Tag Archives: filmmaking

Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause “Trigonaut” Sounds Cooler Than “Intern”)

The time has come for expansion, and I cannot do it alone!

As many of you probably know, I’ve been putting out crowdfunding advice for filmmakers and various other content creators and storymakers for over five years. Ever since I successfully crowdfunded my short film Cerise, I’ve been mentoring crowdfunding filmmakers and content creators in the fine art of online fundraising through Twitter, via my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and exclusively for Indiegogo. But there’s so much more I want to do, mostly by way of content creation and various new ways of distributing that content and knowledge (Meerkat and Periscope, anyone?), so I’m looking for a Trigonaut –– an fellow explorer –– to work with me, to learn about and explore the chartered and unchartered realms of crowdfunding for independent film, and to help create more top quality content so that we, together, can keep the “indie” in independent film and make sure that creators are crowdfunding using only the best tools, advice and insights available.


So here’s what I’m looking for, specifically:

– Writing and editing (basic grammar and usage skills)
– Strong interest in crowdfunding, particularly for film (or creative projects)
– Graphic design (skills in Adobe Creative Suite, mainly Photoshop and InDesign)
– Editing content for social media that’s on-brand
– Organizational abilities
– Creativity and wit
– Speed (ability to execute tasks quickly)

– Owns a DSLR (or similar camera) and microphone
– Video editing skills (proficiency in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
– A moderate knowledge of digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads / “dark posts”, etc.)
– Listens to The #AskGaryVee Show religiously

– Outreach (to film festivals for speaking gigs, blogs / movie websites, etc.)
– Writing content for Medium (will be credited as guest writer under my personal culture / branding
– Content creation (if we go the Gary Vee route; TBD)
– Filming any local events, speaking gigs
– Research on the crowdfunding space in general, but specifically crowdfunding for indie film / web / video content
– Discover and attend events, Meet-Ups, Tweetups, etc. pertaining to film and / or crowdfunding

– 2 -3 hours a day,
– Three days per week (preferably Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, to start, but I’m totally flexible here

– Crowdfunding (for filmmaking) knowledge and insights from a noted expert and practitioner in the field
– Travel to and from events (subway / Lyft)
– Lunch once a week, during our weekly meetings, preferably on Mondays
– Drinks (at events, and just in general –– there’s always something to celebrate)
– Depending on performance, we can talk…

– What it takes to be a proper crowdfunding consultant and / or manager
– How to utilize various forms of social media (FB / Twitter, plus Instagram & Periscope, perhaps) for crowdfunding
– How to build, broaden, and make “Beliebers” out of your community (really, how to turn your networks into actual relationships)

Now, if by reading this you feel like you’re standing in front of a mirror, then I want to hear from you sooner rather than later, so reach out to me at jtrigonis@gmail.com and let’s get ready to explore the ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding filmmakers together.

Oh, and a neat hat and soul patch to match are not requirements 🙂

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

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TEDx Talk: “Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together” Is Here

Well, it’s finally here, folks!

I’m very proud to present to you all one of the crowning achievements of my entire life (thus far) –– My TEDxJerseyCity talk called “Crowdfunding Today, Tomorrow, Together.”

Since it’s only a seventeen-minute talk, I’m pretty confident you’ll all watch the entire talk. But if you only have a few minutes, and if you’re toying with the idea of running your own crowdfunding campaign for a film, product, or anything else, then I highly recommend you scrub toward the end of the talk (11:03, to be exact), when I begin talking about my new and improved “Three INs,” presented as the “Three Is,” as in the letter “I” (you see why it didn’t stick, I’m sure) during my talk.

See, around five years ago, I unveiled my “Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign” –– Pitch, Perks, and Promotion ––  which paved the way to my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. Well, as crowdfunding for indie film evolves, so did those Three Ps. it was during this TEDx talk that I introduced the Invitation, Incentives, and Interactions as three ways “in” to your crowd’s hearts. A new Medium post outlining them in more detail is coming soon.

From talking about a plethora of local campaigns to ones like the JIBO and Solar Roadways, which are paving the road to a more sustainable and Jetsons-esque future, to talking about vampires and how El Diablo knows how to listen on social media, I think you’ll get a kick out of my talk, and perhaps it’ll even inspire you to make something you’re passionate about a reality.

Special thank to Alicia Ruth and the most excellent folks at TEDxJerseyCity for getting this up and running on the TEDx YouTube page and on TED.com, and, of course, to my darling Marinell, who watched my talk five times today and realized this very important thing:


I trust that by the end of my talk, their eyes –– and all of yours –– will have been opened in the widest of ways.

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Linklatering Perfekt, Plus Five Lessons to Perfect Your Filmmaking

Yesterday morning, my body instinctively woke me up at 6AM, which would normally be 7AM, but due to daylight savings time it was an hour earlier. And as I lay in my bed, I started thinking about the one film I made that I’m most proud of. It’s a short sex comedy called Perfekt. I shot this story about an aging Don Juan searching for his perfect match back in 2006, when I had only two other shorts under my director’s belt, The Coconut and The Hotel Edwards. What begins as a fun little sex comedy, with main character Matt (Bill Schineller) looking for the perfect woman, one who embodies everything he loves and who also happens to be a virgin –– culminates in an unorthodox confrontation with the near perfect Nellie (Kate Kenney).

