Tag Archives: movies

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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I Believe in Lonesome Rhodes: Dual Natures and Darkening Knights

Confession: I’m hooked on the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a humble folk singer from the country who quickly becomes corrupted by the fourth estate of the media, in this case, radio and television.

One thing Elia Kazan’s masterpiece taught me when I first watched it was that influence is indeed power, –– of the individual and the crowd. Most importantly, it reminded me that “there ain’t nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the best side of you take over.”

But A Face in the Crowd also demonstrates how one’s own influence can corrupt oneself; how the ego, even when expelled from within, leaves a lingering trace of itself like a cancer waiting for an opportunity to rise again.

How there’s nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the dark side of you take over, too.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

Darth Vader: Perhaps the most conflicted character ever to grace the screen.

Those of you who know me well enough know that I love movies that dive deep into the duality of their protagonists. Films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and of course the original Star Wars trilogy (and those pesky prequels, too) are a few of my favorites.

My second time watching A Face in the Crowd was partly as research for a talk I’m giving this March, but it got me thinking, for some reason, about Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight. A single phrase kept knocking at my mind, which is repeated throughout the film, though the writers borrowed it from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s classic graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween:

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween.

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween.

Harvey Dent, former Gotham City District Attorney turned two-headed kingpin when he’s not behind the gates of Arkham Asylum. From the original Batman and Detective Comics to Batman: The Animated Series, Two-Face has fascinated me as a conflicted character, and Nolan’s Bat-film brought him to life in ways that make Joel Schumacher’s purple-faced fool in Batman Forever all the more laughable.

But let’s backtrack for a moment to A Face in the Crowd. At the beginning of the film, we find Lonesome Rhodes fast asleep in a small town jail cell and abruptly awoken by Marcia Jeffries, who hosts a little radio show called “A Face in the Crowd,” in which she discovers talent from the people of her own town. After hearing Rhodes rock the jailhouse, she invites him to host his own morning show. Immediately he’s a hit, charming listeners and viewers alike with his folky jams, fun anecdotes and stories of his days in his hometown, which may or may not exist. Soon after, he starts to realize the power he wields over the people of this small town.

Eventually, Rhodes becomes the host of a TV show, and his ratings soar. Soon enough he’s partying with industry players, hobnobbing with political influencers, and even teaches an unpopular Senator what it takes to connect with a younger voting audience. Drunk with his newfound power, Rhodes becomes filled with hubris, which does him in by the end, brought down by the same forces that set him atop the pedestal –– the crowd.

In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is frequently referred to as “Gotham’s white knight” –– the counterpart to its Dark Knight –– the stereotypical “good cop” who can’t be bribed or brought down, and who will do whatever it takes to ensure justice is upheld.

Well, he’ll do almost anything.

But when Dent fails to uphold justice, and his failure costs him the life of the woman he loves, Two-Face takes over, and “the white knight” formerly known as Harvey Dent crashes and burns away by the very system he fought so ardently to defend.

No comment.

No comment.

Dent serves as a visual representation of the duality that all memorable protagonists have struggling within them, which makes for dynamic, three-dimensional characters, in which we invest more of our attention and ourselves. Instead of seeing the shades of gray, Two-Face makes life and every decision about light and dark, black or white, clean side or scarred side on the flip of his custom coin.

The interesting thing is this: with Lonesome Rhodes, as with Harvey Dent, as we watch their rise and fall, we never lose sight of their good sides –– the man with the laugh that encompasses his whole self and the white knight we want to believe still believes in justice, not murder on the edge of a coin toss.

By contrast, no matter how “dark” the Dark Knight becomes, he’ll never fall to the depths of darkness that envelope Harvey Dent. And similarly, no matter how much Lonesome Rhodes blights the color from Marcia Jeffries’ cheeks and dress, she still sees the shades between right and wrong, which ultimately gives her the strength to destroy the cancer that once humble folk singer has become.

That’s these two films teach us –– the test of true power: the ability to do right, so long as it doesn’t cost us our own selves in the process.

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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!

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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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Movies of 2012 I Missed Because I Was Too Darn Busy Writing

It’s been an on again, off again relationship between the movie theater and me.

There were a few movies I really wanted to see in 2012, but I spent the bulk of my time hunched over my writing desk working on everything from Crowdfunding for Filmmakers to the script for my very first comic book, Siren’s Calling; plus there were countless comic book reviews, blog posts, and guest posts for Daily Crowdsource and various online venues that required my attention. The bright side is that I’ve written more in 2012 than in any other year of my entire writing life. The down side? I’ve gotten a bit too far-removed from the best and worst movies of the year; half the time, I didn’t even know what was playing in theaters! (Pretty sad for an indie filmmaker, huh?)

