How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Crowdfunding…For the Most Part
The following is a guest post from filmmaker Bryan Poyser, who is currently crowdfunding the road show for his most recent film, The Bounceback. Bryan’s A.S.A. (Air Sexes As) name is “Lunchmeat.”
I am currently in the midst of what must be the longest month and a half of my life. On October 4, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a “Road Show” for my film The Bounceback, which will wrap up this Sunday, Nov. 17th. I’ve barely been sleeping, I’ve had depressive lows and giddy highs, nearly all of my pride has been swallowed and yet I’ve been more creatively productive in these past weeks than any time since film school, making essentially one new short film every couple days. I truthfully am having a blast, but goddamn, I can’t wait for it to be over.
The Bounceback premiered this past March in Austin at the SXSW Film Festival, which could not have been a more perfect place for the film. It’s an outrageous and heartfelt comedy about love and revenge, set in Austin, Texas. Two ex-couples end up in town on the same weekend and one of them isn’t sure if they want to get back together and the other couple wants to ruin each other’s lives. It’s also a love letter to Austin – to its food, its music, its attitude, its grit and its weirdness.
Its weirdness is best represented by Air Sex.
What’s Air Sex? It’s Air Guitar meets perversion. Contestants get up on stage and act out some wild sexual scenario to music, totally clothed and totally by themselves. It’s a real competition imported from Japan (naturally) by the folks at the world-famous Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Theater chain, and it’s a major plot point in the movie.
It’s something that could only have taken off in Austin, a place where creativity and irreverence are two of the most important values in the culture. Plus it’s something so rife with uncomfortable comedic possibilities that it definitely piques interest in the film.
After SXSW, we had no shortage of interest in the film from more traditional distributors. But most felt it would require a big, expensive theatrical release on the scale of a studio rom-com for the movie to find its natural audience – younger people, 18-35 year-olds, college and post-college folks who also have a thing for irreverence and creativity. Unfortunately, those people don’t really go to arthouse theaters anymore. I’m actually out of that age range myself now, but when my wife and I go to the arthouse theaters in Austin we’re some of the youngest people there.
So, are those 18-35 college and post-college folks just not interested in the kinds of movies that play at arthouses? Absolutely not. They just don’t watch them in theaters that much anymore. Netflix, Video-On-Demand, cable TV, Redbox – that’s where they’ll take a chance on something different and funky. And when they find it, they embrace it and spread the word to their peers.
But, how to get them to do that with our movie?
What we’ve come up with is The Bounceback Road Show. The plan is to take the movie to 5-10 cities around the country in the Spring, a mix of major markets like NYC, LA, Dallas and college towns like Austin, TX, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, NC and Wichita/Lawrence, KS. We’ll do a one-off screening in a cool theater, followed by a Q & A, then we’ll put on an Air Sex competition just like the ones in the film, and then end the night with a show by a band from the film’s soundtrack.
We’ll bring out as much of the great ensemble cast as we can to these events. We were so lucky to get up-and-coming talents like Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), Zach Cregger (The Whitest Kids U Know), Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers), Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield), Addison Timlin (Californication) and Marshall Allman (True Blood) in the film. Each one of these folks has a significant fan-base — folks who’ve been excited about them and following them for years.
For the Air Sex competition, we’ll bring out Chris Trew, the actual Air Sex Emcee. Formerly from Austin, where Tim League from the Alamo Drafthouse asked him to launch the American version of Air Sex, Chris is currently based in New Orleans and he brings the Air Sex World Championships on tour around the country each year, spreading the gospel.
Our cast members and any local celebrities we can get in the individual cities will serve as judges for the competitions, where contestants will have a chance to win cool stuff related to the movie and the notoriety and shame of their triumphs.
Finally, we’ll wrap up the night with a show by a Texas-based musician that we’ll bring with us. The Bounceback is the first feature I’ve made that has no score – it’s all just songs, and nearly 20 of them are from Texas-based artists.
The concept is to offer an “expanded” cinematic event that aims to give you a full experience of the “Austin-ness” of the movie. Maybe we’ll even do a pre-show reception with BBQ Fed-Exed in from the Salt Lick.
Really, what we’re trying to do is make an “event” out of these screenings, just like the Hollywood studios do with their movies, but we’ve got to do it with the tiniest fraction of their marketing budgets.
The idea of the Road Show started developing in my mind in earnest when the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U Know (of which our cast member Zach Cregger is a founding member) rolled through Austin on one of their tours, where they essentially do a live version of their TV show. Even though the show hasn’t been on the air in a couple years, they still sold out a 300-seat theater in Austin, and nearly half the audience waited in line after the show to get signed merchandise from the fellas. I figured if we could harness even a fraction of the excitement folks had for that show, the Road Show could really work!
But how to fund it?
That’s where the crowdfunding part comes in. We went to Kickstarter because they have great tools for communicating with donors, and that, at the end of the day, is what this is really all about: community building and audience development. The money is an important part (and one has to just assume you’re going to hit your goal. Anything else is unthinkable and leads to long-term mental damage) but what’s more important, especially with a campaign for alternative distribution like this, is coming out of the campaign with hundreds of people who are literally invested in the movie’s success. I want, as much as I can, to make them feel like they’re part of the campaign, if not the world of the movie itself.
