Wrapping Harold Blumenthal

Thank you for humoring me while I took some time off from everything. Although, I haven't been blogging or shooting anything in the past week, there has been plenty going on with wrapping Passing Harold Blumenthal. The team at Act Zero has been closing out all of the paperwork and payroll and nuts and bolts of the operation, while myself and my boy Ryan Young have been working to map out the post-production plan.

Post-production is something that is traditionally planned out and budgeted for ahead of time, along with everything else. My approach for this project, for better or worse, was always to throw as much money and production value onto the screen as possible during principal photography and worry about post later. I don't want to offend any post-production artists or technicians and undermine the importance of their work, but to quote Edward Burns, "When I have money, then I have respect." For now, whatever I can get for free is what will suffice.

Some might be critical of that approach but I believe that, although not ideal, it is the smartest way to capitalize on the current affordable technologies as well as the flexible timeline. In production, everything has to happen at the same time for the same consecutive period of time. Everything must be paid for up-front and together. In other words, I can't film a movie on location with a twenty-person crew with my laptop. I can, however, edit the movie with my laptop.

I'll go into the technical process of beginning the edit in our next post, but suffice it to say I am very glad to have taken some time away from the footage and filming experience to clear my head. Part of filming a movie feels like a step forward, but another part just feels like you've lost something. I though I knew what  I had in my screenplay. I could read it, imagine it, and romanticize its potential. Now, I have about 45 hours of footage that needs to be organized and re-purposed for the screen. In some ways, I feel like I dropped my screenplay on the ground and it broke into a million little pieces. Now I have to put those pieces back together from memory and based on what I can reclaim and re-imagine. Don't get me wrong. The footage looks gorgeous and I think we have a great movie on our hands, but there is much to relearn and rediscover as  I venture into the edit. Excited to see what we come up with!

Welcome back, everyone.

Shooting Diary - Day 16

Had a late call time this morning for 7:30am. Our location was also a short ten-minute walk from my apartment, so I appreciated the morning stroll with my coffee in hand. I arrived to Nicole's apartment to find it painted with furniture rearranged for the purpose of filming. I must say, for all of my reservations and fears about such a last-minute location loss, juggle, and swap, this worked out extremely well. The cast and crew were comfortable in the air-conditioned building and we had a huge balcony on which we could place lights and bounce boards very conveniently. The first half of the day was spent shooting inside the spacious kitchen. There were three scenes to knock out and we managed to get the two big ones done before lunch. This actually put us slightly behind schedule when we came back from lunch at 2:30pm. After stuffing my face with a hamburger from Five Guys, we plowed through the last bit of kitchen stuff within an hour.

Up next was our jib shot. A lot of planning has surrounded the implementation of the jib. For those of you who don't know, a jib is a sort of weighted see-saw that permits one to place and move a camera over an out-of-reach surface. We absolutely needed one for some overhead shots, and this was the day we had it. It ended up going remarkably smooth, with every crew member on point and the creative juices flowing.

For being in front of the camera all day, I'm rather pleased with the direction of scenes filmed today. So, before I think about it too much and change my mind, I'm off to bed.

Shooting Diary - Day 10

  I foolishly went to bed late last night and it caught up with me today. This morning had a generous call time of 7:30AM. Because I  our location was the home of a close friend, I got there early to facilitate the production team.

The day had its ups and downs, but we learned a very valuable independent filmmaker lesson. If you want to be low profile but are not a low-profile production, leave no evidence whatsoever.

I've been thinking about and talking about productions scale since I first started this blog and it is a recurring theme for us now that we are filming. There is doing things the "right" way, the "wrong" way, and "the way we are working today". All that matters is that last one. The sooner a director and his team can wrap their heads around making adjustments on the fly, the better. Each department on a film shoot has standards to be met, and minimum amounts of resources required to do their jobs. But, on some days you just can't have it. Whether we can't afford it, the location doesn't permit it, or the director simply says no, the best independent film crew is the one that is adaptable.