That said, what follows is a trio of (very) short lists of movies that (1) I wanted to see, but didn’t, (2) I saw but didn’t care much for, and (3) I’m looking forward to seeing (and will put in the effort to see) in theaters come 2013. So here goes!

Five Films I Wanted to See in 2012 (and Why), But Didn’t:
Argo –– Because everyone’s saying how awesome a director Ben Affleck is in this one.

*Les Miserables –– Because Marinell really wants to see this.

Lincoln –– Because I want to see why Daniel Day Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor.

Looper –– Because it’s about time travel, and I’m all about time travel tales.

*On the Road –– Because I’ll always be a beatnik at heart.

* I may still be able to see these films before the end of 2012 –– wish me luck!

Three Films I Did See in 2012 And Was Disappointed With (and Why):
The Dark Knight Rises –– Because it felt like the first draft of a story that could’ve been as amazing as both The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.

Prometheus –– Because it was nothing like Alien.

Taken 2 –– Because it was just a sequel to a phenomenal first film.

Two Films I’ll Be Sure to See at a Theater in 2013 (and Why):
The Great Gatsby –– Because (1) the trailer looks amazing, and (2) I’ll always love the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Man of Steel –– Because it looks like the darkest take on Superman yet.

So my 2013 Resolution is, appropriately, to watch more indie and short films on a much more regular basis. What’s YOUR resolution?

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Writing Like a Martlet: Five Months Past, Five Lessons Above

A martlet is an interesting little bird –– one with no feet that spends all its time flying because it can’t ever land. Lately, I’ve felt very much like a martlet when it comes to my own writing.

I mentioned in my blog post “Riding the Writer’s Road: Three Lessons Learned in Three Months of Writing” that I spent a lot of time resisting the writer inside, passing him off as a hack or a sell out. Since shrugging off this false notion, I’ve become more than “just” a poet and an author. While I’ve been hard at work on my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign for Michael Wiese Productions and my proposal and first eight pages of my comic series Siren’s Calling, I felt the need to soar into some fresher kinds of writing, just to keep myself actively hammering away at my wordsmith’s blade.

Here’s where and some of what I’ve been writing over the last month or so:

Broken Frontier
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself as a comics journalist (man, if only that could be a career!), reviewing a few of my favorite titles each month like American Vampire, Batman, Swamp Thing (all three written by my favorite comics writer, Scott Snyder) and Near Death. I’ve also written a review of the first episode of Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men, as well as a blog about the Robert Kirkman/Terry Moore lawsuit over The Walking Dead franchise and an article about Molly Crabapple’s super successful Kickstarter campaign for her fine art project Shell Game.

Film Slate Magazine
I’ve also written a couple reviews for this top-notch film website and may be reviewing some films from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, if time permits. You can check out my review for the screenwriting documentary Dreams on Spec and one for an indie film called The Trouble with Bliss, which includes some insightful quotes from an interview I did with actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and director Michael Knowles.

Jersey City Independent
So far, I’ve contributed one story for Jersey City’s premiere source for fresh, up-to-the-minute news called “Tachair, Grace Church and Others Help Fill the Bookstore Void in Jersey City” about the lack of a bookstore in my town. Hopefully there will be more articles coming up in the near future once Snooki and JWoww get the hell out of Dodge!

Lamplighter Magazine
A while back, former student and fellow writer Patrick Boyle established Lamplighter, NJ’s alternative art, poetry and culture zine, to which I contributed an article about “How I Joined the Zombie Insistence.” Very soon, my second article, “In Praise of Plastic: The Album’s Last Stand in the 21st Century,” will be featured in the first print issue of Lamplighter Magazine, so I’ll keep you updated on all that. Once I find a bit more time, I hope to add a little more digital ink to the Lamplighter website.

My article "War for the Dead" featured on the Broken Frontier homepage.

Each of these four websites has proven a solid whetstone for me to keep my writing skills sharpened as I undergo the painstaking process of revision and proofreading on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. As soon as the manuscript gets sent off to MWP on May 1st, I’ll be diving back into one final revision of my feature-length vampire screenplay A Beautiful Unlife and the second rewrite of my hit man screenplay Caput.

It’s been an intense month with all of this diverse writing I’ve been doing, and, as always, I’ve learned a great deal about the craft of writing, the world around me, and the microcosm of myself. That said, here are five new lessons learned that can help keep every writer soar high as a martlet without any care to land.

Deadlines are Important Although the deadlines I get from Film Slate Magazine and Broken Frontier are soft at best, they’re still deadlines, and having them has greatly improved the pace at which I write. If I write a 200-word review today, I should have something to show for it tomorrow. It may not seem like a lot of words, but for someone who wants 200 of only the best words for his or her review, it can prove quite a challenge, and we writers have to be up to that challenge at all hours of the day or night.

