At 64, New Jersey resident tries his hand at filmmaking

Former small gym owner launches Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for movie

Bob Messinger wasn’t always interested in making movies, but he was always interested in writing them. In fact, he has five completed feature-length screenplays under his belt, three of which have won international script competitions.

So why, at 64, has Messinger made the switch from writing to filmmaking?

“It doesn’t matter how good your writing may be or how many awards you may have won,” he explains. “The sad fact is that spec scripts just don’t get made by Hollywood anymore. If you want to get your movie made these days, you have to do it yourself.”

And that’s just what Messinger hopes to do. He has recently launched a campaign on the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to film his award-winning script “Gymful Remembrances,” which is loosely based on his brief stint as the owner of a 24-hour gym in Parsippany, NJ. If the project is funded, he plans to shoot the movie in and around Parsippany.

According to his Kickstarter campaign page, ” ‘Gymful Remembrances’ is an award-winning screenplay featuring a somewhat quirky cast of characters, including a beleaguered small gym owner, a vengeful crow hell-bent on making him and his dog miserable, a disgraced sex therapist and a Jamaican mystic.”

Messinger describes the project as a “dramedy.”

While the story is set in a gym similar to the one he owned and deals somewhat with the ups and downs of that venture, it’s really a much more far reaching story of “baggage verses happiness,” he says.

“The characters I’ve created are a mixture of people I’ve known over the years as I’ve struggled to break my own destructive patterns and create rewarding relationships.”

Messinger, who spent most of his career as an advertising creative director, opened his 24-hour gym in Parsippany in 2007.

“Just in time for the economic downturn,” he laughs. “Timing has never been my strong point. And it’s certainly not the main character’s strength, either.”

It’s a topic Messinger says he had to approach with humor and a lot of self-deprecation.

Messinger is hoping to raise $70,000 through his Kickstarter campaign, which ends at 1:08 PM on May 31. If he doesn’t raise the full amount by that time, he gets absolutely nothing.

“We opted for Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing approach over other crowd-funding sites because to try to make this movie for anything less would result in a film of lesser quality,” he explains. “That just wouldn’t be fair to our supporters.”

Messinger’s goal of $70,000 is a mere pittance, considering that most Hollywood film budgets are in the millions, but he is confident that he can make a quality film for that amount. Aside from the fact that the digital age has made filmmaking easier and less costly, Messinger has also assembled a team of professionals to help him. He has partnered with Nightstand Studios in Fairfield and has enlisted the studio’s owner and Emmy winner Randy Rossilli to direct the film.

Rossilli, who also owns Nightstand Music Group, will also assist in the music and distribute the soundtrack. And singer/songwriter Shari Spiro of Netcong has already written and recorded the film’s closing song.

Cost will also be held down because most of the people working on the production, including most of the actors, will be donating their time and talents in return for film credit.

“This truly is going to be a north Jersey production,” exclaims Messinger.

A casting call will be going out as Messinger’s campaign gets close to reaching its goal.

“We’re not just taking people’s money and not giving them anything in return,” Messinger says of the Kickstarter project. “We have put together rewards at various levels in return for their support. Plus everyone who contributes gets a thank-you listing in the film’s closing credits.”

Anyone interested in supporting the film may do so by going to Kickstarter.com and searching for Gymful Remembrances, or they may just use the project’s short URL: http://kck.st/1hhCvJ0

Why else at 64 is Messinger determined to make his film?

“Let me explain it like this,” he answers. “I went to see Kevin Smith speak this weekend at the Montclair Film Festival. He explained why he maxed out his credit cards to make his first film, ‘Clerks.’ He said his compelling motivation was, ‘If I don’t get to do this, I think I’m gonna die.’ I fully understand.”

What is Kevin Smith thinking, and what does it have to do with my Kickstarter campaign?

I attended a session entitled “What Is Kevin Smith Thinking?” at this past weekend’s Montclair Film Festival. He explained why he maxed out his credit cards to make “Clerks” 20 years ago while he was making five dollars an hour in a convenience store. He said his compelling motivation was, “If I don’t get to do this, I’m gonna die.”

I actually gasped at his words. Those are exactly the same words I’ve been saying to friends and family for a couple of years now when I talk about making at least one of my scripts into a film. They tell me not to be so overly dramatic.

Okay, so maybe I won’t die…but I think something inside of me definitely will.

Many of you know me from school or our having worked together at one time or another, whether it was in journalism, marketing, advertising or during my brief stint as a small gym owner. But as devoted as I’ve been to my professional work, not one of the projects that defines my 40 years of corporate life has ever made me say, “If I don’t get to do this, I’m gonna die.”

So I have to make this movie. And I need your help. Hopefully, you’ve seen my LinkedIn and Facebook updates about my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to film my script “Gymful Remembrances.” I’m taking the crowd-funding route because, unlike Kevin Smith of 20 years ago, my credit cards are already maxed out (having a mortgage and a daughter who’s a college freshman will kind of do that to you).

It’s a good script. My wife and brothers think so. But more importantly, so does the Indie Gathering International Film Festival Screenwriting Competition (first place, drama/comedy category, 2012) and the Garden State Film Festival Screenwriting Competition (top-five finalist, 2011).