Toward that end, one of the most fun parts of the campaign has been the entry-level Perk. Every donor who gives $5 or more gets their own Air Sex Name chosen specifically for them by me, based on a brief questionnaire I send. Already I’ve given out close to 150 Air Sex names to friends and strangers, names like Creamy Italian, Queefer Sutherland, The Man of La Muncher, Dark Meat and The Panama Canal. I always ask if they want to get their Air Sex name in a private message or if they will allow me to post it on Facebook or Twitter. If they agree, I’ll post it along with a link to the Kickstarter page, in a way that hopefully spreads the message about the campaign to their network. I mean, if you came across a message like, “Thanks for your donation, Trojan Horsecock!” on your best friend’s Facebook feed, wouldn’t you be curious?
I even cut together this little video, featuring my friend (and a co-star of my last movie, Lovers of Hate) Alex Karpovsky, explaining the concept of the Air Sex name.
Like I said at the beginning, this campaign, while keeping me awake and in a rather beleaguered state of mind, has forced me to be creative and productive in a way that feels familiar only from my college days, when I was compelled to make something, be it a short film or an exercise or an essay, on a weekly basis.
I’ve cut together a bunch of videos so far, always trying to include other people in them so it’s not just my big talking head in front of a laptop. I’ve gotten folks to participate, like cast members Sara Paxton, Zach Cregger, Brian McGuire, Zach Green plus Chris Trew and even Richard Linklater, legendary Austin-based director of indie film classics like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, the Before… trilogy and School of Rock (okay, not indie but I LOVE that movie). Rick introduced a fundraising screening we did in Austin and let me tape it and put it online, functioning as an “endorsement” of the film and the campaign.
He even donated himself the next day and got his own Air Sex name. Click above to see what it is.
This is actually my second attempt to do a crowdfunding campaign for a film of mine. The first one, a campaign I did nearly everything for except actually clicking the “launch” button, was intended to raise money to put my second feature Lovers of Hate out on DVD. The film premiered at Sundance in the Dramatic Competition in 2010 and was picked up by IFC, and by the end of that year, a DVD had been fully designed and prepared, but the deal to put it out fell through. So the film’s producer, Megan Gilbride, and I decided to hop on the bandwagon and try out crowdfunding even though we were both wary that it was an idea whose time had already come and gone.
Still, we shot the material for a video, came up with fun perks, but just never launched it. Why? Mostly because we got too embroiled in trying to make The Bounceback, but also because I felt kind of sheepish about going out to the community with my pockets turned out. I didn’t want to beg. I told myself we could always launch it down the road, but we never did.
Fast forward two years later… There’s still no Lovers DVD but there is The Bounceback, which all of us – the cast, crew and producers – are incredibly proud of and are currently expending every bit of social media capital we have on getting it out to this audience that’s eager to see it – they just don’t know it yet.
So, would I do this again? Well, let’s see how I’m feeling after the deadline passes at midnight on November 17. But as of right now, my answer is an emphatic “yes.” Part of me wishes that we had done a small campaign before the movie started shooting. Partly because it would have been nice to have a little more cash for the film, to say the least, but mainly because we would already have a couple hundred or more people to ask for donations or spread the word about the campaign, people who, like I said, are invested in the movie’s success in the same way we are.
I think crowdfunding is going to be part of most large-scale artistic endeavors going forward. Even endeavors not so artistic. If I were at a Hollywood studio, I’d be developing my own version of Kickstarter, where people could pre-buy tickets and merchandise exclusive set visits and such in return for “helping” the production of every bullshit remake or comic-book movie on my slate. Would some people categorically reject the idea that the Hollywood studio needs “help”? Absolutely. But that would be a small minority compared to the number of fanboys and girls who would have gladly given a few thousand bucks to spend 10 minutes at the craft service table with Chris Hemsworth on the set of Thor 2.
Hollywood should be looking at “crowdfunding” as money, potentially millions of dollars, left sitting on the table. And if they start doing it, should independent filmmakers think of Hollywood as “stealing” money that’s meant for them, as people did when Zach Braff and Whoopi Goldberg and Spike Lee and other established filmmakers went to the Kickstarter well?
Not at all. Because crowdfunding is not a website, it’s an idea. It’s not Kickstarter, it’s not Indiegogo or Seed&Spark or whatever new platform we’ll be talking about in 5 or 10 years. It’s a tactic that everyone can use.
The more studios or big-name artists start using it, the more we’re all just getting used to it, and the easier it’s going to be to get someone to think nothing of “investing” in an independent film made by someone they don’t know with their phone during a break at work when they’re bored. I mean, if you told me 17 years ago when I graduated from the University of Texas Radio-TV-Film Department that something like that was possible, there’s no way I would have believed you.
So, yeah, I guess I’m saying that now, I am a believer in crowdfunding.