(Cut the Sh*t in Parentheses) Much the way parentheticals –– quick bits of direction from a writer to an actor –– are omitted from most contemporary screenplays, I’m learning how to omit them from my writing entirely. I realized I use them too much, and anything fenced in between parentheses are usually nothing more than the writer’s afterthoughts, and an afterthought, by definition, isn’t worth mentioning since you thought of it after the fact. Keep it after the fact and your writing will stay golden.

Of Editors and Writers When you write for magazines and review sites that love everything you write and post it almost immediately, you get a little spoiled and may start to expect every site you write for to accept your work as is, without question or edit. That said, the article that was published by The Jersey City Independent was not the article I originally wrote. It’s funny, because I constantly preach to my students to never be afraid to “kill your babies” –– all those lovely lines that don’t add anything to your story, article or poem but that you love and don’t want to get rid of –– but when someone else does the killing for you, it naturally feels wrong. Even if it’s done in the most humane way possible, as the JCI editor had done to mine:

I edited out a lot of your beautiful turns of phrase, but some parts of your prose felt a little too florid to me for a news piece. Sometimes I just felt like I needed to whack some adjectives and cut to the chase. I also took out the bit of editorializing you included because I didn’t want to come out and state an opinion.

With the exception of the word “whack,” this is a compassionate explanation, and as much as I understand and agree with the editor’s points, it still hurt when I first saw my abridged news piece. It’s sort of like Candy and his dog in John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men; he’s hurt after Carlson shoots his old dog instead of doing it himself. At the end of the day, however, when you’re writing (1) news (2) for publishers (3) for a paycheck, the writing isn’t about you anymore, and we have to give the editors exactly what they want, and should be able to kill our own babies before they do.

“The Tao is Forever Undefined,” a Writer Defined Forever A Taoist at heart, I go flow with the invisible current of the Universe in everything I do. The other day I met with a young man who reached out to me on Facebook and offered me what I thought was a job as a social media person. Considering that in another year or two the amount of classes I teach per semester may be substantially reduced due to budget cuts, I decided to entertain this notion as an alternative source of income. Long story short, and after listening to a twenty-minute homily from this young man’s senior officer who was nothing more than a textbook for sales pitches and psychology, I realized this “job” was nothing more than a pyramid scheme. A waste of time? Of course not, for it helped me to see that I could never do anything else but what I’m doing now, which is writing and teaching. And if classes become scarce, I’ll simply have no other choice but to put my writing skills, creative and otherwise, to more lucrative uses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Balance is Bliss While I like writing my reviews for Swamp Thing and The Trouble with Bliss as a diversion from my red inking of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I still have to balance these new kinds of writing with my own projects, both creative and expository, to keep the worlds I’m working on floating soundly in the galaxy of myself. Luckily, many of the publishers I write for allow me to be creative with my words, and for that I’m thankful, since it helps me deal with those who prefer straight news to my strong editorial biases. But it’s that kind of balance that keeps us writers moving in the forward direction with every piece we pen.

These lessons I’ve learned are lessons we all learn as writers committed to the word trade. Until next post, I’ll leave you with something I tweeted as soon as I left that meeting with the pyramid schemer.

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Bringing the Beat(nik) Back in American Culture in Film

The other day I was updating my Facebook status and I noticed an advertisement on the side of my screen for On The Road – The movie. I immediately clicked it and was pleased to see that someone had finally decided to turn beat icon Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a true classic of American and cultural literature, into a film.

As with any movie that deals with beatnik culture and the personalities or books associated with it, I was a bit nervous about watching this trailer.

Back when I was a student at New Jersey City University picking up a major in creative writing and a minor in everything else, I stumbled on the beat generation by accident. It was partly because of my good friend Dani Shanberg. I met Dean –– er, I mean Dani –– not long after I started a Poetry Club at NJCU for poets like me to come and read and listen to original bits of writing. I first heard the name Jack Kerouac from him and didn’t think anything of it. I then discovered Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” during a Modern Poetry class and, quite frankly, I thought the poem sucked, mainly because I just didn’t get it. A year or so later, I snagged a Penguin edition of On the Road from a friend who worked at The Book Room, a rustic used book store in Downtown Jersey City, and although reading the book was difficult, not to mention dry due to Kerouac’s intense amount of detail, I took to the tale of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty and their life crossing the great American frontier just enough to pick up an audio book version with Matt Dillon acting out the parts, and I listened to all eleven CDs when my pal Alain and I launched out on our first road trip across the country.

Long-haired and lost in the Louisiana bayou, circa 2000.

