GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.

19Jul/12Off

When to “Sell Out”

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series documenting my attempts to get "House of Yhargoth," my Lovecraftian webseries, made. Some key details may be omitted as I'm actively in talks and I don't want to hurt my chances. But I'll fill you in as soon as I can.

Now, I hate the term "sell out" not because it's a derogatory term for anyone who appears to hold money above art but because it appears to be applied indiscriminately to anyone who accepts a paycheck rather than simply "doing it for the love." What many people fail to recognize is that art costs money, and love alone cannot pay the bills.

This post sprung to mind as I saw many of my fellow filmmakers successfully raising some funding via crowdsource websites like these guys for instance. And they're not alone. If you're one of the many hundreds of creators who have been able to fund your projects yourself, or with the support of friends and family through crowdfunding initiatives, congratulations! If I may be so bold, I'll assume your projects are restrained in scope to a degree you know you can fund and produce well. Or you just have a lot of fans and a good product. Or... you're terrible at budgeting and take a lot of the work on yourself and possibly burden your crew and overstretch your resources. Bottom line is you're making something and for that you should be congratulated!

Now back to me... I've debated using something like Kickstarter to launch my webseries for a long time now. In fact, I have extensive spreadsheets noting best times for starting campaigns, best practices once they're launched, ideas for pledge tiers, sample tweets, interested parties, and more. Lots more. Suffice to say if I were to start a campaign tonight I could probably whip up a pretty good one.

Would It Be Enough?

Here's where things get tricky. I've shot dozens of short films. I've budgeted & scheduled everything I knew would cost me more than $100 and take more than a day to shoot. I know how much things cost and I know how long things take. After going through the script for my Lovecraftian webseries and consulting with line producers galore, I came up with a budget and schedule. I had a number now... and that number did not scream "CROWDFUND!" to me. It was too large in comparison to my meager (but loyal and awesome) fanbase. And even if I was able to excite the audience the show was intended for, I wasn't positive I could get enough of them on board the crowdfunding train.

What Other Options Are There?

Here's where "selling out" comes into play. If you don't have the funds and don't have the network to get those funds, you need to go outside that network. To that end I've been seeking potential distributors to sell the idea to (with the intent of staying on board as producer with Faye as head writer). Shock! Gasp! I can hear you choke.

After you choke I can hear you guffaw: "But Dom," you manage through stifled laughter, "Just make something cheaper!" To which I retort, "Why?" I've played in those trenches and I'll definitely be back but I can't make this show in that field. I recognize that the level-headed amongst you will shake those level-heads and wonder why I don't simply prep a smaller, more intimate and affordable show to start out with. Frankly I find those types of shows are not my cup of tea. I got in this business to make shows like House of Yhargoth.

"Why don't you just shoot a piece of it, and see what happens?" I'm terrible at analogies but let me try to explain this one: Imagine having a piece of a pie. It tastes good. So good you want to tell everyone you know about it. You run out, send emails, and notify everyone you've ever met that you just had the best piece of pie in the world. When everyone comes back to try some you find the pie has been decimated by time, eaten away by flies and rats and is no longer edible. You can make a new pie but by the time you're done everyone has moved on to cake.

See, the internet is fickle - that pilot may hit like a hot poker and wow everyone. But if you have nothing to release the following week you're destined to lose any support garnered from the pilot. Crowdfunding for a single pilot is possible, but as I said it's how one can follow that up. There are ways to make this work, of course, but they revolve around having money... I'll reveal in another post.

Why sell off the idea you are so passionate about?

Well to be honest I'm SO passionate about this idea I'm not going to do two things:
1) Make it for anything less than it's worth.
2) Not make it.

That means I need to raise money somehow. Next!

Does That Make Me A Sell Out?

Depends on who you talk to, I guess. There are people who take great pride in eschewing the Hollywood system. It's a tricky tightrope to walk - retaining independence or paying people. And I don't say that blithely. Salaries are the single largest component of film budgets - and the reason why so many modern indie filmmakers become a jack of all trades doing the editing, shooting, writing, directing, etc. themselves. While I enjoy that component and it's certainly made me a better overall filmmaker, I prefer to use pros when possible. Wouldn't you?

Why Is It So Important?

My dream is to take this back to Seattle. At the budget level I'm proposing it would be a not insignificant project for the local community. Money would be fed back to local businesses and people - people who helped me out when I was just starting by donating their time, equipment, and a whole lot more. This is a sustaining project as well, being episodic and all. Not to mention Seattle has all the built-in locations a story like ours needs. It just works.

So that's what I'm doing right now and why I've been fairly incommunicado since my last major post about the show. Not much to report when at this stage it's all unreturned phone-calls or passive-aggressive e-mails. But that's gonna change...

Posted by Dom

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi Dom!!! I read your blog!!!

    I feel your pain. As you know, I’ve got one project that I’m wildly passionate about (as you are with HOY), and others that I’m only “mildly” passionate about. I would “sell out” on those mildly passionate projects in a heartbeat, but not the one that I like a lot.

    I don’t know if I could sell off the project I like…especially if I were giving up a substantial amount of creative control. I think about a movie like “Swingers” (that launched Favreau and Vaughn into our collective consciousness). The script was very popular and they had multiple huge offers from studios…but they didn’t want to give up creative control, so they produced it under a relatively limited budget by an independent distributor (http://bit.ly/P9IzF1).

    If the movie had been handed off to “script doctors,” it would never have been the success it became. Because they didn’t sell off a good idea, Swingers became a “cult classic,” whereas if they’d taken the paycheck, their careers would have had a very different trajectory.

    Personally I hope you stick to your guns and try to make HOY your way. You can give away the projects you don’t really care about, but if you give your baby to someone else they’re going to screw it up. I’ve seen what happens when a great idea can just kinda’ slip away into banal mediocrity when it gets made — it’s part of the deal. But with this first big project, I say you either make it your way or not at all…and in the meantime, take up other projects to get experience, credibility, and (god forbid) more fans.

  2. I think you’ll be happier long term with it done right, even if it means losing some so-called indy cred. Look at it as giving out a sample of your skills to the world. Remember, before Joss was the Boss, he wrote scripts for Roseanne.

  3. Dom, Commenting on an old article, I know, but hey – just found this blog through a friend linking another one of your posts, so I have an excuse. 😉 I just wanted to congratulate you on being able to make the often tough call between projects that can be shot on a shoestring budget and those that can not. It’s a huge leap that not all indie filmmakers these days can make, sadly. There are way too many terrible $5k features and webseries whose only budget was crafty (i.e. a pizza) out there, which have the unintended result of hurting a career rather than advancing it. It’s not that things can’t ever be done that way, just that there are definitely time when they shouldn’t. Knowing which is which is a great skill to have as a producer. Best of luck with your project. -Jeff

  4. Hey Jeff,
    Thanks for the feedback and great to hear from you. And now I’m wondering who linked a post of mine! I have received feedback similar to yours as well – that not enough people budget properly and I couldn’t agree more. Gotta admit I’m jealous of folks who can just grab a crew and start shooting, whether they have money or not. But that jealousy fades when I find out how terrible their shoots go because they didn’t budget enough.

  5. The trick, for me, is balancing self funded projects with those I pitch to deeper pockets than mine. I try not to go too long without actually shooting something, but I also don’t self finance concepts well beyond my means.

    To answer your curiosity, a friend and fellow creator, Sketkh Williams, posted the “Why do Most Webseries Suck?” article to a NY area webseries creators group on Facebook.


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