Well, I’ve been gearing up to work with my girlfriend Marinell on shooting a book trailer for my good friend James Broderick’s book Stalked, his first work of fiction after a lifetime writing nonfiction like The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Now A Terrifying Motion Picture! For the trailer, I enlisted the aid of both Bill and Kate. Each of us go way back; Bill and I first acted together in a 1920s/flapper era production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and I’d met Kate when I was casting for my sci-fi themed rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, in which I originally chose her for my female lead, but she wasn’t able to accept. I was so impressed with her, I kept her contact info, and when I had my script for Perfekt, which back then had a very different original title, I reached out to Kate immediately and offered her the role of Nellie.

Looking back on all the years and other film projects I’ve worked on like my Indiegogo-funded Cerise and Mating Dome, no film contributed more to my education as a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker than Perfekt. The film is far from perfect, but the poignant performances from Bill and Kate, the visual story arced by Alain Aguilar, the poetry beneath the subterfuge of seemingly simple dialog, and Ventzi Assenov’s evocative score; and even the sexual comedy at the beginning that paves the path to a heart-rending finish –– all of it pulled together in a way that none of my subsequent works have yet been able to achieve.

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

And this is why I’ve decided to pull a “Linklater” –– to get the band back together in the spot where it all the drama went down for Matt and Nellie, and bring about a second installment of Perfekt.

And we’ll call it Perfect.

Of course, there are some definite things that will be different this time around; after all, it ain’t 2006 anymore. And like I said, as a self-taught filmmaker with over a dozen shorts under my belt, here are five lessons I took away from the making of Perfekt that I will perfect further when I start shooting Perfect in 2014.

5. Hire the right amount of crew with the right skills to do the job right. When I shot Perfekt, the budget had a hard stop at $5,000. With that, I was able to hire my first assistant director, sound recorder, boom operator, and a couple of productions assistants. Factor in Alain and myself, and we were a modest crew of around seven members. One thing I learned back when I shot Cerise with its larger budget of $15,000 and a crew of fifteen folks) is to always hire the right people for the right job. Oh, and always, always hire a producer.

4. Document the filmmaking process with photos, video, and (now) social media. It’s hard to think where I’d be without social media. I made Perfekt, Myspace was really just starting to be something. I didn’t know about Facebook, and there was no Instagram so you could easily and immediately share your on-set photos; I mean, we were still using digital cameras to take continuity shots, and not one of us thought to use that camera to take some shots of the crew working on the film. It was a vastly different time, and looking back, I’d love to have more than a tiny handful of photos of me on the set of Perfekt. So this time around, we’ll be documenting the process, and maybe even livestreaming the shoot, too.

3. There are many more factors than money involved in getting great audio. Audio prides itself in being the bane of every filmmaker’s existence, and it was no different on the set of Perfekt (or any of my other films, for that matter, with the exception of The Coconut, Speed Musing, and the Pepper Coat video, being silents.) Back then, I thought that if you put most of your budget into audio and hire a good sound guy, Hollywood-caliber sound will abound. Not so. There are many more factors at play in the battle for quality sound, like location, electricity, airplanes, and the like. This time around, I’ll be factoring them all into the shooting of Perfect.

2. Shoot the most important scenes first, especially when in an uncontrolled environment (like a bar). One hefty mistake I made while shooting Perfekt’s many bar scenes was shooting certain less important scenes before the most important scene in the whole film –– the climax. We were shooting at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City, now a lovely spot called Razza, and we had the entire bar to ourselves all morning until 4PM, and I chose to shoot various quick scenes during that time, thinking we’d have plenty of time. By the time the clock struck four, the bar opened to the public, and I had to shoot the finale, a long, Woody Allen-esque conversation between Matt and Nellie, with a roomful of bar patrons having conversations in the background. We made the most of it, though, and still managed to walk out of the then Bar Majestic at a little after midnight with some solid shots and slightly subpar sound.

1. Be more organized in the editing room. This is the biggie, and if I were the kind of person who held onto regrets, this would be the only one: Not having a single copy of Perfekt in digital form to date. See, when I was prepping the film for delivery to Ouat Media, distribution was more about physical copies back then (evidenced by the $90 DigiBeta tape I had to ship to Canada), and because I had secured distribution for Perfekt, I couldn’t show it anywhere online ‘cause they had the rights for three years. Flash forward a couple years, when I swapped my MacPro tower for a MacBook Pro, but never loaded all of the files that pieced together Perfekt in a single location; there were files on every hard drive I owned, internal and external. So when I finally tried to make a digital file to share with friends, there were gaps in the original cut of the film because I simply couldn’t locate all the missing files. The good thing is that by the time Perfect is shot and ready for your eyes, it’ll only be available in digital form, and you can bet the farm that all those files will be in a single location.

Now that I’ve recapped what not to do in the filming of Perfect next year, and I’ve got my two actors 100% onboard, it’s time to start writing the script!

*          *          *

Filmmakers –– What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting your previous films that you’ll be sure to steer clear from when shooting your next? List them in the comments below –– perhaps I’ll be able to add a few more lessons to my utility belt.

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Goals Versus Commitment in Crowdfunding for Indie Film

The other day, my girlfriend Marinell told me about an interview she read in The New York Times with Hugh Martin on “The Importance of Commitments.” I took a gander at this interview myself, and of course I started thinking about this concept of goals versus commitments and its relationship with crowdfunding for independent film.