Of course, the book took on new meaning after that enlightening and somewhat cliché experience, and it made me delve deeper into the beat mythos, where I discovered more works by these American gods of bop prosody. I ultimately learned to love Allen Ginsberg’s verse in Howl and Other Poems, as well as in his other collections like Kaddish and Other Poems and Reality Sandwiches. Shortly after that, I discovered the poetic stylings of the great Gregory Corso, and my personal favorite for reasons still unknown to me –– William S. Burroughs.

All of these books of prose or verse harken back to a different time in American history, and I’m not talking about the Leave It to Beaver variety with stacks of pancakes at the breakfast table for your 2.5 kids or “blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage.” I’m talking about the Beave’s antithesis –– the scores of underprivileged and highly educated word junkies that fattened the underbelly of American literature.

It seems beatnik culture is being reincarnated in this current Hipster Age, and perhaps there’s no better form for it to take than film. There have been a handful of movies that have explored the beat generation, from the lifestyle itself to adaptations of the more popular beat classics to downright farcical films about French beret-wearing finger snappers tripping light fantastics and dropping phrases like “cool, daddy-o” every chance they can. I owned a few of these films, naturally, but there are others I’d never heard of until writing this blog. Roger Corman’s 1995 horror comedy A Bucket of Blood, for instance, is about a sculptor who accidentally kill his landlady’s cat and hides the evidence in some plaster, and after being pressured to create more of the same, he goes from beatnik to murderer. Then there’s the film adaptation of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans (1960), which is about an interracial couple (taboo during the time it was written, adding more fuel to the fiery fact that the beats were rebels of the written word), as well as Heart Beat (1980) and The Source (1999).

Perhaps the most important beat-based film would have to be David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991), based on Burroughs’ heroin trip of a novel and starring Peter Weller as Bill Lee. Having recently gotten through Burrough’s novel, I can say that the book and film are different. I think. But each is strangely original, blending together a nauseating world of aliens, talking cockroach Underwoods, and more sex and death (and sickly combinations of the two) than you’d ever expect in a novel, even for today’s standards.

A true "WTF?!" moment if I've ever seen one.

Aside from Naked Lunch, there is also Gary Walkow’s 2000 film Beat, starring Kiefer Sutherland as William S. Burroughs and Courtney Love as Burrough’s wife Joan, which ends with the accidental killing of Joan by Burroughs after a drunken game of William Tell goes awry. And for even further insight into Burroughs’ life, there’s Yony Leyser’s William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, a splendid documentary about the tormented writer’s life.

Most recently, beatnik culture has resurfaced from its comfortable subterranean depths with the indie film Howl, Rob Epstein’s biopic that examines the obscenity trail of Allen Ginsberg. I was disappointed with the film, mainly because of James Franco’s performance as Ginsberg and especially with the fact that the entire poem “Howl” is illustrated using cheap computer graphics.

The illustrated "Howl" by Eric Drooker.

So then, what’s my opinion on the trailer for On the Road? Let’s just say that Walter Salles is just the right person to direct a movie about a pair of road hitchhiking free spirits embodying the essence of an entire generation because he already did it in The Motorcycle Diaries. That said, when I did watch this long-awaited trailer, I was pleased for the most part, especially when I saw that Viggo Mortensen is playing Old Bull Lee. I’m not sure how I feel about the actors playing Sal (Sam Riley) and Dean (Garrett Hedlund), and most especially with Kristen Stewart in the role of Marylou. But who knows, perhaps this will be the film that inches her away from what’s proving to be the Twilight of her acting career.

And I’m happy to see that On the Road is only the beginning of a revival of media about the only real American culture ever to have existed, which has inspired everything from hippies to hipsters. Steve Buscemi is slated to direct Burroughs’ gender-shaking novel Queer in 2013, and who knows what’s to follow. I for one would love to see film adaptations of Burroughs’ first novel Junky, which kept me seated in “The Poet’s Chair” on the second floor of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco for well over a hundred pages before I finally caved in and bought a copy for the plane ride back to Jersey the next morning.

Remember this. Always.

Now, if only poems could be adapted into films. That would be a little slice of Nirvana.

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So what’s YOUR favorite beatnik-inspired book that you’d like to see made into a movie?

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Top Eight Movies I Saw in Theaters in 2011 (Because I Only Saw Eight Movies in Theaters in 2011)

As many of my closer friends on Facebook and those who follow me on Twitter probably know, I spent the bulk of 2011 writing, teaching, and doing research for my second feature-length screenplay Caput. That research took the form of film noir, and I spent just about all of my free time seated in front of an old 23-inch Magnavox tube television watching everything from Billy Wilder to Nicholas Ray, from Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy, White Heat, and a bunch of what falls between to everything from Humphrey Bogart and a few titles from Edward G. Robinson.

