Game Changers Part 2: Funding and Casting
Game Changers is an indie film currently being shot in Buffalo, New York. In this second part of the interview with filmmakers Rob Imbs (director) and Benjamin Eckstein (cinematographer), they discuss funding a low-budget movie, how the budget effects the production, as well as casting and location scouting.
Filmmaker: So you had a script, but then you had to fund the movie. How did you go about doing that?
Imbs: Funding was always an Indiegogo thing. Just as I fell in love with Twitter, I also fell in love with the idea of Indiegogo. I really believe in supporting artists, I still buy CDs.
There’s a bunch of films on Kickstarter/Indiegogo that I think “This project is amazing, I want to give these people money.” So I would always do that, and I saw people who were very successful and I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve made movies for $5,000. Heck, if I can get $10 or $20,000, I can make something great, something bigger than I’ve ever made before.”
We aimed for $30,000. I really wanted to make this film, and I had avenues of cash from other investors, but the nice thing about Indiegogo is that nobody owns a part of my film. If I wanted to get 10 or 20 grand from an investor, well now they own half my film.
I really was happy that we raised about a third, about $11,000. And then when I got that money I thought, “Okay, is this enough to realistically make my film?” At the time Ben wasn’t sure [but] I started hashing it out, and trying to be realistic given that I really, really wanted to make the movie and trying not to have that influence me and make something that was crap.
And it turns out that it is enough. I think. Ben and I narrowed things down, and we set our first shooting day and just went for it.
Filmmaker: How did the budget shape the film?
Imbs: I cut a lot of scenes that were more ambitious. I have friends that do creature creation, and we wanted to build some different sets. There were two scenes in particular that I said, “You know what, financially it just isn’t in the cards,” and at the risk of being the eternal optimist, I see it in retrospect as a good thing because they would have added a tremendous amount of stress.
It made me think, “What really is important to the narrative?” I cut out a big scene that was a dance fight, like a dance-off, which I wanted because I thought it was funny. All my friends were like “Aw, you’re cutting that, I really wanted to see that!” but that would have been a huge undertaking and a lot of money, and wouldn’t have helped the story that much.
Filmmaker: Can you give us an idea of where, in broad strokes, the money is going?
Imbs. Well Ben lives in Boston and we’re shooting the film in Buffalo, it’s about an hour flight, but it’s….how long is the drive, Ben?
Eckstein: Nine hours because I’m slow and hit as much traffic as possible.
Imbs: So nine hours for Ben, and I like Ben. Even if I’m paying him to come into town, I don’t want him to drive, so it is definitely a logistical issue.
A majority of the money is going toward the production, and then I take care of my actors. That’s something that is very important to me. Being a longtime editor, I used to sit in the editing room and say “Actors are nothing — I make the whole performance.” Having now made a bunch of films, I’ve grown to realize that actors make an editor’s job so much easier, actors make a film.
I’ve kind of fallen in love with actors and what they do, and so it was very important to me to pay actors, because these are my friends, but also on a fundamental creative level. I say that like it’s a big deal, but it really is. A lot of indie films do not pay actors anything. At least the other films that I’ve been on, the cost for actors was an afterthought.
Eckstein: I think that’s also the big difference between doing a feature and doing a short. It’s one thing if you’re doing a three or four-day shoot over a long weekend, you can say, “Hey, come out and volunteer.” But I think Rob was smart and got better people who are going to be more committed because pretty much everybody is being paid to be there.
Imbs: What I didn’t account for, and what we cut, is money committed to post for my colorist and my composer, who are both friends of mine. Depending on where my funding comes from after we wrap principal photography, I’m planning on doing another Indiegogo campaign showing people what they have funded and say, “Hey look guys, this is where we are, can you help me get it to the next step to get this film colored correctly and have a killer score?”
A big part of what I’m not mentioning is that I will be editing the film. I’ve cut a bunch of features, but I’m also working with an apprentice editor and there really won’t be any money for that person, but it’s good to have another person’s eyes on it. Since I have the machine I’ll be editing on, and have a lot of experience doing that, it’s a cost we won’t incur.
Filmmaker: Just to be clear, the original budget of $30,000 was just for the production?
Imbs: What we got — which is $11,000 plus other investments — is just for principal photography, correct. We did not reach $30,000.
Eckstein: Which was about $15 or $16,000, right?
Imbs: That’s correct.
Filmmaker: What about distribution? Or are you going to worry about that later?
Imbs: I think it’s a smart thing to worry about that later. I have a film that has been distributed internationally, but you can never plan on that. I think that I would be lying as an indie filmmaker if I said I didn’t have that dream. I think every filmmaker, especially a small filmmaker, thinks, “I’m going to make this movie and I’m going to make a lot of money and I’m never going to have to work again,” that’s not what I think now…(laughs).
