Monday, July 6, 2015

Q&A with Jacob Cooney, Director of Our New Film Pitching Tents!

I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with the director of our new film Pitching Tents - Jacob Cooney. As all of you know by now, we are in the home stretch of our IndieGoGo campaign for the film and we are looking forward to making the film in August.




Jacob Cooney
Before we jump into the Q&A, I want to alert you to a new perk we just added today. We want as many of our supporters, friends and family to have their high school graduation photos in our end credits. This has been offered at the $250 Perk level, which gets you all the perks below it too. For the last two days of the campaign, we are going to offer to put your photo in the end credits of the movie for $50!! You will not get the other perks you would get for the $250 contribution but you will get your photo in the end credits. And what a perk that will be! You will live on forever in the movie with all of us. So please join us by selecting the "Your Pic into Eternity" perk, tell your family and friends and so on and so on and so on. And let's meet our $75k goal in the next 48 hours! Thanks everyone! Hope to see your high school mug in the end credits. This is going to be so fun! Bombdigity!! Here's the link to grab the perk: http://igg.me/at/pitchingtentsmovie/x/6178.

Now let's get to know more about our director Jacob Cooney:

Tell us about Pitching Tents and why you want to tell this story.

Set in 1984, Pitching Tents follows the story of Danny, a high school senior, whose future creates a tug-of war between his no-nonsense father and his crackpot guidance counselor… until an encounter with a goddess helps him uncover his destiny.

Heartfelt, hilarious and nostalgic, I was immediately transported back to my “ultimate summer” experiences while reading the script and because of that I knew I needed to make this movie. It’s not everyday you run across a project like this that has everything you’d ever want in a film and because of that, and the people involved, my initial thought was (and still is today) that this film deserves to be seen by the masses.




Why should this story be told?

Pitching Tents is a universal story that spans all audiences. From kids in high school looking to the future, to adults who have fond memories of their past, everyone can get behind a film that pushes you to reach for your dreams and become the person you were meant to be.

With movie theaters packed with super hero movies, explosion-filled action films and raunchy comedies, Pitching Tents will give the audience a feel good movie with heart, comedy and nostalgia. Everyone has experienced that “one crazy summer” or that one weekend that changed your life… and it’s that feeling that we’re trying to bring back. Pitching Tents will be a fun movie for everyone, and we’re really excited to be bringing it to life.

Why is it set in the 1980s? How is that era important to the story?

Two words… IT’S ICONIC! The 80s were a time of change all across the board. From music to movies, from politics to wardrobe, the 80s spawned a lot of what we know today. It was an era where teens came into their own and in some ways rebelled from the norm to discover their own path … and at its core, that’s what Pitching Tents is all about. It’s about finding your voice and reaching for your dream and the 80s was the transcending era that forged new ideas, new experiences and of course, giant hair! Why wouldn’t we want to set Pitching Tents during this time in history?!

What made you want to become a director? Why do you like making movies?

There’s a story my mom tells everyone about the time I was taken to lunch by my art teacher after winning an award when I was in kindergarten and when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I answered, “I want to make movies.” Guess it was always in my blood.

After that I was continuously shooting short films (really bad ones) and fake TV shows with friends using my parents’ VHS camera. As I grew up, the cameras got a little better, as did the final projects … to some degree. To answer your question though, filmmaking (specifically directing) has been something I’ve wanted to do since I can remember.




How did you get your start in directing? Do you find it hard to be a full-time director?

After graduating high school, I went to film school at California State University, Monterey Bay. There my friends/classmates and I would shoot shorts on the weekends or help the older students with their thesis films. We really immersed ourselves in the idea of “learning by experience”, so we made sure we were always shooting or working on something.