So needless to say it’s a bit difficult to pull together a “Top Ten” list when you’ve only seen eight movies in total through the course of a whole year. And even though I spent an entire week in Cannes during the Festival du Cannes with my short film Cerise, I didn’t even get to see one film while I was there. Not one!

But out of what I did see in theaters during 2011, here’s how they rank up:

8: Green Lantern –– Okay, it was “Boys Day Out” and my buddy Dave and I saw this in 3-D and afterwards compared the movie to all the Green Lantern comics we’d ever read, and concluded that this isn’t really the best interpretation of GL.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger –– It’s been a heavy year for comic-related movies and me, and although I’m not much a fan of Marvel Comics or even Captain America and the Avengers for that matter, I found this movie to be entertaining at best, and quite ridiculous at worst.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo –– This was the last movie I saw in 2011, and while it was very well-done with great performances by both Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, it’s really nothing more than a straight remake of the superior Swedish version (and not the best testament to any skill David Fincher may have as a director).

5. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold –– The only doc I saw this year, and a humorous and informative one at that! I definitely recommend this one.

4. X-Men: First Class –– Entertainment at its best. I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the X-Franchise, with wonderful performances by both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the conflicting “brothers” Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto).

3. Source Code –– A semi-brainy film for sure (Oh, how I love anything dealing with parallel worlds and other Michio Kaku-like stuff!) in the guise of an action drama. A fun ride which offered up a few minutes of heady conversation at the diner afterwards.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes –– By far the most entertaining action film I’ve seen in a long time, and although the CGIed apes could be a bit distracting (mainly at the beginning), my enjoyment wasn’t all that hindered. This experience was enhanced by the fact that I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes in an AMC Dine-In Theater in Menlo Park, NJ (there’s something to be said about watching a movie like this over a juicy burger, crisp fries, and a Blue Moon fast at your side!)

1. Midnight in Paris –– An absolutely beautiful film and (in my opinion) Woody Allen’s best work to date (but that could also be because it caters to every fiber in my being as a writer and aficionado of classic literature!) This experience, of course, was made even more special because I saw it with my Lady Marinell in Paris (around the midnight hour, too) with French subtitles. Viva la Paris!

As an added bonus, here’s a proper Top Ten List of Films I Wanted to See (But Didn’t) in 2011:

1. L’Artiste
2. The Flowers of War
3. Anonymous
4. Melancholia
5. Another Earth
6. The Skin I Live In
7. The Adjustment Bureau
8. Coriolanus
9. Sleeping Beauty
10. Win Win

Most of these are on my Netflix, and once I’m done with my brief James Bond phase, I’ll start catching up on these 2011 films.

That’s all for now, folks. It’s been a superb year for blog writing, poetry writing, classic movies, and book writing for me, and I’m hoping 2012 continues this tradition tenfold.

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading!

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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: Three Ps for a Successful Indie Film Campaign

UPDATED: MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015 –– Not your grandpa’s “Three Ps” anymore!

BEFORE YOU READ THIS POST, in which you’ll certainly learn the basics of running a very successful crowdfunding campaign using my “Three Ps” of crowdfunding, I want to let you know that I have a brand new post over at Medium, with an all-new (similar) set of ways to crowdfund an indie film. It’s called the “Three Ways to Let Your Crowd In,” and those three Ways are the InvitationIncentives, and Interactions.

But whether you use my “Ps” or my “Ins,” you’ll still be on the Path toward a more successful campaign, and another step closer to making that indie film burning in your veins a reality. Happy reading!

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Long before I became Indiegogo‘s head campaign specialist for film, I was given multiple opportunities to step in for the company’s CEO and co-founder Slava Rubin and give a presentation on crowdfunding sponsored by New York Women In Film and Television (NYWIFT). Though the seminar was primarily focused around grant writing and more traditional ways of getting money for films, more of the attendees seemed ready to merge onto the more active freeway of crowdfunding rather than take the passive back roads of grant writing.

Vinegar tasters

If a Buddhist, a Confucian, and a Taoist each tried to crowdfund an indie film, which would be most successful?

Although crowdfunding has been around for years now, it’s still the buzz word amongst the indie film community. The only real issue I find with crowdfunding is that far too many people jump headfirst into a campaign without the proper knowledge of how it all works and without a carefully plotted outline. Specifically, there are things that every filmmaker should be aware of before embarking on a crowdfunding campaign, things that have been proven to work, not only for my short film Cerise, but for many other, more recent projects as well.

That said, there are three aspects of crowdfunding that should be thoroughly sketched out before your campaign goes live: a proper pitch, personalized perks, and plenty of promotion –– what I call the “Three Ps” of crowdfunding.