I do have avenues through film festivals. I started a film festival locally, I’ve gotten to know people all over the US at different festivals like Sundance and TIFF, so I do have connections for getting my film in front of distributors, but I don’t have a film yet.
If it’s a good film, it’ll do things, it’ll get accepted into big festivals. But I think it would be premature of me to think, “Should I do iTunes, should I do any of these other pay to play, should I do television?” I have all that on the back burner, that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.
Eckstein: Making feature films at this level, not only is it hard, but there’s not a ton of distribution methods. When he told me about the film, and I finally got the script, one thing that excited me about this was that, whether he’d realized this or not, he wrote a script that has a huge built-in audience. The video gaming community is enormous, and they are also the types of people that are fanatics about anything to have to do with their people. I think there is an audience that is going to watch this, no matter what. Hopefully it’ll be an amazing movie and Warner Bros picks it up, but aside from what people think, there is a really big audience that will want to watch this movie.
Filmmaker: I know some people who have gone the film festival route and spent quite a bit of money doing that.
Imbs: And I may [do that]. I’ve been to Sundance. I’ve visited and I’ve had films in smaller festivals all over the US. But having run a film festival for years, I think I have a good sense of how much time and money to put into that. I think the real reason to do festivals is for exposure. It’s to put it out there and get it in front of a lot of eyeballs and see “Do people like this? Is there enough momentum behind this, is this a good enough film to realistically put a lot of time and energy into going to a lot of festivals?”
Eckstein: As I was saying before, I think you could easily throw this up on the net for $5 and get all of the video game geeks to say, “Hey, I’ll watch that for five bucks. That’s cheaper than a movie.”
Imbs: I actually don’t like to think about this stuff because it distracts me from what I love doing, which is making the movie. This is going to sound bad, but I really had no expectations for this film.
My goal truly, because I really care about making this film, is that my Mom would want to see it, and that I cut a trailer about a video game movie that has enough of a dramatic arc where I show it to the average person and they go, “That looks like it could be a good flick” and they want to rent it.
Filmmaker: Was there formal casting and location scouting, or was your script pretty much written with cast and locations you already knew were going to be available?
Imbs: When it comes to locations, the movie is about guys that live in a house where they play video games and they work as IT guys during the day, so a lot of it would be shot indoors. Ben both loved and hated that when I told him. In my ignorance about filmmaking I thought that “The nice thing is that it’s all indoors,” but then he said, “Well you don’t want your whole movie indoors” so I felt like I couldn’t win!
I do have a location scout, a good friend of mine. I wanted a location yesterday for an upcoming shoot. I told him, “I’m looking for a café. I want booths about this size,” and less than two hours later he said, “I’ve got two places.” He just knows everybody so I do have an official location scout and he loves it, I’m glad he loves it because he’s helped me out a lot.
Filmmaker: Is that what he normally does or is he just a natural at it?
Imbs: I think he’s just a natural at it. He’s actually an indie filmmaker and a close personal friend. We founded a film festival together and he’s just the kind of guy who knows everybody, so it turned out perfectly. We needed this shoot in a school, and he put me in contact with people, so we’re shooting with a scuba guy in a school. All the locations are in western New York, the only location that isn’t is in Boston, coincidentally, at a major league gaming event.
Filmmaker: You’re going to be shooting at the event?
Imbs: We are. I’ve been talking with friends through Twitter about the logistics, talking with legal, and we are going to be shooting. They don’t even have their schedule up for when the Boston event is, but it’s after we wrap our principal photography. That’s a pick-up we need to do with one of my lead actors; we need to fly out to Boston, which will be great, because Ben and I can hang out then too.
Filmmaker: What about the cast?
Imbs: One of my leads helped me write it, so I knew he was going to be one of my leads. I would say 90 percent of the people who are in the film are stage actors in Buffalo. We did a casting call at one of the art houses through a friend one weekend. I got over 30 people to come out.
I really am very happy with the talent that I have…
Eckstein: I’m happy with it and I’m usually not. I am one of those people like Rob who sort of thinks actors are like cattle and it’s the rest of us who are making this movie…
Imbs: We’re really picking on actors…
Eckstein: …and it was interesting to see how Rob interacted with the actors. Clearly he realizes that the actors are a huge part of it. As much as I think that the audience is going to care about how I light a certain shot or whatever, they really don’t care quite as much, if it all…
Imbs: They’ll care if you do it wrong.
Eckstein: Yeah, but you had your mind on the right things when you were working, which was the actors. You let me do my thing and you worked with the actors and I was really happy with the people. I think you have a really good cast and it’s refreshing because it can definitely be hit or miss on this type of production. You could really end up with some people that are amateurs.
Imbs: I’ve worked on bigger budget films that had far less talent and I do really think that I’ve got amazing talent and I want to showcase their talents too. A lot of my friends are actors locally and there is a very large theater scene here in Buffalo. I’m ecstatic with the amount of talent I have in front of the camera.
All photos courtesy Rob Imbs