Just as we did a couple weeks ago with Steve Gibson’s “The Feed,” we’re going to take a look at a filmmaker and film project (in this case, projects) that went the crowdfunding route to great success. To that end, this week’s “Certified Film Threat in Progress” focus profile widens to take a look at Gregory Bayne, filmmaker behind “Jens Pulver | Driven” and “Person of Interest.” Let’s get into it…
We’ve talked to a crowdfunding success story before, and one of the projects we featured on the site has also gone on to success… yet you currently trump them both, because you’re a crowdfunding success story twice over. Before we get into the specifics of your projects, give us the quick bio on yourself? Where’d you come from? How’d you become a filmmaker? What projects have you done prior to “Jens Pulver | Driven” and “Person of Interest”?
Ha! Well, I currently live and work in Boise, Idaho, my home for the past 24 years. My road to filmmaking grew out of an early attraction to art, and by art, I mean comic books. I grew up in rural communities throughout Nebraska, and Kansas, and comic books ended up being my primary connection both to art, and the outside world. After submitting to Marvel comics at age 11, and receiving encouraging feedback I thought my fate was sealed, and I would eventually become a comic book illustrator. In hindsight I see this was my entry point to thinking visually. I had always enjoyed movies, but it never occurred to me that people made them until the day I ran across David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART in high school. It was ‘the’ moment for me. Since age 11 I had expanded my art into painting and other mediums, and was beginning to take an interest in video, but after watching that film, I was completely hooked. I can’t define exactly what it was other than being able to, for the first time, sense the authorship in a film, and realizing (on a very naive scale) the great symphony of art that went into making a film. From that moment I decided I was going to make films, and began devouring every bit of ‘cinema’ I could get my hands on (not an easy task in Idaho circa 1990).
That decision led me to Vancouver Film School (Vancouver, BC) in 1992/93, and from there put me on a entirely ‘off the beaten’ path – path. I came back to Idaho, made some horrible, and some not so horrible films, and quickly realized that being a writer/director in Boise, Idaho was not exactly a quantifiable skill, so I dug into the technical side of filmmaking, eventually becoming an editor.
I’ve cut a number of feature documentaries, including TRUDELL, which premiered at Sundance in 2005, and more recently moved into digital cinematography shooting, and cutting “ibid” (SXSW 2008), OUT OF THE BLUE: A FILM ABOUT LIFE & FOOTBALL (ESPN Documentary about Boise State’s 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma), and my films PERSON OF INTEREST, and JENS PULVER | DRIVEN.
Tell us about “Person of Interest” and “Jens Pulver | Driven”? What are the films about, and how did crowdfunding play in the production of these projects? Which film project came first?
My collaborator, J. Reuben Appelman, and I began working on PERSON OF INTEREST in 2007. In brief, it’s the story of an Terrance Dyer, an Iraq war veteran, and self proclaimed American Patriot, who believes himself to be part of a conspiracy on the part of the government to blow up a building on US soil. With this backdrop the film unravels as an intricate character study into the mind of Dyer who appears to be fighting a losing battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and making moves that seem to parallel that of a would-be terrorist.
Crowdfunding played a major role in this film from day one. The story was a difficult one to get financing behind, and ultimately J. and I decided it was time to put up or shut up , so we threw in our own money, then raised a modest amount from friends and family to get it off the ground in 2008 using the now defunct Fundable.com.JENS PULVER | DRIVEN is an intimate feature documentary film about legendary mixed martial arts champion, Jens Pulver, who rose from a childhood laced with violence and substance abuse, to become one of the most loved and respected MMA fighters of all time. The film presents an in depth look into the fighter, and his life, past, present, and future as we follow his ‘last march’ toward what ended up being his final fight in the UFC/WEC last March.
I met Jens in fall 2009, and was immediately taken with him. At the time I honestly knew very little about MMA, and nothing of Jens or his career. What struck me about him was how he completely defied the stereotype of the ‘cage-fighter’. He’s a warm, casually unassuming guy, with a quick smile and big heart, that is willing to chat with anyone, and chat he did. In our first meeting I asked him 2 questions, and he talked for an hour.
After that meeting I did my research, read one of his books “Little Evil: One Ultimate Fighter’s Rise to the Top“, and learned that there was so much more to Jens, and his sport, than meets the eye.