Today, we encountered a small hiccup that required us to be extremely adaptable. We had to be smart with our equipment, crew size, and overall efficiency. Everyone performed remarkably well. Well, everyone but me. I was so concerned as to whether or not my crew was handling the hiccup, that I found it increasingly difficult to focus on my own work behind and in front of the camera.  This is the crappy part of wearing too many hats. There is no down time. There is no easy part of the day. There is no stress that is not your own.

What stresses me out? Too many people. Too much stuff. Feeling chained to money and equipment and "standards". I love frills and added value as much as anyone, but everything comes at a price. If you want that awesome jib shot, you will need some extra gear and the people necessary to operate it. If you want a comfortable place to put actors for holding, you have to pop open a tent on the street to accommodate and ultimately freak out the building owners for your interior location because they think you look like a hollywood set.

There is no shame in being small. It's hard not to feel like an idiot when you're spending money. Even when the value is good.

I 'm peeking at some daily footage right now and it's looking quite good. Better than I thought. I'm still behind on viewing footage as I am perpetually fried at 11:30pm (now). Maybe this Sunday I'll find a minute to get it all done.

We made our day again today. We even added a scene that was reserved for tomorrow. I'm hoping we can knock out tomorrow's big scene (biggest in the film) in a reasonable amount of time. More importantly, I hope I don't have to rewrite the whole opening of that scene. I'll be making that decision on my way to set in the morning.

I sleep.


How to Crowd-Fund a Movie (Continued)

Here is the second part of Alex's take on the whole crowd funding experience and strategy. Enjoy!

4. Recruit Your Audience

One of the most valuable things about crowd funding for a film is that it provides you with a chance to build an audience for a film that doesn’t yet exist. In our case, backers have also been encouraged to follow this blog, which (hopefully) makes them feel  included throughout the whole process. By the time PHB makes it to the big screen, our goal is to have an audience of thousands.

5. Build a Coalition

Before launching our Kickstarter project, we did a lot of research watching other project videos and strategies. We wanted a project video that was short, sweet and to the point. Rather than say, “Please help me” in a pity me sort of way, we wanted a video that said, “We are making this movie, come and join us!” in an inclusive way. It was in this spirit that we conceived of our project video. We wanted to introduce ourselves as a team of people coming together to do something awesome. More importantly, it was a way to instill a sense of ownership in the project across the board. This wasn’t just our writer/director hustling on his own to make this movie by himself. Rather, this was a team of us working for our collective interest to see our film made.

All of this is really about being inclusive and, in keeping with this theme, we chose to set our minimum donation at one dollar because we were thrilled to welcome any backer who was interested in rallying behind us. Had we kept our minimum at something like $50, we would have lost out on a whole group of really helpful, link-sharing, wonderful people that also gave us a few dollars.

Lastly, building a coalition let's you cast a wider net. Many people working for a common cause will get the job done far more efficiently than any single person.

6. Every Dollar Counts

We reached our goal a little early, 5 days actually, but we only ended up about 800 bucks above our goal …  which is further proof that every dollar really does count and, needless to say, we are grateful for every, single last dollar.  It’s incredibly important to thank each and every donor with a personal note as soon as a donation is received -- so on the off chance that your thank you was lost in the shuffle, THANK YOU!

7. You Get One Shot

The bottom line:  securing $50,000 through crowdfunding was a lot of work. Good work, fun work, encouraging work, but work. You are putting yourself out there. It’s risky and it’s probably your one shot for raising funds this way. Your donors are not likely to come back time and time again each time you develop a new script or project, so do it well the first time. Be honest, direct, and efficient. Do your research, know your audience and go out and FUND!