After four years of working on student films, getting hired as a PA on commercial shoots when they came to the area, interning in LA every summer and shooting my own thesis film “Small Town Life”, I graduated and immediately moved to LA after being hired to dolly grip on an independent feature. From there I began working as a dolly grip on commercials and then got hired as an office PA at Nickelodeon. Throughout all the work though, I knew I wanted my focus to be on directing. While at Nickelodeon, I threw my hat in the ring to direct a number of independent projects that I found had postings for directors online. Somehow I managed to catch one producer’s eye (Jane Kelly Kosek) for a film they were producing titled “Fierce Friend” (still don’t know how I managed that). From there I went through the interview process and after 3 or 4 interviews I somehow landed the job.

I remember getting that call … I was 21 or 22 years old, still getting used to living in LA and then I got hired to direct my first feature. I was on cloud nine … still get that feeling every time someone lets me direct a film.

That said, getting hired to direct “Fierce Friend” started my path as a director. After doing the film I began directing music videos, commercials and shorts, which in turn opened the door for me to begin writing and making more films. Now I won’t lie … it’s been a hard road throughout the years, which has been riddled with ups and downs and “go projects” and “dead projects”, but it’s a road that needs to be traveled as the experience is worth everything. You have to always be working. You have to always be striving to get bigger and better with every project, and most importantly you learn to take rejection in stride as the “no’s” definitely outweigh the “yes’s”. But when you get that “yes”, it feels so good.



What has been the most challenging aspect of getting Pitching Tents made thus far? How do you plan to overcome the challenge?

Oh man … like all independent films, the biggest struggle thus far has been securing the financing to make the film. From emailing friends and family, to setting up meetings with complete strangers, to embarking on the insanely time consuming task of running a crowdfunding campaign, finding the funding for a heartfelt film like Pitching Tents has been the hardest thing yet.

I’m not sure why it’s been so hard … we have an amazing story, a great cast and crew and an audience yearning for more films like this to be made, but the independent filmmaking experience seems to always remain the same. It’s a struggle from start to finish, but with the helping hands of others and the drive we have to make this film come into fruition, Pitching Tents will be getting made … and in the grand scheme of things, that’s a triumph within itself. It’s all about staying positive, creative and most importantly staying focused on the story you want to tell while finding the best way to showcase it using the resources you have in front of you. That’s been my job as a director for the last 13 years and I love every minute of it.

Why run a crowdfunding campaign for the film? How important is crowdfunding to independent film?

When dealing with independent films your funding can come from a number of different places. You can get funding through friends and family, through investors who love your project or love the idea of getting into the entertainment industry, through small production companies who have internal funding or through crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo, Seed & Spark or Kickstarter. It really can come from anywhere and from anyone … and as we all know independent filmmaking is a hard road. It takes a village to make a film in general, and doing it independently you need all the help you can get.

That’s why crowdfunding is really helpful. You’re not only reaching out to untapped avenues for funding, but at the same time your promoting your film and growing a fan base… which is VERY, VERY important. Without the fans your film won’t sell, so it’s much better to start early and build your audience that way you know before the film is finished that you have people waiting and wanting to see it.

What are your hopes for the future of Pitching Tents?

Pitching Tents is a heartfelt film with a great story that resonated with me from the very beginning. It brought me back to my ultimate summer and that moment in my life where I figured out what I truly wanted to do with my life. Much like our lead character Danny, I struggled with the decision to choose my dream over what was easy and secure, and my hope is that the audience will find Danny’s story close to their own. Pitching Tents is a universal story that I feel everyone will love … not only because of it’s comedic elements and storytelling, but because it’s a film that has the ability to transport the viewer back to their childhood where being young and free was pretty much all you cared about.

Overall, I feel the film is destined for success on all fronts. We have an amazing cast and crew, an amazing story full of truth and heart and an audience looking for something different then the normal big budget summer blockbusters. To me, that sounds like a recipe no one could ever turn down.



What's next for you and your career?

Oh man. I currently have a number of things in the works both professionally and personally. The most important being that I’m venturing into a new career as a father this coming October. My wife and I are very excited and are looking forward to meeting the little one when she arrives.

