By Mark Bell | December 27, 2010

This week’s Certified Film Threat in Progress is a look at filmmaker Lucas McNelly’s A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, currently looking for funds via Kickstarter. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what this project is, but I am intrigued, so I hope we both can enjoy learning more about this unique idea…

Tell us a little about yourself: where do you come from, how many movies have you made, etc?
I’m a writer/director (or, as I like to say, a writer/director/craft services) originally from Maine. I’ve lived the past couple of years in Pittsburgh. I got into film my Senior year of college, and aside from a few TV 101 type classes, I’m an entirely self-taught DIY filmmaker. I’ve made a couple of shorts. The best known one is probably GRAVIDA, which was runner-up in the NOW Film Festival that was featured on MySpace Film and YouTube a couple of years ago. We lost by 1 vote to a film starring Rainn Wilson. I’ve done some documentary work, including some civil rights stuff down in Alabama. Last year, I made my first feature (BLANC DE BLANC) as part of the Twitter-based challenge #2wkfilm, where a couple of filmmakers dared each other to shoot and edit a feature in 2 weeks. This summer I directed UP COUNTRY, a feature-length thriller in the Northern Maine woods that stars Kieran Roberts, Jonny Mars, and Tyler Peck. It’s currently being edited.

Beyond myself, there’s a couple of producers currently involved. Nina Gibbs and Heather Horn. Nina is handling sponsors and Heather is handling logistics. They’re kind of behind the scenes, so there’s no telling how often they’ll show up. But, they’re incredibly valuable and amazing.

A YEAR WITHOUT RENT is the biggest, craziest thing I’ve ever tried to do (which is saying something). It’s basically a multimedia project where I’ll spend a year going around the country and volunteering on low budget indie film projects. It’s one of those things that sounds crazy when you first hear about it, but then once you get a chance to wrap your head around it, it makes a lot of sense. One thing it’s going to attempt to do is see how mobile creative professionals are. Whereas before, you had to be in NYC or LA to get your projects made, people are starting to find ways to be successful in out of the way places like Minnesota and Idaho and Georgia. How? What are they doing to make that happen? And just how connected are we by social media and all of our hip technology? Like I said, it’s big… and kind of sprawling.

Is this a transmedia project to be experienced along the way? Are you making an overall documentary in the end? What IS this?
A lot of experience will be in following the project as it unfolds. I’ll be documenting things as they happen, using Twitter, Facebook, GoWalla, Foursquare, etc, etc. There will be video updates and blog updates and photography. We’re working with Tripline.net to make an interactive travel map where video and photos will be geo-tagged, allowing people to explore the landscape with us. We’re also working with Shuttercal.com to employ their calendar photo tools.

There was talk about making it a documentary, but I really don’t think the world needs another documentary with footage of driving from point A to point B. And a traditional documentary isn’t going to fit all that well with what we’re trying to do. So, instead the end product will be a retroactive ebook, where I’ll look back and try to answer our thesis, compiling what we’ve collected along the way. And if Steve Jobs has decided that ebooks aren’t cool anymore, then we’ll turn it into an iPad app or whatever. But, if you’re following along, you’ll have already seen the vast majority of that content.

Jonny Mars and Kieran Roberts in UP COUNTRY

Jonny Mars and Kieran Roberts in UP COUNTRY

Where did the idea come from?
When we made UP COUNTRY, no one in the cast or crew lived anywhere near where we filmed. Everyone came from out of town. And it was such a liberating approach to take. Once I realized that we could pull from anywhere, it opened everything up. But at the same time, it wasn’t easy to get everyone there. Northern Maine isn’t exactly a central location. Once we got everyone there, it was fascinating to watch how these people from all around the country all worked together. Only 2 of the crew members had ever met before the first day of filming.

At the same time, I had friends around the country who were making films (some of them were even Certified Film Threats), and when a friend is filming, you’d really love to be there to help. I just thought it would be fascinating to go from film to film, just helping out and lending an extra hand. I can’t even imagine how much I’d learn just from watching other filmmakers work.

From there it all kind of fell into place. If there’s that much to learn from just lending a hand, that’s got to be information that other people would find valuable, right?

It doesn’t hurt that I’m in a unique situation personally. My lease just ended. All of my personal possessions fit in a car. I have no debt. There aren’t very many filmmakers who are better situated to spend a year on the road than I am.

When do you start travel?
With any luck, February. It’d be fitting to end the project at Sundance 2012, but if we have to push it back a bit just to make sure we have everything in line and, say, end at SXSW, then we’ll do that. One thing we want to avoid is getting stuck in the middle of Iowa in a snowstorm.

How do films contact you to be a part of their crew? Do they have to pitch in on travel and accommodations?
There’s all sorts of ways. They can email the project: ayearwithoutrent [at] gmail.com or find us on Twitter: @YearWithoutRent. One of our goals is to make this a zero sum thing for the films, because that money would be better used on-screen. A lot of it depends on how well we do drumming up support. I’d love to be able to ask nothing more from the films then a hot shower and a stretch of floor to sleep on. They’re busy in production. The last thing they need to worry about it someone else’s project. We’re there to help, not be a burden. For most of them, it’ll just be me, but there’s some other people who have expressed interest in riding along for stretches, so you might get 2 sets of hands.

