time to ask for a favor.

Social media is a vital tool for crowdfunding, which gets most of its interest from denizens of the Internet. Set up Twitter and Facebook pages for your project. Have your cast and crew tweet the link. Ask friends to throw you a share or a re-tweet. Politely tweet (only once) a famous person who may have an interest in your project and ask if they can retweet your link. Do not spam anyone’s account, and don’t just ask random celebrities. William Shatner probably won’t retweet your low-budget horror project, but Eli Roth might. Identify notable Twitterati who often retweet their followers’ projects; there are many folks happy to signal boost when asked politely.

Offer stretch goals when you’ve reached 90-95% of your target.

It may look presumptuous to offer stretch goals at the very beginning of your campaign, but start planning for them even before you launch your project. When you’re nearing your target goal, unveil your first stretch goal. For example, if your initial target is $10,000, offer a stretch goal at $15,000 that would make every DVD into a special edition with commentary, deleted scenes, and making-of featurettes. For She Makes Comics, one of our stretch goals was an accompanying mini-documentary about a particularly notable woman in comics history. Of course, you must factor any additional work into your budget, but you can often offer very enticing stretch goal rewards for reasonably low additional costs.

Get on Kickstarter’s radar.

If you’re using Kickstarter, contact the staff and ask about being featured as a “staff pick of the day” and in Kickstarter’s weekly email newsletter. She Makes Comics actually saw the majority of its pledges referred from the newsletter, where our film was featured in the first week of the campaign. Every little bit of exposure helps!

Offer to join up with similar projects for cross-promotion.

Identify some projects that are similar to yours and ask if the creator is interested in cross-promotion: you send out a backer update advertising their project, and they do the same for yours. Backers are often looking for similar projects to support, so if a project they’re passionate about suggests they take a look at your film, they just might throw some money your way.

If at first you don’t succeed, wait a little bit, and try again.

If your first campaign fails, it doesn’t necessarily mean that crowdfunding won’t work for the project. Sometimes, unfortunate combinations of timing and luck result in failed campaigns. Take a few weeks or months to fine-tune your campaign, create a new video, call in favors from your contacts, and relaunch later. Learn from your mistakes. Not every project that fails initially will succeed the second time around, but it is usually worthwhile to give it another shot. I’ve supported campaigns that failed their first time only to exceed their goal upon a second attempt.


I hope that this primer proves helpful for those thinking of going the crowdfunding route. Running a Kickstarter campaign is definitely not a cakewalk, but it was a thrilling and rewarding experience for me that ultimately resulted in our documentary making its budget, and then some. It requires a great deal of planning beforehand, so be sure you have a solid strategy before you launch your campaign.

If you have specific questions that haven’t been addressed in this post, feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to help other filmmakers in this brave new world of film financing!

23 Lessons

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Next week, I turn 23 years old. I know, I know – I’m such a young’un. What wisdom could I possibly have to impart?

I can’t say I have all the answers, but since I graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles last summer, I have learned quite a lot. It’s been a sort of trial by fire, relocating 3,000 miles away from the only home I’ve ever known in order to dive head-first into producing my first feature. While I’ve had my fair share of uncertainty and anxiety these past several months (and continue to do so on a regular basis), I’m also enormously grateful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. And in honor of getting another year older, I’m collecting a bunch of them here. Some may seem quite obvious, but sometimes it takes a small amount of navel-gazing to see how far you’ve come and what you’ve discovered in the process. Indulge me, if you will.


 

1. The phrase “I recently graduated from college” generally triggers in others a response of well-intentioned (though annoying) cheek-pinching and cooing. For a while, you’ll be a baby in the eyes of most people you meet. Learn to live with it.

2. For every sizable purchase you make, sock away the same amount of cash in a savings account. You’ll have a good chunk of change in a matter of months.

3. Arrive 30 minutes early and look for free street parking.

4. If you can, live in a neighborhood where you can accomplish most weekend errands by walking. You’ll be spending enough time in the car during the week.

Caveat to 4. Try to live as close to where you work as possible. Commuting in LA traffic is one of the rings of hell. A 6-mile difference between home and work might not seem like a big deal until you’re stuck in rush hour traffic.

5. You’re not in competition with your friends. Support them like a friend should, and they’ll do the same for you. If they don’t, get new friends.

6. It’s going to feel weird (and possibly plunge you into an existential crisis) when the fall arrives and you’re not preparing to head back to campus. Keep yourself busy in September to avoid the post-grad sads.

