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Crowdfunding
Hurricanes can't stop this Hometown Hero filmmaker

November 16, 2017

• Jenny Waldo

In June 2017, Seed&Spark announced the Hometown Heroes Rally, partnering with Mark and Jay Duplass, to support and promote regional filmmaking, specifically a narrative feature. I’d funded my short film Acid Test through Seed&Spark the previous year and had planned to adapt it into a feature, so despite some concerns about the herculean effort preparing and running a crowdfunding campaign again, I decided “Why not?” and prepared to launch September 12. I was going to get my debut feature off the ground and see if the Duplass Brothers wanted to join me.

 

Then Hurricane Harvey hit.

 

I live in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, which was hit hard by the storm as it stalled and dumped rain on a city prone to flooding. For a week, I was under mandatory evacuation, staying in my brother’s two-bedroom one-bath apartment in Austin with my husband and our collective four kids. Though our house hadn’t flooded during the storm, the river nearby was expected to flood with the rain runoff. Lying on a leaking air mattress, staring at the ceiling, barely sleeping from the anxiety of our vigil, I thought about my upcoming Hometown Heroes campaign and seriously considered cancelling it. I emailed Gerry Maravilla, my Seed&Spark contact for both campaigns, to let him know my quandary. 

 

How was I supposed to ask for money when much of Houston was devastated by Harvey? The focus on regional filmmaking for the rally had initially been a bonus: a way to celebrate the efforts I’d made over the past 12 years living in Houston as an independent filmmaker in a non-industry town and the amazing depth of talent and community that existed here. Now, I didn’t know if I’d be returning to a flooded house, and I knew the recovery for the city and its residents would be long and expensive.

 

And yet I was hesitant to cancel. I had been through a devastating hurricane before, having come to Houston as a Hurricane Katrina evacuee from New Orleans, and I didn’t want to let another Hurricane put my life and my filmmaking on hold…again.

 

In 2005, I’d been living in New Orleans with a newborn and a new marriage, wondering what to do with myself because I’d just spent over three years (and a ton of money) in Los Angeles at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts earning my MFA in Film Production, interning and working in the Hollywood film industry. After Katrina brought us to Houston, we spent over 3 months in temporary housing before we officially moved into a new home, and I had to put my filmmaking on hold for my sanity. Little by little, project by project, I recovered and connected with the filmmaking community in Houston, and with Acid Test I was pushing my work to a new level.

 

As I considered my moral compass, again the question became “Why not?” The worst-case scenario would be failing to make the campaign minimums. Not doing the campaign outright? That was a failure I wasn’t willing to consider, so I told Gerry we were on (I need a whole other post to gush about how wonderful and supportive he is).

 

Acid Test’s feature film crowdfunding campaign launched on Sept. 12 as part of the Hometown Heroes Rally.

 

From the campaign I’d done before, I knew crowdfunding was an additional full-time job where you’re constantly monitoring, pushing, reaching out, cheering and secretly despairing until the green light appears and it’s over. It’s a sprint and a marathon all in one, and my Hometown Heroes campaign was challenging in expected and unexpected ways. There was donor-fatigue from my recent short film campaign and relief efforts for Harvey and all the natural disasters that hit in those weeks around the country and continent. I had to keep reminding myself that I was investing in myself, in my film, in my community, and…why not.

 

I wanted my Hometown Heroes campaign to be part of that recovery. There were 3 goals in mind: use the campaign to workshop the project and see what people responded to, support other filmmakers on this journey, and throw a spotlight on people doing inspiring and amazing things in Houston.

 

Generating a constant stream of new content to keep the campaign alive was liberating because it forced me to just go out and do. I filmed interviews with people I admired in Houston — a filmmaker pioneer, a transgender riot grrrl musician, a STEM-researcher-punk-rocker, and a reproductive rights advocate  — offering these videos to promote their work while tapping in to their “crowd.” I filmed videos talking about scenes, themes and sounds important to my feature, each helping to hone those ideas and shape the development of the project as I revised the script. The only other Houstonian doing a Hometown Heroes rally happened to be a filmmaker working in the film department at Houston Community College, where I teach. The universe aligned! Derrick Fury (who had been flooded out of his house) and I joined forces to hold table events at HCC and at Bedrock City Comics to generate awareness and build an audience for his debut feature Lion Killer alongside Acid Test.

 

The community outreach alone was worth the 30 days. Thankfully, our home escaped flooding when the river crested below projections, and what emerged out of all this trauma was a resilient city coming together in an amazing show of humanity. Working with Derrick, cheering each other on as we passed each other in the hallways at work and coordinating coffee and cookies for the table events. Fellow Hometown Heroes reaching out and following each other’s projects, setting up rolling Facebook Live events to promote everyone’s campaigns. As a crowdfunding platform and company, Seed&Spark provides a support system that is unparalleled, which is why I picked them, twice, and the best support I found campaigning both times came from my fellow Seed&Sparkers. And while I met the minimums to qualify but didn’t get enough followers to get to the Duplass pitch, I felt like a winner just the same.

 

Crowdfunding is like having kids: after the first, you never want to do it again and wonder how the species survived. After the second, you’re all in and think you could do it again. As difficult and stressful as campaigns are (juggling to balance them with real-world responsibilities like kids, work and basic hygiene) I got so much out of them — out of myself, out of my community, out of my project. I’m moving forward on my debut feature with a confidence I didn’t have before. So…yeah…why not?

Read more by

Jenny Waldo

Jenny Waldo is an independent filmmaker based in Houston whose short film ACID TEST is currently in festivals having recently played at BendFilm in Oregon and Austin Film Festival. Catch it in New York City on November 27th when it screens as part of NewFilmmakers, NY! Learn more at acidtestfilm.com or jennywaldo.com.

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