Updates

From Crowdfunding to Community Building

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Christina was invited to write an article for Seed&Spark.com about her experience crowdfunding successfully for the third time (successfully), and some of the challenges and surprises she experienced with her latest campaign. She ended up writing a piece about how she realized why crowdfunding it so much more than just raising funds and why she's happy she made the switch from Kickstarter to Seed&Spark despite two successes on the former platform. Give it a read on their site or on ours below. 

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One of the most, if not the most important factor in crowdfunding is to know your audience and where to find them. But many people who have crowdfunded will tell you that a good chunk of your money will come from friends and family, the people who watch and support your work no matter what, especially if it’s your first campaign. As someone who had successfully crowdfunded twice before, relying mainly on friends and family, I knew that heavily targeting my audience was going to be the only way I wouldn’t have to lean on them again for my third campaign.

 

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When Kelsey Rauber and I decided not to continue our web series “Kelsey” and crowdfund for two new short films instead (CongestedCat Shorts), we knew we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. The audience we had accumulated was not necessarily the target audience for these shorts. The shorts are companion pieces about siblings dealing with loss and letting go— one about two brothers, the other two sisters. Going from “Kelsey,” a 10 episode comedic web series about the romantic life of a lesbian and her best friends, to two intimate dramas about siblings (one of which featured two heterosexual brothers) was a bit of a stretch. We knew it would be a tough sell to our “Kelsey” fan base, which was quite vocal about just wanting more of our web series.

But Kelsey and I were not creatively satisfied just giving them more of the same. We plan to collaborate on a feature in about two years, so in the meantime we wanted to flex our creative muscles on a smaller scale with a genre and style of storytelling we had not yet explored.

We also wanted to see how many fans of something we had already done we could get to follow us to our next creative endeavor. So we set out to make $20,000 for these two shorts, in spite of this challenge.

 

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Our first plan of action was to release a video for the fans of the series explaining that the campaign was coming and why they should be part of it. We then reached out to the press we got for the series with the same video. Despite receiving generally positive responses from them, I suppose here is where we should have seen a flaw in our plan: the press sites did not share our fan video the way they had shared our episodes. At least two-thirds of our fans that were watching exclusively on those sites were not aware of our coming campaign. However, we did reach some of our fans— we estimated around 1,000 of the series fans had seen the video through our social media and were anticipating the campaign. For this reason, we tailored our campaign to fans that already knew our series and us (though we of course made sure our pitch would grab newcomers as well).

I’m not going to go through every step of our campaign, don’t worry, but I will say that we had prepared the usual stuff that you should have prepared before your campaign: email lists, phone numbers, press releases, etc. We set weekly milestone goals and had contingency plans should some of our marketing ideas not work. Little did we know that we’d lose our Plan A almost right out of the gate.

I wrote about this in a recent update to our Seed&Spark supporters and followers, but the basic idea is this: Kelsey and I were denied coverage on all the sites where we had gotten the majority of our 250,000+ “Kelsey” episode hits because our shorts were “not gay enough.” It was a disappointing thing to hear from sites that had spent months raving about our work, but we had to let it go and figure out how we would make this campaign successful without the press we were anticipating. Accepting this reality, we changed the language of our logline and focused a little more on us as a creative team worth supporting outside of the context of our series. We used “Kelsey” as a tool to pull in new supporters of us as collaborators, rather than targeting existing series fans. We still reached out to the 1,000 series fans we had access to via Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, but were surprised and ultimately disappointed to find that despite getting encouraging replies from many, only 4 actual fans (no relation to me or Kelsey prior to watching the series) contributed money. 

This halted our plans to release enticing “Kelsey” content, such as excerpts from our originally intended series finale script or a contest in the last week that involved Kelsey’s love interest on the series and one of the sisters of CongestedCat Shorts, Lauren A Kennedy. We switched over to highlighting our mission statement as a company and team overall, and did more grassroots outreach, like attending the NYC Pride Parade and convincing our location owner to loan our location in exchange for the credit and prestige of being a producer (he’s also just a really generous guy).

So if our supporters were not pre-existing fans of our series, who were they?

