Check out my screenwriting rewrite article published in conjunction with Seed&Spark yesterday in Pyragraph, the online career & lifestyle magazine for artists, musicians, designers, filmmakers, writers and other creatives. http://www.pyragraph.com/2015/01/how-rewriting-an-indie-made-me-a-better-writer/
by BOB MESSINGER
A few months back, I posted my intentions of switching to the crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark to re-launch my film project. To recap the reasons for my decision:
1. Seed&Spark is a crowdfunding platform strictly for independent film projects.
2. They provide an in-depth Social Media Handbook and other helpful materials.
3. As a selective platform, Seed&Spark does not allow filmmakers to launch an inferior or minimally prepared project.
4. Unlike Kickstarter’s “all-or-nothing” platform, Seed&Spark works on “80%-or-nothing,” noting that “Every indie filmmaker knows how to make that scene work with a little less money…”
5. Seed&Spark has a streaming video distribution platform as well as a partnership with Amex NOW for selected licensed distribution.
6. Seed&Spark lets filmmakers request non-monetary contributions such as camera, wardrobe and lighting rentals.
7. 70% of films that crowdfund on Seed&Spark get funded, compared to only 40% on Kickstarter.
8. Seed&Spark’s fee is lower than any other crowdfunding site.
Since my initial post, I have spent hours poring over Seed&Spark’s “Awesome Downloads,” which include documents on crowdfunding to build independence, prep and campaign schedule templates, and, of course, their detailed social media handbook.
Well, I did re-launch on Seed&Spark a few days ago, and the experience so far has been even better that I’d anticipated!
After my initial submission, I received an in-depth campaign critique from Seed&Spark Director of Crowdfunding and Community Erica Anderson. I’m not talking about a few lines of suggestions. I’m talking about paragraphs of well-written, to-the-point, knowledgeable and convincing feedback. With Erica’s ongoing help, I performed three edits to my pitch video, taking it from an unruly six minutes to a manageable three minutes (to be honest, she would have preferred that I’d have edited out another minute).
Erica responded to my correspondence within hours, each time providing more and more guidance.
The only recommendation I didn’t take was to postpone my launch until after the holidays. I do agree with prevailing research that there is too much social media competition to sustain a holiday campaign. That’s why I’ve selected a 45-day rather than a 30-day campaign. I’ve decided to use the first 15 days to tie into my regular hard-copy holiday mailings to friends and family, and then focus on social media after the holidays (as a marketer who has worked both tech and pre-tech campaigns, I still find value in breaking through the clutter with old-fashioned, personal mailings).
Seed&Spark is truly a selective platform. It’s become so obvious to me that their prime purpose for being isn’t to cash in on the crowdfunding craze. They are independent filmmakers who are dedicated to their craft and who want to see good films get made and distributed.
I recommend that all filmmakers considering the crowdfunding route check out Seed&Spark.
And while you’re at it, please check out my campaign at www.seedandspark.com/studio/it-aint-no-sin. Your support through a contribution and recommending the project to friends and colleagues would be greatly appreciated!
by BOB MESSINGER
Don’t get me wrong…Kickstarter is a phenomenal crowdfunding platform! It’s just that, after careful research, I’ve come to the conclusion that the relatively new platform Seed&Spark is best suited to meet the needs of my particular film project for the following reasons:
1. Seed&Spark is a crowdfunding platform strictly for film projects. I believe this will work well for me on several levels. It will help me better attract niche supporters who care about independent film. It will help separate my project from the clutter of non-film projects on the other sites. And, because the Seed&Spark staff deals only with film projects, my belief is that their specialized support will assist me in running a truly effective campaign.
2. I’ve never claimed to be a social media guru, and I believe that was a major detriment to my Kickstarter efforts. Seed&Spark stresses social media, as do most of the other crowdfunding platforms. But unlike most other sites, they back up the importance of social media by providing an in-depth Social Media Handbook, which has armed me with greater insight than I had when I launched my last campaign.
3. Seed&Spark is a selective platform. They will not allow me to launch a campaign for an inferior product or to launch a minimally prepared project. If they feel my project is lacking in any respect, they will provide tips on how to make it a viable one. Nobody enjoys rejection, but I’d rather be given the opportunity to make my project the best that it can be before launch. And because Seed&Spark is a selective platform, I believe their users feel more comfortable supporting projects on their site.
