So my wife calls me the other day with potentially exciting news: Through a friend, we were scheduled to meet with a guy that was part of a group that had $125,000 to make a movie.

Great! We needed that money to make OUR movie.

They wanted a script and a project that was ready to go – had all the elements in place and could shoot this Fall.

Check, check and check.

All they needed to add to the mix was a great role for an actress attached to the group that was in her mid-30s and their director.

F**k. I mean, checkmate. No, I meant f**k.

The applicable roles had been cast. And the director? Yeah – that would be me.

How many times have you heard this one before? I’m going to guess a lot. And if you are an independent filmmaker or even just an aspiring one at this point, I’m going to guess – A LOT. So, before I get into the psyche bashing details of this latest blip on the Doppler radar trying to find production funds on the horizon of this particular little film project, how about a little history lesson?

About two and a half years ago, while driving around L.A., my wife and playwright Justina Walford told me about an idea she had just came up with for a horror film about cannibal strippers. We are both HUGE genre fans (our couples movie is OLDBOY – so that should give you a clue), so she wasn’t just being silly. She had a way into this story and a solid reason to be there in the first place. I loved it. I told her if she wrote that script, I would figure out a way to get it made.

A few months later, she (with some scripting help from me) fulfilled her part of the bargain.  We did a reading in L.A. (where we live) and we did a reading in Dallas (where I spent a decent part of the year working on the DALLAS International Film Festival. We continued to do rewrites and get feedback until we were satisfied that it was ready to put into play seriously.

Dallas was a key part of the equation for us. I had become a big fan of the filmmaking community there and saw it as a fertile place to do independent film production. People had the right and necessary spirit and attitude to make something worth seeing without spending a fortune getting it done. Perfect.

I approached a producer of one of those locally made films who was anxious to be a part of something that had readily available and easy to see marketable assets to it. The film he had in the film festival the prior year was well made, but with no names, gimmick or genre aspect to it, there wasn’t a gusher of money coming forth from that particular well. He was all over STRIPPED, the name of our film. Footed the bill for another reading, approached a local production house to partner with – gangbusters.

And then – not so gangbusters. He had some work issues and some family stuff and the partnership didn’t happen as easily as he had banked on and then…he was out of the picture.

Next, I approached Adam Donaghey. He was part of an award winner at DALLAS IFF that year (ST. NICK). He was gung ho, on the go and had a bunch of projects in various stages of production. He really liked the script and we were off to the races. In the meantime, Michael Cain, one of the founders of DALLAS IFF and an award-winning filmmaker himself said he had an investor he wanted to send my way. Excellent! The investor got the script, we talked, and he and his partners were talking about a $60,000 to $80,000 investment. Now we’re on the move!

Spring and the next DALLAS IFF rolls around and with the help of Loyd Cryer, the creator/promoter of Texas Frightmare Weekend, we were able to bring in one of genre’s go-to gals, Tiffany Shepis for a filmmaker panel. We hit it off, I send her the script, she texts me almost immediately after reading it and we have our first cast member. Around the same time, Adam introduces the script and project to Jeffrey Allard, one of the producers responsible for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre redo. He loves the script, the three of us talk and before you can say ol’ Jed’s a horror-movie director, STRIPPED has a producing team.

It would be steamrolling by this point were it not for the fact that our first solid investor couldn’t quite connect with me to get those first monies in the bank. I would be in L.A., when he and his partner (a former pro football player) were in Dallas. When I was in Dallas, they, uhmm…weren’t anymore. No problem, it would happen eventually. In the meantime, a friend that did the PR thing for a company that specialized in genre and extreme films wanted in. She didn’t have a lot, but what she had was mine because she liked my approach to this stuff.

So between her and my own money that I was putting in to get this Post Feminist Horror party started, we had $30,000 in the bank. AND, via connections by way of the manager of the guy I wanted for the lead, Justina and I were enjoying a holiday dinner with another potential investor – this time a Canadian casino moneyman thinking about dropping $50,000 in our moviemaking laps. Happy holidays indeed.

Oh, and I was leaving AFI, where I was the Head of Press and Public Relations. Done with that place.

Sundance, baby. I’m a PR guy by day, (fighting crime at night) so I engineer us putting out a press release announcing Tiffany (legit scream queen), Jeffrey (Texas Chainsaw pedigree), Adam (Texas indie pedigree) joining forces with the former AFI PR dude making his feature film directorial debut. Big press results. People REALLY want a cool horror film to hang onto and this one has got potential to spare.