With, Summit, my feature film that I crowdfunded for $12,000 on Kickstarter two years ago, I relied quite heavily on the genre. It’s a horror film, and when horror fans hear horror, they’re in. That’s all it takes. They’re like, “Sign me up, I want to see this get made because I want to watch it.” Don’t get me wrong, that campaign was incredibly hard to make successful and is still one of the most stressful but rewarding experiences of my life (only really beaten by the experience of actually making the film). But it was easy targeting the film’s audience, getting press on the many horror blogs and sites, and just generally attracting strangers to the campaign. The CongestedCat Shorts campaign required a little more finesse in getting people’s attention and standing out from the crowd of character-driven dramas that make up indie film. We managed to reach some historical indie film supporters via twitter to the tune of $10-$50, but only a handful.

With this Summit experience and having crowdfunded once more before that, I knew damn well that you must reach out to everyone who is currently or has ever been in your life. As I stated earlier though, I wanted to avoid reaching out again to many of them precisely because I had done it before. But, when I got over the series fans not contributing (and my bruised ego), I set out, personally reaching out and messaging people. And that’s where the campaign really hit its stride, sparking an epiphany.

I haven’t talked about Kelsey Rauber’s involvement too much because I’m trying to focus on my experience crowdfunding again, but having Kelsey as a partner as committed and passionate as I was, and who had an untapped network— having never crowdfunded before— heavily benefited the CongestedCat campaign. Over a fourth of the money we raised came from her family and friends. That said, an overwhelming amount came from past Summit supporters, most of whom were not related to me in any way. This was the biggest surprise.

 

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During the Summit campaign, about one-fourth of our backers were total strangers. Some were frequent crowdfunding supporters from Twitter or Kickstarter and some were genre fans. What I remembered finding interesting about these people was that almost all of them went on to follow my progress with the series (“Kelsey”). They were taking an interest in my other work, not just Summit. Because of this observation, I made the incorrect assumption that people who were following “Kelsey” would also follow my future work. This was the case for a few, sure, but as our 4 out of 1,000 experience shows, it wasn’t true for most.

When I finally gave in and started sending messages about CongestedCat Shorts to people who had backed Summit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many were happy to give again; it’s very telling that the majority of people who funded this last campaign were the same as those who funded the first. And most gave even more! Those who gave $10-$25 to Summit were giving $50-$100 to CongestedCat Shorts. I didn’t understand it. They were people who supported Summit because they liked my pitch for that film or were intrigued by my spin on the genre. Why were they immediately onboard for these shorts, and why were their contributions bigger? They hadn’t even received Summit yet. It’s still in post; and while I have been blogging about every step of post-production with visual content included, I have not yet delivered on the product they initially funded. This is part of why I was hesitant to reach out to them specifically, friends and family included. However, I learned that they were exactly who I should have been reaching out to in the first place. They had been watching my progress with that film very closely for two years, and it was clear to them that the product is going to be finished and that my team and I had been working hard to complete it to get it out in the world. That was enough to assure them that I’d deliver not just on that promise, but on this new one as well. The general consensus I got from many was that it didn’t really matter what I was making. They were supporting me and my work because they had enjoyed watching my progress since crowdfunding Summit, or even since my short three years ago, and wanted to continue being part of my progress and success. This was overwhelmingly humbling and encouraging, and definitely not something I expected.

The biggest surprise that came from a Summit supporter was a guy who had given $250 to that campaign without any relation to me or anyone I knew. He didn’t even leave an email address on Kickstarter, but I knew he had been receiving and reading my updates on the film. During crowdfunding for CongestedCat Shorts, I tracked him down on Facebook, sent him a personalized message not expecting much, and was shocked that he proceeded to give $1,000 toward Crew & Cast payments without blinking an eye.

What I realized, when comparing the couple hundred Summit supporters to the thousand “Kelsey” fans we reached, is this: when you engage and build a following before you make the content, that audience is connected to you as a creator, as opposed to the content itself. We had a huge amount of success with “Kelsey,” and although we made efforts to build a following while we were in production, almost all our viewers connected with the series after we had already released the pilot and received critical acclaim. We knew that the majority was watching exclusively on Lesbian-oriented sites that had embedded the episodes. Therefore, most of those fans were not engaging with us, our brand, or our social media presence. The realization I had during this campaign was that our audience was connected with the series itself; so when it finished, they were finished with us because they never felt connected to us as a creative team. I believe this is what makes crowdfunding so much more important than just securing funding. The people who become part of making your project are the people who will follow you to your next one. I intuitively felt this before but had not had the opportunity to really witness what it meant, nor had I experienced the stark difference between a following gained in pre-production versus one gained post-release until this campaign. We self-funded “Kelsey” and did not have an avenue to build a following around the series early on. This early following is an inherent aspect of crowdfunding, as is that following’s attachment to the creative team rather than just the end product.