A goal of $50,000 would've made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

A goal of $50,000 would’ve made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

Something I see way too frequently as Indiegogo’s manager of film and video is that filmmakers wanting to raise a lot of money. I mean a lot of money. Part of my duty as the guy who literally wrote the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers has become talking them down from the ledge of a $1.5 million ask and settle them into a target amount that fits more their lifestyle. This becomes much easier when I frame the discussion in terms of goals and commitment.

A filmmaker may need $250,000 to produce his or her feature-length film, but that goal won’t mean much if the filmmaker can only realistically commit to raising, say, $20,000, based on a variety of factors like the size of one’s current network and the amount of time he or she can devote to running the campaign. Therefore, my question to prospective campaigners isn’t what’s your goal?, but rather how much are you committed to raising?

Now, I’m the kind of person who truly believes that if a filmmaker wants to raise $1.5 Million for a film, he or she certainly can. But a look at some of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns –– Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, for instance, clocking in at 325,327 before their game was over, and Shemar Moore’s The Bounce Back, bouncing even higher up at $638,483 –– have been triumphant because of certain factors, specifically a passionate core fan base. But even still, angry video game nerd James Rolfe committed to raising $75,000 and was able to double-up that number instead of trying for $500,000 and coming up short at just over $300,000. Now, if we as filmmakers have less of a fan/subscriber base than these heavy hitters, it’s safe to say that $250,000 may be a difficult number to reach. But if we commit ourselves to raising a more reachable amount, then we open wide the possibility of shooting past our own commitment level and surpass even our most ambitious crowdfunding goals.

So before you crowdfund your next indie film, ask yourself not what your goal should be, but what you and your team can commit to raising, and then go on raise it!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 3: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Comes Full Circle

The circle is now complete –– I’m officially an author!

On Saturday, April 6th, I had my first-ever book signing for Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, published by Michael Wiese Productions this past March.


There I am reading to a captive audience at Tachair Bookshoppe, Jersey City.

The combination reading/signing was held in my favorite city in the country –– Jersey City, which also happens to be where I’ve lived for seven years now –– at a quaint little local bookshoppe called Tachair. The evening was special in many ways, mainly because I was surrounded by those who have been most supportive of me and my creative aspirations over the years. In the house was my lovely Lady Marinell, of course, to whom my book is dedicated; my brother Walter and sister-in-law Patti, who nearly made me well up when they told me how proud they were of me; and James Broderick and Vince D’Onofrio (not the actor, the playwright), two great friends, respected mentors, and former colleagues of mine from my days at New Jersey City University, where I’d taught Civilizations courses over the past ten years before trading in my adjunct status for the more reputable title of manager for film, web and video at Indiegogo.

Also in attendance were some exceptional folks whose friendships and support I’ve cherished over years, including Michael Ferrell and Devin Sanchez, two-thirds of the creative team behind the indie film Twenty Million People, which was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo between April and June of 2012, raising $13,515 on a $10,000 goal.

Amid a packed audience captivated by my personal stories of how Crowdfunding for Filmmakers came about and the various chapters I chose to read from, the evening was made even more significant simply because it was hosted by Tachair Bookshoppe. See, back in April, 2012, I wrote an article about Jersey City’s lack of a physical bookstore for Jersey City Independent. At that point in time, Tachair was a “roving” bookstore that would set up their tent at all the different markets and festivals in Downtown Jersey City. But partly because of my article and the spirited reception it received online, Aleta Valleau, her son Paul, and her mother Carol set up shop on Newark Avenue where they now sell used books, best-sellers, and books by local authors like me (and I hear those sell better than those best-sellers!)


A throwback to the Cerise acrostic poem days –– an appropriate thank you to to a bookshoppe dedicated to preserving the written and spoken word.

It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet! From crowdfunding my short film Cerise during the early dawn of crowdfunding for indie filmmakers to writing my first blog post in my “Tao of Crowdfunding” series, which would go on to inspire Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and onto my current calling as one of two film gurus at Indiegogo helping filmmakers to craft successful campaigns, I’m certain none of this would have been possible without the blessings of the crowd –– Not my initial book deal with MWP, not my book being made available on Amazon, and not this book first book signing.

Make no mistake: It’s because of all of you terrific folks who’ve entered into my life, and who have allowed me to enter into yours, that I continue to receive such humbling triumphs and rewards, and I’ll pay it forward in helping our community make their independent filmmaking dreams come true, one campaign at a time.

That, and making a few more of my own come true, too. Stay tuned for more on that!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 2: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Arrives on Amazon

After six months of writing like a rock star, including one complete rewrite and two full revisions, plus another two rounds of copyediting with an editor, and most recently an in-depth review of its first galley proof, my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign is yet another step closer to your bookshelves.

In fact, my (not-so-)little 255-page tome of crowdfunding tidbits and tactics is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

I’m still hard at work with my amazing editor, Gary Sunshine, and our layout editor, Gina Mansfield, to make Crowdfunding for Filmmakers read smoothly and look snazzy, keeping in the vein of the blog posts that inspired it (“Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” and “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette,” as well as “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders,” featured on Ted Hope’s Indiewire blog). I’m very honored to have this book added to the Michael Wiese Productions catalog alongside other best-selling books like Save the Cat! By Blake Snyder, Directing Actors by Judith Weston, Film Directing: Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz, and many others covering topics ranging from screenwriting to film editing and beyond.