Professionally, I’ve got a number of projects in the works that are all in different stages. I’m currently in post-production on my film BLUE LINE, which we shot this past January/February. The film is an action thriller starring Tom Sizemore, Jordan Ladd and Kevin Nash. Along with that, I’m also slated to direct a zombie film this coming September titled ISLE OF THE DEAD, which will be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sometime in 2016. 


Do you have any advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?

Yes. Just keep creating and keep shooting. No matter if the project is small or large, with a production company or with your friends, just keep honing your craft. Keep the juices flowing … and most importantly, HAVE FUN DOING IT!

For more information on Jacob's work, check out his work at his Web site at: www.jacobcooney.com.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Join Us and Sam Jaeger of Parenthood and American Sniper for Dinner and a Movie!

Hi everyone! My good friend and often creative partner Sam Jaeger (aka Joel from the NBC TV show Parenthood and Bradley Cooper's Captain in the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper) just contributed $1000 to our IndieGoGo Campaign for my new film Pitching Tents. And he's made an offer that we hope will entice many of you to join us for dinner and our LA premiere!


Sam as Joel on Parenthood


Bradley Cooper and Sam Jaeger in American Sniper




























As he states in the video below, Sam has offered to take EVERYONE who MATCHES his $1000 contribution to our IndieGoGo Campaign for Pitching Tents in the next couple of days to dinner the night of the film's LA Premiere. All the filmmakers, including me, will be there too!

Check out his offer here:



We're so grateful for Sam's generosity and support and hope you join him and us for the premiere and dinner beforehand. Your contribution will help us make this film happen. It will be a really fun night and you can watch the film you helped make possible on the big screen!

Here's the link to the campaign: http://igg.me/at/pitchingtentsmovie/x/6178. Make sure you select the perk at the $1k level, which ensures you two tix to the premiere as well. Thanks everyone! Help us reach our goal! We're in the home stretch - we hope you can join us!

You can also click on the box below: 



Sunday, June 28, 2015

Q&A with Director Sean Ackerman about His New Documentary on Kelley Gibson

Sean Ackerman and I have known each other for about 15 years. I can't believe it's been that long. It feels like yesterday when we met on the production of Todd Solondz's film Storytelling. We have lots of stories about that production but that's for another day.

Director Sean Ackerman

In those 15 years, Sean and I have made two feature films together: Straight Line and The Diary of Preston Plummer. And during that time, Sean went to medical school too. He is now a child psychiatrist/indie filmmaker. I love working with him because he brings such a well-rounded vision to anything he does. His life isn't solely about filmmaking, which is nice. And he's a new dad!

On top of all of that, Sean recently told me he was going to make a documentary. I was really happy to hear this as I love doing both narrative and documentaries. It's nice to know others who like to create both kinds of films.

And he recently launched a Kickstarter for the film, which is doing really well. They are in the home stretch of reaching their $40k goal. I suggested that as he nears the deadline for his crowdfunding campaign that we talk about the project here.

So that's what we're going to do. Let's talk about the film he wants to make about Kelley Gibson - a really remarkable young man.

Kelley Gibson
But before you read the Q&A, watch Sean's Kickstarter video - it will tell you all about the story he wants to tell:

 

Q&A with Sean Ackerman

Tell us about your new project and why you want to tell this story.

I've spent the bulk of the last 9 years training to be a child psychiatrist. In that time, I've seen a lot of good being done by the mental health system in this country, but obviously there is also a lot to be desired that isn't being done. This story does great job not only pointing out what usually isn't done, but it also provides a way forward. That is, it's not a story that just complains about gaps in health care, instead it offers real solutions. Plus, it's just an amazing and entertaining story, and from a filmmaking perspective, that's the first thing.

You're a medical doctor and filmmaker. Do you see this project as the perfect marriage of both of your skills?