I don’t mean to discredit the idea that your existing work benefits your ability to raise future funding; I’d be lying if I said our success with “Kelsey” didn’t play a role in our successful campaign. Our two biggest surprises of this campaign were largely due to “Kelsey.” One was when one of those 4 contributing “Kelsey” fans, arguably our biggest fan, gave over $1,500 and became an Associate Producer. The other was when a total stranger came along in our final two hours and decided to give us $5,000 (taking us to 120% of our goal) because our pitch and past content (“Kelsey”) won him over, probably making the Executive Producer credit more enticing as well. That one still blows my mind. They both do. To have someone enjoy our content so much and feel dedicated to us as a creative team enough to fund our new work is just the best feeling an artist could hope for.

However, I think that this conclusion is valid and, moreover, an argument for crowdfunding to be a sustainable aspect of indie film. If not clearly valuable for the creative strings-free funding, it should be prized simply for its audience building potential. This is why I’m very happy I made the switch from Kickstarter to Seed&Spark. Despite success on that platform, I felt like something was missing. On Kickstarter for Summit, I had 207 Backers and 1,253 people had “Liked” the campaign page. But those likes did nothing for me because “Likers” are not Followers on that platform. They may have taken an interest in the campaign but after they liked it, it disappeared from their lives. They’re not receiving updates from the project, nor am I, as the campaign owner, able to see their names. Seeing that number and not being able to reach them in any way was worse than not knowing how many people had gone to our campaign page and taken an interest at all. On CongestedCat Shorts, however, we have 141 Supporters & 175 Followers, with the latter number increasing everyday since our campaign ended. While the quantity of people that took an interest is not comparable, the quality blows Kickstarter out of the water —those Followers are actually receiving my updates and are becoming part of the making of the film(s), even if they didn’t make a monetary contribution. It’s wonderful being on a platform that emphasizes community building in the crowdfunding process and enhances this ability to engage an audience early on, allowing them to follow you to your new work. I’m now really looking forward to this opportunity to bring old and new followers along to my next big project and beyond.

Our Interview on New York Cine Radio (Seed&Spark Update 8)

Kelsey & I were guests on New York Cine Radio last night. As I mentioned in my third update, I've been on the show twice before, but this was Kelsey's first appearance. We had a ton of fun and would love it if you listened to our interview. It's the first 40 minutes of the episode. We start off touching base on the progress of my feature Summit and talking about "Kelsey" (the webseries) a little. Then we focus on the 2 shorts we're crowdfunding for during the rest of the interview. We do jump around a bit to other topics though, notably about women in film and roles for women, and why I chose Seed&Spark over Kickstarter. Give it a listen if you'd like further insight into us and our work.

 

We do stick around for the rest of the show where we chime in with our opinions on "Community" and then witness the guys choose their Star Wars characters for a role playing game they'll be starting on the next episode, which I have to admit was quite entertaining and rather 'Community-esque' in its own right. Listen here & enjoy!

We also appeared in yesterday's episode of the Us vs Film Podcast. That one was just their 5 minute 'Meet the Filmmakers' segment. It was very brief and didn't offer much context for the films, but hopefully their listeners will take an interest in our campaign. We appreciate that they featured us regardless.

We're so close to 35% funded and are pushing to reach 40% today, so please keep spreading the word. We can't do it without more generous people like you behind us. Thank you again for supporting and believing in us! 

Tweet of the DayHear @craia9 & @aspirethis discuss their @seedandspark campaign on @NewYorkCine http://ow.ly/yrgO9 . Then support: http://ow.ly/yrgVS

Have a great day,

Christina 

We're Fundraising Again! (Kickstarter Backer Update)

Hello wonderful backers,

I'm updating to let you know that my team and I at CongestedCat Productions are crowdfunding for new projects. While Summit has been in post-production this past year, I've continued building my body of work. My most notable project aside fromSummit is my web series 'Kelsey' that I created with CongestedCat member Kelsey Rauber. It received much acclaim online and now has over a quarter million views. You can watch it without ads here, if you'd like. Kelsey and I decided to collaborate again on 2 new shorts films that we're now funding for on a new site called Seed&Spark:  http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/congestedcat-shorts. I chose this new site over Kickstarter because I feel that Kickstarter has become a little over saturated with name producers & directors (e.g. Zach Braff) funding for big money. I also love that Seed&Spark is exclusively for independent film and is a distribution platform that allows projects to come full circle and be streamed on their site.