But no big money yet. I meet with original recipe investor and his former pro-football player partner during NBA All Star Weekend. I do the pitch, deliver the goods and the result is no money. It just isn’t there at the moment. They volunteer to put paint and building materials on a credit card in the meantime, but that doesn’t really help us. This isn’t a barn-raising. It’s independent film fund raising. It’s also disheartening.

Then we make a play to reunite two indie darlings in two of our lead roles. We can’t really go through agents and managers because there is no “real” money to back it up yet, so it’s all through friends and backchannel communication. Like the Underground Railroad only with scripts trying to find their way to the freedom of being read by movie stars without the oppressive agents and managers discriminating against their lack of budgets or actual money in the bank. She passes. Likely because there’s some nudity (and not the mumblecore variety, which apparently is different from the genre kind) and there’s that whole sociopathic cannibal stripper thing too. He just simply never responds one way or the other. We give him the kinda pass, chalking it up to the network TV show he just got cast in. Word is, when you get your Up Fronts wristband, they remove a certain amount of emails and phone numbers from your person because the network wants you to have better network friends.

A significant indie production company is now circling. They’ve read our press, reached out to us through mutual business connections and asked to read the script and see what we’ve got as part of the package to date. Very exciting. But they have no money. They basically want us to make this thing and then let them claim a piece of it as they do sales at Cannes or Berlin or AFM.

That doesn’t help anyone (that actually wants to make a movie).

But Dallas is encouraging. Justina and I start to move stuff into the house we bought there to shoot the film. Wait. Did I mention that? Yeah, we actually bought the house we needed to make the movie. Cool, two story 1930s place with dollhouse size rooms and character to spare and exploit. All for the price of a decently expensive new car. Brilliant.

Dallas also comes through with a choice for one of the lead female roles Justina and I had been considering for awhile. Farah White was perfect in each and every way for the female lead opposite Tiffany (yes, feel free to take that in a few ways) and Justina and I decide to pull the trigger. Casting the right person trumps casting the business (i.e., movie star) person. She’ll be a movie star, thanks in part to this film, we decide.  Meanwhile, she decides to help make this damn thing happen by helping to bring money in herself. Because she she’s a big breakthrough, money-making movie here. Great. We’ll take the help wherever we can get it.

Speaking of the money thing, the football guys are still alternately disappearing and then re-appearing – but never with a checkbook. The Canadian casino guy doesn’t have the funds because he lost money on another genre project – a shady operation where upwards of $500 grand went into making a $150,000 movie. It’s like Haliburton went Hollywood or something. So now he’s trying to bundle money for STRIPPED. Not holding our breath…

Another production company ferrets out the project and engineers a meeting with me during South By Southwest. They want movie, music and games all together in one project and this one can do it. I tell them how we’ve done a lot of the development that would lend itself to each of those areas beyond the obvious. But I want $100K out of them. Conference calls ensue. Everybody with the company reads the script. They’re all onboard. But the company itself has issues. And suddenly every project in their universe is frozen indefinitely. Bummer.

Then another major move on our side. Michelle Sinclair agrees to be in the film. You probably know her as Belladonna, porn star. This would be her mainstream feature film acting debut and the press that results in that announcement goes so far and wide that Google turns up press hits in countries that use letters that look like wingdings.

So now we’ve got Tiffany Shepis (horror street cred), Michelle “Belladonna” Sinclair (you already love her or are VERY curious what she’ll be like), Farah White, Michael Guarnera (we’ll have them first – more or less) and Samrat Chakribarti (Indian actor that is sure to deliver the South Asian audience while he does something “completely different” in an American genre thriller).

We also have great potential for one more female role to go to a “mainstream” or indie actress – which would give us a hat trick of sorts marketing and PR-wise. It’s a great role for a gutsy actress. The kind that agents hate, unless their client says she loves it first. Then they claim it was their idea all along.

And the shoot date has been pushed back from the late Spring (which we really wanted) to the Summer (which no one wanted but would have done anyway) to Winter (We’ll take it!).

I take a lunch meeting set up by Michael Guarnera and his manager with another potential investor for $100K. It goes flawlessly. I’ve got a plan and I’m not shy to talk about it. We’ve also got a script and we’re not shy to show it off. We’ve got cool-a*s production team members – a wardrobe guy that did the Brittany Spears ‘Toxic” video among other things, a composer with an IMDB-crazy list of credits, a soundtrack that will include songs from some cool female recording artists, and an award-winning effects guy, among others.

We’re supposed to get an answer quick.