For now, set your sights on what these awesome indie film and crowdfunding folks are already saying about Crowdfunding for Filmmakers:

“John has been a practitioner and teacher when it comes to crowdfunding. This book helps anyone learn from his experience. Readers will be empowered to turn their ideas into action and action into money and success.” –– Slava Rubin, Founder & CEO, Indiegogo

“There is actually a science to the new zeitgeist for artists known as crowdfunding and John Trigonis’ Crowdfunding for Filmmakers contextualizes the history as well as outlines a step by step method to a successful crowdfunding campaign in an easy and enjoyable read indispensable to any and all future crowdfunders.” –– Filmmakers Jayce Bartok (The Cake Eaters, blogger MovieMaker) and Tiffany Bartok (Tiny Dancer)

“What do ancient Eastern philosophy and crowdfunding have in common? John knows and illustrates this connection wonderfully in Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, a very thorough look at not only crowdfunding, but social media, promotion, sales tactics, and so much more.” –– Daniel Sisson, Daily Crowdsource

“Chock-full of fantastic funding tips for your next movie by a filmmaker who has been through the process firsthand.”  –– Brian Meece, CEO of RocketHub, The World’s Funding Machine

Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is scheduled for a February 2013 release, which means my 35th birthday will be extra special this year, as this book marks my first step into a larger frontier –– that of a published author and crowdfunding consultant. And I couldn’t have achieved any of it without the help of my community, my ultra supportive family and friends, the generous funders behind my short film Cerise, who helped pave the road toward the brave new realm of crowdfunding and book publishing, and especially my girlfriend Marinell, who pointed out this road to me, revved me on to write the proposal for this book that I hope will instruct not only filmmakers, but creative artists of all sorts, in the art of successfully crowdfunding their next projects.

There’ll be more to come in the months ahead, so stay tuned to Hat & Soul for the latest on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. In the meantime, click here and order a copy today (and tap that “Like” button, too!)

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Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 marks the day I started writing my very first book, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, for Michael Wiese Productions. Thirty days later, I’m about a hundred pages into my 200-page guide focused on helping indie filmmakers raise funds for their films on IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms.


Checking off chapters and counting pages on my table of contents.

So what have I learned so far traversing this uncharted terrain of my personal writer’s journey? First and foremost, writing is hard! It’s funny because that’s usually the first thing I tell my writing students at each of the universities where I teach, but I never fully understood how true a statement it is. As a poet for most of my writing life, I’d become very used to waiting for inspiration to strike, for my faithful muse’s hand to brush the back of my neck, the way Doris Dowling’s does to Ray Milland’s in The Lost Weekend, and leave behind a fresh idea in the airy form of a mysterious scent that lingers long after her touch.

But once you get to writing an actual book, whether it’s nonfiction like mine or the great American novel or even a feature-length screenplay, you really can’t sit up waiting for inspiration to come strolling in any ol’ time she likes; you have to inspire yourself, and that’s been the single most challenging part for me while writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers so far. Writing about a topic like this, and in such a short span of time as six short months, I’ve been relying heavily on myself, not my muse, to conjure up the magic words necessary to concoct an informative, entertaining and inspiring bit of literary thaumaturgy.

And I have been fortunate so far. I’m working my way through these white unlined trenches because I’m writing about my own crowdfunding success with Cerise on IndieGoGo, as well as detailing the success stories of many other campaigns as examples to further illustrate my points. Plus, I’m incorporating a bit of the Tao Te Ching into each chunk I churn out, and this reinvigorates me whenever I fall into a spell of writing very straightforward, factual information, since it’s a philosophy I subscribe to in every aspect of my life. After all, when you write what you know, you’re able to flow.

Doris Dowling, muse to Ray Milland's tormented writer in The Lost Weekend.

Then, something wonderful happens. Once I work myself into that “Zone,” at about an hour or so into the key tap and space bar hustle, my muse will occasionally sneak over to my writing desk and massage my creased temples, help me find a way to elevate a rather insipid concept of crowdfunding up into the ranks of the almost poetic. The other day, for instance, I waxed metaphoric my concept of eliciting versus soliciting funds which I first brought up in my second Tao of Crowdfunding post “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette” by comparing it to a steak dinner:

Here’s the difference in a more practical setting: You see your friend going to town on a piece of steak, cooked just the way you like it. It’s dripping with juices and smells unbearably delicious. So you ask him, “Can I have a piece of your steak?” to which your friend now has the option to say yay or nay. They have the power over you. Now, if you look at that steak and salivate over it –– well, that won’t work either ‘cause that’s just sad. But if you look up from that magnificent bit of medium well goodness and say to your friend something along the lines of “Man, that steak looks and smells delicious!” as a statement, you will elicit a reaction from your friend, which will most likely be “It is… (wait for it) “…Do you want to try a piece?” Now you’ve got the power and soon after, a tasty piece of steak.

I was in “The Zone” and then this chunk of elaboration flowed seamlessly out of my fingertips. It was inspiration’s finger sliding across the back of my neck; all I had to do was keep up with the flow of words flooding into my mind and write.

It took me a full three weeks to build up the discipline and get into the swing of what it means to be an actual working writer (and receiving my first check in the mail from MWP made that realization all the more solid, of course). To be perfectly honest, being a writer is something I didn’t really think I could do. I realized that I had too many misconceptions about it, all of them fabrications with no real footing in the real world. For years I believed that if I wrote something that wasn’t necessarily as creative as my poetry or as high concept as my screenplays, I simply wouldn’t enjoy it, and in turn, it would become the worst thing writing could ever become to me: A job.