If you looked at the campaign, you may be wondering why I was able to fund an entire feature film on $12,000 but am trying to raise $20,000 for two short films. The biggest budgetary difference is that everyone volunteered their time and work for Summit. They knew that I didn't have the funding or network at that time to have a budget for pay. I'm so grateful to them for that and have made it my life mission to get their hard work seen by an audience. However, due to our success with the web series, Kelsey and I felt that we could raise enough money to not only make the films but also pay the cast & crew. So, to be completely honest, a big motivating factor for me wanting to make these films is that I'll finally be able to give paying work to the crew that has stood by me and worked on not just Summit but also 'Kelsey' for no pay.

But in order to raise the money, I, again, need to reach out to everyone in my network and try to convince them to reach out to everyone in their networks and try to get everyone to contribute if they're able to because that's the only way these films will get made. Word of mouth means everything in crowdfunding, but taking action is what really gets success. Having now thrown myself back into the world of crowdfunding, I'm remembering how much the bystander effect holds true with these things. People 'like' statuses and maybe share a link here or there, but assume they don't have to step in because others will. They don't have to pull out their credit cards and be the ones to contribute because others will. But if everyone thinks that way, then no one steps in. 

However, you all did, for Summit, and I'm forever grateful for that. If you can't give again, I completely understand. Maybe you can convince someone you know to, though? Or maybe you're of the means to do both? Maybe these films interest you enough to want to see them get made and not just as a passive viewer but as someone who had a hand in making them? As is the case with Summit, supporters of these shorts would not only be donating, theyd be investing in something they'll become part of and receive copies of in the end. It's really a purchase of an item you want wrapped in a good deed. At least that's how I always think of it, as I myself have backed over 40 campaigns.

So if you're at all interested in helping us out, finding out more about the short films, or you're a fan of CongestedCat and the content we've been putting out, please click the link and become part of our team even more:http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/congestedcat-shorts. And just one last note, if you're a fellow indie filmmaker reading this, one other thing that makes Seed&Spark different from Kickstarter is that is allows loans of equipment rather than just cash donations. So if you own a Canon c300, for instance, and are willing to let us borrow it for our shooting dates, then that will go towards the equivalent rental cost in our overall budget goal. So please do keep that in mind when looking through our Wishlistbecause that's how we no-budget filmmakers can continue to support each other when our pockets are empty but our hearts are full.

Thanks for you time. As for Summit, I do have an update coming in a few weeks about the completion of our Visual Effects & the talent of a Mr. Matt Gershowitz! I wont say much because, as usual, I've already said a lot. But here's a Before & After tease:

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If you'd like to know more about the short films before clicking the Seed&Spark link

"We Had Plans"

Diana, casually dating women and kind of lonely, and Liz, currently in a longterm relationship with boyfriend Dylan, are two adult sisters who love and respect each other more than anyone else in the world. But their future plans are tested upon receiving news. (Lauren A. Kennedy, who played Jesse in Summit is playing Liz.)

"Not Our Living Room"

Jake, more responsible & cautious older brother to Chris, carefree go-getter, are getting ready for their moms' anniversary dinner. But things take an ominous turn when they try to leave the livingroom. (Rob Ceriello, who played Sean in Summit is playing Jake.)

Mission Statement:

The films are companion pieces about siblings and loss. One is about 2 brothers (whose moms are lesbians) and the other, two sisters, one of whom is a lesbian. We aim to advance the reach and accessibility of LGBT characters by presenting them in everyday situations that are universal and relatable to anyone. We portray people as people; and expect our audience to look at them that way, and relate to them on an emotional level. We don't do caricatures or stereotypes. If this is something you can get behind, then join us in making these films by contributing to our campaign.

-Christina

SUMMIT Color Correction

On April 9th, color correction for Summit was finished! If you're following us on Facebook & Twitter, you were notified right away. But I waited to do this post until now so that I would have the high res colored files to show you some shots. 

                          Compare this coloring to some of the raw file shots in this Album! 

                          Compare this coloring to some of the raw file shots in this Album

Color in this film is very key to the way you as a viewer are meant to experience it. That's of course true of every film, but Summit in particular because I wanted the film to start out very vibrant and Hollywood-Slasher-esque, then make a slow but dramatic shift in the color tone as the narrative turns away from the formula the viewer is probably expecting and becomes something a little deeper and a lot more 'indie.' I'm obviously being kind of spoilery here, but if you've been following this film from the beginning as many of you have then you've already been spoiled quite a bit. I will, however, avoid showing you some shots in the comparisons I'm about to do because I still want the film to surprise and intrigue you visually when you watch it for the first time! 

