Learned Since "Summit," Now Onto "About a Donkey" (Kickstarter Update)

Hi everyone, 

It's been awhile since I've sent an update because I added you all to our monthly newsletter. However, I thought I'd check back in here because there's some exciting stuff going on and I know not everyone receives every newsletter. It's been four and a half years since we ran this campaign for Summit! I don't know about you, but it feels like forever ago. I often feel like my life is divided between before Summit and after Summit because making it was such an intense experience. I have a real love/hate relationship with the film, to be honest with you. I wouldn't be the filmmaker I am now if not for mistakes made and lessons learned through that film. It's very flawed. But I love it because of the fact that it made me that filmmaker -- that I learned so much from it. And there is a lot in it to be proud of -- aspects of the film that did work out, largely thanks to the talented people I was lucky enough to be surrounded by. Thank you for becoming part of the film and allowing us to make it. I'll never stop being grateful to you for that. 

Since its festival run and VOD release, and since it started getting reviews and audience feedback, I've learned a lot, as well -- particularly in terms of how different people will view your work based on their life experiences and existing biases. Some people totally get the stuff I was trying to say about gender, race and tropes, while with other people it just goes right over their heads. Some reviews hate the pacing, others appreciate it. Some consider it a horror film, some do not. It's interesting taking in the opinions that come out, especially knowing when they come from a deeply personal place. It's been nice seeing people objectively engage with the work, even when their objective opinions aren't fully positive. It's given me further perspective on how intentions don't always translate, and that you can't meet everyone's expectations. I learned where I could have balanced the commentary more and done better to serve the story while still making the film I set out to make. But I also learned to just embrace the film for what it is and accept the way some people may feel about it. That said, there are people that really like it and get what I was going for, which has been lovely. In any case, I hope you enjoyed being part of the experience of making it. I hope you're proud to have contributed to it. But also please know that I know it's a flawed first feature. I've definitely grown as a filmmaker. 

I'm not sure how closely you've been following our work since Summit. But you should know there's a lot of free content to dive into, if you'd like. From our 10-episode web series 'Kelsey,' to shorts: "Juice It," "We Had Plans," "Not Our Living Room," and "Hello." "Not Our Living Room" and "Hello" are probably of most interest for genre fans. (You'll recognize familiar faces in all those shorts, by the way.) I also have a comedy pilot, "Two Gays and a Girl," and two shorts, a horror titled "Night In," and a thriller titled, "Enough," currently in post-production.

But my main focus right now is my second feature, About a Donkey. It's not a horror film. It is a character-driven ensemble piece though. And it's definitely subverting expectations, which is a pattern in my work. It's generally more in line with my comedic work above, like 'Kelsey, ' and "Juice It." I'll definitely be back to my horror roots (*cough* already wrote third feature script *cough*) but this project is really near and dear to me and my collaborators. It's a film we've been wanting to make for years, but it feels especially timely. I think art matters more than ever right now -- reaching people and spreading empathy and hope is crucial. This film, if made, will do that.

We're currently crowdfunding for the film: https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/about-a-donkey. (I wrote a blog post recently about why I keep crowdfunding. You can read it here: http://www.congestedcat.com/blog/2017/1/27/working-towards-sustainability-why-i-keep-crowdfunding-making-shorts.) I hope you'll check out our pitch and consider joining us on this journey towards making another feature film. I truly believe this project matters and that it's something worth being part of. 

Thank you for all the support,

-Christina & the team

Working Towards Sustainability: Why I Keep Crowdfunding & Making Short Films

In high school, I sold candy to my classmates in order to raise enough money to buy a Canon GL2 and an iMac to make a movie. My school had just gone on a health kick and removed the vending machines, so I spotted an opportunity. I would come into school with a briefcase filled with candy I bought at Costco and attempt to empty it by the end of each day. My mom was a single parent who, at the time, worked three jobs. She wasn't in a financial position to just give me the things I wanted.

There was a boy in my class who also aspired to make movies. I remember having a conversation with him where he said that a Canon GL2 was “pretty cool” but he was going to ask his parents to buy him the XL2 (a step up from my desired model) along with a new Macbook. He generally paid little attention to me and my filmmaking efforts, but I secretly used him for motivation. I channeled what could have been seething jealousy into a point of pride - I was going to get there through my own determination and hard work. I kind of like to think of this experience as my first foray into the inequalities of the industry that my love for filmmaking requires me to be apart of, and how I learned to create opportunities for myself and fully embrace the effort to do so. It was also sort of a test run of what would eventually become my main method of funding content; crowdfunding. The students at my school were generally more well- off, and didn't necessarily understand why I needed to be selling candy in order to buy a camera and computer. Most were pulling for me, though, because they felt invested in my success. I won them over with my passion for what I wanted to create, and they participated in my endeavor. It took almost a year, but I did eventually get that camera and iMac.

