30 September 2011

Why the MAN-CHILD campaign isn't as good as you think

Someone broke the record for biggest narrative film on Kickstarter. This is fantastic news. I want to say that right off the bat. Congratulations to Koo for rallying the troops and raising the bar. I couldn't be happier for him and if he wants me to bring A Year Without Rent to the production, I'd be more than happy to do so.

But first, I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here because I think it'll be helpful for campaigns going forward.

The campaign isn't very good.

It's not a bad campaign, but it ain't great. And it certainly isn't the sort of campaign you'd expect to break the narrative record.

There's nothing unique or innovative or even all that creative in the campaign. Look at the perks. Basically, what you're getting is the standard list of perks that pretty much every campaign gives you, plus frames of the movie that relate to how much you gave. But even that isn't new. Lemonade Detroit already did this (and is doing so still).

This is a movie about basketball, and there's really nothing in the perks that reflects that. But the pitch video (if memory serves) has a high school basketball photo of the director. He could have easily made copies of that and signed it for, say, a $10 perk. The point being, there's a hundred different things the campaign could have done that would have been unique to that project. But it did none of them.

At last week's Filmcourage panel (which you can purchase audio of at the link), Indiegogo's Adam Chapnick gave some numbers on what successful campaigns do. I don't remember the exact numbers, but part of it was giving updates. I think 30 was the consensus sweet spot for a 60 day campaign. And that seems about right. An update every other day is keeping people involved without being a hassle.

Joke and Biagio's seminal campaign for Dying to do Letterman gave an update for something like each of the first 15 days of the campaign, and all of those contained something they were giving away, be it advice they found helpful or graphics for use in your campaign or a video of them crying.

The point being, the updates keep people engaged. Not to mention, there's good karma involved in giving stuff away for free (more on that later).

MAN-CHILD has 9 updates and only 7 of them during the campaign.

I thought that was kind of strange. How does a campaign with no updates, boring perks, and a pretty basic pitch video break the narrative record? So I ran some numbers of the first 11 notable film campaigns that I thought of (click on the chart to make it bigger).

Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 9.40.08 PM

I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but here's the key:

$$: Actual money raised
Goal: the goal, duh.
%: the % above the goal the campaign went
Backers: # of backers who gave money.
$$/Backer: the average donation level of each backer.
Likes: Facebook likes, as indicated on the Kickstarter page. This is a little tricky, because I don't think the like button has always been as prominent as it is now.
$$/Like: the average donation amount per "like"
Ratio: Likes/Backers.

I think the Ratio is the important number here. A big function of a Kickstarter campaign is the idea that it provides free publicity for your project, building an audience while you're still making the film. The backers become your evangelists, spreading the word for you because they feel some connection to your project. The good campaigns create the most buzz. The best campaigns convert that buzz into backers.

The gold standard here is Dying to do Letterman and TILT. A ratio in the 3's strikes me as a pretty perfect balance. Over 5 is too high. Under 2 is too low. If you have a massive Kickstarter rally, it's going to inflate your numbers here a bit (see: AYWR and Locked in a Garage Band), but the inverse isn't necessarily true. BLACK ROCK blew past it's goal in days and has a ratio of 2.39. They pretty much could take the foot off the gas pretty quickly, which kept the ratio lower than it should have been.

It's kind of like baseball. A solo home run is great, but it isn't something you want to rely on. Putting runners on base and driving them in with base hits is. A ratio in the 1's probably isn't sustainable. A ratio above 4 means you left money on the table.

So how the hell did he do it?

Enter Koo's not-so-secret weapon: No Film School.

For years, Koo has run this website, which gives away a shitload of free advice and resources for indie filmmakers. There's really a staggering amount of stuff on there. He gets something like 500,000 page views a month. Scroll through the comments of the campaign and it becomes pretty clear that this was a case of Koo's audience giving back. The project could have been anything. They saw someone who'd helped them time and time again and saw this as an opportunity to return the favor. That's it. Good karma.

But that's not everything. Consider this possibility: the high goal number.