4. Whereas Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, and Indigogo will allow me to keep whatever I raise even if it is nowhere enough to complete my project, Seed&Spark is an “80%-or-nothing” platform. I am quite comfortable with this. If I can raise at least 80%, I know I will be able to get the film made. As the Seed&Spark website points out, “Every indie filmmaker knows how to make that scene work with a little less money…”
5. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, Seed&Spark has a streaming video distribution platform for me to offer my film for public viewing. They also have a partnership with Amex NOW, a channel reaching 67 million homes, for selected licensed distribution. I don’t know at this time that I’ll take advantage of these programs, but it is nice to know that they exist!
6. Seed&Spark lets me request non-monetary contributions such as camera, wardrobe and lighting rentals. This allows me to best use all cash contributions I may receive and may also act as an incentive for supporters who may not be in a position to contribute cash, but may be able to contribute an item needed to complete the film.
7. 70% of films that crowdfund on Seed&Spark get funded, compared to only 40% of projects on Kickstarter. I like those odds.
8. And I’m saving the best reason for last: Seed&Spark’s fee is lower than any other crowdfunding site I’ve researched. They take 5% of all money pledged, but they also offer supporters an opportunity to add 5% to their order to keep the filmmaker from losing that money. And according to Seed&Spark, 90% of supporters choose to add that 5%. Plus, Seed&Spark won’t compel me to set up an outside payment account, which usually requires administration fees beyond the normal credit card fees.
So right now, it seems like a no-brainer to submit to Seed&Spark.
I’d be grateful to hear your opinions on selecting a crowdfunding site.
By BOB MESSINGER
(I am re-posting this article from last September. The Indie Gathering International Film Festival is happening again this coming weekend, and I highly recommend it).
I am a veteran attendee of mammoth Hollywood screenwriting conferences and seminars. I’ve sat opposite hundreds of agency and studio readers in nerve-wracking, five-minute pitch festival sessions. I’ve entered scores of screenwriting competitions and have even won my fair share. And I’ve spent thousands of dollars participating in these events, not to mention the cost of air travel, meals and hotels.
I don’t regret a single penny’s worth of expense for having taken part in these activities. They have made me a much better writer, and each one of my scripts has greatly benefited from these combined experiences.
However, like most other “novice” writers who faithfully attend conferences and sometimes win contests, I’ve yet to have had an agent or a studio ask to see a winning script or to have heard back from an “interested” pitch-fest representative.
Still, I always return from these sessions energized and ready to write.
I had that same energized feeling upon returning home from the recent Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Hudson, OH. But I also experienced an additional, much stronger reaction as a result of attending this amazing gathering right outside of Cleveland. I also returned home with a sense of empowerment.
Indie Gathering participants are filmmakers, writers and actors who have taken their fates into their own hands. They understand the odds against being blessed with the rare, big-studio, fairy-tale success story. They know that their work has value. They know that they are the only ones who, in the long run, will make their stories come alive.
The Indie Gathering attendees are some of the most-passionate, most-unpretentious and most-talented filmmakers I have ever met. And the proof is in their films. This year’s festival featured about 100 independent shorts and features of tremendous caliber, many of which are headed for some form of distribution.
About the Indie Gathering
The Indie Gathering is probably one of the most-informal, yet-highly-organized, film festivals I’ve ever attended. It is expertly run by independent producer Ray Szuch (who has an amazing Muhammed Ali story) and the lovely and energetic Kristina Michelle (who, besides being an actor, is an accomplished dancer, teacher, writer, producer, first degree-black belt, stunt woman and TV host).
They are perhaps the most-approachable organizers I’ve personally experienced. They are always happy to talk, point you in the right direction, introduce you to the festival’s honored guests, and join you in the restaurant after hours for a drink.
In addition to the screenings, the festival includes seminars, lectures and panel discussions on topics including writing, pre- and post-production, acting, editing, scoring, technology, photography, FX, cameras…and unlike similar programs at other festivals, all sessions were from a decidedly independent point of view.