How can the audience track your progress?
We have a website: www.ayearwithoutrent.com and we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Those will be the venues from which we’ll run everything. If you go to the webpage you’ll see a Google Latitude badge that shows the project is currently in Maine. You’ll also see a link to the Tripline.net Bizarro Map that’s part of the Kickstarter project. It gives you something of an idea what the Tripline interface is capable of.

We’ll also be syndicating content through places like Film Courage. This is a community project so we’re going to try to make the content as easy to follow as possible.

One thing we’re trying to figure out how to do logistically is come up with something that you can only get by finding us in real life. We’ve got a number of ideas we’re batting around, but we want to have some incentive for people to keep an eye out for when we might be in their neighborhood. Almost like a real life Foursquare badge with a prize attached to it or something.

Why does this project need to happen? Who is your audience here?
The bigger audience is really the indie film community, but everyone says that. It’s a bullshit answer. There’s a tutorial aspect to it, so part of the audience is going to be people who are fascinated by how creative people work. But, beyond that, I think in indie film you’ve got two types of audience. There’s people who want to know how the sausage is made and there’s people who don’t. While I find it interesting to follow the progress of, say, TILT as it progresses from concept to finished product, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to know anything until they see TILT on the shelves. The latter group isn’t part of our audience.

We’ll appeal to people who are interested in the process, people who like the networking aspects of social media. We’ll appeal to exactly the type of people who contribute to a Kickstarter campaign.

Why does it need to happen? I’m not going to act like it’s some big noble game changer. But the indie film community over the last couple of years has moved away from being location specific. If you’re only interested in the film community in your city, you’re really missing out. Plus, it’s a really f*****g cool idea. We all have our inner Jack Kerouac we’d love to indulge.

Why did you decide to crowdfund?
We would have crowdfunded this even if we had a blank check to cover everything (of course, we would have done something like making all the perks $1). Ultimately this is a project that relies on a motivated and involved community of support, and I haven’t seen anything that even approaches how effective crowdfunding is in building that. So one thing we tried to do was to create a series of perks that will be interactive throughout the course of the year, stuff that will kind of mimic a road trip experience. My favorite perk is the $35 one, where we’ll will adapt your haiku into a Instant Polaroid (well, the Fuji equivalent) you can put on your fridge. We’ll send you mementos from the road. Hell, we’ll even send you a birthday present. Not everyone can take a year of their life and just travel the country, so we’re trying to let the audience and the backers experience that as much as possible from the comfort of their homes.

Plus, if part of our job is telling you about all these projects we’re working on, there’s no point in doing that if no one is paying attention.

Do you have other financial resources or investors in place beyond the crowdfunding?
We’re working on it. One of our producers is working to line up sponsors, even if they’re just in-kind sponsorships to cut our costs down. $12k is, we think, the bare minimum we need to survive the year, and even that is iffy. Side note: if you’re a corporation who wants to sponsor us, email us!

Why did you choose Kickstarter over other options? Why not a longer IndieGoGo campaign that folks can donate to as you go along, and they see your progress?
A couple of reasons. I’m familiar with Kickstarter, having used it to fund UP COUNTRY. Nothing against Indiegogo, but I think the all or nothing approach of Kickstarter gets people much more involved and motivated than Indiegogo does. We’ll most definitely have a PayPal button or something on the website so people can contribute if they, say, find us in June and have $20 burning a hole in their pocket. Also, no one really wants to hear us crowdfunding for an entire year. Once we’ve hit the road, you want to hear about that. Not how much more we need to raise to keep going. A long Indiegogo campaign would be like a year-long NPR pledge drive. No one wants that.

Where is the crowdfunded money going?
Gas, as you may have noticed, is expensive. We’re going to make sure we have vehicle and medical insurance. There’s food. Some equipment. Caffeine injections. Stuff like that. A year is a long time. It was a tricky thing to budget because we just don’t know what will be happening 8 months from now. We could go from doing a project in Philly to doing a project in NYC. Or, we could be going from San Francisco to Tempe. There’s no way to know.

If you do not hit your financial crowdfunding goal, what then?
Really, it depends. Maybe we push back the start date until we can line up some sponsors, but that’ll [be] tricky if they see a crowdfunding campaign has already failed. There’s always the “bail out your own project” option, but that’s a last resort. I’m a pessimist by nature, but I think once people know about the project, they’ll respond to it. Plus, the perks are a hell of a deal. And did we mention that we want to volunteer on your film and give you free promotion?

In a perfect scenario, where are you and your project a year from today?
Hopefully not in a blizzard like the one that’s battering the East Coast right now. I’ve had 5 different people tell me they think IFC should turn it into a show of some kind. So I guess that would be the perfect scenario. But, realistically speaking, a year from now I’d like the experience to be positive enough and the response to be positive enough that we’re considering extending the project beyond a year. I think that would mean we’ve done a fantastic job.

There is a joke that we’ll do A YEAR WITHOUT RENT 2: EUROPE. That would be pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to go to Europe.

Why should someone give your project money?
Because it’s awesome. Seriously, though, because ultimately it’s a project that helps more than just a single film. It could be a project that strengthens a community. Vicariously you’ll be able to canvas the country through the eyes of indie filmmakers. We’ll take you to festivals. We’ll introduce you to actors and filmmakers. We’ll send you cool stuff from the road.

And, most importantly, you won’t have to drink any terrible gas station coffee.

If you’d like to know more about A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the A YEAR WITHOUT RENT 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 A YEAR WITHOUT RENT.

DISCLAIMER: Donating or investing in a film or film-related project 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.

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