How to Crowd-Fund a Movie

In the wake of our recent Kickstarter campaign, many of you have been interested to know how we managed to reach our ambitious goal so quickly. The short answer is, “You all did it!” The long answer is, well, longer. The next few posts will cover the ins and outs of crowd funding. Here to give a candid look at the whole Kickstarter thing is Producer, Actor, and co-conspirator, Alexander Cendese. Have at it, Alex! Hi Internet! Crowd funding is a relatively new phenomenon whereby a person or group of people use the power of mass communication through the internet to raise as much money as possible from as many people as possible in a limited amount of time by soliciting incentivized donations. If you are thinking about using crowd funding to partially or completely finance your film, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind.

1. Choosing Your Funding Platform

There are many different crowd funding sites that differ slightly in their specifications for the projects they feature. In most cases, the project creator is allowed to choose a fundraising goal and an amount of time within which to reach that goal, usually between one and ninety days. The two most commonly used crowd-funding platforms for film are IndieGoGo.com and Kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com): 

Kickstarter is the daddy of third party crowd funding sites. This was the first site to allow a person to create a profile, set a fundraising goal and then try to reach it by appealing to family, friends, and the broader Internet community.   The project creator creates a profile page with a video representing the project (suggested, but not mandatory) and a list of donation tiers for which rewards will be given to donors (aka “backers”) who donate that amount or more. The website does not charge the creator an up-front fee, but instead takes a percentage of the money raised  - 5% of the total.  Kickstarter is ALL OR NOTHING. This means that each donation made to your project during the funding period is actually a pledge to donate and that no money changes hands unless the fundraising goal is reached by the end of the funding period. If the goal is reached, the credit cards are charged and you get your money, minus the 5% Kickstarter fee. If the goal is not reached, no matter how close you are, no money changes hands and the whole thing goes down the drain. Kaput-ski.  It should also be noted (especially because it’s not exactly highlighted by Kickstarter) that if your project is successful and the pledges are processed, you are also charged for credit card processing fees, meaning there is an additional 2-3.5% reduction to your final pay-out.

IndieGoGo (www.indiegogo.com): 

IndieGoGo is similar to Kickstarter, with the key difference being that with IndieGoGo you get to keep the money you raise no matter what. So, if you start a project that seeks to raise $1,000 in ten days but you only raise $40, you get to keep your  40 bucks. The kicker here, however, is that even though you get to keep whatever you raise, IndieGoGo charges a 9% fee for unfunded projects and a 4% fee for funded projects. Obviously this is meant to incentivize the project creator into getting the word out.  As with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo also charges the credit card processing fee of 2-3.5%.

2. Why We Chose Kickstarter

We used Kickstarter.com to crowd fund for two reasons. The first was that we liked the urgency of the ALL or NOTHING approach. The hard thing with IndieGoGo is that if you use the example I set above ($1000 goal but only $40 is raised) you know the amount of money that is needed to complete the project but where does the money they actually raised go? Does the project creator go out to dinner with it? The ALL or NOTHING approach says you’re serious and we were attracted to that. (Also, for above 10k fundraising, the statistics for success with Kickstarter are just plain better.)

Kickstarter is also selective about their projects. They have specific guidelines. IndieGoGo has projects raising money for film projects, but also for things like ‘Help me Pave my Garden Path’ and ‘Josie Needs a New Roof.’ We felt that Kickstarter suited our project’s vibe a little better, and added to its legitimacy and viability as a real project.

Now that we’ve gone through the Kickstarter process from beginning to end, we can tell you candidly that it provides a crowd-funding platform and not much more. The rest is up to you. Being featured on Kickstarter’s blog or “Featured” or “Recommended” pages can help provide a big bump, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a strategy in how to land yourself there.  At one point during our funding process, we wrote the Kickstarter team and asked what we needed to do to be featured on their homepage, and they sent us a cut and paste auto response saying to do “compelling videos” and that they like “fun projects”.  In the end, they never did feature us, even though our amount raised was high enough to get us onto the Kickstarter Hall of Fame page (obviously, not too much value since the pledging window is closed at that point, but at least it’s something).  It is also worth noting that the day we originally intended to launch, the entire Kickstarter site went down for a day. That would have really, really hurt us. To their credit, they did give everyone extra time on their funding period and we had no further trouble, but they did flub some other pledges for us that we had to contact them to fix.