Writers Reinventing Themselves
The screenwriting panel discussion is the one which I found most energizing and empowering. Almost the entire panel was made up of filmmakers who had decided that the only way to get their films made was to produce them themselves. Interestingly, not all panel members were originally writers but found that they had to reinvent themselves to make things happen.
For example, one panel member named Saba, an accomplished New York actor and dancer (who, by the way, was also a winner in the festival’s screenplay competition two years running) had decided that the only way he was going to get meaningful screen jobs was to create roles for himself. As a result, he formed Cloudy Sky Films to produce and direct various shorts and web series. He has just completed filming “Snow,” his first independent feature, which he wrote, directed, produced and in which he stars.
A panel discussion attendee, Mara Lesemann from Jersey City, NJ, seemed to agree that producing your own work is the way to go. Her first-ever writing award was earned at a prior Indie Gathering festival, and her first feature film “Surviving Family” earned last year’s Viewers’ Choice Award at the Indie Gathering. “Surviving Family” is also scheduled for a Redbox release this fall.
No Longer an Impossible Task
The overall impression I was left with after attending multiple sessions and after viewing as many screenings as I could fit in was that being in charge of one’s own creative destiny is no longer an impossible task. Technology has made filming, production and editing less complicated than ever. Technology has made it easy to build a network of skilled people who can help us learn and find the resources we need. Technology has created the ability for us to go online to fund our projects. And technology has created an environment in which we don’t need the big screen to have our work seen by large audiences.
I was also left with the impression that the community of independent filmmakers is indeed a friendly one that genuinely cares about its members and is willing to share.
I have had two screenwriting competition wins at the Indie Gathering…one last year in the feature comedy/drama category, and one this year in the feature drama category. I have snail mailed and emailed more than 200 press releases about each win. Still, my in-box remains void of interest from agents and studios.
Would I turn down a submission request from an agent or studio? Of course not! But I don’t intend to sit by the phone any longer. And I thank the Indie Gathering International Film Festival for fueling my empowerment.
Check out the Indie Gathering at http://www.theindiegathering.com
Every time I am informed of the death of someone close to me, my immediate reaction is one of denial.
“No, you’re wrong. It can’t be. Who did you hear that from?”
Then come the tears.
This is the reaction I had last evening when ABC News interrupted “Jeopardy” to let the world know that Robin Williams had died. The difference here is that, like just about everyone else, I didn’t know Robin Williams. I’d never even met him. I was simply a fan. Still, a connection had formed over decades of enjoying his work and listening to his candid interviews. And judging from news reports that have since followed, my reaction is in keeping with that of millions of other fans.
There are Hollywood celebrities. And there are Hollywood icons. Without a doubt, Robin Williams falls into the latter category, as is evidenced by the fact that his death has relegated the Israel-Gaza, ISIS, Ebola, and police brutality stories to crawlers along the bottom of our TV screens.
For me, the real shocker was his cause of death. He’d always been open about his battles with substance dependence and depression. But his public persona and activity seemed to indicate he was on top of things and handling his emotional challenges well.
How could someone as funny and as loved as Robin Williams take his own life!
Depression is indeed a killer disease, and it is at epidemic proportions. According the Centers for Disease Control, about nine percent of American adults are depressed, and about three percent of adults have major depressive disorder, a long-lasting and severe form of depression. The CDC further states major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44.
And according to the World Health Organization, five percent of the global population suffers from depression.
Those who have never suffered from this disease or have never loved someone afflicted with depression have little understanding of the ailment. It goes well beyond being sad or feeling blue. Depression is debilitating. It is unbearable. Its cause may never be known to the sufferer. And unlike with most other diseases, victims of severe depression often have trouble envisioning an end to their suffering.
Yes, I speak from experience.
And, as apparently is the case with Robin Williams, those who have recovered from a depression too often suffer relapses.
The rise in depression is evidenced by the abundance of ads for anti-depressant drugs, and now even supplemental drugs to boost the effectiveness of anti-depressants.
Drugs do help. But they are not a cure. Just as insulin keeps a diabetic alive but is not a cure, anti-depressant drugs are not cures. They are life support.
In a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to cope, more resources have to be allocated to depressive disorder research. And more resources must be designated to programs that educate and encourage sufferers to seek help.