Those of you who know me also know how hard is for me to ask for help…especially monetarily, so you know this has to mean a lot to me. But here goes…

Please consider being a part of this project by visiting my Kickstarter project page (http://kck.st/1hhCvJ0), seeing what it’s all about, and becoming a patron of the film. I’ve put together a professional team, and we’re giving away all sorts of goodies at the various contribution levels. Of course, every patron gets a participation acknowledgement during the film’s closing credits. And if I can be just a little bolder here…please also pass the word along to your friends and colleagues, especially those who enjoy supporting the arts, asking them, too, to become a part of “Gymful Remembrances.”

Whew! That actually was really hard! I’ve always been much better at creating sales materials to put in other people’s hands so they could ask for the money!

That link again is http://kck.st/1hhCvJ0, or just go to Kickstarter.com and search for “Gymful Remembrances.”

Kevin Smith at the 2014 Montclair Film Festival.

Kevin Smith at the 2014 Montclair Film Festival.

Out of budgeting hell and ready to start my Kickstarter campaign!

by BOB MESSINGER

It took a little longer than I’d expected, but I followed all of the steps proposed in my last blog entry, and I’ve come up with so much more than the solid budget I was hoping for! I now also have a truly knowledgeable, creative and dedicated team behind me and a carefully planned Kickstarter campaign ready to launch.

Networking does make all the difference, and I was absolutely right in my assumption that members of the independent filmmaking community are quick to share their experiences, wisdom and suggestions. By networking with fellow writers, filmmakers, editors, art directors, musicians and composers, not only have I worked my way out of budgeting hell, but I’ve also gained an even better understanding of the entire filmmaking process.

And like I said, I’ve also put together a team that shares my vision and dedication.

The greatest thing that has resulted from my research and networking has been my introduction to Randy Rossilli. Randy is an Emmy-winning producer and director who also happens to be the owner of a relatively new production studio virtually right down the road from me. Nightstand Studios in Fairfield, NJ, is equipped with just about everything needed to make a feature film…three sound stages, state-of-the-art editing facilities, a scoring stage and recording studio, animation capabilities and so much more.

Randy also runs Nightstand Music Group, which gives him access to a wealth of music and musicians.

Fortunately, Randy and I have formed a mutual appreciation of each other’s talents and visions, and we have teamed up to get this film made. I am confident that my association with his dedicated team will assure that my first feature will have the artistic and production quality of a film costing much more.

I’ve also spent the past few months learning all I can about the intricacies of a Kickstarter campaign (a topic, no doubt, for a future blog entry) and trying to build a network to support what we need to raise.

The campaign is just about ready to be submitted to Kickstarter for their approval, and if all goes well, it will launch in just a few days. I will post the campaign’s link on this blog as soon as we launch it, and I hope you look at it, consider supporting it, and, most importantly, recommend it to as many of your contacts as possible.

Special thanks to everyone who has given me input during this process!

Finally! I’m finding my way out of budgeting hell!

by BOB MESSINGER

@bobmessinger01

Okay, so I’ve decided to make a feature film. My script has been fine tuned. I’ve been on shoots in various capacities, so I have a good understanding of the process. I’ve taken literally hundreds of seminars on film making and distribution. I have a solid marketing background. I am chomping at the bit to get my Kickstarter campaign under way. There’s only one thing that’s been holding me up until now: trying to get a firm handle on how much this will cost!

I must admit that for a while I was concerned that I’d never make it through the budgeting process. But the more I talk to other writers who have launched their own projects, the more I see that budgeting hell is more common than it is atypical for independent film makers, especially new ones like me.

The biggest thing that has made the budgeting process especially puzzling is the huge disparity of budgets among independent films similar to my project. Of the six indies I’ve researched with scripts similar to mine in length, characters, locations, number of scenes and with the anticipated production values of my project, the reported budgets range from $15,000 to $2,500,000.

Not only is there a huge disparity among published budgets, but there is also a wide range of opinions as to how money should be spent. For example, one excellent Internet article posted by Lift-Off International Film Festivals (http://www.lift-off-festival.com/independent-film-budgets/) advises, “Forget about the equipment. If you are going to spend your money to make a picture, you need to spend it on people.” Still, other informative articles by equally successful film makers advocate seeking deferred payment agreements with cast and crew rather than skimp on equipment.

Time to take action!

Rather than pull out what’s left of my already thinning hair trying to figure out how to configure this budget, I have decided to calmly take the following steps:

1) Continue to build my network of fellow independent film makers using social media and networking events.

2) Take the time to prepare comprehensive scene breakdown sheets, including locations, interiors vs. exteriors, cast members, extras, wardrobe, props, vehicles, special effects, animals and music.  Doing this has given me a much better understanding of the costs I have to research.

3) Invest in budgeting software.  At first, it looked as though I was going to have to go through the script page-by-page to compile these breakdowns because, while there are some excellent, professional budgeting programs available, none was in my price range. But, through my expanding network, I discovered Chimpanzee from Jungle Software (Chimpanzee is the little brother of the more-expensive Gorilla budgeting software, and it is designed specifically for students and independent film makers). This relatively inexpensive software ($124, but sometimes on sale for as much as $50 off) has been a lifesaver and has given me a much better handle on the budgeting and scheduling process.

4) And the most constructive step I’ve taken so far…reach out to the independent film makers  in my growing network. For the most part, they have been exceptionally open and willing to share their own budgeting challenges, how they’ve overcome them, and to give me suggestions specific to my own project.

So, I am happy to announce that I am navigating the road out of budgeting hell, and although I expect I still may encounter a few roadblocks along the way, I hope to launch my Kickstarter campaign sometime during the upcoming holiday season!

Independent Film Festival Stresses Writer Empowerment

By BOB MESSINGER

@bobmessinger01

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