3. Get the Word Out

Crowd funding only works if a crowd knows about it. Simple as that. We were able to raise $50,000 by working around the clock sending personal emails, Tweeting, Facebooking, can-and-string communicating, you name it. Our goal was to personally connect with people.

At its core, Kickstarter is a digital way to “pass the hat” around the Internet to family and friends. (Believe me, you have more friends than you realize.) But you can’t meet such an ambitious goal unless you are incredibly diligent. People will poke around and even give a Facebook “like” to your project without donating. To date, 472 Facebook users have “liked” our project, yet only 183 people actually donated. This is not because people weren’t interested in supporting, they were just busy or never got around to it. Our job was to remind them.

We sent initial personal emails and then followed up with a mass email every other day or so (towards the end daily.) If someone donated, they were taken off the mass email list. The people who continued to get the mass email were actually receiving a thank you for a donation that they had not yet given. I know, it’s about as charming as thanking someone for buying you dinner before the waiter even drops the check and is a little pushy and annoying, but surprisingly, we found that most people really appreciated the reminder.

It’s also important to let potential backers know that small donations are a key to your success because those are the people that get your number of backers up and help get the word out. Interestingly, a big key to our success came from our smaller donors -- people we hadn’t talked to for years but who were so excited for us that they often reposted the links to our Kickstarter page for us on their personal pages. Because these were people that we had been in less contact  with, they were more likely to have a pool of ‘internet’ friends different from our own, meaning that if one of these old friends reposted the link on their Facebook page, our audience was exponentially broadened. 

Up next: Part 2 - Strategies for success and lessons learned...

Watch Me Schedule a Movie

*****KICKSTARTER UPDATE***** We are now a little more than $3,000 away from our goal! The past couple days have pushed us to 92% and we couldn't be more excited and grateful. Thank you to all of you who have made donations to get us this far, each and every one of you is now a part of this collaboration. Keep spreading the word!


Scheduling a film shoot is one of the less glamorous parts of the movie-making process. In fact, it's one of the bigger pains in the butt...or pain in the butts? I digress. No matter how you describe it, a shooting schedule can make you or break you. And, with a little bit of foresight, organization, and question-asking ahead of time, you can count on a smoother, faster, and more efficient shoot.

We are currently in the throes of tightening our schedule now. As Jean-Raphael Ambron (Raff) at Act Zero Films said to me in an email, "The key to winning any battle is preparation." I'm sure Sun Tzu gets the credit for that one, but boy does it ring true in filmmaking. Between myself, Raff, and Alex, we are kicking around all the different possibilities and approaches to best achieve what we want in the most economical, expedient way.

The first thing to consider is timeline. How long do we have to shoot? Over the past ten years, a sort of golden number of shoot days has prevailed for many indie films: 18 days. That number may seem arbitrary, but it's understandable why filmmakers often settle on or around it. With a small, efficient crew (and no children, dogs, or explosions), it's quite doable to shoot an average of 5 pages a day, give or take. That's fast, but time is not a luxury we can afford. The average independent feature script is usually around 90 pages or so (PHB is around 93 pages). So dividing 90 pages by 5-page days yields 18 shooting days. Easy enough. But what if your script is ten pages longer and you need two more days? Time to consult the budget...

A film crew works either five or six-day weeks. One is faster and one is less exhausting. For Blumenthal, because we are indie (and cheap!), we are shooting for six-day weeks. So, three weeks of shooting total. What about those two extra days? If we shoot two more days, that goes into a fourth week which could potentially increase our cast, crew, and equipment rental costs by a full weekly rate. That's an expensive two days! So something must be compromised somewhere. Of course, if every page of your script is sacred and you don't want to rush anything you already have scheduled, you're going to have to spend some extra money. If you don't have any money to spend, then it's time to get creative, both in scheduling and in writing. Getting creative is where we are now.