Perhaps? But when you make a movie, you're mostly just making a movie. I'm really just a filmmaker when I create this documentary. However, my medical/psychiatric knowledge, I hope, will bring some authenticity/authority to it that another filmmaker could not. These are really, really complicated issues, and I hope I can do them justice.

There's a strong music element to the story. Can you describe why music is so important to this story?

Well, music is important for a lot of reasons. Broadly, it represents the idea that people who struggle with mental health issues are way more than their diagnosis. In the past Kelley has been given diagnoses of bipolar I and autism. Those are the sort of things doctors like myself tend to focus on. But it's not what really matters. What matters is that Kelley is happy and active, and in part for Kelley that is due to music. Beyond that though, on a pure science level, there is strong evidence that playing music actually changes the brain, and being a musician can actually help people improve focus and mood. On a whole other level, in this story music is important to Kelley's family. Kelley's father, Eric, is one of the most popular and accomplished bluegrass musicians in the country. Bluegrass is a family thing, and family is more important than psychiatric medication. Family can help you recover, and family can tear you apart. So, music really stands in for a lot in this story: Kelley's personal identity, Kelley's family, and it also literally impacts the structure of his brain.

This project is a documentary but you have also directed narrative films. How is making a documentary different from a narrative film? Do you like one over the other?

From a creative perspective, I'd way rather shoot a narrative project. There is more freedom. However, from a public policy perspective, I think real life is more powerful. This project is in part about offering some ideas to improve outcomes in mental health, and so I think it's important to stay 100% in the real world. Thus, a documentary.

What are your hopes for this film?

First, I want it to be super entertaining because that is the first rule of storytelling. The ultimate goal though is for it to be seen by the important stakeholders and policy makers in mental health, and to hopefully influence those people a bit. Essentially, I would like to see mental health shift more towards helping people find their strengths and deal with their environments, and have less emphasis on acute interventions and medications. I mean, medications can be very important, but for most people, they are only a small part of the puzzle. For some, medications solve everything, but that's not the norm. Most people who suffer from mental illness have something going on in their lives that contributes to their psychiatric issues, and we need to spend more time working on those issues while also helping people build their natural strengths.

Why crowdfunding?

We are doing crowdfunding for a couple reasons. First: I wanted to see if the story resonated with people before I broke my back to make the movie. With that in mind, I didn't really put much effort into the Kickstarter video itself because I just wanted to see if people liked the feel of the raw story. Second reason: because we'd like for a big chunk of the profit to go to a charity, if we have fewer investors to pay back, we have more moola to give to our charity of choice.

What advice can you give up-and-coming indie filmmakers?

Know what you want. I have a weird career as a doctor and indie filmmaker. It's not easy to make work but I've made it work because I've been clear about what it is that I wanted for a long time. So know what you want and then you'll figure the rest out.

Click on the box below to check out Sean's Kickstarter campaign. I hope you can contribute and spread the word. This story needs to be told. Good luck Sean and Kelley!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Our Emotions Halfway Through Our Feature Film Crowdfunding Campaign

What a whirlwind of emotion! Moviemaking is emotional as it is. Throw a crowdfunding campaign in the mix and it's a hotbed of anxiety, stress, joy, and gratefulness.

We are just over the halfway point in our crowdfunding campaign for our new film Pitching Tents. I thought it would be fun or torturous - take your pick - to run through all the emotions that our crowdfunding campaign has stirred up.

1) Fear. 

It's really scary to launch a crowdfunding campaign. What if no one contributes? What if I fail to reach my goal? What if I look like a loser? What if my friends and family get so annoyed by my constant search for money in order to make movies that they write me off forever? I know that sounds silly but it's irrational thoughts like these that a crowdfunding campaign can elicit. These feelings can be so strong that some filmmakers never run a campaign.