The suicide of a high-profile icon such as Robin Williams certainly calls attention to the need for these additional resources. But such attention is usually fleeting. It’s up to the public to keep Congress, the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health focused on sustained funding for research, treatment and education related to depression (see www.nami.org for ways to get involved).
It is an understatement to say that Robin Williams will be missed. At age 63, he still had decades’ of unfinished stories within him…stories we will never experience.
If you did not get a chance to see his recent return to series television on “The Crazy Ones,” I highly recommend that you check out the show at CBS’s web site (I hope they’re still streaming full episodes). It was appointment TV for me and my wife. The situations were unique, the writing spectacular, the cast well-chosen and the performances magnificent. It was obvious that Robin Williams brought out something extra in this already-talented cast (make sure you watch the outtakes at the end of each episode).
What is even more evident now is that this short-lived series very much emulated part of his life.
I do hope you are at peace, Robin Williams. Your shoes will not readily be filled.
As I work to prepare a relaunch of my Kickstarter campaign (although this time possibly not on Kickstarter), I yesterday performed one of the tasks most-suggested to me…dye my beard in order to look younger. While it irks me no end that a person my age has to be young to break into filmmaking (the same thing that ended my advertising career after so many years), I decided to go with public opinion. However, I decided to use “Touch of Gray” so as not to go overboard. The result…an interesting shade of light blue! I look like Papa Smurf! Anyway, I’m about to apply another very liberal coat and leave it on double the specified time. I figure the worst I can hope for is a darker share of blue!
This article was supposed to be a post about the successful marketing tactics I used for my recent Kickstarter campaign.
But as you know, the campaign was not the success I’d imagined it would have been.
I did everything I was supposed to do. I spent several months getting ready: refining my project description and creating what I believed to be a convincing video; preparing a tight-but-realistic budget; studying hundreds of previous similar Kickstarter campaigns, both successful and unsuccessful; creating compelling pledge rewards. I unleashed powerful pre-launch and launch campaigns using social media contacts I’ve been accumulating. In addition to bulk emails, I also sent almost 1000 personal emails. I made regular Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. I blogged. I provided regular updates on my Kickstarter page. I generated positive press. I constructed creative messages to keep variety in my appeals. I purchased Facebook advertising and spent money to boost my posts. I lived and breathed Kickstarter every waking hour for a full month.
So what went wrong?
I have spent the last four weeks thinking of nothing else. And I wish I could tell you here that I’ve come to some solid conclusions. While I have in fact determined what some of the downfalls were, I am not yet certain how to conquer these obstacles.
Here is what I’ve learned from my campaign:
1. You need a huge stable of people who believe in you and your project before you launch, and they have to be loud about it.
Thank you again to those who followed and contributed to my campaign. The average pledge amount was $93.20, which is actually well above both the $25 most-favorite donation and the $70 average for most Kickstarter campaigns. Forty-four believers backed my project, but I’d anticipated about ten times that number based on my own relationships with friends, family and colleagues and their stated willingness to spread the excitement. So my stable wasn’t as huge as I’d thought, which still baffles me based on pre-campaign conversations. It’s tempting to get angry (and I have to admit that I was pretty miffed for a while…with some of that irritation still lingering toward a few people on whom I’d really been relying to sell my project to their contacts), but the more constructive thing to do is to figure out why my group of supporters didn’t come through as projected. Did I not sufficiently explain the process? Did I not adequately explain the importance of not only spreading the word but also of asking for support of their friends? Did I not give people enough reason to feel that they were a part of the project? Or were they just not as excited as I’d believed them to be? Before I launch again, I have to figure these things out, plus I have to increase my number of believers. While some crowdfunding projects are lucky enough to go viral, usually because of big name attachments, most are dependent upon the allegiance and participation of the core base.
2. People don’t want to be a part of a campaign they don’t think is going to succeed, even if they believe in the project itself.
This sounds crazy, right? But based on a post-campaign survey I sent to my prospect list, many said they didn’t see the point of pledging based upon the slow progress of the funding. Did they not want to be associated with a failed project? Did they think it just wasn’t worth their time to pledge if failure seemed imminent? I don’t know. This one makes no sense to me, especially because under Kickstarter rules, pledging would have cost them absolutely nothing if the campaign were to fail. This is yet another issue I must address before re-launching.