One of the most interesting things about our Teaser is that I had Anna, our colorist, color it separately before completing the film rather than coloring the film and pulling the shots from it for the teaser. I did this because I wanted the teaser itself to reflect this progression from a warmer, more vibrant Hollywood look to a colder, more intense look the way the film flows. However, the shots from the teaser may not actually be in the order they appear in the film and are not all pulled from the same emotional/narrative moment like I want you to think when watching that teaser. So, what I've done is pulled Stills from all the shots in the teaser and pulled the matching Stills from the original raw, uncolored cut for comparison.

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We shoot images in a cinematic mode on our cameras that flattens the image. The information is all still there for the colors, but shooting it flat allows the colors to be pushed in various ways in post-production.

Now seeing some of those same stills from the actual cut of the film should interest you because you can see how the color temperature is much colder in the film itself compared to the teaser.

Actual Film

Actual Film

Actual Film

Actual Film

Actual Film

Actual Film

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Actual Film

Actual Film

Actual Film

The same footage could have many different looks, both subtle and drastic. That's the beauty of well lit shots and good color grading (or rather, that's the beauty of my DP John and Colorist Anna).

I don't want to show all the shots from the teaser in their actual film versions because doing so would maybe allow you to place them chronologically within the film and spoil some fun for yourself. But I will definitely include before and after Stills with commentary as part of a DVD or Digital Download Special Feature. 

 

Actual Film

Actual Film

One interesting point I will bring up, though, is the fact that I found the color correction process to be so interesting because of the variety of choices I was given. There were times where I was torn between the most aesthetically pleasing image and the one that most represented where we were at emotionally in the story. Take for instance this shot. If you compare this to the one from the teaser, it's arguably less flattering. The teaser version is a sharper, more striking image. It's more stylized. It's maybe more exciting and pleasing to look at. I believe it's definitely more eye catching. However, the coloring of the shot in the teaser does not work narratively for this particular moment within the actual film. Ultimately, it's about choosing what best elicits in the viewer what you're trying to say. It's about looking at the bigger picture of a scene and not at the shots or moments individually. Having never made such a long film before, especially one where I chose to make the color tone(s) such an integral part of the viewer experience, I was not expecting to have so many subtle choices with the color. It was fun to do scene by scene but also required me to step back and think of the film as a whole. I had to try to avoid falling in love with any particular look of any particular shot (like the one above in its Teaser version) because, when you come down to it, it's all about what most effectively tells the story. This is something I've definitely learned more through running IndieWorks because I often see films where I think the filmmaker(s) chose the most beautiful look for shots, but maybe not the most viscerally effective. Finding that balance is key, I believe. 

Lastly, I know I haven't released my Shooting Summit "journal" yet (wanted to take a break from it to edit before releasing to the public, as well as time it for festival buzz), but you will eventually be able to read it and see that I spent the second half of production obsessing in my head about whether or not one key scene would come together in post-production or completely break the film. That key scene was a daylight scene that involved all 5 characters and a hefty amount of coverage throughout the scene. The problem was that we had a beautiful, bright sunny day out, which is film, especially indie film, hell. It made getting consistent shots impossible because the sun kept moving, creating shadows everywhere. I feared that when cut all together, the lighting would be ridiculously inconsistent and wondered if it would completely pull viewers out of the emotions of the scene. A year later, while writing Shooting Summit, I still did not know the answer to that question because I was still looking for a Colorist. It was good that I didn't know because it allowed me to stay in that headspace for writing. However, I'm very pleased to say that, although I can not prove it to you by showing you shots or footage just yet, it did work out in the end. Anna made it all look unbelievably cohesive. I'm so grateful to her for that and to John for working with the light despite his preference not to and making sure it could all come together in the end. And while I'm at it, I thank Peter, Charlotte, Erin and Adnan, who all helped with lighting & camera on set that day and all the days. But since I'm talking color for this post, I'd like to plug Waffle-Media, the company Anna runs for her post-production services. I definitely recommend hiring her/them.  

As for the rest of the film, the visual effects should be done by the end of this month. That's very exciting! After the effects, title design and animation will be the final visual step for the film. We're still working on a logo redesign to make it a little more unique and tailored to how it will appear within the film. Our score is a bit of a hold up because I keep going back and forth with Colin, our composer/mixer. But he's doing an excellent job and I believe he has a good handle on what I want now. So, I anticipate having the score and sound mix done by the end of June, which would put the entire film in the can in July. That's perfect because our first festival deadline is in August!