He went for the narrative record. It's a big number. $115,000. And he got there pretty effortlessly with a bad campaign. I know a lot of people were watching the campaign simply to see if he could break the record. They weren't spreading the word or backing it for various reasons, but they were watching.

In the final days, I had a couple of conversations with those people and we pretty much all agreed that this was going to be a campaign that went to whatever level the goal was. If he'd asked for $40,000, he would have gotten that. It happens to a lot of campaigns (see the chart).

So I think the lesson here is this:

You can ask for more money.

And that's a scary thought, because no one wants to come up short. But that goal number gets people's attention. They're drawn to it. If Koo had run a good campaign? He could have gotten $150,000, easy. Maybe $200,000.

The growth of crowdfunding is off the charts (so says Adam), but our campaigns aren't scaling up with them. There's more people to find. 2,000 backers isn't really all that much, if you think about it. Translate that to Box Office and that's, what, a $20,000 gross? That's not very much. This time next year, we could be talking about projects that raised $500,000 with 10,000 backers and a ratio in the 3's. It's possible. We just have to think a little bigger. And we have to run good campaigns. All the tools are there. The audience is there. Who's going to find them?

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

28 September 2011

Day 1 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

In the original planning for A Year Without Rent, I wasn't supposed to leave the country. It just wasn't in the budget. And sure, there were jokes about A Year Without Rent 2: Europe, especially when it became clear that a lot of our Kickstarter backers were overseas, but I didn't think anything would come of it. A pipe dream, if you will.

So when Zahra Zomorrodian (@fnafilms) asked if I'd consider coming to the UK if a production flew me over, the answer was obvious.

That's how I ended up in Newcastle upon Tyne, serving as gaffer on a film where I can barely understand what a single member of the cast is saying.

There's two things that you're going to want to know about this before we proceed: 1) the gaffer is the person on a set who, among other things, is in charge of electricity; and 2) Electricity in the UK is different than in the US. I know absolutely nothing about the British electricity system. I even forgot to get an adapter so I could plug things in.

Having an American gaffer on a British film isn't exactly an ideal situation. It might even be downright stupid.

But first, an introduction to James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO. Despite the fact that he lives in Newcastle (which British Customs didn't believe for a second I was going to for holiday), James is actually a Masshole, born and raised in Massachusetts. He moved to Newcastle after meeting Zahra when both of them lived in LA. THE STAGG DO is something of a spin-off from their long-gestating project PISSHEADS, which is about these people in the Northeast UK called Geordies (holy shit, my spell check recognized that) who speak in an accent that's virtually impossible to understand. This one actor, Pob, I can understand maybe 10% of what he says. Maybe. In this spin-off, basically it's "Pissheads go camping", which involves a quest to find a strip club. Only, most of it takes place in the woods.

There's nothing like not being sure how to plug something in to assure the rest of the crew that you know what you're doing, but that's exactly what happen, oh, 5 minutes after we get to the first location, a bar. Luckily, everything else goes smoothly, and we're in and out pretty quickly.

From there we head to a farm, where we'll be for most of the rest of production. Two days, then several nights.

Things go pretty smoothly for a bit. A flex fill here, some traffic noise there. But then the sun comes into play. If you remember, on FAT KID RULES THE WORLD we had all sorts of methods to block the sun. Here, we have none. Well…maybe not none.

The farm is actually one of the larger prop houses in the area. There's at least 4 barns full of weird shit. So we start digging around and find a large white tarp buried under a pile of stuff that hasn't moved in years. But, when you use the eyelets to attach it to c-stands, it creates a type of shade for the scene. Thing is, it's kind of like a sail. The c-stands aren't all that strong and we don't have a lot of weight to put on them in case the wind picks up, so someone has to hold each one of them down at all times.

But hey, it works. We get the shade we need. And it only falls once. And the sound guy is just fine, thanks for asking.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

27 September 2011

Day 8 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD

There's something strange about life on location.

When you shoot a film, you never shoot it in order. The chief reason being that it's never easy to load in and out of a location and location moves themselves are time consuming and costly, so you want to shoot all of the scenes that require a specific location all at once. Makes sense, right?