In these moments of fear, here's what I tell myself: I have chosen to be an independent filmmaker and it's a reality I will be on the eternal search for money to make movies. Never expect anyone to contribute to my films, but jump for joy when they do. The only way I can receive any funding is if I ask for it. I need to work as hard as I possibly can for each and every dime put into my films - it's the only way to achieve success. Never rest on my laurels. I will always be pushing to get my titles in front of an audience. That is my life. I must accept my choice and learn how to overcome my fear of what it takes to be an independent filmmaker. How do I do that? Go into everything I do with good intentions and create a foundation for each project whereby everyone gains - both emotionally and financially. With good intentions and humility and grace, I can overcome all obstacles, including fear.

2) Anxiety.

It's really hard to fall asleep at night wondering about the future of your crowdfunding campaign. Anxiety is always lurking, threatening to choke you. You feel the watchful eye of the world on your every move and you hope they aren't rolling their eyes. But again, that's irrational, because in reality, when you launch your campaign, you're already winning. You have committed to your project and you are taking control of its future. You aren't sitting back waiting for someone to hand you the means for making your film. Believe in yourself and your project and hopefully any anxiety can be quelled by the knowledge that you are doing everything in your power to make your film a success.

3) Joy.

Each and every contribution or act of support brings us closer to our goal and the amount of joy associated is immeasurable. These moments make it all worthwhile. Revel in the joy and work hard for these moments.

4) Thankfulness.

I can't even begin to describe how grateful I am each and every time someone contributes, does a shout out, pats us on the back, shares the campaign with friends/family, listens to me prattle on about my movies, deals with all my Facebook statuses and tweeting - the list goes on. Each and every day, I wake up feeling such immense appreciation and love for everyone in my life. And what a positive way to wake up. It feels glorious. And in turn, I know that I am there for everyone in my life. I will go to the ends of the earth to support my friends/family/fellow filmmakers. It's a two way street. And I love knowing that we are all in this crazy thing we call life, together. That truly makes me thankful.

5) Stress.

The stress associated with running a crowdfunding campaign is huge. I could literally be working on it 24/7. But I know that I can't. It's physically impossible to do everything you want to do. That's why it's so important to build a team who will become your film family, who will help carry the weight of the campaign and the making of the film. I know I've said it before, but it truly takes a village. When I start to feel the tight grip of stress, I take a deep breath and I call my teammates and we talk it out. We share the stress. Exercise and hugs help too.

6) Inspired. 

Seeing all of the support that comes in during a crowdfunding campaign is absolutely inspiring. It makes you want to go out and do great things - to show your supporters that they're belief in you is worth it. Being inspired is a huge motivator for success. I love being inspired!

7) Proud.

I am so proud of the work we do on our films. This is our career and our lives. We work so hard to make everything we do, the best it can possibly be. We take what we do seriously. Film has so much power to inspire laughter and tears and even change. There are many films that changed me forever. So we take our strong work ethic and we apply it to our crowdfunding campaigns too. Because we're proud of the work we do and we want our audience to feel something from our stories. Essentially, the pride grows each day as we lay a solid foundation for our indie film.

8) Guilt.

How does one feeling guilty when running a crowdfunding campaign? I think it's the idea of asking people for money. And wishing you didn't have to. Wishing it were easier to get indie films made. Wishing you didn't have to struggle when making each and every film and do multiple crowdfunding campaigns. I know we are asking for money in exchange for a perk and involvement in making a film - something many people want. And I know we are going to put every dollar to good use. But it's still never easy to ask others for money and admit that the process of making a film is challenging and truly takes a village. Having to lean on others is inherently a tough realization that can make us feel guilty. But know that you are contributing toward something important - you are helping to keep indie film alive. The arts are truly important for the well-being of mankind. We need to laugh and cry and share our stories. So stop feeling guilty and get out there and make something special that can help make another person's day a little better.

9) Surprised.

