This week we mix things up by focusing on a cinematic story of crowdfunding success and what to expect when the fundraising is done and it’s time to finish the film. Steve Gibson’s “The Feed,” like so many other film projects, went the Kickstarter route and not only reached its goal, it flat-out exceeded it. So what happens when the fundraising ends? What pressures appear? To what does Gibson attribute his fundraising success? We asked, and this is what filmmaker Steve Gibson had to say…
What’s your story, Steve? What background do you have in filmmaking?
I started out in television production about 20 years ago volunteering at a cable access studio in the town I’d grown up in. Back then we were burning through 3/4″ tape on U-matic machines with manual A/B Roll and a Chyron Generator. Pretty primitive stuff compared to today but it helped me learn the basics of lighting, audio, directing and editing for free. From there I started shooting weddings and local commercials as a freelancer. That led me to a number of jobs making music videos, live television programs and image pieces for large corporate clients like AOL and IBM. Through the years I’ve been able to hone my craft while soaking in the newer technologies of media production as it stands now.
Tell me about “The Feed”; what’s the story?
The idea for “The Feed” came to me while watching one of those ghost hunting-type shows that are scattered over the air now. My biggest frustration has always been that nothing every happens on those damned shows. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll hear a thunk sound way off in the distance and get to watch the investigators say “Did you hear that? Seriously, dude, did you hear that?” over and over for the next 10 minutes. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for sitting there witnessing absolutely nothing yet feeling compelled to wait it out. Because maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see something on screen.
Sorry. I guess I should get back to your question –“The Feed” is about a group of paranormal investigators, The Ghost Chasers, that are taping their annual live show from an old movie theatre in Central Pennsylvania. This year they’ve picked a venue that actually turns out to be haunted. I mean, really haunted. What starts out like a normal TV show, complete with little commercials – including one with Tromaville’s own Lloyd Kaufman, quickly goes bad for these people. Unfortunately they’ve locked themselves in and are having a hard time putting the lights back on. We’re not going particularly gory with the film for scares but are relying more on atmosphere with a few creepy visuals thrown in here and there. Our tag line is: There is an Afterlife… and you don’t want it.
Why did you decide to use crowdfunding for this project?
I’d heard about Kickstarter through a friend right around the same time I started writing the script. My original intention was to write it as a short film for an online competition I’d read about but, after thinking about it, I realized this could be fleshed out into something much more substantial. It hit me that sure, I had the equipment to shoot a mock TV show but I didn’t have all the other things that come into play like props, wardrobe, makeup, locations, food for the crew, etc. Unless I was going to tap out what was left on my credit cards I’d have to come up with a different plan. Hello Kickstarter. I figured the worst thing that could happen was I’d find out that nobody really liked me and not give and my project would fail miserably. Luckily I’ve been able to surround myself with people that really love and support the arts. They really came through by donating money and passing the word along to other friends.
Why go with Kickstarter over IndieGoGo or other crowdsourcing options?
The main reason I’d gone with Kickstarter was that I simply didn’t know about the other ones. I’d heard about microfinancing organizations and sites like Kiva where you can support third world entrepreneurs but I had no idea there were sites for creatives just wanting to do what they do. It’s pretty cool to see what people are doing out there with music, art and film. I’ve even donated to some others on the site. Good karma, you know?
How long did your campaign last?
We went for something like 45 days. I know that we started a bit into May and had the deadline the end of June. The site recommended not milking it too long since people will either back it or they won’t, more or less. I didn’t realize at the time the anxiety I’d feel as I watched the due date loom closer and closer.
You raised more money, $15,037, than your goal of $11,500. What do you attribute your crowdfunding success to?
Lord, I’m not really sure. That’s really a tough question because it almost reduces your family and friends into either they-believe-in-you or they-feel-sorry-you categories. I guess it was just being tenacious about it. We’d all post things on Facebook calling our friends shameful names until they coughed up something toward the project. A little juvenile, sure, but it worked. There was one person who literally jumped in at the last minute with a sizeable chunk which helped us reach our goal, and then some. This was really great because another person, who had named themselves an Associate Producer, backed out late in the game. This was $1,000 gone with a mouse click. I guess I should’ve seen it coming since that person didn’t know me or anyone else associated with the film. Just a serial donor, I guess.