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do symbol, reflecting the everlasting flow of yin and yang.

My over thinking this for all these years has worked against what the universe had written down in the penmanship of the stars as in my best interest, and I know as well as anyone that when you work with the universe, all is right. Taoist sage Lao Tzu calls this wei wu wei, or “doing without doing.” By not over thinking something, everything gets done. In that way, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is meant to be written, and I’m the one who’s meant to write it.

I’m going with the flow now, like a stream flowing in one direction: forward. When a stone stands in my way, I simply stream around it and discover new ways to say something on my own because when you’re a working writer, you can’t wait for your muse to saunter in at whatever hour of the day or night she pleases (deadlines be damned!) to inspire every sentence you write. You must rely on your own flow, and trust that your own words will be the right words.

But, of course, it doesn’t hurt to leave the porch light on, too.

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Mating Dome: Growth is Inevitable

The wood, steel and other raw materials for my upcoming short film Mating Dome have been assembled, and now it’s time to piece together this sexy sci-fi romp.

This past weekend I had the honor of sharing the set with an exceptionally gifted cast and a host of crackerjack crew members who brought to life my good friend, actor and Mating Dome writer Joe Whelski’s darkly comedic vision of a future where dating has been reduced to moment-to-moment trysts in an endless labyrinth of lust.

The shoot itself went exceptionally well, and as always, I walked away from the experience with a few bits of insight for directors and auteurs alike:

Trust in Your Crew
Mating Dome
marks the first film I’ve ever shot in which an actual set had to be built. We transformed a large photo studio at Neo Studios in SoHo into a truly fantastical set. One of those sets was a lounge of sorts with a lit up bar, which we eventually used in other scenes in the film. I am by no means a handyman––I’m more like Tim Allen in Home Improvement––so I had to trust in our set designer Lucia Snyder and our crew to create this futuristic bar, as well as in our costume designer Sophie Philips to make the fashion-forward “towels” which our actors would be wearing throughout the film. I had given them both a basic idea of what I wanted and allowed them to run with it. I was not disappointed.

This futuristic, lit-up bar makes an appearance three times in Mating Dome.

The Script Will Always Change
As with every other film I’ve ever shot, Joe’s script for Mating Dome went through a bit of a “reconfiguration” of its own as the words and actions on the page turned into shots and sequences. Even some of the ideas that I’d implemented into the script as director didn’t make it into many of the shots in the film for various reasons. But I’ve learned that this is fine, because other concepts and visionary elements will work their way into each shot and compensate for any “losses,” and as a director, you simply have to roll with it. I did.

Keep (Some) Control Over the Creative Spirit of Collaboration
I’ve always said I’m not one to collaborate on the page, but on set, I rely heavily on collaboration to help generate a more dynamic look to my original vision. It worked with Cerise, my most recent short film. But as I learned on the set of Mating Dome, as director, you still have to maintain a certain level of control over however much creative freedom you allow your main crew members. If something that your set designer suggests doesn’t work as part of the vision in your mind, don’t do it. If you’re not sure whether it’ll work or not, try it. (Ah! The beauty of shooting in HD.) The bottom line is that a director should be open to suggestions, but hold a firm enough grasp on your vision so the compromise (and there’ll always be compromise) is not a drastic one.

Find Solutions, Not Further Problems
Admittedly, I’m not very good at finding solutions quickly. I know when a problem can be resolved, but very often I don’t know how to resolve them. My best friend, long-time collaborator and Mating Dome’s cinematographer Alain Aguilar is much better at it than I, and Mating Dome’s producer Ruben Rodas, I can say with utmost certainty, is a “Master Solutionist” (okay, so “solutionist” is not a word, but it should be!) A few times on set we came upon some stumbling blocks––or rather I came upon them––and as soon as I’d open my mouth about the problem, there was Ruben with a solution. So this is something that, as a director, I will either work on improving or simply rely even more on people like Ruben and Alain to solve them for me (I’ll try the former, but if I fall off that tightrope, I’ve always got the latter net to land on!)

Believe in “Happy Accidents” and All Will Be Well
Joe introduced me to this concept on the first day of shooting when he took me aside and said he had to make an “executive decision” (he is also Mating Dome’s Executive Producer) which scared the heck out of me. It seemed the towel that was made for him wasn’t fitting very well, and he had no other choice but to don an actual bath towel around his waist. I was a bit upset, truth be told, but it made sense, as Joe (the character) is the “average Joe” in a world populated with men and women who’ve radically “reconfigured” their bodies; it would only be right that Joe isn’t given a futuristic “real man’s towel” but rather a “little boy’s towel” because he doesn’t accept his world. I do believe everything happens for a reason, and that reason is always good and right, though sometimes I lose sight of that basic Taoist truth. So thanks for bringing it back home, Whelski!

Joe Whelski in his bath towel across from a Venus of the future.

Overall, the Mating Dome shoot this past weekend was yet another curve on the freeway to filmmaking knowledge, and one thing I’m always thankful for is being able to work with a crew that knows what its doing, moves and breathes as one being and helps me improve what I’m doing and strengthen me as a director, as well as a talented cast––and the cast of Mating Dome is not only talented but smokin’ hot and includes such personalities as Samantha Karlin, who’s starred in TV’s From Mate to Date, and Key of Awesome! superstar Lauren Francesca!