The first chapter in his autobiography begins like this:
“When I was seven years old, my father decided that he no longer wanted children. On a cloudy Seattle afternoon, he grabbed my two younger brothers and me by the collars of our shirts and hauled us into the living room. After lining us up in a little row by the fireplace, he stumbled into the kitchen to fetch his shotgun.”
I was hooked from that moment, and became engrossed in the story of an abused kid from the horse tracks in Seattle, who despite every opportunity to repeat the mistakes of his father, instead embraced athletics, and eventually rose to the height of World Champion in his sport. His life story, coupled with his do or die return to the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting – the lightweight fight promotion of the UFC), simply struck me as an amazing story to tell. So, we talked some more, I attempted to find some financing, unsuccessfully, and as 2009 came to a close I decided rather than miss out on this story as it happens I just needed to start shooting, and find other means of financing the film while I shot.
In the first week of January of this year I shot with Jens for 2 days, then cut together a 4 min teaser trailer that I put on YouTube. After 6 days it had nearly 10,000 views, and seemed to be really resonating with people. I had a invite to Kickstarter.com that I had actually planned to use for PERSON OF INTEREST, but after the trailer began to take off I decided to use it or DRIVEN.
As of this writing, DRIVEN has been 100% crowd (or fan) funded, thus crowdsourcing has been integral, both in its financing, and continued efforts to build audience for the film as we work through post-production.
You went with Kickstarter for both crowdfunding endeavors, why? Is it the all-or-nothing thing?
The all-or-nothing was definitely a factor. I think there is true value in it, as a motivator for you and for your backers. It definitely worked in my favor. Beyond that I was attracted to the site itself. The design is smart, the behind the scenes tools, solid, and overall quality of projects, high. I found myself spending a lot of time reviewing various projects, many of which I’ve funded, and decided that if I am I spending time here, many others probably are too.
In the midst of the DRIVEN campaign I also became acquainted with some of the folks behind Kickstarter, and really connected with them, and their vision. Ultimately I see kickstarter.com as the premiere game in town when it comes to crowd-funding vehicles.
For “Person of Interest,” you only aimed to raise $5,000 (but actually raised $5,091) and for “Jens Pulver,” your goal was $25,000 (but raised $27,210). Which was harder to raise money for? The guess would be for the theatrical tour for “Person of Interest,” since it cost less, but I wonder how much more enticing money going towards a film is to a donator than money going towards a theatrical release?
Both projects presented their own challenges, but ultimately I believe the PERSON OF INTEREST campaign was a little tougher. With DRIVEN I had a known quantity with Jens, and a campaign that people connected with on a very raw, emotional level. It also hit the split second before crowd-funding for film exploded.
In PERSON OF INTEREST I had a fairly provocative film, it was my second time out with Kickstarter, and the campaign was being waged in the midst of an increasingly crowded crowd-funding space. At the end of the day I was obviously happy with the result of both campaigns, and was very encouraged when I realized that approximately 15% of the PERSON OF INTEREST backers had also contributed to DRIVEN.
I don’t know that I can judge whether one or the other is more enticing as a contributor, my hunch is that being part of the birth of DRIVEN provided a different level of excitement, or pride in the ability to say “Hey, I made that happen.”
Crowdfunding aside, your distribution model for “Person of Interest” is very interesting. Why did you decide to go on tour with the film yourself AFTER having the film available online for free?
When I put PERSON OF INTEREST online is was really an experiment to find out a) if people would watch, and b) if after watching they liked it enough to engage with it or talk about it. When both of those questions were answered positively, and some invites to screen the film began to come in, I started to formulate the tour idea.
Ultimately, J. and I view PERSON OF INTEREST as a place we can experiment with several different distribution tracks, not being beholden to any investors, nor starting out in the red with the film. Therefore our primary objective is exposure, for the film, its subject matter, and for our work. We’ve teamed up with the company IndieBLITZ to handle our retail/digital distribution of the film and are planning a February 2011 release. So in the coming months leading up to that we’ll be continuing the tour, as well as trying some new things online, submitting to a couple of festivals in the states and abroad, to build that exposure and awareness, while sharing what we learn along the way.
Now that the fundraising is done, what has the experience been like? How intimidating is it to now have to fulfill the obligations you created when you started a crowdfunding campaign?
For me crowdfunding has been like coming home. Having run a non-profit film festival, and working in a very micro-budget world on my own films over the years, grass-roots efforts like these seem to fit me well. I enjoy the interaction with new people, and it’s feels pretty rewarding to rally large numbers of strangers around a cause that in these cases is your own work.
