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The Seed&Spark Blog

Making Lemonade Part 1: Filmmaking as Communal Entrepreneurship

July 9, 2013

• Karl Jacob

Still from Pollywogs

I'm stuck at Laguardia airport on my way to Duluth, Minnesota.  It will be the first screening of Pollywogs that I booked directly with a theater that is not happening during a festival.  My flight has been delayed by 4 hours; partly because of weather and partly because the number of air traffic controllers has been reduced so significantly that they simply can't manage all of the scheduled flights.  This is a result of the financial sequester that struck millions of dollars from the government's services earlier this year.  A free year of Delta's “Skymiles Card” afforded me the new experience of getting to pass this time in the Sky Lounge--slightly more comfortable than the consolation of waiting at the gate—and despite the fact that the people who frequent this lounge are used to priority, they are still waiting along with the rest of us.  This makes me smile as we, together as humans and citizens live the change we didn't believe would come.
I'm guessing that most of us had never envisioned this reality, or the ones to come with the rapidly changing financial structure, and now we are all swimming in it together as I sit and stare at gate C29.  Moments like this make me wonder if producing movies would have been harder or easier in a time when there was more money, less ways to consume media, and everyone's roles were clearly defined.  It seems like it would have been easier, but when I think of the struggles that filmmakers had back then, it seems more likely that they had their own set of problems that we no longer have to deal with.  One thing that hasn't changed is our need for a community to support each other's goals.  Presumably, if we have a strong community, we can support anything into existence.


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LAFF Premiere

Pollywogs had it's world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival a few weeks ago, and since the fest we have had a lot of conversations with different distributers to talk about potential releases, but none has really come to the plate with an enticing offer.  It seems to be the stereotypical scenario that has emerged in the past few years.  Granted, there are some filmmakers that hit hard and win big, get a good minimum guarantee and move on to their next project, but these cases are the minority.

When we were on our way to LAFF, we put together a Seed&Spark campaign, made a great video, and had perks that were enticing and fun.  I had always wanted to have a crowdfunding push in the final stage of post production, but knew that it would be a lot of work to manage the push to potential funders.   We have a great fan base that we built over the last year, most of them on a direct email list, and in the 3 times we reached out to them, the money came in.  The problem was  there was so much to get done to prepare the film and the press for the premiere, that there were just not enough hands on deck.  We ended up not meeting our goal.  I have since thought and talked about this with people including Emily Best, and have come to realize that there were quite possibly people out there in the filmmaking community that would have brought their time to the table to help in this process. The issue that I was having at the time was that I didn't know where these people were, or how to find them.

During the production process there are a lot of clearly defined roles, roles that most of us are very familiar with and know who we need to fill them.  We also probably know a handful of people who CAN fill them, or at the very least can suggest someone to fill them.  With the emergence of a more hands-on distribution process, new roles have emerged, or at least become more specialized and modular.  When I was faced with this 30-day period of overwhelming preparation and simultaneous crowdfunding, I didn't know where to turn to seek out the right people to get it all done.  My producers and I already had our hands full with so many other things, and the few attempts I made with posts to Craigslist  and the like were fruitless.  Our campaign ended up only reaching 4% of our goal, and though it felt like defeat, I didn't feel defeated.

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Screening of Pollywogs in Duluth, Minnesota.

Learning from whatever you do, no matter what the outcome, is the most important skill you can have as an entrepreneur—which is what we really are as modern day filmmakers.  The momentum we had from our crowdfunding campaign continued to push us forward to 2 sold-out screenings at our LAFF premiere.  Most everyone who I wanted to attend was there, and the film got the exposure that it needed.   The screenings generated the attention required to continue our push through this phase that we seemed to already be in: distribution.  I made the choice early on to look at the festival premiere as a good staging ground for talking about our the next steps with the press.  On the docket was the screening that we are having in Duluth this week.  Through a connection I had at the Duluth Film Festival, I was able to get a one-off screening in the local indie theater called the Zinema.  They agreed to a box office share in a 96 seat theater, and as of now we are sold out.  There is talk of adding another day as a result of its popularity.  The plan is to continue on this track with theaters around the country, while continuing conversations with potential partners for various online and VOD releases.  Like the change that is always around us, this approach, though uncomfortable and overwhelming, has become our reality.

I'm going to keep this journal through the next few months of this process, and share with you the experience of taking the film to the streets.
Until next time,
-Karl

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Karl Jacob

Karl Jacob is a New York based filmmaker and actor whose film and TV Credits include Showtime's ‘The Roost’, IFC’s Young American Bodies, SXSW 2011 competition film ‘Happy New Year,’ ABC's 666 Park Avenue, Paramount's "The Dictator&quo

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