Your pitch is the single most important part of your campaign because it’s the one and only chance you have to sell yourself and not necessarily your project. Talk to your potential contributors. Tell them about yourself (the introduction), then tell them why you want to make this film and why they should help (the pitch). Keep in mind the “they” –– we may think that crowdfunding is about us, but the word “I” isn’t a part of this neologism; it’s all about the crowd, so make it about them. Finally, show them that you’re not a newb when it comes to filmmaking by displaying some of your prior film work (the showcase).

A mistake that many crowdfunders make is not appearing in their pitch video. The truth is YOU MUST APPEAR IN YOUR PITCH. Not many people will give money to a photograph or a movie trailer. People give to other people. No one likes to ask for money, it’s true, but the least you can do is ask your potential contributors as personally as possible, and in this case, your pitch is as personal as it gets.

Many of you have probably seen my pitch video for Cerise, which got the attention of Indiegogo’s other co-founder Danae Ringelmann, and in turn she gave me the additional, last-minute confidence I needed to actually go live with my campaign. If you haven’t seen it, check it out below:

Back then, crowdfunding was young, and my pitch for Cerise was cited as a model of what a solid pitch video should be. Compared to the ones I’d researched back then, you could say that I went the extra yard with my video, actually shooting short scenes to illustrate my perk levels and such. Today, though, filmmakers need to up their game

Here’s a more recent pitch video for a Canadian indie film called The Etiquette of Sexting, and when I first saw it, I started laughing immediately, not only because it’s a hilarious comedy about a guy’s first tryst with sexting after a bad breakup, but because the video followed the four basic elements of a pitch:

  1. The Introduction: an short intro into who the filmmaker is, starting with her or his name, of course.
  2. The Pitch: a short description of the film (logline) and why the filmmaker’s coming to the crowd (purpose) and what he or she has on offer (perk mention)
  3. The Showcase: proof that the filmmaker is, in fact, a filmmaker
  4. The Call to Action: The moment when the filmmaker tells us what we need to do to help out.

See for yourself how the filmmakers put together this stellar pitch:

Your pitch can be as straight-forward as Jeanie’s, or you can have a bit more fun with it and still be gearing it towards your potential contributors, the way Lauren Mora did in her pitch video for Misdirected, which certainly helped her raise $1,000 over her initial goal of $5,000.

As crowdfunding evolves, the more creative you can get with your pitch video, the better. Just check out this amazing pitch for Kenny Gee’s Singaporean short film The Body, which not only pitches the campaign in a fun and unique way, but also showcases the filmmaker’s talent.


This is really the basis of crowdfunding –– you give me money, you get something in return, and the way I see it, there are three types of perks you can offer up for your indie film’s crowdfunding campaign:

  1. standard definition (sd): what I call “The Mandatories” –– digital download, DVD/Blu-ray copies, social media shout outs,
  2. High Definition (HD or Hi-Def): Experiential perks, such as producer credits, special thanks, dinner with directors, Skypes with actors, Instagram and vine videos, invitations to the premieres, and VHX streaming
  3. Three-Dimensional (3-D!): Personalized perks, which I define as any perk that seeks to bring contributors to the campaign deeper into the world of the film, must the way 3-D movies brings us into the film

Now while there’s nothing wrong with offering sd and HD perks, it’s much more meaningful to funders when campaigners think outside the money box and GET PERSONAL WITH THE PERKS on offer. A strong example of a 3-D! perk is the acrostic poem perk from my campaign for Cerise. Originally, at the $10 perk level, I offered a shout out on Facebook and Twitter. Then my girlfriend at the time (fiancée now) and marketing mage Marinell suggested I write each funder a poem. I’m a poet, yes, and Cerise is a film about words, yes, but like Dudley Randall once wrote, a poet is not a jukebox! My biggest concern was “what if I have to write, like, fifty poems?!” Well, I ended up writing over 100 poems, which Marinell beautifully formatted and posted on our funders’ Facebook walls to their surprise and delight.

My acrostic poem for Cerise funder Giselle Del Oro.

Another example is the short film Sync, which found success on Indiegogo through a masterfully executed campaign spearheaded by filmmaker Brendon Fogle. He started out with one of the typical perks –– stickers (very cool ones at that), but went the extra mile in his perk descriptions (it’s okay to get creative when asking for money, trust me!) Here’s an example:

Kudos for upping the nostalgia factor with “Trapper Keeper”!

Yet another of his perks was titled “33 1/3 RPMazing: $33” and this was where we got a glimpse into Brendon’s world, because at this level he sends you a record from his personal collection! I’m actually a very proud backer of Sync, and I was originally going to contribute at the $12 level so I’d have some money left over to finally join Pearl Jam’s Ten Club. Then I saw the $33 perk in all its coolness, and I just had to click “Contribute Now.” (Sorry, Eddie! Next year, perhaps.)