3. You will lose some friends and even alienate some family members during the course of your crowdfunding campaign.
Persistence is key to a successful crowdfunding campaign. Yet, there will be a segment who will find your persistence annoying. This was made very clear to me when I received an email with only two words in the subject box: “ENOUGH ALREADY!” I can’t begin to express how hurtful these two words were for so many reasons. Firstly, this message was from a professional fundraiser who knows the importance of repetition. Secondly, this was the response of a person for whom I’ve completed scores of successful projects over the years at no cost to him or his organization. Thirdly, this person knows just how important this project is to me. Once I got over the initial hurt (okay, so I’m not really over it yet), I began to wonder just how many others were alienated, especially if someone so close to me had such an intense response. I have to take this into consideration before my next campaign.
4. Funding other projects helps create support.
I am about to back my nineteenth and twentieth projects on Kickstarter today. I began supporting Kickstarter campaigns months ago because of my own dedication to independent filmmaking, because I know that crowdfunding is the only way most of these projects will get made, and because I believe in the projects I support. What I didn’t realize when I started pledging is that I was joining a community of mutual supporters who often reciprocate pledges and social media support. While I will continue to support the projects of other filmmakers in any event, I must concentrate on making better use of the mutual support that comes from pledging.
5. Did I choose the right crowdfunding program?
There are many reasons I selected Kickstarter over other fundraising platforms, and perhaps I will decide to go with them again. The main reasons I chose Kickstarter were because of their reputation and because I knew that I couldn’t create what I was envisioning for any less than I was asking. Since Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition, I knew I wouldn’t be in the predicament of delivering anything of lesser quality than I’d be promising my supporters. On the other hand, had I gone with another site such as Indiegogo, I’d have some seed money in my pocket now and a record of fundraising that I could use to my advantage in raising additional money. While I am more interested in making my film than I am in spending countless months on fundraising, this is another option I must consider before launching again.
6. Connecting and engaging online with those who are most likely to support my cause is a daunting task.
I wish there were a simple way of connecting with those who have already demonstrated Kickstarter support for independent films (perhaps the recent hacking of Kickstarter was by a frustrated filmmaker looking for leads rather than by someone looking to steal credit card numbers)! When I was making my living in the world of advertising, it was super-easy to buy or rent a list of potential buyers. It appears that such a list doesn’t exist for this particular demographic. You would think the Internet would make it easy to build a list of those who share your passion, but the opposite is true. As pointed out by the website agency 2.0, the people I seek “exist in the nooks and crannies of the web. These nooks and crannies are where the passion side of the web resides…These are those people that care about your issues, your causes and hopefully your project.” The post goes on to say that these people are found on blogs, forums, websites, social media, podcasts, in newsletters, in groups and in hashtags. I have been searching all of these digital avenues for months, and I find I haven’t even made a dent! Daunting indeed. Suggestions are welcome!
7. I have to listen to my supporters and learn from my mistakes.
As I mentioned earlier, I performed a post-campaign 10-question survey of everyone whom I’d solicited. In it, I encouraged complete honesty, and that’s just what I received. As a result, not only will my next campaign be different, but there may be substantial changes to the project itself.
So, am I any closer to re-launching the campaign?
But, as you can see, there’s still so much more I have to consider!
So please…post your comments below and pass this link along to those who have either run their own crowdfunding campaigns (successful or unsuccessful) and to those who may have supported similar campaigns.
Together, maybe we’ll be able to find out how to increase the number of successful campaigns well beyond the current 30% level!
And please…if you haven’t yet subscribed to this blog, please do so below!
A few weeks back, I posted a humorous “Top Ten Reasons” list on my Kickstarter site for supporting my movie “Gymful Remembrances.” It received great positive response and sparked some truly generous pledges (thank you very much for that).
Now, as we come to the final three days of the campaign, I’d like to change the tone a bit with a different kind of Top Ten list. I hope you find it compelling and that you consider becoming a part of my project.
Corporate pledges are also welcome. Businesses who contribute will have their logos displayed in the closing credits; product placement is also available for pledges (contact me to discuss pledge levels for each). Please pass the information along to anyone who might feel as you do that this project is important.