Cut to 10 years later, here I am trying to do pretty much the same thing with every project I make. I have a lot of privilege that many of my peers don't and wouldn’t want to paint myself as the ultimate underdog. But I know that I am not the filmmaker the industry champions. I’m a woman. I’m a minority. I was the first in my family to graduate college. Before going to school for film and networking with other filmmakers, I had no access to or understanding of how the industry actually works. And even though I did have the privilege to study film, I didn't go to a top film school that granted me any connections to money or gatekeepers. But I never really wanted that. I don't love the industry that makes movies. I love making movies. I love storytelling and being able to reach people. I love mixing genres and breaking formulas. I love making people laugh. I love scaring people in a way that makes them think and evolve. I love portraying individuals who aren’t represented in the mainstream (like my multi-ethnic self who saw no one like me on a screen growing up). I don’t want to make superhero spectacles or Oscar bait regurgitations. I wouldn't have any interest in being a Sundance “success story,” even if I had the level of privilege that actually made that path realistic. What does interest me is telling unique stories that matter and making creative content that allows me to connect with people who crave it. So that’s how I approach my career. That’s the goal. In order to do this though, I have to be able to reach people with that content, and that's definitely a challenge. Taking this a step further, it’s not just about reaching people with each project but about being able to use that reach to make the next project and the next and the next. This is where social media has come in. Without social media, I’d have no career, at least not a sustainable one. It’s how I’ve mapped out a path for myself that allows me to knock down doors. Being able to jump into conversations and reach out into the world to pull people in, that’s where it’s at for me. However, it’s not just about gaining relationships with audiences, it’s about maintaining them.

People often ask me why I still make short films after having made a feature and a successful web series. I love features - I’m currently working on my second. I love series - I hope to create many. But I also love shorts (so much so, I created a monthly screening series devoted to them). A lot of people think of shorts as a means to get to making features. I think they’re totally different entities. Often, filmmakers make the mistake of trying to cram feature length stories into shorts; but truly effective shorts work best as just that - short. I have so many stories I want to tell and some simply make sense in short form. And though society and the industry may place more value on features, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to continue telling the stories I feel need to be told in the form that suits them best.

So yeah, I make a lot of shorts. I put out two or three a year, and always for free. Currently, the only thing I'm charging for of my work is my first feature film. I sometimes get questions about why I put out so much content just to give it away for free. It may seem counterproductive to sustainability. But I’m looking at the long game here. This is a marathon for me, not just a quest to get to some finish line. I’ll never be done telling stories or making films, so I need to look at each project as building a stronger foundation for the next. I've learned what works for me; the momentum that I've built with my audience is made of planting seeds for future bloom. In order for crowdfunding my projects to be sustainable and for me to keep coming back with more ambitious campaigns, I need to be able to build my crowd between those campaigns. I believe the work put into content creation is worth paying for and that viewers should view film watching as consuming a product with monetary value, but I also believe in being realistic about the way people view art, film in particular, and meeting people where they’re at to pull them forward. It's hard to ask people to fund a project before it exists and then to also pay to watch it after it does. So my method to satisfy my desire to make shorts and tell stories on a regular basis is to offer a lot and be strategic about when and how I make an ask.

Between crowdfunding campaigns I've been able to show my audience the progress I've made as an artist and make them feel part of that growth by producing content on my own dime. I've been able to do that by keeping costs extremely low for shorts through bartering skills with fellow filmmakers and generally trying to be super community-focused. That activity between crowdfunding campaigns has allowed me to come back every couple of years and get a film funded outside my own pocket through many of the same but also a lot of new followers and supporters. In my last campaign, I was able to build payment for my own work on the project into the campaign goal, which is where I think this becomes truly sustainable. But it’s all about the baby steps in a very uphill battle. Every time I release a short, I’m building my audience and engaging them enough to bring them along on my journey. Those people do eventually pay for my content, but in indirect ways. Yes in terms of contributing to my campaigns, but also in sharing my free content that leads traffic to my feature rental. It’s all a circle. That’s ultimately what I’m doing on a regular basis, maintaining and building a circle where everything is working in tandem to create sustainability for me as a filmmaker, not just for each project. It’s not happening overnight, but it’s happening.

In two days, I’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign for the fourth time; for my second feature, “About a Donkey.” I’d be lying if I said I'm crowdfunding again only out of choice and not also out of necessity. I still don't have access to people with money that could become investors. I still come from and work in humble means. The people I care to tell stories with and about are still undervalued and underrepresented by the industry. Despite this, I honestly believe that even if I could get the funds in more “traditional” ways, I’d still choose this route - even if just for some of the budget. The inclusion of the audience in the filmmaking experience — the feeling that we’re all creating something from scratch and inviting the audience to be part of that creativity is something I truly love. It’s what makes all the hard work worth it. I hope you’ll join us on February 1st in bringing "About a Donkey" to life.