But Brendon didn’t stop there. Keeping with the theme of vinyl (the story of Sync revolves around a grandfather trying to connect with his MP3ed-in grandson through the gift of records), my favorite of his perks turns a photo of one of his mild-mannered funders into a super hip album cover from the 1960s using a process he calls “The Blue Note Treatment.”

Here’s a photo of me that Brendon gave “The Blue Note Treatment” as a test, and boy do I dig it, daddy-O!

From perks that hearken back to the old days to perk dollar amounts that reflect record RPMs, it’s that fine attention to detail that funders want to see. So go the distance and make every aspect of your perks count for something special.

The Kickstarter campaign for Hybrid Vigor, which raised $57,237 of its $50,000 goal, offered up one of the most personalized perks I’ve ever seen, one that not only ties into the film itself, but ties the contributor almost literally to a piece of the movie: For only $1, your face would become part of the official “photomosaic” movie poster for Hybrid Vigor:

You’d expect to contribute at least $25 for this perk. Nope. Just a buck!

And most recently there was the Indiegogo campaign for HELLO, HARTO!, in  which YouTube star Hannah Hart decided to crowdfund so she could take her hit show “My Drunk Kitchen” on the road. Because Hannah had gotten proposed to numerous times in the comments section of her YouTube channel, she decided to offer e-certificates of polygamous marriage to anyone willing to contribute $25 to her campaign. $223,007 later on her humble $50,000 (which she reached within the first six hours of her launch) and she’ll be coming to a kitchen near you.

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 4.01.13 PM

Hannah’s certificate of e-polygamy and some of her other highly personal perks.

The list goes, so I’ll end this section with one of my all time favorite perks that I’ve ever received, which is this ukulele song by Tim Sparks when he was crowdfunding his short film Around Here on Indiegogo. I mean, it really doesn’t get much more personalized that a song about the funder. And for $20?! Easy money!

I’ve said it at the Apple Store in SoHo, I said it again to the packed house of the NYWIFT event, and I’ve written it down in my very first crowdfunding-related post “Read Me Up Before You (Indie)GoGo!” and numerous times in my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers –– CROWDFUNDING IS A FULL-TIME JOB. Anyone who tells you otherwise must not have had a very successful campaign.

A successful crowdfunding campaign demands around-the-clock promotion. In today’s technocracy, that translates to constant tweets, relentless Facebook status updates, email blasts up the wazoo, sleep strikes, the occasional hunger strike, and any other means by which to keep your project on the minds of your friends, family, and supporters. It also means having some fun with your promotion, keeping your audience engaged with things like contests, giveaways, fun videos, and the like. Brendon sure had fun with his video updates for Sync:

I’m sure many people worry about the rejection that may result from a campaign with a strong social media presence. But really, it all depends on how you tackle your promotion. If that’s all you’re updating your status with and you’re not having any conversations on Twitter other than ones with #MyProject appended to them, then yes, you’ll most likely lose followers and friends very quickly, and rightly so –– there’s a fine line between promotion and spamotion. Don’t cross it.

Or, if you do cross it, do it with tact. For instance, with Cerise, I took a chance that I was sure would end badly. When I wasn’t getting enough “Likes” and “Comments” (and, by extension, not enough contributions) from my friends on Facebook  by simply posting the link to our Indiegogo page on my wall, I started to post the link directly on my friends’ walls with a bit of small talk and a humble request for their support. To my surprise, I received plenty of contributions using this tactic, and only lost one friend and, ironically enough, gained over 300 more by the end of the campaign. It all depends on how you come across in your promotion, like a company or like a person.

Take Steve Anderson’s ingenious (and fun) promotion for his Kickstarter project This Last Lonely Place. In between more standard promotional tweets, Steve infuses famous movie lines with a “Kickstarter” flare:

These “Famous Kickstarter Quotes” keep Steve’s crowdfunding fresh and fun with every tweet.

In fact, it was these “Famous Kickstarter Quotes” that helped Steve attract the attention of one very influential supporter –– The Humphrey Bogart Estate –– which not only contributed a substantial amount of money and support to the campaign for This Last Lonely Place, but also matched every contribution to the campaign itself up to its $75,000 goal.

And this brings me to the final P of crowdfunding (I know, I said there were only three, but only because this last aspect of crowdfunding was woven through each of the others I mentioned) –– Personalization. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between traditional ways of funding a film and crowdfunding; investors invest in projects, while people invest in people. That’s probably the most important thing to walk away from after reading this blog post aside from a few helpful tips that have been proven to work from a handful of victorious projects: PERSONALIZE EVERYTHING IN YOUR CAMPAIGN. The spirit of your pitch, your perks, and your promotion should be YOU as a person; give to your potential contributors a piece of you, and they’ll give you more than just a part of their paycheck. They’ll give you the power you need to really succeed!

