NoFilmSchool On CrowdFunding

Crowdfunding is one of coolest film funding models to emerge in our moviemaking lifetime.

With sites like Indie GoGo and Kickstarter, filmmakers can finally raise money without asking permission. And while the vast majority of filmmakers limit their crowdfunding campaigns to a few thousand dollars – some filmmakers get super ambitious.

Earlier this month Koo from NoFilmSchool decided to implement his own $115,000 crowdfunding campaign. And he stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share his experience.

Jason Brubaker
It might help readers if you share a little about your background.

Koo
My name is Koo and I’m an independent filmmaker and writer. I run the website NoFilmSchool, which is a site for filmmakers and independent creatives. And I co-created the “urban Western” web series The West Side, which won the Webby Award for Best Drama Series.

Jason Brubaker
What are you working on now?

Koo
I’m now planning on making my first feature film, and I’m currently running a crowdfunding campaign to hopefully turn the dream into a reality.

Jason Brubaker
What made you start NoFilmSchool?

Koo
I actually started NoFilmSchool in 2005 as a personal blog, but in 2009 I told myself I should either quit wasting time with a blog and shut it down, or fully commit myself to re-launching the site as something larger. I pursued the latter with the idea that I could hopefully build an audience online by sharing as much helpful content as possible; if I was successful, it would allow me to run the site as a steady side job (while working on a screenplay), instead of jumping from project to project as a freelancer (and always putting off the screenplay, which is what I found myself doing as a freelance shooter/editor/writer/director).

Jason Brubaker
So you went for it?

Koo
Yeah. It took a year of living out of a suitcase and a lengthy detour into learning how to run a website, but eventually traffic to NoFilmSchool grew to the point where I was able to do just that – run the website, write my screenplay, and not have to seek out freelance work.

Jason Brubaker
It is great when you focus on helping other people. Good things come.

Koo
On a more basic level, NoFilmSchool is simply the website I wish I’d had to help me out in my career from the beginning. Whatever I’ve picked up along the way, I try to share it there.

Jason Brubaker
After your success with the website and also producing online content, what made you decide to make a traditional feature?

Koo
After our success with The West Side, we spent a couple of years trying to get our next idea made, and it just wasn’t happening. The economy was terrible at the time – this was 2008, when the first big crash was taking place. And our project, titled 3rd Rail, was inherently risky for film studios.

Jason Brubaker
What made it was risky for the studios?

Koo
It’s an online, interactive experience as opposed to a standard feature, and therefore established film business models don’t apply. Online content represents a great opportunity in the DIY space, but it brings with it a lot of challenges once you start seeking significant amounts of other people’s money.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. Any time you involve money people, your responsibility increases. And you have to be ready for it.

Koo
When I co-directed The West Side I didn’t feel like I was ready to make my own feature. But once I started researching and writing Man-child, the voice of doubt that usually causes me to throw a script in the trash can was surprisingly M.I.A. The more I worked on it the more I became excited to make the project. After several months of researching and writing, I knew definitively this had to be my first feature.

Jason Brubaker
I love it when projects put you in the flow. Your current feature is focused on Basketball? How come?

Koo
I’ve played basketball all my life, so it’s a personal project to me. But just because I play basketball doesn’t mean I know a lot about the youth basketball world. I’m talking about middle schoolers, as opposed to the college and pro athletes you typically see in sports movies. The more I researched it, the more I felt it was a story I had to tell. And while it’s definitely a basketball movie, my hope is that the film will also speak to those who don’t have a particular interest in basketball or even sports, because it’s a fascinating and unique world.

Jason Brubaker
Can you speak to that a little more?

Koo
These kids are nationally ranked by the time they’re 12, and they start hearing whispers of fame and fortune very early – but usually they don’t have a whole lot in their lives at that age. This dichotomy – what they could have in a few years as opposed to what they actually have, right now – could be larger in youth basketball than anywhere else in American society.

Jason Brubaker
I noticed you are utilizing crowdfunding to finance your movie. Can you explain crowdfunding?

Koo
Instead of the traditional route of independent film finance, where a few individuals put up the bulk of a film’s investment, crowdfunding is when you ask for small amounts of money from a large number of people. If enough people believe in your film enough to pledge $10 (in the case of Man-child, this gets backers a download of the full film when it’s done), your film is enabled by a community as opposed to an individual.

Jason Brubaker
How is your experience with the campaign thus far?

Koo
Crowdfunding can be a harrowing experience, because in many cases (including that of Man-child), the campaign is all-or-nothing: if you don’t make your goal, you get $0. At the same time, it can be incredibly empowering, to see support pour in from all corners of the world. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced and we’re only 1/3 of the way through the campaign.

Jason Brubaker
Why did you go with Kickstarter over IndieGoGo?

Koo
I think IndieGoGo’s got a great thing going, they originally launched with a focus on film projects, and unlike Kickstarter they accept international projects. They also allow for tax-deductible contributions for projects with fiscal sponsorship. However, I went with Kickstarter because I’ve always really liked the design of their site (I was a designer at MTV for three years, so I’m probably more sensitive to this than most), and they’re a more popular site. Plus, I’ve been a serial funder of other Kickstarter projects for the past two years, so I already felt like a member of the community.

Jason Brubaker
You raised a few thousand in the first few days. What do you attribute this to?

Koo
Crowdfunding $115,000 sounds doable only because it’s been done before But when you break it down I actually have to raise a few thousand dollars not just in the first days, but every day of the campaign. The campaign is running for 38 days and that means I have to average $3k/day to make the goal. I never know where the next dollar is going to come from and so I’m constantly scrambling to come up with new ways of reaching new people.