Then, it's months and months of waiting to hear back from them. So much work has gone into this film in the last year; it's going to be crazy getting to the point where it's literally just waiting. But I can't wait for it. It'll be such a relief. Even if it is a series of rejections, I'll know that we finished the film, put it out there and are that much closer to being able to share it with all of you. So please stay tuned for more updates. We've got some cool stuff on the way, like the reboot of our website, some new 'Questions with the Cast' videos we shot a couple months back, the release of Shooting Summit and even some sneak peeks at scenes from the film! This Summer and Fall will be full of exciting content and news. 

Thanks for all the patience, support and faith in me & my team,

Christina 

Read my last post about the process of making our Kickstarter Trailer >

Summit Promo Trailer, 2 Years Ago

*An update sent to our Summit Kickstarter Backers:

Today is the 2-year anniversary of the day we released our Summit promo trailer that was used to gain interest in the film in pre-production and for our Kickstarter campaign. I have this weird contradicting feeling that time has both flown by and stood still. It feels like it's been years since my team and I were spending 2 weeks in Massachusetts shooting the film, and feels like a completely other life time ago that we were shooting the promo trailer. It's hard to remember a time when I didn't know the people I met through the production, who I now call my closest friends and collaborators, and even harder to remember the time before I spent every waking hour thinking about or working on Summit, or being updated on its post-production progress. I feel like I've grown so much in the past 2 years, especially in the last year since production. But, that all said, when I think about it in time, not in experience or how much I accomplished, I find myself being so surprised by how quickly it flew by. We shot our promo trailer on February 13, 2012, then less than a year later, we were rolling on the actual film on January 20, 2013, and now we just released our real teaser trailer on February 19, 2014. I spent the past 2 years rapidly moving toward the next stage, never truly taking time to let it all sink in. I remember the experience of making this film so vividly, and knowing that it's already been 2 years since we first told the world about it feels so strange. I'm sure for you, it feels like it's been a long time of waiting and waiting; and I thank you for your patience. But for me, it's been a series of rough cut after rough cut, and deadlines around the corner each passing just as quickly as the last. I suppose it's why I truly feel like I’ve spent my whole life thus far making and watching Summit, but also feel like we shot it just a few months ago. 

Reflecting on this date, I found myself feeling nostalgic and went back to watch the old promo trailer.

 

To me now, it seems kind of cheesy and underwhelming. At the time though, it felt like such a creative accomplishment. Thinking back about how it all came together, I can say it still is an accomplishment, even in just the process alone. The story is kind of interesting, so I’ve decided to share it with you. We had just finished casting and were gearing up to launch our crowdfunding campaign in a month, but I wanted a way to get people excited about the film and show them what I was capable of. So I came up with the idea to make a faux-trailer. I took some bits from the script that I thought would get people amped for the film, and which I felt we could accomplish on literally no budget. I didn't have a location for the film yet, and needed to do some location scouting as well. Being a no-budget project, I didn't have a location scout, so had mostly just been asking around and posting ads on various sites. The first promising response I got was from craigslist, by a homeowner in Haines Falls. Based on the photos sent in the reply, it was worth checking out. What I decided to do was take the cast with me and kill two birds, as they say, by scouting the potential location as well as shooting footage for the trailer. We made a day out of it, driving an hour and a half up to the house bright & early. When we got to the house, we found what had been a hotel in the 1800's now a decrepit old house with the two top floors completely uninhabitable and torn down inside, and the two bottom floors, although livable, not much better. The owner, I wont say his name, was a big Russian man who was incredibly friendly but incredibly intimidating. His most interesting characteristic, I'd say, was that he wore flip-flops in the snow. The house was huge inside. The main floor had a livingroom, kitchen and diningroom. The large livingroom was lopsided, seemingly sinking into the basement, but according to the home inspection report he showed me, was technically safe. The basement was the creepiest place I've ever entered in my entire life. Only Ryan and I went down there. We unfortunately do not have photos, and the video we have has the owner in it, so cannot be shared. But here's a screen-grab of a jar filled with I don't know what. There were a few others like it down there.