Lauren Francesca, YouTube sensation and one of our Mating Dome Ladies.

To see photos of our entire sultry cast of Venuses and Adonises, head on over to Mating Dome’s Facebook page (and “Like” it while you’re at it, ‘cause if those pics don’t make you wish there was a “Super Like” button, then I don’t know. I just don’t know…)

In the meantime, I’ll be getting my razor tool sharpened and ready for cutting these scenes together into a quick bit of cinema that will make everyone under the Mating Dome proud to have been a part of this quirky, witty, sexy and wholly original short film.

Until then, live long, and prosper. Or something like that.

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Cagney, City for Conquest, and the Invention of the Postmodern Protagonist

As many of you may know from reading my late night tweets and Facebook updates, I’ve been immersing myself in James Cagney movies ever since I stumbled on his old residence in New York a couple months ago.

This phase of film watching is partly for further research on Caput, my feature-length hit man screenplay, which I’ll be rewriting within the next month or so. Before that, I spent a few solid months watching a ton of Humphrey Bogart classics like In a Lonely Place, To Have and Have Not, Casablanca (of course!) and The Roaring Twenties, in which I discovered Cagney and all his tough guy glory to come.

The plaque (L) that’s attached to the building where Cagney lived (R).

Now you might not guess it by looking at me, but when I was a younger man, the only movies I ever watched were action movies. If you asked me to name the top actors, the “Holy Trinity” would’ve been Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Kickboxer, Out for Justice, Commando­­––if you can name it, I most likely watched it (dozens of times, too, on account of my Dad and our first VCR). Stir in a bit of Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future, Part II and that about rounded out my “eclectic” taste in movies back in the day. Then the American Beauty drama bug bit me in 1999, and the virus spread on with Requiem for a Dream so that by the time Donnie Darko nailed my brain, there was no hope for remedy. This virus crescendoed when Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind edged me on towards a decent into the madness of foreign films from Italy, France, Japan, Hong Kong and beyond. I was ready for renaissance.

But today, I find myself lost in classical Hollywood, circa 1920 to 1950, and rediscovering the lure of the anti-hero while most filmmakers are busy finding new ways to exploit their R-rated comedies. More so, I’m taking on tough guy tales because in many cases they are much deeper character studies into basic human behavior than most people might give them credit for. They’re not shallow reprisals of stories told over and again to supplement an “explosions quota” or the underscore of some grisly killing by demon or devil. The films of Cagney are films about characters who have faults and attempt to overcome them. They’re rooted in the ancient Greek tradition of the tragic hero, and through evolution they’ve worked their magic into the postmodern world.

Even now, I’m still fascinated how I could be so empathetic to big time baddies Tom Powers and Cody Jarrett when they get their just deserts at the end of The Public Enemy and White Heat, two of his very best films. Or even poor Eddie Bartlett sprawled dead on the steps in The Roaring Twenties. These are hard-wired gangsters who made their way in the world loaded with lead, and of course, the bulk of these characters are the basis for most of the anti- and Byronic-heroes that populate today’s more indie films and TV shows.

Original poster art for City for Conquest.

One of Cagney’s films in particular had more of a profound impact on me than I ever had expected––the 1940 film City for Conquest, beautifully directed by Anatole Litvak. In a nutshell, City for Conquest tells of a trio of street tough Irish kids growing up on Forsyth and Delancey in New York City, each determined to get out and make something of his or her life. Eddie Kenny dreams of playing a dark symphony in a city spellbound by swing; Peggy Nash wants to see her name in Broadway lights as a famous dancer; and Danny Kenny (Cagney)? Well, he has no aspirations whatsoever. He’s content with his girl Peggy and his job driving a truck until his brother Eddie comes up short for his payments to study music at school. That’s when Danny launches a career in boxing––until then something he did only for exercise––all the while longing to be back home with his girl, who spends her time tripping the light fantastic with dance hall celebrity Murray Burns, masterfully played by Anthony Quinn.

Perhaps what struck me most about Danny’s character is how all-too-human he really is. Through the film’s second act, Danny wins match upon match, and there’s a wonderful nugget of a moment when an “old timer” mentions to a crowd listening to the match that perhaps Danny wins every match because he doesn’t care whether he wins or loses, and that perhaps if he did want to win, he’d end up losing. The men to whom the hobo speaks crook their heads at him like confused puppies, as would anyone today, more than 70 years later.

You see, in today’s world, in any city up for conquest, this is a difficult sentiment to maintain since the very idea of “not caring” surely insinuates that what you’re doing is not important. But I find that’s simply not so. There are dreamers who give their all, there are those who fall asleep, and there are also those who stand somewhere in the middle. And there are those, like me, who don’t dream or do but simply are. Surely I’ve attained my one and only dream since I was a kid––being a published poet. But did I ever dream I’d be an indie filmmaker? Never. Did I ever do anything to learn how to be an indie filmmaker? Not once. But here I am, an indie filmmaker with a short film like Cerise, which has been putting smiles on lots of people’s faces, and another movie on the way, a music video in between, two feature-length scripts in the works and plenty more ideas to breathe life into.