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Any crowdfunding stories or tips YOU’d like to share? Write them up in the “Comments” section below and perhaps I’ll be able to work them into future guest posts for the Indiegogo Blog or my “Crowd Reign” blog over at Indie Reign.

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Auteurs Rising: Filmmaking’s First Act Revisited

I recently had a brief but insightful discussion with a screenwriter friend of mine about just how long it should take to write a short script. Apparently, someone mentioned she’d taken a while to finish her fifteen-page script,  suggesting that in the time it took her to finish writing it, he or she could’ve completed the entire film from Final Draft to Final Cut, perhaps. It got me thinking about this lightning-fast world of ours and the many filmmakers in it who hold to this mentality, that the more films they make, the better their films will get in time. While this makes perfect sense from a technical skills standpoint, it says nothing about quality storytelling, and for a film to be as good as it can be, the script needs to be as good as it can be.

If the three acts of filmmaking are writing, shooting and editing, then quality can only begin in that first act, like the exposition of any great movie. It comes down to a question of quality versus quantity, and the former in any film, indie or otherwise, begins on the page. So every filmmaker should practice being a filmwriter first and foremost. Innovation in filmmaking is another integral part of the process, but a filmmaker should know his or her story inside and out and work out any kinks on paper before they can discover interesting and effective new ways of progressing that story from beginning to end.

But today, since new toys are readily at every indie filmmaker’s disposal and at relatively cheap prices, just about anyone can shoot some footage, edit it together on an iPhone and swiftly move on to the next. At this year’s Cannes Short Film Corner, for instance, my short film Cerise was one of 1900 other short films that’d been registered at the festival’s Digital Film Library. With this faster workflow in mind, it’s no wonder there are so many more auteurs out here making movies on more regular bases, and each time hoping one of them might afford them their big break.

It’s the same procedure that screenwriters undergo, really. They slave over laptops tapping away at their next feature with the same levels of hard work and hope that filmmakers exhibit when they bring those words to life on the screen. But screenwriters know the importance of composing coherent and compelling stories before the cameras start capturing them in HD; you can easily revise a few pages of dialogue, but you can’t revise a few slapdash shots that were slapdash because they weren’t fleshed out enough in the first act of the filmmaking process. Then, two wicked words are born: “Reshoot” and “Overbudget.”

Nowadays, though, it seems indie filmmakers––most of whom don’t necessarily consider themselves screenwriters––choose quantity over quality in the hopes of perfecting their storytelling skills that way because of the belief that “film is a visual medium.” This crutch seems to excuse most filmmakers from ever honing their skills as filmwriters, which might be acceptable if the story you’re telling with the camera isn’t your own (here’s the other crutch, that “film is a director’s medium.”) But with most indie filmmakers I know, the stories are our own, and stories aren’t told through storyboards alone; even comic book panels need words.

As a filmmaker second and writer first, shooting a script that’s not 100% camera-ready can be counterproductive, not to mention pricey––a laptop and a latté look better on the budget sheet! I work on a script for as long as  it needs, getting the dialog right, describing the action on paper so well that my crew will see the shot the way I see it (I rarely use storyboards, though drawing was my first art), and then shoot it swiftly and without much extraneous thought on set. It’s the only way I can ensure the quality in my work.

Aside from the two features I’ve been working on, I’ve been slowly crafting two short films in a “Memory Trilogy” I’m piecing together. The first film, Statuetory, is five years old and wasn’t entirely working until I decided to challenge myself and tell the story in a nonlinear fashion. That was all it needed; now, a story that was a bit confusing and as preachy as early Woody Allen is now a bit less talky and much more filmic. I couldn’t have rewritten this short script back then the way I’d recently done; I needed the experience of writing Cerise, then rewriting it mere days before it was shot. Now, Statuetory and the second installment of the trilogy, Café Mnemosyne, are both ready for the 5D Mark II.

This question of quality versus quantity reminds me of what a screenwriting professor told me once, which I’m sure I’d mentioned in a previous post. He said that back in Hollywood’s heyday, creative writing classes were a required part of students’ studies as tomorrow’s screenwriters. Nowadays, creative writing’s not even on the lunch menu for most filmmakers. That’s probably why there’s not many Billy Wilders out there anymore. Quality begins in Act One, no matter how beautiful and innovative your images are in Act Two or how innovative the edit is by Act Three. If it takes you a week to write a three-page script or six months to draft a twenty-pager, let it be. The audience doesn’t care how much time you spent writing the story, but it’ll be the first thing they critique if you didn’t spend enough on it.

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