Then the guy loses millions (yes, millions) on a business snafu. We’re told that it will have no bearing on the decision to do our film, but he’s kind of in a bad mood so it’s not a great time to do the follow up meeting. Gee, do you think?

And from the land of unexpected wrenches, I get a potential offer floated to me for the kind of job you aren’t allowed to turn down. In New York. New York, New York. That New York. Never lived there. Unconquered territory. But it’s full time. Justina starts campaigning for me to let someone else direct so we can return to the land of steady paychecks and I can work one job in New York versus going back and forth from Los Angeles to Dallas doing several jobs.

Meanwhile, Adam is making his second film in Dallas over the summer. Neither of which are STRIPPED. Neither of which are my movie. And every time I see a smattering of production stills from the sets on facebook, I get more and more aggravated – with the white-hot irritation of a thousand suns. Because my biological moviemaking clock is ticking….

At the same time, the notion of security rears is fiercely rearing its ugly but steady head. I want to do both – shoot my movie, then take this job in New York and do my post-production there. I don’t know…  In fact, I doubt I’ll get that chance. Or choice.

Now, I REALLY need that money, so I can set those shoot dates once and for all, so I can stand on solid ground and kick start active preparations to make a kick-a*s post-feminist horror film about a “family” of women that make their living as strippers and romanticize the Norman Rockwell ideal, while they entertain and then have some men over for dinner. For once.

And then Justina tells me about this potentially exciting news…

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  1. joe says:

    I missed that scene in Oldboy with the zombie cannibal strippers.

  2. Justina says:

    Hi Mike. I’m not sure how much horror you watch, but I think assuming quality by concept alone is the mistake that big Hollywood makes. It’s too bad it’s done in the indie community, too, but in a reverse way. Which I think is what you might be doing here.

    A good horror script is all in creating characters that you care about and antagonists that you fear and relate to at the same time. In horror, that tends to be done with a disgustingly simple concept. May is a beautifully created indie horror and it is “psycho-nerd with sewing skills.” Grace is another great horror film done indie and that’s “zombie baby.” You want to see excellent character arcs? Beautifully realistic responses to horror? You want to have chills at how well you can relate to a killer? Watch these films. Don’t judge a book by it’s logline. You’ll miss out on some excellent indie work.

  3. Jason Howell says:

    Great article John,

    I truly wish the best for your film. I love your ambition and commitment to see this project through. I would love to have the clever energy that you have employed to put together the complicated pieces of your film. Don’t even bother with the internet trolls trying to bring you down, you’re doing great!

    .. and P.S. to “Mike” and “jason” Who are too afraid to give their full name.

    Let’s see the work you have done in film. Win any awards lately? Have more than 40 hits on youtube?

  4. John Wildman says:

    Mike – We’re thinking about titling it something like “The Wind in my Barley” or “The Angst of a Cliffside Dweller,” or possibly even “Little Miss Stripper Sunshines Kills and Eats Men” so the Sundancy indie crowd will find it more palatable.

    That should put your mind at ease a little.

  5. Mike says:

    “a horror film about cannibal strippers” – I really do expect more from the indie community.

  6. John Wildman says:

    Actually, Don – Gregory Harrison and I are “all good” now. Carl Reiner, I believe, still has it in for me but you can only mend so many celebrity fences…

    But, Jason – wow, buddy! The point of this column wasn’t to “blame” anyone, but to give some detailed insight into one particular experience of what indie filmmakers go through to get the money to get he movie made.

    And I couldn’t be more aware that EVERYONE goes through this. Well, maybe not trust fund kids that want to direct, but probably even them to, a little. It’s just my turn at bat to pull this thing off and like everyone, it’s going through fits and starts and growing pains, etc.

    Because that’s what happens to every indie filmmaker.

    But rather than offer another vague tale of woe about the process, through this column (as I’ve done with other subjects), I can offer some specifics to give it all added context.

    And, truth in fact, I am very pleasant in my work place – be it a film set, red carpet, etc. Unless you cross me. And then, as I’m sure you would understand, I would have to crush you.

  7. diana says:

    Jason, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve seen John in action and he never loses his cool. He’s a joy to work with. I think you are just trying to be controversial. I don’t know why I’m even responding to that. silly me

  8. don r. lewis says:

    Oh, Gregory Harrison posting as “jason,”….you can’t fool us!

  9. jason says:

    gosh after reading this i hope you never make that film. all you do is blame everyone else and take no responsibility. you seem like someone who would not be pleasant on a set.

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