I don't know if "surprised" is the right word because I'm not surprised that people can be generous. The generosity is absolutely astounding. I can't even express the gratitude I feel for every contribution and act of support. I think the feelings of surprise are that all these people want to help YOU. Why do you deserve the money that you are being given? In response, I would say, let's turn that question around, why don't you deserve the money you're being given? You're making a movie with which you plan to entertain each and every contributor. You're providing a fun perk that they can enjoy and you're giving each person the ability to take part in making a movie. Not everyone has the opportunity to take part in making a movie. You are giving that person an experience. In the end, I think it all comes back to good intentions and old-fashioned hard work. You aren't taking other people's money to just blow it. You're working really, really hard for the money they are giving you. You are providing them with a piece of the journey. And that's worth something. So don't feel surprised. Instead, work hard for the money you're given.

10) Relief. 

There is a huge wave of relief that washes over you as you see the amount of funding grow. Suddenly all of the anxiety of being able to afford to make the film eases a bit. You realize that you will have the funding to make it happen and you're growing the audience for the film before it's even made. And that, my friends, it's the greatest feeling in the world and what you set out to do when you hit that Launch the Campaign button.

A crowdfunding campaign is about believing in yourself and your film. There's no shame in wanting to bring people together in the common cause of getting your film made. And know that every filmmaker who runs a crowdfunding campaign experiences each and every emotion discussed above. Even those filmmakers who seem to have raised the funding for their projects so easily. I guarantee they had moments of anxiety and joy and thankfulness and even pangs of guilt (am I worthy?). All you can do is deal with the emotions and find ways of working through them. Exercise is a great way of working through your emotions. In fact, I'm heading out for a walk after I finish this entry.

It's true that you will likely fail more times than you succeed. But with each failure, you learn to be stronger and better. There is something positive that comes out of everything you do. So get out there and don't be afraid to ride the roller coaster of life and moviemaking and experience the good and the bad of it all. When you do take chances, you're living.

When it's all said and done, whether or not we reach our goal of raising $75k, we will have won. Every dollar will be used to make our film better and stronger. And the amount of people we have engaged in our campaign and who now know about our film is worth its weight in gold. So thank you to everyone who has stirred up all these emotions. We couldn't be more grateful.

We hope you check out our campaign while it's still going. Just click here on the box and you will be taken to our IndieGoGo page. Thanks everyone! Let's get emotional together.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Q&A with Christopher Hansen, Writer/Director of Where We Started


Writer/Director Chris Hansen
Photo by: Minerva House

1) Tell us about your film Where We Started.
Where We Started is a very contained story of what happens when two strangers connect with one another while they’re both stopping for the night at a motel.  Their initial attraction deepens as the night goes on – but they’re both married, and the events of the night force them to confront the realities of their respective marital situations.  It’s a romantic drama that deals with questions of fidelity and attraction, about what drives people to have affairs when they clearly know they shouldn’t.

Check out the trailer here:


Where We Started (official trailer) from Chris Hansen on Vimeo.


2) What was your inspiration behind the story of Where We Started?
There were a couple of things that inspired me. First, my wife and I had known a lot of couples that had gone through divorces.  There were various reasons, but infidelity was definitely one of those reasons that came up several times.  And so I’d just been thinking about that.  And about that time I had read an article, some time after the death of filmmaker John Hughes, about a project of his that never got made.  It had something to do with two people who connected over musical taste and other things during a night when they were stranded in a motel.  So I kind of put those two things together in my mind and created a story.  And I layered in a bunch of references to John Hughes movies as a nod to the inspiration for this story and also to the role his movies played in my life when I was younger.



3) What made you decide to make it independently?
Where We Started was my third feature as a writer/director, and I’ve made all of them independently.  I’m based in Texas (and I have my family here as well) – so it’s hard for me to try to sell stuff to Hollywood. I tried that for a number of years before focusing on making my own stuff when it became a lot easier to do so thanks to the digital revolution.  Part of it, then, is necessity, and the other part is creative control.  I really like being able to make what I want and not have anyone forcing it to be something else.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have collaborators or that I don’t take creative advice from others; I do!  I just choose them carefully, and we’re all in on what we’re trying to do together.  The downside, of course, is that my films have all been done on really small budgets.