Jason Brubaker
What are some crowdfunding tips you can share with other filmmakers?

Koo
In terms of having a big launch, my tips would be to build up your audience online long before you even think about launching a crowdfunding campaign. I’m not talking weeks or months, I’m talking years. You’ve got to have credibility and it helps a ton if you have a mailing list. In my case I’ve been giving away a free 114-page eBook on DSLR Cinematography – you know about free eBooks as much as anyone, Jason – and I have been doing this for a year.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. I think we both focus on building genuine relationships with our audience. Which, I believe all modern moviemakers must now do.

Koo
It’s by no means a quid pro quo – you don’t have to donate to my crowdfunding campaign if you read my eBook or website – but I hope that people who come back to the site often and read my newsletters would be more likely to back my project than they would be a stranger’s.

Jason Brubaker
I really like your website and the value you provide to the filmmaking community. Has this positively impacted your campaign? I mean, did you get a great response with your initial email blast?

Koo
In light of how many subscribers and website visitors NoFilmSchool gets, I have 600 backers so far. It is not a huge number. But what I have been amazed at is how generous the backers are. There are more $120 backers than there are $5 backers, and this has been an unbelievably pleasant surprise! For someone you’ve never met in person to believe in you enough to pledge $120 (or more) to help you make your movie is an eye-opening, life-changing experience. Even if my campaign doesn’t make its goal, I will have learned a lot from the campaign thanks to all of the backers and messages I’ve received.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for other modern moviemakers with a goal of making a movie?

Koo
Don’t put yourself in a position where a gatekeeper can tell you no. Grab a DSLR and do it yourself on the cheap. Even if you make something bad or otherwise fail at your pursuit, you’ll have learned something. You don’t learn nearly as much by knocking on doors and hearing “no.”

Jason Brubaker
I totally agree with this philosophy. Asking permission is a waste of time. Never do it!

Koo
When taking a DIY approach, I would say that you should just try to make the best possible short you can. Someone will click on a link, find your video, and if it’s not good, within 20 seconds they’ll click away. If you’re making a “calling card” type of project, there is no value to being prolific – no one says, “wow, this guy made 30 videos.”

All that matters is whether the one they stumble upon is good. And remember, these aren’t just friends, family, and anonymous people bored at work watching. If you get any sort of buzz, producers, agents, and other filmmakers will be watching it too. Put your absolute best foot forward and the rest will follow!

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If you would like to help Koo make his movie, follow this link: Koo’s Crowdfunding Kickstarter Campaign.

Feature Filmmaking Advice

A 16 mm spring-wound Bolex "H16" Ref...

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Prior to getting my own features off the ground, I worked for an indie producer in New York City. I took the gig because I wanted to uncover the “secrets” to making movies. And after a few months, I ended up working in development – which pretty much meant it was my job to read screenplays and write reports about the material, called coverage.

When I wasn’t reading, most of my days were spent sitting in on meetings and taking notes. Given the fast paced grind of the development office, if you were one of the many writers, actors or filmmakers who sent us a query letters, headshots or your student films- odds are good that I opened some of your mail and put it on a stack. And that stack probably ended up in a filing cabinet. And? Well…

Listen. If you’re ambitious and you’re still waiting around for someone to “give you permission” to make your movies, I’m going to share a secret. There is no better feeling in the world than the day you stop sending query letters and instead, you start producing your own work (or if you’re an actor, you start casting yourself). For years and years, you have dreamed about getting your work on the big screen. You know you’re good. So why ask for permission?

Now I know this can be a scary transition. So I want to provide you with five tips to make becoming a super-hyphenate a little easier.

1. Have a well defined log-line for your project. Seriously. Most first time indie producers settle for a simple character driven story. But the story is always confusing. So here is the test, if you can not explain your story with the use of a simple log line, something is off. Fix the log line now. You’ll need it for your marketing later.

2. Everything in your screenplay costs money. So if your passion project is too expensive, write something based on locations in your neighborhood. Your true genius will come from your ability to tell a compelling story, not by how many expensive Special FX you can pack into your movie.

3. Ice, Snow, Rain, Sun, dogs, lighting bolts and children have always been a challenge to predict. If you include any of these elements in your story, I guarantee that setups that should only take minutes will take days. Avoid these elements if possible.

4. As soon as you decide to produce and possibly direct your movie, hire a seasoned Production Manager to work with you. They will read your script. They will tell you that your movie will cost way more than you think and they will help you alter the story to meet your budget constraints. Managing the budget is their job. Respect it. Then ask your PM if they know a great 1st AD. (They will!)

5. Hire a GREAT First Assistant Director. Not some film school kid either. Pay the money. Build a relationship. The First AD will be the general of your production. They will build off the Production Manager’s budget and schedule the movie. The 1st AD keeps the production on time.

These steps will provide you with a good starting point. Once you have your script, PM and your 1st AD, you will find that your project will start to gain momentum. Finish your feature and people will start sending you query letters. I guarantee it. If you liked this filmmaking article, sign up for my newsletter.

Writer Director John Chu talks filmmaking

As a filmmaker, getting your movies produced sometimes seems impossible. And if you haven’t yet made your first feature, it is often very easy to get caught up in all the reasons why it can’t be done.

My screenwriter friend Jurgen Wolff forwarded this great filmmaking video with John M Chu. In it, he shares some of the innovative approaches he took to filmmaking, including starting small on YouTube, making the process interactive, finding ways to leverage input, and how modern moviemaking has changed the game.

While I don’t yet know John personally, I think his approach to filmmaking is smart and worth listening to.

If you like this sort of filmmaking stuff, why don’t you sign up for the Filmmaking Newsletter?