In the early stages of pre-production, everything sort of needs to happen simultaneously. The schedule depends on the locations and the actors, the locations and the actors depend on the budget, and the budget depends on the schedule. As you can imagine, there is plenty of back and forth on the phone and email before anything is nailed down. The other major factor in pre-production planning is the script. That one should be more obvious than it is, but long after a script is written or locked, we tend to stop thinking of it as a living thing, which it is! Just as I've addressed the effect of a script on location demands, the same applies to the broader scope of the shoot. Today, I noticed a particular day in our one-liner schedule that I couldn't remember writing. It was eating up more than half a day of shooting, which is a good deal of time for something you forgot was even in the movie. I am now on the brink of axing that particular scene, or at least severely paring it down. What's more, I think the new edit ultimately serves the story and characters much better!

All told, we are angling for an 18 day shoot of principal photography with one or two extra days of shooting later in the summer. We would likely squeeze those extra days into the principal shoot, but can't due to actors/logistics scheduling.

After a few (several) more passes at the schedule, we can move easily into production with a comprehensive battle plan. Armed with the schedule, our First Assistant Director will be able to guide us through the shoot from scene to scene, and everyone onboard will have the confidence that everything will get done on time. Most importantly, that schedule roadmap will give me a sense of security, lower my blood pressure, and permit me to make clear-headed creative decisions...in theory.

From the Blumenthals in New York,  Happy Passover!

Less is More or Less More

Thank you to all of our supporters! With only 16 days left to go, we are already 64% of the way to our fundraising goal. But we still need your help! So, if you are reading this blog and want to continue reading this blog, just click on the Kickstarter link in the sidebar and support this movie! Every single dollar counts!
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/22304735]
Independent filmmaker Edward Burns (Brothers McMullen, She's the One) recently posted the following info about his new film, "Newlyweds", on twitter:
"Newlyweds shooting budget. 5k for actors, 2k insurance, 2k food and drink. 9k in the can. That's how to make an indiefilm."
Amen to that, Ed. $9,000 for a feature-length film is remarkably low. The thing I find most impressive about his "mini-model" is his ability to stick to his guns. If you've been following WatchMeMakeaMovie for any length of time now, you'll know how I feel about the importance of indie filmmakers writing around resources they have at their disposal. If you have a dog, make a movie about your dog. If your parents have an amazing apartment, shoot a movie that takes place in that amazing apartment. But things have a tendency to change when you move into pre-production, more people come on board, more ideas come into your head about the script, and you begin to dream bigger than you originally had. It becomes a challenge to keep the movie within the confines of what you have available.
When  I wrote Passing Harold Blumenthal, I thought I had written something with deliberately flexible/cheap/free locations. After all, the feature was expanded from two different shorts I had already done where all our locations were free! But now, as my crew and I scout locations, I'm thinking, "Wow. I don't have any of these locations at my disposal! Why did I write myself into this headache?" We are now having to be extra savvy with where/how we seek out some of these locations. All the while, I'm going through potential rewrites in my head to circumvent the need for locations we couldn't possibly afford.
But I think there may be another, more optimistic way to look at this. If we do stick to what I wrote and manage to secure these few tricky locations, it will be a major win for our film. Huge production value will be added, and the world of the film will be fleshed out that much more. It's at least worth trying to have our cake and eat it, too. Especially if the end-result is some on-screen deliciousness.
To continue with the metaphor, I still don't want my eyes to be bigger than my stomach. I have a very clear idea of what I want this film to be in terms of scale and scope. Sticking to my guns on financial and logistical limitations shouldn't cost my movie an ounce of quality in the final cut. I suppose there never is a way until you find a way. Bravo, Mr. Burns.