So what ends up happening when you've got a location that's in the film a lot is that you spend a lot of time there. And after a couple of days, a sense of belonging starts to settle in. The location becomes the production's home, for lack of a better word. You get used to the place. You get to know the neighborhood (and the neighbors. And you even unpack, sort of.

And this happens really quickly. Like in a day.

But then, eventually you have to move on to another location, and it just isn't the same. The rhythm is all different. Everything is in the wrong place. You can't find the bathroom. And where the fuck did craft services go?

Sometimes you can't even find the new location. Or, at least the road that leads to it. (Yes, I got lost.)

But I found it. Today we're filming in a abandoned wing of a hospital. I find hospitals weird enough by themselves, but an abandoned one? Creepy. There's all sorts of stuff in the rooms that's at the same time fascinating and off-putting.

We're shooting a couple of scenes using the hallways. A hallway, by definition, doesn't have a whole lot of room to set up lights. You can change out the halogen bulbs in the overhead light and you've got a little bit of room in doorways and whatnot, but there's not a ton you can do.

But logistically, the big challenge comes in coordinating extras. Sure, you don't necessarily need extras, but an empty hallway means something completely different from one with doctors and nurses wandering around, doing their thing. And that wandering takes coordination. That falls to Allison Eckert, our AD.

It basically works like this: Allison is standing behind the camera (and video village) on the walkie. There's extras in a couple of the rooms, and some of those rooms have PAs in them who are also on walkies. Down at the very end of the hall, there's a little alcove where we've hidden a light and more PAs. Also, me.

On action, Allison directs the PAs to cue the extras. One extra will have instructions to walk from room 5 to room 8. Another will walk down the hall half-way and pause to look at the chart outside a patient's room. Allison will whisper "go Lucas" into the walkie. I point to the extras and they do their thing. You get the idea.

On the scale of things we've done while I've been on this film, it's really pretty simple. There's a bunch of extras, which is always a little tricky, and it's a location move to a new place, but other than that, there's nothing crazy going on.

But, then again, I'm not there for the whole day. Tomorrow I fly from Seattle to Newcastle upon Tyne, over ye olde Atlantic Ocean and today's shoot goes pretty late. Not to mention I've got to get my car to Phil Seneker's house a half hour outside of the city and I don't want to be that guy who shows up at 2am. In reality, I wasn't even supposed to be on set today, but when I realized I could work in half a day, it was an easy decision. More content is better than less, right?

I make the rounds and say my goodbyes. Jacob Wysocki jokingly asks if we'll ever see each other again. The way the indie film community works these days, it's a pretty safe bet.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

23 September 2011

Why @TheiPhotographr Represents the Future of Film Production

For every film I work on, there's usually a Twitter hashtag or account dedicated to the film (What if there's no hashtag or account? That's a red flag.) where people will post stuff that's going on. Some films it's just me posting and on some films (like FAVOR), the Twitter feed is pretty active. You'd think the Twitter activity on a film wouldn't have any correlation at all to the quality of the production, but it does. Maybe that's because you'd be a damned fool to be a filmmaker without a Twitter account, but there's something to it. FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is pretty active. There's @FatKidMovie, of course, and Matthew Lillard (@lillardmatthew), but also lead actor Jacob Wysocki (@JacobWysocki) and his movie dad Billy Campbell (@WOCampbell) have been tweeting regularly about the film.

And then there's @TheiPhotographr. For the longest time, I had no idea who @TheiPhotographr was. There's two people taking still photographs on set--myself and Gabe, one of the PAs. But I've seen Gabe's photos and the style doesn't match at all. It can't be him. For a while I thought maybe it was someone who was on set before I showed up, but then he/she kept posting photos from days I was there, like these:

Over The Shoulder  @FatKidMovie  @arkfilms_dp  #iP

Getting Into The Scene W/ @Lillardmatthew & @JacobWysocki   @FatKidMovie  #iP

Standing Tall (Dan Misner-Best Boy Grip)  @fatkidmovie #iP

@neilhimself look who just got the gift of American Gods, @WOCampbell

Take 4   @FatKidMovie @WOCampbell  @Photojojo  #iP #pjchallenge

Surfacing   @FatKidMovie  W/ @JacobWysocki  #iP

Who doesn't love a good mystery?