7. It is a terrible, cruel lie that Disneyland is empty on Black Friday.

8. Push yourself out of your comfort zone as often as possible. If something terrifies you, do it. Unless it has to do with spiders. Then get your roommate to take care of it.

9. Start working on good habits. Eating well, sleeping well, exercising. After 21 days, you’ll find it hard to break the routine.

10. When networking with industry professionals, try being helpful and informative. Email a relevant article, help out on a shoot, read their script. They’ll be more likely to do you a favor in the future.

Caveat to 10. Be sure to make friends with the people you meet. Don’t fake a relationship just to get a few favors out of someone. People will see through it, and you may start to sprout devil horns.

11. Movie theater popcorn is not dinner, no matter how enormous the “medium” might be.

12. If you want to be a writer, write something. If you want to be a producer, produce something. Create your own opportunities to make a thing. It doesn’t have to be great – the goal is to actually make something, which puts you ahead of most others.

13. If you’re spending more time reading industry-related blogs and “gurus” online than actually producing material, you’re doing it wrong.

14. Be mindful of what you say on the Internet, particularly when you’re criticizing a movie/show/person/company. The entertainment industry is remarkably small, and what you say might come back to bite you in the ass.

15. Be mindful of what you say in general to other people working in the industry. Everybody knows everybody, and personal relationships are key in the business. Don’t start burning bridges, at least not until you reach the ripe old age of I-don’t-give-a-fuck.

16. That said, don’t be afraid to have an opinion. Sycophants truly are a dime a dozen, and if you show that you have a brain and can think critically about movies, you’ll be respected for it.

17. Call your parents whenever you get the chance. They may be the only ones to share your excitement over seeing Adam Scott at the Arclight the other day.

18. Accept that you don’t know everything. Eat your humble pie and demonstrate an eagerness and willingness to learn.

19. Be willing to do grunt work and pay your dues (within reason). You might feel that you’re above making coffee for the office, but don’t take the duty as a slight. Make the best damn pot of coffee you can. Be proud of it. You’ll graduate to more interesting tasks soon enough.

20. Always have some business cards on hand and an up-to-date resume. You never know when an opportunity will arise.

21. Measure yourself against the person you were yesterday, not against other people. Try to beat your personal best. Resist the urge to compare yourself with friends and acquaintances, as it only breeds self-loathing.

22. Keeping a journal is a cheap alternative to seeing a therapist. You can learn a lot about yourself by reviewing it regularly.

23. Don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes. You’re still learning. No one does life perfectly, anyway.

Reading list (04/11/14)

I’ve been neglecting this blog and feel terrible about it. So for my next entry, I’m outsourcing the content. Here’s a list of articles I’ve read recently that you might want to bookmark yourself.

The Intellectual Defense of Sexual Harassment (Hint: There Isn’t One) by Mychal Denzel Smith for Feministing (04/10/14)

If we’re still conflating harassment with attraction, then the point has not been made clear enough: harassment is about power, not about sex. When making lewd comments to a woman he doesn’t know on the street, a man is not flirting. He’s asserting his dominance. He’s reminding that woman of her “place.” He’s performing a masculinity based on control. This isn’t sexual liberation.

In Defense of Sansa Stark by Rhiannon K. Thomas for Feminist Fiction (05/10/12)

She has spent her life in the cold castle of the North, dreaming of stories of tournaments and beauty in the south. Because people want her to be that way. That is how they think the ideal young woman should be. And it almost destroys her. Worse, it brings the reader’s hatred down on her, because even though women are told they are only “good” if they fit into this role, the role itself is seen as weak, manipulative, stupid and generally inferior. It is the Catch 22 of being a woman, both in Westeros and in our own world: no matter what you do, you are criticized, especially if you don’t act like Arya Stark and fight to become “one of the boys.”

Rhymes with Witches: Forget Backstabbing, Gilmore Girls’ Paris Gellar Fights With Wit and Brains by Nina for Autostraddle (02/11/14)

Though her name is not Gilmore, Paris Geller is the true break out character in this gem of a series, as one of the most heart wrenching and complex portraits of a teenage mean girl.

How to stop giving a F@$% what people think by Sean Kim for The Growth List

The world is already full of people who obey the status quo. But the people who don’t give a F@$% are the ones that change the world. Be the latter. Start living life the way you want, be fearless like you once were as a child, and always, always stand up for the truth. Someone has to.