 

The second floor had 9 bedrooms. He mentioned that he lived there with his wife, daughter and a guest that was currently staying for the winter. His plan was to redo the top two floors (with a total of 18 bedrooms) and get a license to make it a bed and breakfast. But his wife lamented that they owned it for 3 years already and little work had been done. She was also Russian and incredibly friendly. She offered us soup, which she had been cooking while we were given a tour. We declined but were grateful for the offer. I had told them that we were going to take some shots around the property to show my Cinematographer and use for "promotional purposes" should we shoot there. It was a bit of a fib, or rather understatement, because I was telling the truth but never mentioned the trailer. It was necessary that I be vague though; I had no money. So we got our shots for the trailer, mostly in the woods but some on his property, and he thankfully signed a release for the footage. He was also very accommodating when we came back later in the evening to get the shot of the ax swinging toward the camera. However, it turned into quite a creepy encounter when he brought out his daughter to meet us. it was just me, Matt, Chris and Ricardo (as the ax swinger, since none of us were strong enough to swing it at the camera and stop it before hitting the lens). The owner mentioned that he wanted his 13 year old daughter to meet "real life filmmakers" and I was happy to meet and talk to her. But when he brought her out, I was slightly startled by her appearance. She was wearing nothing but a long white nightgown and sneakers, and because she was slouching with her head looking down, her dark hair was covering both sides of her face. We were in complete darkness except for our little LED light, so it was impossible to see her face at all. I'm not exaggerating, I genuinely felt like I was meeting Samara from The Ring. He introduced us and she didn't say a word but reached out to shake my hand. I hesitated but didn't want to be rude, so shook it and said "pleased to meet you." She still said nothing. Matt also shook her hand, but both Chris & Ricardo cowardly used the camera & ax in their hands to excuse not shaking hers. Ricardo, being legitimately terrified of all things horror movie related, could not help but back away a little after the introductions. It was truly bizarre. She never said a word and neither did he about why she wouldn't have, and then she just went back inside. He remained very excited about her opportunity getting to meet us. We shook off the weirdness and wrapped the trailer shoot. I thanked the owner again and told him I'd be in touch. 

A couple months later, no else had responded to any of my ads. It was pretty clear that that house was our best bet for shooting the film. Staying in that house did not seem the slightest bit appealing, but the look of it was so good for the film. It had a Texas Chainsaw vibe, which was terrifying as a person but awesome as a director. Everyone involved, even Ricardo, ultimately agreed to it. So despite the creepiness, I decided to move forward with securing it for the film. However, when I sent him the location agreement, he came back claiming he never agreed to the price he originally agreed to and would need 5 times as much as my budget could allow. It bothered me more that he was lying about agreeing to the original fee than the fact that he was increasing it so tremendously. I didn't care to negotiate, so I just let it go. In the end, I am incredibly grateful to the owner and his family. We wouldn't have had half the trailer if it weren't for them. But it all worked out for the best because he clearly wasn't as nice as he seemed, and his house and family were pretty damn creepy. I was worried that I'd maybe get a phone call saying "7 days" at some point after the encounter, but considering it's been 2 years, it seems I'm fairly safe. In all seriousness though, I truly hope they were just weird and not abusive or something terrible like that. It's those real life horrors that movies aren't made about that are even scarier to encounter, and I just hope that wasn't the case here. 

Anyway, we were in the midst of our Kickstarter campaign and had no location. But it was okay because we still had about 8 months before production. By the time summer rolled around, I had found another house through the suggestion of a friend. It was located in Lenox, MA, but was originally brought over from Italy in the 1840's and was left for the owner by his grandparents. The basement was also creepy but mostly interesting because it had many remnants of illegal alcohol brewing from during Prohibition times. It had been uninhabited for the past 30 years and was just sitting on the property He had plans to knock it down and sell the land in about a year, but for the time being wasn't doing anything with it. It had no heat, hot water or electric, so couldn't double as our picture house and sleeper, but would totally work for just the former. I found a 5 bedroom vacation house just a block away, which cost pretty much our entire location budget, but was a deal nonetheless. So we booked it and, luckily, the owner of the 1840's house agreed to let us shoot there for free, since it was just sitting there. We were so excited, and announced our house in this blog post

A couple months later though, he brought up wanting money, and not just a little money, but more than the entire film budget. I had a meeting with him and tried to understand where his sudden request was coming from. He explained that he had been talking to people and they mentioned how much money Hollywood movies make, and that he should be getting paid for the house. I explained the difference between Hollywood & Independent Film, and particularly my situation, someone who came from a single-mother household with no money to my name and nothing but student loan debt to my credit. He claimed that he misjudged the situation and agreed to honor our original deal. All he had left to do though was get the house inspected to make sure it was safe for my 20 person cast & crew. About a month later, he told me it was taken care of and the house was fine, and he'd send the paperwork soon enough. I kept inquiring about the paperwork and he kept saying he would send it soon. About three months later, he got back to me saying that when he said he got the house inspected, he was lying because he "had no time and figured it'd be fine," but finally did get it inspected and the floors were deemed unsafe. As mentioned in this blog post, the house was condemned and we were back to square one with no main location but now just a month away from production!