Then I looked at the account a little closer and pieced it together. @TheiPhotographr was very likely Key Grip Patrick Barcroft. It made a lot of sense. They were the type of photos you could only get if you were right in the middle of the production, and a key grip would be that guy. Plus, they're really good photos.

But let's think about that for a minute. Here you've got a Key Grip (and, from what I can tell, a good one) who posts a production photo or two a day from your shoot. He's got followers (461, as I write this) who are going to get a very small, but very pretty window into your production. It's kind of like A Year Without Rent, without the risk of someone writing that your production is a clusterfuck. Basically, he's going to make you look good.

I think this is the future of production. Instead of being a rarity, people like Patrick are going to be the norm. You'll have a crew full of people sharing photos and thoughts from your production. They'll all bring their own built-in audiences along with them and it'll be the production's job to maximize that contribution. Some productions will clamp down and try to control it in the same way that corporations try and get their employees to toe a line, but the smart ones will give them free reign. Sure, they'll give parameters like "don't reveal the killer", but it won't be much more than that. And the productions will be better for it. They'll have an easier time of finding their audiences because the audience will come from the processes that get the film made in the first place.

Plus, they'll draw better crews.

Screen shot 2011-09-10 at 1.37.57 PM

There was a discussion on Twitter some time ago about whether or not directors let the social media following of actors influence casting decisions.

Of course it does.

It's more than that. Social media is going to influence your choice of a Key Grip and on down the line. Everything else being equal, would you rather have Patrick or someone with 10 followers on Twitter who hasn't posted in 6 months?

And it's not as simple as requiring people to post stuff on social media sites, like a lot of productions are doing now. That's a band-aid, and not a very good one. There's no really incentive to engage with people, which is the key benefit. The posts come off a perfunctory and they accomplish almost nothing other than looking desperate. You're better off having them do nothing.

Or, you hire someone like Patrick who already engages with an audience who likes and trusts him. Because someone like that won't just help you get your film made, but he'll help you get your film seen. And isn't that the point?

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

22 September 2011

Day 7 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD

It's 1am and I'm sitting by myself on the sidewalk at the corner of 3rd Avenue & Seneca Street, 4 blocks from set. The battery on my phone died an hour ago, I really could use a jacket, and I think someone was supposed to bring me lunch at some point.

I've been here almost 3 hours.

Why? Because there's a light here--a 9 bank pointing straight up at the building across the street--and you can't exactly leave expensive stuff unattended on the corner of 3rd & Seneca while drunk assholes and trannys and drunk trannys mill about. Not if you want it to be there when you get back.

Someone has to babysit it. And right now, that someone is me.

And let's be honest: it's a shitty job. It's boring and you're far, far away from the action (unless you count the activity on the street). It's easy to start thinking what a bullshit deal this is, because no one wants to do it and there's not much else to do except think about how bored you are.

But then you realize what an egotistic way of thinking that is. You aren't that important. You're there to help in any way possible, be an extra set of hands for a production wherever needed. Sometimes that involves using a rope to help pull a light up the side of a building. And sometimes that involves sitting on a sandbag and freezing your ass off. Neither of those things is inherently more helpful than the other, but one of them is cool. And so what if it's keeping you from doing other, more fun things? That would just mean that one of the regular G&E guys would have to be doing this and couldn't be doing something more important.

So you bite your tongue and suck it up like a motherfucking adult. It's only for 3 hours and then Art comes back and you can get some food and charge your phone and put on a jacket.

And it's not like you've had such a terrible day. The film is shooting all day in a parking garage and you've been on roof duty all day. That involves helping the grips every so often, and helping set up craft services and making sure people don't park on the roof, since we've only got clearance to block off a couple of levels of the garage.

There's something strange about being on the roof of a parking garage, listening on the walkie talkies to the commotion below. There's extra wrangling, which means there's never enough extras and keeping track of them is kind of like herding cats, especially when there's scenes down on the street. There's PA's blocking off street corners to pedestrian traffic and from the roof it sounds like absolute chaos. People are yelling things like "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT 2ND AVENUE!!", but then when you go over to 2nd Avenue and look down, it looks totally calm and serene, which kills the entertainment value, so fuck that.

In reality, they're probably just yelling because the traffic noise is really loud, but what fun is that? From the roof, it's like listening to a great old time radio show. Down there, it probably isn't nearly as cool.

As the sun goes down, the production starts to move up the parking garage, until finally we're on the roof for the big scene that's kind of spoiler-ish. But it's a cool scene with dozens of extras and lots of vehicles and moving parts. There's a lot going on.

Which is why it sucks to be 4 blocks away, sitting on a sandbag.

By the time I get back to set, things are in full swing. It's really dark and everyone is running around, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos. I find Billy Campbell sitting in a car among all this, reading a copy of AMERICAN GODS. There's a lot going on. Like, a lot. You help out where you can, but it's hard to even figure out what needs to be done. It's dark and a lot of people and things are in silhouette and often you don't even realize that the person you're looking for is 5 feet away.

I take a lot of pictures.

We shoot the big finale of the scene, which looks big and epic in person. On a monitor, over Matthew Lillard's shoulder, you can see that it'll be more so on screen.

You can see the buildings we lit, so none of that time on the street corner is wasted, which is always a good feeling.

Near the end of the shoot, I spot Matt sitting against a wall, looking over his shot list. It's a nice photo, so I try and sneak over to get a good shot. He holds the shot list so it catches more of the light.

"I see you, Lucas," he says, not moving his head.
"And yet you hold still. A pro."
He motions to the shot list. "I see you. And yet I'm giving you fill."

Then Art calls on the walkie. There's some shady characters milling around. So I head back down to be a criminal deterrent. Sunrise is fast approaching, so we wait for a half hour or so and then start breaking everything down.

Back at the garage, everyone is breaking down the equipment. Jeremy helps out for a few minutes. Matt pitches in, grabbing what the grips will let him handle and getting it in the truck before someone drags him away.

He's excited. It's a big set piece of the film out of the way. And it looks like they got what they needed. He wants to do everything he can to get his film made. And I love that. It's that same spirit and enthusiasm that drives someone to make a tiny little DIY film with a crew of three, just here writ large. Because dammit, that's what got most of us excited about making films in the first place.

You hope it never goes away.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

19 September 2011

Brendon Fogle's SYNC

There's a day off in the FAT KID RULES THE WORLD schedule, and the last day before the day off wraps at 5am. By the time I make it back to where I'm staying, it's closer to 5:30am. The next day is Sunday, and since I'm free, I take the opportunity to wake up at noon to listen to Film Courage on LA Talk Radio with guest Wonder Russell calling in from Denver. I'm listening to it in Wonder's living room. In Seattle.

Welcome to the weirdness that is my life.

Near the end of the show, my phone rings. Phil Seneker (who keeps showing up on this trip) is working on a film and wants to know if I feel like swinging by. So then I'm in the car, driving to Woodinville, WA to help out on Brendon Fogle's debut short SYNC.

They're in the last day of shooting. Actually, the last half day of shooting. They don't need my help. They've got a small crew in a small room with a somewhat minimal kit and they're on schedule. No drama. No chaos.

But Phil's a backer. His son Ethan is the film's lead. Brendon is a backer. The least I can do is show up and shoot some behind the scenes photos and hang out.

SYNC is shooting in a small, alternative high school where Brendon teaches. They've built a full set in their big common room, complete with moveable walls and all that fun stuff, but today they're filming in a classroom they've turned into the bedroom of Ethan's character.

It really kind of makes me wish I could have shown up for the set construction, because I imagine that would have been compelling.

So it goes.

I'm there for a couple of hours. I take a few pictures. Eat some of the extra craft services food. I spot a picture John Trigonis on the wall--apparently he sent them a picture of himself to use on an album cover (the indie community at its most elegant and cooperative).

And that's it. I'm not even sure what the film is about. I know there's Ethan and a girl laying on a bed (go Ethan) and some vinyl records. I've asked Brendon to write something on the production, so we can get a proper feel for it. But, for now, enjoy some pictures from my "day off".

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.