Being successful, I find, is all about going with the flow. Perhaps it’s all that Douglas Adams I’ve been reading, but if you go in the direction the universe is pushing you, you can’t ever steer yourself wrong. In City for Conquest, Danny becomes a boxer because he simply boxes. Sure, it’s his decision, partly motivated by the need to pay for his brother’s schooling, but boxing has always been there, waiting for him all along. Like acting had been for Cagney. Like making films has been for me. Like who knows what else further down the road…

James Cagney in one of his finest (tough guy) roles ever.

Granted, Danny from City for Conquest is much more of a serious role for Cagney than, say, Danny Kean in Picture Snatcher or Dan Quigley in Lady Killer, but this Danny is still a tough guy who gets around by way of his fists, a hot-headed little Irishmen who by the end learns that his toughness can only get him so far, but consequently it elevates his spirit to the heights of Sainthood (and that’s all I’ll say about that––I don’t wanna spoil the end of the movie for you!) That’s what I found so uplifting that I was moved to tears by the final frame of the film––a character who at the beginning of the film has no motivation for anything ends up motivating others simply by being who he is through his whole life, and ultimately that is all the motivation he ever really needed. In a world where identity changes as often as a pair of socks, that says a lot about toughness; you’ve gotta be tough to trust in what you’re doing and not think about the end result.

Though a majority of Cagney’s famous roles (Frank Ross in Each Dawn I Die and “Brick” Davis in “G”Men) are less complicated than City for Conquest’s Danny Kenny and mostly motivated by money, greed, power, or revenge, I’d like Teddy Caputo, the protagonist in Caput, to be one who’s carved out of the same stock of emotions that makes audiences connect with a cold-blooded robber like Cody Jarrett and a straight and narrow guy like Danny. And to achieve that, it means more hours in front of my midnight tube lighting up my eyes with classic Hollywood noir, and I’m excited to carry the black and white torch of my journey deeper into the soul of the anti-hero that began with Bogie and continues with Cagney, and lights on the directors that helped these two titans of the silver screen endure through the decades.

What are some noir films that have left an strong impression on YOU? List ’em in the “Comments” section!

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The Tao of Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette

So you now know some of the keys of a successful campaign from reading the first post in my Tao of Crowdfunding series, but that’s only part of the ongoing battle to find alternative sources for financing our creative projects. Based on the incredible response “The Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” received from the indie film community and beyond, I’ve decided to soldier on and address a topic which some of my closest friends have cited as a bit of a concern––Crowdfunder Etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Some of you might be thinking to yourselves I didn’t know such a thing existed! It does or doesn’t, based on your own experiences crowdfunding. But I prefer to call it by its more common name: Good Manners. Whether your crowdfunding platform is Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any of the myriad others out there, here are five basic tenets every campaigner should follow:

1. “I’m Not Only the Campaigner, I’m Also a Funder!”
Some of you may remember that 1980s TV commercial for The Hair Club for Men and Cy Sperling’s famous concluding statement “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.”

Similarly, you should be more than just the filmmaker, musician or entrepreneur by having something more tangible than time invested in your project. Surprisingly, this is something crowdfunders rarely do. Let’s be honest––if you are not willing to put your money into your own campaign, how can you ask any of your friends to contribute, let alone a perfect stranger? Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, you should be the one to jump-start your own campaign either by setting aside your own cash and raising additional funds, or by contributing to your own campaign via Indiegogo or Kickstarter. With Cerise, for instance, I opted for the first choice, saving up $10,000 and crowdfunding for $5,000 more. And, of course, I let my potential funders know that within the first thirty seconds of my pitch video. If you opt for the second choice, your name should appear (as opposed to being listed as “Anonymous”) in your “Funders” tab so that others know you’re not only the campaigner, but your also a contributor. This kind of transparency is absolutely vital to the integrity and ultimately the success of your campaign.

2. Saying Please and Thank You
Remember “The Please and Thank You Song” from Barney and Friends? (Fear not! I won’t salt the wound this reference may have opened by posting the video here.) These “magic words” run marathons in all circles. So when you promote your campaign on Twitter or Facebook, whenever possible include a simple “please” (or its abbreviation when it comes to character limits) in each one.

Travis Legge Tweets “Please” for Poetic on Indiegogo.

More importantly, whenever you receive a contribution, the absolute least you can do is thank that person. Sending an email, message on Facebook and/or Direct Message on Twitter is fine, too, but in today’s multifaceted social media stew, the more out in the open a “Thank You” is, the better.

The Red Scare Team humorously thanks a new contributor, keeping with their 1950s “Red Scare” motif.

Apart from thanking contributors to your campaign, it’s equally important to thank any- and everybody who retweets your Tweets about your project or shares your link on Google+ and Facebook. It’s polite and shows that you appreciate their part in getting the word out about your campaign.

Writer/Producer Sam Platizky thanks yours truly for tweeting about his latest zombie comedy.

Another, more general thank you, but just as strong and just as personal.

It’s about making people feel appreciated by publicly acknowledging them for all the good things they’re doing on your behalf.

3. Send Contributors Something N0w And Later
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” And so do your funders. You should give them something more immediate than a signed copy of your new album when it’s finished several months after your campaign has ended. It can be something personalized for the funder at one of the lower perk levels, and somehow related to the project you’re campaigning for, like these awesome perks from Sync:

I love the smell of nostalgia in the morning!

When I contributed to Brendon Fogle’s short film, I received my perks––a pair of records from Brendon’s personal collection and two Sync stickers––a few short weeks after clicking “Contribute Now” on Indiegogo. Now I’ve got a constant reminder of Sync until the film’s finished up and I can get my DVD in the future.

