Friday, September 14, 2012

Guest Blog: Filmmakers of "Under One Roof"



We wanted to make a film-- a film about the Moso people living at the foot of the Himalayas in a rural village in the remote province of Yunnan, China. So our intrepid director Ricky -- armed with a 5D camera, a 7D, and a worn backpack -- made the journey, by air from Los Angeles to Beijing to his hometown of Kunming to the historical town of Lijiang. From Lijiang, a jarring six-hour bus ride through the mountains over stretches of gravel- or dirt-strewn roads, to Lake Lugu, one of the last unspoiled freshwater lakes in China.

Alone at Lake Lugu, Ricky booked a room in the local Moso-owned hostel and began exploring the village, taking photos, capturing video and striking up conversation with local residents. Soon he found himself waking up at dawn to help the village matriarch, “Ama,” row to one of Lake Lugu’s many islands, or staying up late with Tou Ming, a young Han Chinese man who moved from his own home to help Ama run her inn.

A month later, sizzle reel complete, relationships built, photo assets safely stored to an external drive, Ricky returned to the States ready to put together an official proposal and begin the fundraising process to cover the cost -- for flights, transportation, equipment, visas, lodging, food, crew --of returning to Lake Lugu and transforming his vision into a reality.

We first decided to tackle the crowdfunding campaign: a short-term fundraiser in which friends, family and random strangers can all contribute to your project’s success via websites like IndieGoGo (our platform of choice) and Kickstarter. Welcome to the 21st century, right?Along with our film teaser, we posted to our IndieGoGo page a brief explanation of the project and offered perks for various levels of contribution.

One of the biggest challenges here was pinning down, in concrete terms, why we wanted to make our film. Before we could go live on IndieGoGo, we had to put into words what the Moso and their experience as a minority culture in rapidly-changing China means to us, in a way that potential contributors could understand.

We knew that we wanted to make a movie about identity, change, relationships, about the impact of modernization, development, and tourism on not just the Moso people, but on China as a nation of particular and growing interest for Western audiences.

But how could we communicate that to our friends, family or generous strangers in a compelling, authentic way?How do you appeal to each target audience and still maintain the integrity of your project’s vision?How do you instill a sense of urgency without seeming desperate?

After several painstaking hours of writing, arguing, editing, scrapping and re-writing, we put together an assortment of necessary materials: a pitch sheet, website summary, content calendar, introductory email for family and friends, introductory email for professional contacts, high quality photographs, logos and fonts, an English press release, a Chinese press release, a Facebook account, YouTube account, Twitter and Tumblr blog.

We’re about four weeks into our campaign now, and we’ve learned a lot. Here are few of our insights:

1) Be prepared. Crowdfunding campaigns require momentum. Which means a consistent(!) stream of Facebook posts, tweets and re-tweets, blog entries, and email updates to get the word out. We assigned one team member to lead the charge each week and had everyone else pitch in as needed. After the sixth or seventh post, it can be difficult to come up with interesting, eye-catching content, so it helps to work on them ahead of time and call in reinforcements when you run out of ideas.

We also noticed that people responded more to visual cues than simple chunks of text, and that virality and sharability are key if you want your campaign to spread past your own limited social networks.

2) Be personal. People respond to people. Not so much to banner ads, posters, or videos (though they should not be neglected). But if you really want people to donate, be willing to put in the face time. Meet up for coffee, schedule speaking engagements, make phone calls -- let them know that you’re not just asking them to donate money for a film to be made, their contribution is a directly investment in you.

3) Be agile. For most of us, crowdfunding and social media marketing are new frontiers; you may think, “But I just want to make films.” The process of fundraising, however, is an unavoidable reality for any serious filmmaker and comes with a lot of trial and error.

At times, we’ve had to admit that our current strategy wasn’t working, or to acknowledge that it worked well for a while but things have slowed down since and we have to go back to the drawing board. In either case, the point is you have to be adaptable enough to approach your crowdfunding campaign from another angle, to revamp the marketing, or to refresh your audience with something they haven’t seen or heard yet.

4) Be persistent. Sometimes, the first, second or third appeal won’t produce any results. It could be that pitch presentation, or a recently uploaded video clip, or a stunning photograph, that transforms your long-time follower into a new contributor.

There will be great days and slow days; don’t get discouraged. We noticed that most of our contributions have come in waves, a few contributors at a time. Keep plugging away and remember to let people know why your project is important and why they should get involved.

5) Be proactive. Whether it’s cold calling companies, sending out personalized emails, or creating interactive contests and polls, your campaign will only go as far as you’re willing to take it. For us, that’s meant doing a lot of legwork -- researching, reaching out, and talking to everyone we encounter about our project.

And it won’t stop after our IndieGoGo campaign is over. We’re already thinking and talking about more fundraisers, sponsorships and grants we can utilize to help us accrue the resources we need to make the film we want to make.

The closer we get to our fundraising goal, the more excited we are by the possibilities and the enthusiasm with which people have been responding to our project. But we know we still have a long way to go.

What drives us to do this in the end are the stories we believe need to be told. The story of Tou Ming and his girlfriend Xiao Yu, who left their families and old life in Zhejiang behind in order to start a new one at the inn on the shores of Lake Lugu. Of Ama, the inn owner and Moso village matriarch who wonders how to serve the flood of tourists coming to Yunnan to get a glimpse of her culture and her way of life. Of the minority Moso people and Han Chinese people interacting, connecting, and building a life together as the economic and social landscape of China continues to shift and course around them.

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For those interested in learning more about or contributing to our documentary film “Under One Roof,” please visit http://indiegogo.com/underoneroofmovie or http://facebook.com/underoneroofmovie.


Check out the trailer: