You can’t just post on Facebook every day of your crowd-funding campaign (particularly if it runs for eight months as ours did) asking for money. You have to find other ways to remind people of the project’s existence without directly holding out your begging cap.
One way to do this is through uploading content like blogs and behind-the-scenes videos. As previously discussed, our system of public rewards hampered this to some extent, but we still blogged regularly about the project’s progress, also updating people via the Facebook page, Twitter and emails to the sponsors. Any time we did any interesting work on the film we took photos or video and shared them with the community we were building.
Speaking of community, you have to nurture it by allowing them to engage with the project. For example, we ran a poster design competition and later invited the public to submit interview questions to be posed to the cast.
Whenever we needed additional crew, those shout-outs served not only as a form of crowd-sourcing but also as promotion of the crowd-funding.
You shoudn’t neglect “real world” promotional opportunities. I gave a couple of talks about Stop/Eject during the campaign, each time encouraging audiences to donate. It’s best to provide a bucket for cash by the exit, because if you tell people to go home and donate online, the vast majority of them will forget.
Georgie helped a lot, making her fanbase aware of the campaign, and we tried to seek out Worst Witch sites and communities to post on too. In fact all of the cast and crew helped to spread the word.
We discovered it was the 50th anniversary of the invention of cassette tapes halfway through our campaign, but too late to do much about it except get interviewed on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester. Sophie and I also managed to get some local newspaper coverage, but our biggest coup was Sophie’s appearance on BBC East Midlands Today. That didn’t lead directly to any donations, but a Stop/Eject article on a website about Matlock, one of the towns we shot in, did lead to a few.
The final part of my evaluation will take the form of ten top tips for crowd-funding, based on our experiences with Stop/Eject. Watch this space.
One of the key lessons learnt from Stop/Eject‘s first crowd-funding campaign is that people don’t tend to donate unless they have a pre-existing connection to some element of the project, e.g. they know the filmmaker, it’s being shot in their home town, it has an actor in it they like, or it’s about a subject they’re interested in. That first campaign was very much dependent on people knowing me and wanting to support me, as we had no other “elements” at that stage.
When, a week prior to shooting Stop/Eject, we cast Georgina Sherrington in the lead role, the last thing on our minds was crowd-funding. But her cult status as the former child star of ITV’s The Worst Witch provided a new “element” when we came to launch our second campaign.
We found that sponsors of the second campaign generally fell into two camps: Georgina Sherrington fans, and sponsors putting in larger amounts who were either doing so purely philanthropically or who wanted custom rewards to help them with their own filmmaking endeavours. Other than these custom requests, the rewards aimed at filmmakers were unsuccessful (most of them got zero sales, so aren’t included on the above graphs), proving beyond a doubt that I was not the major “element” in this second campaign.
The “Memoirs of the Worst Witch” reward was added after our campaign had already been running for a few months and the total had been stuck for a while around the halfway point. It was a download of a 20 minute interview with Georgina about her time on The Worst Witch, and it turned out to be one of the most popular rewards in terms of units sold.
In an effort to combat the disadvantages of a campaign without a deadline (see part 5), we introduced “Collections” – groups of four new rewards that were only available in limited numbers and for a limited time. These helped keep awareness of the campaign up, but didn’t bring much money in.
In general, several of the rewards required a ridiculous amount of time (and in some cases money) to produce in relation to the amount of sponsorship they brought in, most notably the glossy photo books. If I had to run this campaign all over again, I’d offer a smaller number of rewards, and most of them at the lower price breaks (£10-£50), with just a couple of suggestions for custom rewards at maybe £100 and £200.
Next time I’ll talk about how we promoted the campaign and engaged with the audience, before summing up my overall thoughts and feelings on crowd-funding Stop/Eject in the eighth and final part.
We knew we didn’t want to use crowdfunder.co.uk again, because it required an off-putting number of clicks for people to donate – so one of the first discussions we had was about what platform to use instead. We quickly ruled out the “all or nothing” sites. Now that the film was in the can, the important thing was to get at least some money to finish it with; the possibility of getting none at all was too risky.
My intial thought was to use Sponsume, but producer Sophie Black and my wife Katie both believed we needed to try something completely different. In the end we decided to run a campaign with no deadline, since it didn’t matter how long it took to finish the film.
We also came up with the idea of “public rewards”, so that as well as individuals receiving (for example) DVDs or premiere tickets when they donated, additional rewards would be published online for every £100 the total went up. These mostly took the form of video podcasts documenting the shoot, though a few were special blog entries breaking down the production design, lighting or budget.
As for the individual rewards, I decided to offer two options at most of the price breaks: one related to Stop/Eject, and one aimed at other filmmakers – since they had made up a significant proportion of the sponsors in the first campaign. The former type included the obvious things like DVD or Blu-ray copies of the film, invites to the premiere and glossy photo books. The latter type included a budget breakdown of my last feature film, script feedback or storyboards for your project, homemade sandbags for weighing down lighting stands, and a Skype chat with yours truly.
The public rewards and the lack of a time limit meant that no existing crowd-funding platform was suitable, so I had to knock up our own website – www.stopejectmovie.com – with a bit of simple Flash and PHP scripting and some Paypal buttons. One advantage of doing this is that only Paypal are taking a cut of the money, but a disadvantage is that a visitor to the site has less reason to trust that everything is above board.
We launched the campaign in late May of last year, with a target of £1,500. This was simply the amount we needed; it wasn’t compromised by any considerations of how much we thought we could raise.
I’m not convinced that public rewards were a good idea. When the total got stuck for a long time we were unable to use what could have been our best tool to encourage donations – releasing a podcast – because we had set up this system of releasing them only when people did donate. On the other hand, there was a knock-on effect whereby one donation would trigger the release of a public reward which would in turn trigger further donations.
I’m not sure a campaign without a deadline is something I can recommend either. In fact, I’ve since read that there’s statistical evidence showing that longer crowd-funding campaigns do not raise more money than short ones. Without the urgency of a looming deadline, many potential sponsors will say to themselves, “I’ll get around to that later,” and never do. There is also the risk that people will get fed up of being tapped for cash repeatedly over a long period.
In the next instalment I’ll look at who donated and why.
Adiabatic Demagnetisation Refridgeration, or ADR, is a cooling technology based on the magnetocaloric effect. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Automated Dialogue Replacement, which is what ADR stands for in the film industry.
Last Friday, Georgina Sherrington, Oliver Park, Therese Collins and I all got together for the first time since we shot Stop/Eject – almost a year ago. Along with sound designer Henning Knoepfel and behind-the-scenes camera operator Gerard Giorgi-Coll, alumni of The Dark Side of the Earth, we descended on Soundtree in East London to re-record some of Stop/Eject’s dialogue.
Recreating a performance in the sterile environment of a studio can be difficult for an actor. I remember struggling with a line of Kate Burdette’s on Dark Side where she was crawling backwards along the floor while a seven-foot-tall wooden robot with a massive sword bore down on her. Standing still and alone in an empty, soundproof room, it’s hard to summon up the same energy.
If I’ve learnt anything about ADR it’s that – as with any aspect of directing – you have to figure out what conditions each actor requires to do their best work and then try your best to provide those conditions. So while Georgie’s years of ADR experience on The Worst Witch meant she was quite happy acting and lip-syncing at the same time, Therese’s performance was best when delivering the lines wild, straight after hearing the production audio. Your sound crew has to be up for this, though. Kudos to Henning, who recognised and accepted that this was the best way for Therese to work, even though it would mean extra graft for him manipulating the audio to match the picture.
Breaking further with convention, I had the actors feed each other lines sometimes. You have to be careful; at one point they started to overlap each other, which is exactly why we were ADRing the scene in the first place. (You want each character’s voice to be on a clean, separate track when you come to mix.) But even just rehearsing the scene a few times before recording can help recreate the performance. That’s why it’s always good to have all your principal actors present at the same time for ADR, if at all possible.
After wrapping the ADR we recorded the People’s Choice Reward, which you have probably seen already, followed by the cast commentary for the DVD and Blu-ray. With the music written, many of the VFX complete and now the ADR done, it is really starting to feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel for Stop/Eject.
Aside from a screening of Stop/Eject’s trailer, my involvement in this year’s festival was purely spectatorial. And although I normally avoid reviewing films on this site, I’m going to make an exception and say a few words about each of the events and screenings I’ve seen at Borderlines 2013. I should point out that Borderlines isn’t a film festival in the normal sense of the term; rather than inviting submissions of unreleased work, the organisers choose the best films released in the last twelve months along with some classics.
Chris Menges in Conversation
Chris is the Herefordshire-born director of photography behind Kes, The Reader, Notes on a Scandal, The Killing Fields and many others. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen a single one of his films, but I was still keen to attend to further my understanding of the art of cinematography. In this respect I was slightly disappointed, as time constraints and a quite understandable desire not to bore what was largely a lay audience meant that there was little opportunity for Chris to get into the nitty-gritty of his approach to lighting. That being said, there were one or two useful gems and I came away with a general impression of an extremely modest man with a profound respect for the fragility of natural light and a gentle touch in moulding it.
Directed by Ben Wheatley (The Kill List) and starring Alice Lowe (Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place), Sightseers is a black comedy about a woman who escapes her overbearing mother to go on a caravanning holiday with her closet pscyhopath of a boyfriend (Steve Oram). The boyfriend promptly begins murdering people at the slightest provocation (e.g. littering) and Lowe soon joins in in an attempt to impress him. While not the kind of film I’d normally choose to see, I’d heard good things about it and, sure enough, it was great fun. Lowe and Oram, who also wrote the script, give brilliantly judged comic performances in a film which soundly lampoons the stereotypical British holiday (rain, crap caravans, even crapper tourist attractions). Heartily recommended.
Silver Linings Playbook
Winning Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence at the Academy Awards and Best Adapted Screenplay for David O. Russell (who also directs) at the Baftas, Silver Linings Playbook has certainly been much talked about in recent weeks. I was surprised to find the film is really just a formulaic romantic comedy, albeit one that starts off in darker territory than most. Bradley Cooper plays a manic depressive just out of a psychiatric hospital who strikes up a relationship with Lawrence’s recently widowed character after she tells him she can get a letter to his estranged wife. In return, Cooper must learn to dance so he can partner with Lawrence in an upcoming contest. Silver Linings Playbook is solidly acted by both the leads and the great supporting cast, which includes Chris Tucker and Robert de Niro. It’s also consistently funny throughout, but like many romcoms it sheds its unique elements as it enter its third act – forgetting the mental health issues of its lead characters – in order to play out the same old clichés. This is particularly disappointing from such a lauded film, but depsite this flaw I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
Although not a particular fan of Hitchcock, I was keen to see Blackmail – one of the portly auteur’s silent films – because it was a unique opportunity to see a movie with live musical accompaniment. This came courtesy of Stephen Horne, a master of the art – so much so that he somehow played the flute and the piano simultaneously at a couple of points. What staggered me was the revelation that there was no score; the music was entirely improvised. As for the film itself, it had been digitally remastered to such a high quality that I sometimes forgot that I was watching a movie over 80 years old – often only the captioned dialogue, under-cranked gaits and occasional clunky pacing gave it away. The cinematography was beautiful, with some typically inventive camera moves from Hitchcock and a lot of charming humour which held the attention despite a very slight plot (detective’s girlfriend commits murder in self-defence and tries to escape the law). All in all, this screening was an enriching experience and it was very gratifying to see the accompanist’s amazing art kept alive and kicking.
A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
Best known as the dead one from Monty Python, Graham Chapman succumbed to cancer in 1989, but not before writing his autobiography and recording it as an audiobook. That recording forms the spine of this film, as Chapman narrates his (alleged) life story from beyond the grave while fourteen different animation houses provide the visuals. While not a Monty Python film, there are many common traits – surreality, silliness, rudeness and the vocal talents of messrs. Jones, Gilliam, Palin and Cleese (but not Idle). In a non sequitur worthy of Monty Python, Cameron Diaz cameos as the voice of Sigmund Freud. And like much of the Pythons’ work, A Liar’s Autobiography is never quite as funny as you hoped it would be. This fact, coupled with a highly episodic narrative, meant the film was just starting to outstay its welcome when it wrapped up and ended. Nevertheless, it’s a delightfully creative film and one which seems a fitting tribute to a man who was not the messiah, but was definitely a very naughty boy.
Herefordshire Media Network
The network presented five pieces by its members: four short films and the trailer for Stop/Eject. The first short was Injured Birds, a gentle tale of an 11-year-old boy’s search for adventures in a rural town during the summer holidays. This was the second time I’d seen it, and I again enjoyed its charm, warmth and humour. Two short films directed by Rachel Lambert for The Rural Media Company were screened, both made on a participatory basis with people living in sheltered housing. Getting Close was a low-key drama highlighting some of the issues faced by the participants, while A Letter Every Day took the form of an oral history in which an elderly lady recounted her brief marriage to a man who was tragically killed in the second world war. This latter was an engaging story and cleverly illustrated with tableaux of miniature figurines found by the camera amongst the ornaments of the lady’s living room. But the highlight of the evening for me was Men Can’t Make Beds, a live action slapstick comedy in the vein of Tex Avery cartoons. Directed by David Jones of Wind-up World Films, the film made great use of a delightfully rubber-faced lead actor (Lawrence Russell) and exaggerated music and sound design to produce five minutes of wonderful silliness.
Side by Side
Keanu Reeves produces and interviews for this documentary about the transition from photochemical to digital technology, not just in capturing motion picture images but in editing them, manipulating them for visual effects, exhibiting them and archiving them. Views are canvassed from some of the biggest names in the business: George Lucas, who drove much of the change, James Cameron, a staunch supporter of digital 3D filmmaking, Christopher Nolan, one of the few directors still shooting on film and physically cutting his negative, and many others. Sadly, the film doesn’t let any of these filmmakers go into great depth, instead giving a history of the last twenty years’ technical upheavals, with which most viewers (if they’re interested enough to see Side by Side in the first place) will already be familiar. So while containing a few telling nuggets (such as several DPs bemoaning the lack of mystique and power they now wield when everyone can see the images they’re capturing immediately on set), this documentary overall has the feel of a slightly overlong DVD bonus feature.
Thanks to the team at Borderlines for a great festival.
I have to share this amazing short film I discovered recently thanks to nofilmschool.com. HENRi is a 20 minute crowd-funded sci-fi movie about a computer that builds a robot body for itself and tries to become human. It stars Margot Kidder (best known as Lois Lane in the original Superman movies) and Keir Dullea, who flips his famous role as David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey to play the titular computer. But the human characters are only a small part of this film. Shot on beautiful quarter-scale sets, the real star is the HENRi robot, realised through a combination of rod puppetry and first rate CGI. Trust me, this is one of the most unique and awesome shorts you will ever see and well worth every penny of the £1.19 rental fee.
Recently I gave a talk on the whole process of making Stop/Eject to CEMRIAC, the Central and East Midlands Region of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers. I was subsequently asked to summarise the talk for the organisation’s newsletter, so I thought I’d share that summary with you today. Please get in touch if you’re interested in me giving this talk at your event.
Stop/Eject is a 17 minute fantasy drama currently in the latter stages of postproduction. It’s the story of a young woman who, following the sudden death of her husband, discovers a mysterious old tape recorder that can stop and rewind time. As the co-writer, director and cinematographer of Stop/Eject, I was able to take the CEMRIAC audience through the entire process of making the film, with plenty of behind-the-scenes clips and photographs to illustrate the creative journey.
I began by discussing crowd-funding, the method by which myself and producer Sophie Black financed Stop/Eject, whereby a large number of people each contribute relatively small amounts of money via a website. I looked at the various things to consider when launching a crowd-funding campaign: selecting a suitable “platform” website, deciding on a target and duration for the campaign, creating a pitch video, choosing what rewards to offer sponsors, and promoting the campaign. I explained how, with the liberal use of social media and emails, and a boost courtesy of a report on the BBC’s Midlands Today, Stop/Eject reached its £2,000 funding target.
Moving on to preproduction, I gave some advice on finding locations and gathering a cast and crew together. The maxim “if you don’t ask you won’t get” is an excellent one to remember here. I explained how Stop/Eject floundered a few weeks before production after several key people pulled out, but Sophie secured a new lead actress at the eleventh hour in the form of Georgina Sherrington – a former child actress who starred in a popular ITV series – simply by having the nerve to ring around agents.
After some brief discussion of scheduling the shoot, I turned to the subject of production design, explaining how visual themes and a restricted colour palette can help your sets, props and costumes have a sense of consistency and aid story-telling.
I then showed the audience the storyboards for a key scene, elucidating the reasons behind my choice of shots, before screening behind-the-scenes footage of those shots being captured during production. Further behind-the-scenes clips demonstrated some of the challenges of filming Stop/Eject, including a scene on a weir that became treacherous after heavy rains flooded it. I discussed the use of a Canon 600D DSLR to shoot the movie and the delicacies of directing strongly emotional scenes.