A sound designer named Christopher Postill recently got in touch with me about a campaign for his project Sounds Like an Earful, a pod cast about rethinking the sounds we’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Seeing the usual suspects of perks, I suggested he make them more personalized for his potential funders. When I saw his Indiegogo page next, I saw he had added a perk in which he’d create a sound specifically for the funder. Another perk higher up the ladder lends itself to Christopher creating a piece of music that a funder can gift to a friend or family member or keep for him- or herself.

Now this is an immediate perk that packs a personal punch!

Not only are these new perks innovative and personal, but they’re also immediate; once they’re created, they can be posted on the funder’s Facebook wall, tweeted, or emailed.

4. Constantly Keep Your Funders Updated
So you spent three intense months crowdfunding like a rockstar. You thanked all your funders. You mailed them their perks. And at the end of the campaign trail you became another crowdfunding success story! Feels good to be done, right?

Even after all that, you’re only now seeing the finish line, but you’ve still got a ways to go. Just as it’s important to keep your funders updated throughout your campaign, it’s just as important to maintain a steady stream of updates about the progress of your project even after the campaign has ended. Your funders have contributed to your campaign for various reasons, whether it’s because of your personalized pitch, your cool perks, or because they’re family and have to, but they’re also giving something more than money to you and your campaign, so the least you can do is make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

Perhaps Cerise funder Andrew Bichler said it best in this quick video about why he contributed to my short film:

You heard it right from a proud funder’s mouth: “What really turned me on [was] the fact that I, as an everyday guy, could get involved in funding and supporting the arts…” As such, it’s gratifying to be kept in the loop about what’s going on regarding a project you’ve become a part of; I receive regular updates with behind the scenes footage, post-production notes and other status updates from many of the projects I’ve contributed to like Red Scare, Tilt and How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song. If you don’t update your audience, they may start to think all kinds of outrageous things, the worst of which quite possibly being “Well, I won’t support that person’s campaigns any more!” Again, it’s all about appreciation, so treat your funders with the same respect that you’d show an investor, whether they’re contributing at the $1 rung or closer to the top of the ladder.

5. When Engaging Your Community, Don’t Solicit, Elicit
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the indie community is that in most cases it will come to bat for you during your crowdfunding campaign. The most recent account is probably the come-from-behind victory of Lucas McNelly’s A Year Without Rent, which had been stagnant for the long haul of the campaign. But in its final days and hours, this video project was pulled from the Sarlacc pit of unfunded dreams by the entire indie film community. This is an exceptional case, of course (I don’t recommend starting a campaign without plenty of preparation and a solid plan of action plotted out beforehand), but the lesson is pretty much standard: If you show passion for your project and drive it forward, your community will come to your aid.

Every time I tweet about my current 3rd Crusade for Cerise––in which I seek  film festival submission funds from friends and followers so I can continue submitting my short film to festivals––I make sure each one is unique and clever, and sure enough, my followers retweet it to their followers. I haven’t had to ask anyone to “please RT” anything in over a year because I’ve built up some credibility by showing them that I take pride not only in my film, but also in every minute detail that makes up the whole of Cerise.

If it happens to be a holiday, I make my tweets about that holiday.

If the project you’re campaigning for centers around certain subject matter, keep that subject in play.

As crowdfunders, we might try to elicit help from our respective communities and solicit less simply by showing them how truly important our campaigns are to us and how imperative their support can be in helping us reach our crowdfunding goals.

BONUS: Promotion, Not Spamotion!
There are many ways to get people not to contribute to your campaign or help you with promoting it, but by far the most sure-fire method is by coming across in your promotion as a spam artist. And I’m not just talking about sending the exact same tweet five times a day; other ways include linking your personal and project’s Twitter accounts so that those same five Tweets per day are now ten Tweets (but more on that in my “10 Commandments of Social Media for Crowdfunding” post on Indiewire) and even appending your campaign’s information as a comment onto another campaign’s page! This unscrupulous practice is actually such a problem that Kickstarter needed to mention it as one of their “Community Guidelines” on their FAQ page:

You’d think some things still fall into the realm of common sense. Not so much…

Be a pro when planning out the promotion tactics for your campaign. Even when I would promote my Indiegogo campaign for Cerise directly on my friends’ Facebook walls, it was always personalized enough that I was able to avoid the pitfalls of those annoying “Need Cash Now?” advertisements texted to people’s phones. So be personable when publicizing your campaign to steer clear of the “unfriend” and “block” features that occur with social networking and you’ll soon see that the personal touch leads to the Midas touch.

In Short…
My Dad always used to tell me “by nice ways you’ll accomplish everything.” A lot of this may seem like common sense to some of us, but it’s this kind of sense seems less and less common. As crowdfunders, we’re asking people for money, and when we ask for anything and get it, the least we can do is show our gratitude to those who gave it. By treating your funders and supporters properly, you’re not only gathering money for this one project, you’re also forging a stronger network, and at times friendships, that will stand by your side long after your first campaign has ended. And when you start another campaign for your next project, those same people will be ready to show their support once again to back a rising star and a real mensch!

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What are YOUR thoughts about crowdfunder etiquette? FUNDERS: Any props or pet peeves YOU’d like to share about crowdfunders you’ve encountered? Fill up the section below with your comments, questions or concerns!

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