4) How did you cast your lead actors, Matthew Brumlow and Cora Vander
 Broek?
Matthew and I went to college together.  We lost touch (back in the days before email and Facebook), but he pursued acting as a grad student at Northwestern, and ended up building a solid career as a theatre actor in the Chicago area.  A mutual friend read a script of mine and suggested I see if Matt was interested.  That project was my second feature, Endings, and Matt was one of the three leads.  He was really good, and the experience of working with someone with whom I already had a great relationship was so good that I immediately knew we’d want to work together again.  He married Cora soon after the Endings shoot was done, and since she was a well-regarded stage actor, too, I thought it would be great to do something together. So the project was really written specifically for them.


5) What was the best experience making Where We Started
The best part of it was the way we worked on it from concept to production.  Rather than me writing a script, casting actors, and going into production, I involved Matt and Cora all the way back at the concept stage.  They contributed notes and ideas as well as character backgrounds, some of which they pulled from their own lives and experiences. I felt I needed to credit them with some of the dialogue, because several key lines or speeches came directly from them or were seriously revised by them.  And once a solid draft was done, I went out to visit them and we spent a long weekend workshopping and rehearsing the script.  It improved dramatically from that session.  I was able to see easily some things in both action and dialogue that were killing momentum or that seemed really too abstract and theoretical.  The whole collaboration made it one of the best creative experiences of my life.

6) What was the most challenging part of creating Where We Started?
Any micro-budget indie film shoot is a nightmare.  Ours was particularly challenging.  We had several things go wrong that made us think we were cursed.  For example, our motel interior was on a soundstage, but the exterior was a nearby motel.  We had booked I think six nights shooting exterior scenes there.  These were to all be overnight shoots.  It doesn’t get dark in the summer in Texas until nearly 10pm, so we would prep and then shoot from 10pm to about 5:30am.  On the second night of shooting exteriors at the motel, the owner revoked the deal because we were disturbing what we believed to be some… ahem… illegal business dealings in a particular room. And short of bringing a lawsuit, we just didn’t have any recourse even though we had a signed agreement.  He gave us the rest of that night to shoot five more nights worth of scenes.  It was a moment of sheer panic. But thanks to a very calm producer, a dedicated crew, and actors who were ready to go, we shot a ton of material that night (sometimes with just a single setup instead of doing coverage).  Several of those scenes ended up being my favorite things in the film. But I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.


7) How did you finance your film?
A combination of methods.  I launched a Kickstarter – which failed.  We fell short of the money we were trying to raise, but I emailed all of the backers and explained we were going to make the film anyway and just asked if they’d be willing to donate the money they had pledged.  Almost all of them still sent the money.  I teach film at Baylor University (and I’m currently the chair of the Film & Digital Media Department, though I wasn’t back when we shot Where We Started), so we used some department funds that were set aside for faculty film projects as well. And Baylor has internal grants for faculty projects of all sorts, so I secured some funding there.  We used Baylor film students as most of our crew, hiring professional department heads to teach them and make sure the key things were getting done.

8) How did you secure distribution and where can we see your film?
We initially went out to festivals, hoping maybe we’d get into one of the prestigious ones. When that didn’t happen, we still wanted to screen at some good regional fests, many of which I’ve screened at before with past films.  After that, I explored a number of options before working with Linda Nelson and Michael Madison at Indie Rights.  They’re very filmmaker friendly in terms of the profit split, and they got the film distributed in several places.  After a one-week run at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood and positive reviews from LA Weekly and The Village Voice, we launched online at Amazon and Google Play.  It’ll be up on iTunes soon as well.

Watch the film on Amazon Prime here.

Watch on Google Play here.