Next I talked about lighting, revealing how Stop/Eject was lit with a combination of standard film lamps like redheads, and less conventional sources like camping lights and halogen work lamps. An exploration of three scenes set in the same room showed how different looks can be created through lighting.
Following a quick look at the costs of production and preproduction, I moved on to discuss editing. Returning to the scene earlier viewed in storyboard form, I screened several different iterations of the edit to show how the scene evolved to become narratively clearer as well as better paced. After a look at some of the work which is currently going into Stop/Eject’s visual effects, I concluded the presentation by screening the first five minutes of the film in its present form.
When we launched the postproduction crowd-funding campaign for Stop/Eject last spring, I promised a “People’s Choice Reward” when we reached our target of £1,500. Well, we reached it in January, we canvassed opinion, the People spoke, and verily you requested an interview with the cast for which you the People submit the questions. And lo, it shall be done.
You have until next Wednesday (March 13th) to submit your question(s) for Georgina Sherrington, Oliver Park and Therese Collins. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org with “People’s Choice Reward” in the subject line. The best ones will be posed to the actors in a specially shot interview which will be posted online in a couple of weeks.
If you’re stuck for ideas, have a read about the cast below…
Georgina Sherrington (Kate)
Georgina Sherrington (born 26 July 1985) spent her early years playing the the lead in the series The Worst Witch and Weirdsister College. The series was shown on ITV in the UK, ABC in Australia, HBO in America and on various other networks worldwide. In 2000, Georgina won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a TV Comedy Series. In 2008, Georgina completed a degree in English Literature at Princeton University. Since graduating, she has worked on the LA, New York and London Fringe and won Best Actress in the London Solo Festival last year. She also produced and starred in the film Steamboat, and will soon be seen in cinemas in the horror film, Tag.
Oliver Park is an award-winning actor. His first major film role was Kai in the multi award-winning Shank, and as a result of this performance the production team behind the film wrote parts especially for Oliver in their two follow-up productions – Release and Buffering. After shooting the feature film Just Ate early in 2012, Oliver won the Best Actor award for his performance in the short film Wakey Wakey at the ITV West Film and Television Awards. Later that year he was approached by Darlow Smithson Productions to appear in an episode of Seconds to Disaster for National Geographic. Since then he has gone on to take leading roles in several other features including: Dark Vision, Tidal, the comical role of Tom in Tenants and the challenging role of Shaun in Fratton by IVN Productions. Oliver is currently involved in several projects including the feature film One by Reel People Films, David S. Goyer’s Da Vinci’s Demons and a film for the new X-Box. Visit his website at www.oliverpark.co.uk
Therese Collins (Alice)
Therese has worked in theatre for 27 years and is returning to acting after a break in which she concentrated on writing. Her play Remendos is currently being performed in Portugal. Her acting career has been varied, ranging from international tours in plays such as The Bridge – by Hanyong Theatre Company touring the UK, South Korea, Japan and Australia – to Lucifer in Immaculate in a small theatre in the West Midlands. She spends most weekends in the summer touring in a giant silver whale for the company Talking Birds. She has recently worked on Doreen’s Story Episode One, a Youtube pilot for a Black Country comedy. Therese has previously worked with Neil Oseman on several participatory dramas – playing a range of single mothers! – and she is absolutely delighted to have been part of Stop/Eject.
Here are some more disjointed updates from the post-production of Stop/Eject:
Scott Benzie has written all of the score now. A few cues just need tweaking before we start to think about the logistics of recording it with live players.
The ADR session has been organised for next week. Standing variously for Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, ADR is the process of dubbing lines because of intrusive background noise or to adjust a performance, or even to add entirely new lines to clarify story points. This will be the first time the principal cast have been reunited since the shoot almost a year ago, and we’ll be taking the opportunity to record some extra bits and pieces for podcasts, DVD extras and sponsor rewards. Lots more news on that to come in the near future.
Work is well underway on visual effects. As expected, there has been a certain amount of attrition amongst the VFX artists, as paying projects understandably take priority. Nonetheless, several key shots involving frozen time and cloned cassette tapes are finished or nearly finished.
Two of the main extra features for the DVD and Bluray are near completion, with work on the menus underway and some commentaries to record in the coming weeks. Sophie Black and Chris Newman will soon be shooting another featurette in their part of the world, along with a last couple of pick-ups for Stop/Eject itself.