10. My movie may not change the world, but it will speak volumes to audiences who face seemingly insurmountable odds and decidedly unfair obstacles in their daily lives and relationships.
9. By supporting my movie, you become a part of the creative process…not just as part of my film, but as part of the global creative process, and you receive credit for your support.
8. Don’t underestimate the warm feeling you get when you support someone’s dream…a feeling that gets even more intense when you see the results with your name attached to it!
7. You’ll definitely have a positive impact on so many other lives: audiences who relate to the story, actors who just might find that this is their big break, cinematographers who need this to get to the next step in their careers, and, of course, a 64-year-old screenwriter who feels he just may die if he doesn’t make this film! (My apologies to Kevin Smith…see my blog entry of May 7, 2014).
6. Your support will spark creativity and innovation among other filmmakers who, by seeing this movie made, will have the courage to follow their own dreams (take it from me, I never would have attempted this project had I not been encouraged by the creativity and tenacity of those before me).
5. By supporting my project, you will be supporting the arts, which is vital because art helps us unite lifestyles and promote understanding, and my script certainly attempts to do both.
4. By supporting my project, you will take an active role in soothing the human condition. That may seem like a rather lofty statement, but it’s true. To quote a recent article on blog.artsusa.org, “When times are tough, art is salve for the ache.” After all, just think of how many times you’ve gone to the movies just to escape!
3. For those who may be skeptical of Kickstarter: While crowdfunding may be new to most people, it’s actually a rather ancient concept. According to an article in “The Atlantic,” Alexander Pope, Mozart and the builders of the Statue of Liberty all used crowdfunding to support their artistic projects!
2. There are currently around 500,000 spec scripts currently floating around Tinseltown. Of those, only 50 or fewer will get made by Hollywood. The only way my story will be told is if I tell it myself.
1. There is absolutely no way this film will ever be made without your help!
Ana Harrison is heading to New Jersey.
No, she’s not abandoning Hollywood for the Garden State (although she just might consider relocating once she sees all that Jersey has to offer), but she is coming to north Jersey to star in a movie for Bob Messinger’s new film company, Where’s the Lake Productions.
She has agreed to take the female lead in Messinger’s film “Gymful Remembrances,” currently in pre-production.
Ms. Harrison has had co-starring and principal roles in television programs such as Warner Brothers’ “Felicity,” NBC’s “Love’s Deadly Triangle,” USA’s “Face in the Mirror” and Jerry Peterson’s “Gamers” among others.
Her feature film career includes principal and leading roles in classic independent movies including “Wassup Rockers,” Sundance favorite “EMR,” 2008′s “Reflections,” “My Roommate Larry,” and the soon-to-be-released comedy/horror feature “Get Dead.”
Ms. Harrison holds a BA in Theater Arts from Texas Tech University and has studied dance with Diana Moore. She has also studied under Second City, Toni Cobb, Larry Moss Studios and others.
“Ana is perfect for this role,” says Messinger, and with good reason.
“I actually wrote the role with her in mind, but I never dreamed in a million years that she would come to New Jersey to take it…not with her busy schedule,” he explains.
Messinger and Ms. Harrison met at a trade show in San Francisco in 2003. The company he was working for at the time hired the actress to work with them at the show.
“I was taken aback by her talent, honesty, dedication to her work and zest for life,” says Messinger.
“At that time, I had written several screenplays,” continues Messinger, “but I’d stopped because I’d become discouraged at the impossibility of getting anything read. But Ana’s dedication to her art was contagious, and she convinced me to get back in the game. And I did…the moment I got back to Jersey.”
The two talked a few times again after San Francisco, they’ve exchanged holiday greetings, and they’ve maintained contact via social media. But Messinger never forgot why he’d started writing again, and he never forgot that she had said to him, “One day you’ll write a leading role for me.”
“We’re coming full circle,” says the actress. And both say they couldn’t be more excited.
“Gymful Remembrances” will be a co-production between Messinger’s new production company and Nightstand Studios in Fairfield, NJ. Emmy winner Randy Rossilli is attached to direct.
The production is being funded on Kickstarter at http://kck.st/1hhCvJ0. The funding campaign ends on May 31 at 1:00 PM.