My mom and I then spent the next couple weeks making 7 separate trips up to the Berkshires in hopes of finding a new location. I started doubting my faith in people, and started wondering if everyone really is out to take advantage of everyone else just to make a buck. But then something wonderful happened, a man named David agreed to let us stay and shoot in a house that he had bought and was in the process of flipping for just $100 per day. It was a couple towns over from our vacation rental. It unfortunately wouldn't work for the exterior of the picture house, but would for the interior. This gave us hope, and allowed me to come up with the plan to use our vacation rental as our exterior house because, although the interior couldn't possibly work, with some art direction, the exterior definitely would. And thankfully, the wonderful owner Lorraine agreed to let us turn what was just meant to be a vacation house for 20 people for 2 weeks into also a filming location for nothing more than just a slightly higher security deposit. So thanks to both of them and their kindness, we were able to spend 11 days at the vacation house shooting exteriors, and 4 days at David's house shooting interiors; and all for just a few hundred dollars over the original budget (but still way less than anyone else would probably ever charge me). Also, speaking of kind people and shooting locations, I can't not mention Barbara, the 'Corner Deli' and gas station owner who agreed to let us shoot at her gas station both during and after business hours completely for free. For every person who almost made this film impossible, I believe I found 3 who did the complete opposite. If I ever doubt the kindness of strangers, I just have to think about Lorraine, David, Barbara, and of course every single one of our Kickstarter backers. The film simply couldn't have been made without all of you. You were the first to believe in us and to support the film. This post turned out much longer than originally intended; but I suppose what I really set out to do was tell the story not of how the film almost fell apart even before it started, but how it all came together because of you and other wonderful people like you. I'm so grateful to you all. Also, I just want to give a few shout-outs: first to the most supportive and kind person I know, and the reason why I believe in people and the fact that we aren't all just out for ourselves: my mom, Marlene, who was almost as much a part of making this film as I was, next to my fiancé's mom, Linda, who offered up her home and land to us during production and was so supportive and helpful, and finally, my phenomenal crew & cast who all volunteered their time and talent for the film. I'll never be able to express how truly grateful I am to them and all of you. But hopefully you know I mean it when I say thank you. I know I don't update about the film too often but I absolutely haven't forgotten you, and hope you haven't forgotten me and this little film we all made together. 

Since this was a good opportunity to reflect on some of the events that got us to where we ended up, and, interestingly, how it all ended up being for the best, I suppose this is also a good opportunity to mention that I plan to release my 'journal series' (not quite sure yet what is the best way to refer to it) "Shooting Summit," where I spent the one year anniversary of production this past January writing about my experiences each day on set and all the obstacles we overcame to make the film. I first brought it up in this blog post and am planning to release it as one concise pdf later this year. 

Speaking of what we'll be releasing this year, we'll have our official full-length trailer for you to see in the Fall. In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed the teaser trailer. It's a better reflection of the tone of the film compared to our original promo. It also features both the exterior and interior houses, which I believe we did a good job of making look like one house. You can let me know if I'm right when you see the film.

 

We're launching a new website in the next month or so. It'll not only feature the Teaser but also 3 scenes from the film on the Character-introductions page! We also recently shot some new 'Questions With the Cast' videos that we'll be releasing over the summer. I know you're all wondering when you'll actually be able to see the film, and, I promise, we're going to get it to you as soon as we can. John, my DP, and I are meeting with our Colorist, Anna, of Waffle Media, to finalize the color correction this week. And I'm supposed to hear the final pass of the sound mix next week as well as some scoring samples. We're still working on finding the perfect compositions that match the tone and feel of the film. My dream festival premiere is SXSW. So that'll be the first one we submit to in the coming months. It's an incredible long shot, but as you know, I'm a dreamer who reaches. When the time comes, you'll be notified of each and every rejection and acceptance because you're part of this film, and I want you to remember that. 

Thank you again,

Christina