The ultimate delivery can be intimidating and anxiety producing, but my approach has been to keep the process open, and honest. I take the fact that these, in many cases complete strangers, have taken a chance on me and my work very seriously. $25 may not seem like a lot to some people, but in this current climate to give that to a person you don’t know to make a film is a really big deal, so I proceed accordingly keeping in touch with the DRIVEN backers with monthly updates via email, and weekly updates on our Facebook page. A practice I will continue with PERSON OF INTEREST.
To what do you attribute your crowdfunding success?
My hope is that it can, in large part, be attributed to the quality of the work. I know with DRIVEN that Jens’s name opened the door to a lot of backers, but it was the connection to the project, and the trailer that caused them to contribute.
And, again, I think in a lot of ways it simply suits my personality. I genuinely like people, and am happy to engage with them.
Where did the majority of the money come from, strangers or friends and family? How is your relationship with friends or family that didn’t donate or invest?
For both projects the majority of the funding on Kickstarter came from strangers, and acquaintances online, with a mix of friends new and old. My family does what they can behind the scenes, and are always supportive.
What is your opinion of crowdfunding in general, as in, how long until this way of fundraising dries up? If a bunch of crowdfunded films wind up being horrible, is that the end? Do you think there is, or could be, an end?
Having been successful with it, it probably isn’t a surprise that I am a proponent of crowdfunding. I think that there is a positive change happening in the psyche of the American independent filmmaker that I hope is leading us toward a new inventive chapter in the evolution of cinema with the rise of a working-class filmmaker. While the last 15 or so years have served to bring a greater awareness to the production of independent and alternative film, it has also created a glut of derivative works made by filmmakers informed by a culture more concerned with the idea of ‘making it’, whatever that means, as opposed to developing a new generation of visionaries and craftsmen that can drive cinema forward.
I think the crowdfunding space is a great initial determiner of whether or not your work is plausible in the first place. And while it’s likely, as with any other sort of financing system, crowdfunded films can, and many will turn out to be less than what those involved hoped, I think that for those who truly embrace both the freedom and responsibility of this style of film finance will continue to do well in this arena. These successful filmmakers, in my opinion, will be the ones that realize it’s not about the money raised up front, but rather about the fans you retain when all is said and done.
Do I think there is an end? I don’t know the answer to that. I think for some, yes. I think in general, like anything else it will have to evolve if it is to continue being a viable resource for independent works.
What advice would you give to other filmmakers going through the crowdfunding process? What can they do to have as successful a fundraising campaign as you’ve had twice over now?
First and foremost realize that it is not magic. These are campaigns that must be waged on many fronts, and daily. If you want to raise funds this way your project, and your presentation of the project must stand out, and be of very high quality. If it’s a film, your pitch video should reflect your talent as a filmmaker. Also, you need to be clear as to what it is you are doing. What is the objective, where is the money going to, how will these things be accomplished. And finally, be ready to be an open book. Real people are contributing these funds, and they deserve your respect and attention so proceed accordingly.
What’s the future for “Jens Pulver” and “Person of Interest”? Where will both projects be a year from now, in a perfect world?
With PERSON OF INTEREST (which is available for purchase now at www.personofinterestmovie.com) we will continue our efforts with the tour, and online distribution throughout the fall and winter, in conjunction with working on some festival play. With DRIVEN, we’re working on completing the film by fall, and will also be touring that film soon after.
In a perfect world, I hope that some of my ideas and gambles in terms of distribution pay off, and these films are still out there, finding and building new audiences across the globe.
If you’d like to know more about Gregory Bayne’s projects, or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the “Jens Pulver | Driven” Kickstarter page or the website for “Person of Interest” and comment there. Next week we’ll be back with a new project for you to check out but, until then, we hope you enjoyed this closer look at Gregory Bayne’s “Person of Interest” and “Jens Pulver | Driven.”
DISCLAIMER: Donating or investing in a film is always a risky endeavor, so it is important to keep that in mind before deciding to get financially involved with any film project. Film Threat, FilmThreat.com and our parent company, Hamster Stampede, LLC hold no liability or responsibility regarding any of the projects showcased on our site, their content or performance or the content or performance of any of the sites linked to in this article. Our involvement with the featured project is strictly what you see here: we find a work-in-progress project that sounds interesting to us, we ask all the questions we’d like to know the answers to and then we share that information with you, the audience. This should not be considered as personalized investment advice. What happens after you read this is your decision, and, again, before parting with any money for any film, think it through and BE CAREFUL.