Here We IndieGoGo

One afternoon in May 2013, I sat down in my parents’ house, in front of my dad’s wall of books, and my girlfriend, Caitlin, said, “Action” and hit record on the camera. I began to describe the plot of West of Her, trying to pitch the film to IndieGoGo donors. I made it through 30 seconds, and then stumbled, put my hands on my face, and cursed. Eight takes later, I made it 18 seconds, then cursed again. “No!” Caitlin shouted from off-screen. “You were doing so well!” “No,” I told her, “I hitched!” “Aww,” she sighed. We’d been at it half an hour. By take 19, I made it 15 seconds, before stopping mid-sentence, clapping, and telling her, “Next one! Next one’ll be it.” Finally, on the 24th take, I made it through. It was only then that I noticed that onscreen, my dad’s copy of The Rape of Nanking was positioned right by my head, with only the word RAPE legible. In fact, it was the only legible word on the whole shelf. I didn’t reshoot. It would have to do.

Cam, Dave, and I had thought long and hard about how best to approach the IndieGoGo campaign. It seemed the most successful videos had some component that made them shareable—we kept coming back to a one-take wonder we’d seen a filmmaker post years earlier—but our hands were so full getting the movie made, we could hardly start pre-production on a viral video.

Finally, we decided the best way to highlight what made the film special would be to have the cast and crew shoot talking-head testimonials at home, talking about what was so exciting about the project, to demonstrate how we were pulling this film together from all over North America.

And so Kelsey sat on her porch in LA, telling the viewer, “The thing that excites me most about this project is that the script is full of questions. I always want to be involved in projects that leave the viewer with questions rather than answers.” Ryan sat in an attic on Long Island, and told us, “Any opportunity to sleep out of your car for a month and film across the country is something you’re always hoping or wishing would come along.” Halli sat on her fire escape in New York City and talked about, “this cool, mysterious, character-driven adventure,” while Dave sat on a screen porch in suburban Massachusetts and described me as “super creative, super talented,” and Cam sat in his backyard in Toronto and talked about “a wonderful script and a beautiful movie.”  Finally, we came back to me in front of the wall of books, telling the viewer, “this is a movie that’s gonna connect with audiences of any age and any walk of life, and now we just need your help to make sure those audiences have a chance to see it.”

A big part of IndieGoGo—which we chose rather than Kickstarter because even if you don’t meet your fundraising goal, you get to keep what you do raise—is offering the donors exciting perks. The pitfall we made sure to avoid was promising physical materials that would end up taking a chunk out of our budget—personally, I never want my donation to go towards making a T-shirt for myself—so we focused on promising advance copies of the film and soundtracks. My secret strategy, though, was offering a “special thanks” in the credits to literally any donor, even ones who just contributed a dollar. I knew we were making a film with a crew of eleven, and I wanted our closing credits to run as long as possible.

Maybe the most important lesson I learned from the IndieGoGo campaign was to have no expectations—not about any of it. Of course we wanted our campaign to be shared around, and attract donors who didn’t know any of us. But there’s simply too vast an ocean of indie films on the site, and we didn’t have the urgent hook so many of them do. We just wanted to make a great movie, “trying to show,” as I put it in the video, “that you don’t need a big budget to make a movie that feels big. That what you need are passion and dedication.” And in our case, that wasn't quite singular enough to go viral.

But by having no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by who crawled out of the woodwork to be generous, friends I never would have expected to open their wallets for us. To know that our film, and ourselves, had the support of people who cared about us gave us a crucial boost of motivation and excitement as we headed towards the end of pre-production. It’s so easy to feel like you’re working in a vacuum. Help from our loved ones, and the handful of angels who didn’t need to be anywhere near as generous as they were, showed that there were people out there beyond ourselves who really believed we were going to make a wonderful movie.

Now, we just needed to prove them right. We ended up meeting our fundraising goal—not something I ever considered a sure thing—but with principal photography only a month away, there were a lot of loose strings to be tied up before we could hit the road. Check back next time to watch me scramble to tie them…