9) What's next for you in independent film?
I’m in postproduction on my fourth feature, a drama called Blur Circle that tells the story of a woman dealing with the grief over the disappearance of her young son two years ago.  When a mysterious man with a camera and his own tragic past comes into her life, it changes both of them in significant ways.  And I’m going to be directing a documentary about the British sci-fi show Doctor Who, specifically focused on fans who have done extraordinary things with their lives or for other people as a result of the influence of the long running show.

10) What made you want to write/direct a movie?
Because I’m a glutton for punishment?

Seriously – it’s a punishing experience at times, but it can be incredibly rewarding.  I have always wanted to tell stories, ever since I was a kid, through the time I was an English major in college, through film school. My focus has always been storytelling.  At some point I realized that the stories and storytellers I had started to really idolize were filmmakers.  I remember standing on the set of my first film, moments after we’d done the last take of the final shot of the entire shoot, thinking, “I did it.”

I was so wrong, though.  I hadn’t done it yet.  I’d just gotten through production.  
Thinking you’ve done it because you got through production is like equating a wedding to a marriage.  The wedding is just the opening act.  The marriage is where the work starts.

11) What advice can you give up and coming independent filmmakers?
Where should I start?!  I’ve learned a lot from making these films.  Some of what I’ve learned has been about filmmaking itself.  None of my films are downright bad, but it wasn’t until I’d made a couple that it really started to all click.  Much of what I learned has been about the process and about the marketing. 

In terms of process: I’ve learned to focus (or to TRY to focus) on the journey and not just the end product.  Where We Started taught me that I should be trying to make the process one that is creative and collaborative and enjoyable.  If that happens, the product itself will improve, but that can’t be the sole motive.  If I’m going to spend months in production and post production and then a year on the festival circuit etc., I need to enjoy what I’m doing. 

In terms of marketing: I’ve learned that marketing the film is the hardest part of the process, and it’s the part that indie filmmakers talk and know the least about (myself included). As much as we might denigrate the marketing efforts of various films, the fact is that it’s extremely difficult to sell films to an audience unless there’s some really obvious draw.  What are the obvious draws?  Recognizable actors, genres, things like that.  If you make a movie like Where We Started, a small, contained drama with actors who are not known to the general public, you face a huge uphill climb. I was told more than once by a festival programmer that they loved it but were facing pushback because it wasn’t going to bring people into the theaters the way a film with a bigger name or more excitement around it would.  You can argue until you’re blue in the face about why it’s wrong for festivals to do that, that they should support good indie filmmaking, but it won’t do you any good. Festivals have to keep the doors open, too, so they have to get butts in the seats.  I’m not happy about it, but there it is. Again – it’s all in the marketing.

I could make films all the time if I didn’t have to worry about marketing and distribution.  These things wear you down.  If I could just hand the completed work off to someone to begin marketing, with me commenting on the plans, that would be ideal.  But that’s not reality.  So you just keep doing it. 

The past month, on my next film, we’ve been trying to deal with workflow issues between our editor, our visual effects artist, and our colorist.  At the same time, I’ve been trying to get Where We Started properly prepped for iTunes, which is a very technically-oriented task.  Some audio wasn’t in stereo, some files were exported in the wrong codec, the closed-captioning file (which is now required by the FCC for all films being distributed online) wasn’t complete.  It feels like one emergency after another, but there’s nothing you can do.  If you decide you’re too worn out to deal with it, it just won’t get done.  So you dig in, get it done, and hold your breath until the next problem comes along, and you hope you can solve it or know someone who can!

I don’t mean to paint a picture of futility.  I am very fortunate in that I get to make films, and I’ve made four features now.  Not many people can say that.  I’d like them to find bigger audiences, and Where We Started has probably found the biggest audience of any of my films thanks to its availability on Amazon Prime.  I feel my job as a filmmaker is to keep building my audience a little at time so that some people are anticipating the next film I’ll make.