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?
I’d get emails almost daily from people who couldn’t understand the whole all or nothing deal with Kickstarter, and asking who could they write to to complain. That was my biggest heartburn inducer – the fact that we could get almost completely funded and get the rug pulled out last minute. It’s also funny how you start to see people differently, knowing if they gave or not. You get a little paranoid almost. I had no idea that I had it in me to dick out and de-friend people based on a film. It really is tragic. The good news is that I run into people constantly who are just as excited as I am about the movie. I realized that they really don’t care if this is the next “Citizen Kane.” A month ago I would’ve sweated more about what people thought, would they like the story, would they be scared, would they laugh or be pissed that they gave money toward it. Now I’ve realized that all they really want is to be involved and do something fun. After all, how many people can say they’ve helped bring a film to life?
Are you still in production?
We just wrapped principle photography about a week ago and are slowly getting our insert and effects shots knocked out. We should be done with those by mid-August. I’ve been dumping the footage into FinalCutPro as we’ve gone along and have done some basic edits to some scenes, mainly to see if there’s any glaring re-shoots since the actors want to get a tan, vacation, shave… All the things we said they couldn’t do during production on a micro-budget film.
We’ve been really fortunate that, aside from long weekend nights of shooting with actors who all have day jobs, it’s been pretty trouble free. The only real problem we’d encountered was a few weeks ago. We’d hired a local production house to bring their remote TV truck to the theatre location. The guy shows up on Friday night around 8PM, we set the action and rehearse the scenes where the camera will actually see the truck in the shot. It’s starting to cloud up a bit but it looks great on camera. We call action and it starts to pour. Hard. So our actors are getting wet and our audio turns to s**t. We decide to wait and sure enough, the rain stops. We set up again, call action and boom – the power goes out in the entire city. After an hour of sitting in the dark we have to finally call it around 1AM. We couldn’t even fall back on a contingency set because even though a good part of the film is shot in NightVision mode, naturally we still need power to do everything else. Happily the crew and the truck driver were excellent sports about it and we re-scheduled for the Sunday two nights later.
What’s next for you and “The Feed”? What’s the plan for the rest of the year?
We’re planning our premiere on Halloween night at the very theatre we’d shot the movie in. Right now my concentration is on those last couple pick-up hots and the edit. I’ve got one group in Los Angeles creating the official Ghost Chasers TV show opening, one guy in New Jersey prepping for the coloring and one guy in Maryland working on the atmospheric music. My plan is to gather all these elements in the beginning of September and start marrying it all together. After we have the big premiere, my plan is to get it in front of as many people as I can. I mean not just horror fans at conventions and genre festivals but also with people who can help get it out there to even wider audiences.
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 had?
My advice would be to know what you want to accomplish and set your goal accordingly. I know that films cost quite a bit more than ten grand to produce but our saving grace was a concept that could actually be done on the cheap. If you’re going to make an art film that only appeals to art film people then you’re limiting your audience. I picked horror because it’s cheap and people will come to see something scary whether it’s shot on 35mm or video. If we’d set our goal higher then I’d be worried that too many potential donors would feel like no matter what they’d kick in, it would not really help. I believe that once they could see that it was something tangible, and financially attainable, they thought what the hell and pulled out their credit card. Then we’d blast everyone we knew with a fresh message about how they should get on the bandwagon before time runs out. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. I’d learned that adding in screen credits and perks like DVDs and T-shirts actually didn’t make much of a difference. Sure they want to be acknowledged and a name in a credit roll is something their grandkids could see, but most couldn’t care less about a signed poster of phone call with the film’s DP. They simply seem jazzed the most that they get to help someone create something from nothing. It’s a good feeling, for sure.
If you’d like to know more about “The Feed,” or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the “The Feed” Kickstarter page 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 Steve Gibson’s “The Feed.”
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