Just Crowdfund the $&*# Movie!: Finding Your In Crowd


Welcome to Just Crowdfund the $&*# Movie!, where indie moviemaker Jayce Bartok talks about the dos and don’ts of crowdfunding from the trenches of his own crowdfunding campaign. Have a question for Jayce about his movie, Tiny Dancer, or just crowdfunding in general? Ask away at .

And we are here as on a darkling plain
?Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
?Where ignorant armies clash by night.

These lines from Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” popped into my head as I opened my email to find a rejection letter from a prominent contest that offers $2,000 to shorts, features and works-in-progress. The contest had expressed a strong interest in what we’ve shot so far of Tiny Dancer. I actually thought we were going to get this one, in spite of more realistic internal voice warning me otherwise. I swallowed my pride and emailed my contact at the contest. “Thanks for watching!”

A few minutes later I was pleasantly surprised to get a response from the online screenwriting service that hosted said contest. What they said was something to the effect of “Tiny Dancer was the 11th choice out of ten. We fought over it, but it didn’t quite fit into the crowd. Even though we couldn’t include it, we think you are great.”

So how do you fit into the crowd? Which crowd is right for your film? This is a really important thing to determine about your project from the get-go. You might think you know what the right crowd for your film is, but is that really the same crowd that will follow you, send you money, watch your trailer, comment on your progress and then show up at a screening or add your film to their Netflix queue?

Past experience with our other two projects has taught Tiffany and I some interesting lessons:

Never Assume the Obvious?
Our documentary Altered By Elvis (click to buy) is about people permanently changed by the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. We naïvely assumed that the film would appeal to Elvis fans, and our sales agent marketed the hour-long documentary exclusively to that audience. Well, a film that explores the impact of the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll star upon nine people changed for better (or worse) by him didn’t 100% appeal to Elvis fans. Yes, the film was acquired by TV stations in the U.K. and Australia (among others), where it is screened on the King’s birthday and death day. But overall, the film fell short of being a runaway sensation.

Why, you ask? We were lucky enough to be able to license a handful of famous pictures of Elvis snapped by famous photographer Al Wertheimer (courtesy of Al himself, who lives to support moviemakers), but we could only afford to license barely even a minute or two of actual footage. In fact, Tiffany and I later came to the conclusion that if we had taken our entire $25,000 budget and put that amount to licensing footage of Elvis from media galleries and his estate–instead of actually making a film that explores his impact–our film would’ve fared much better with Elvis’ fans, who like watching the King swivel his hips more than they like watching people talk about Elvis swivelling his hips.

So who is the audience for Altered by Elvis? We still aren’t sure, but this might shed some light: Cirque du Soleil ordered a copy when they were doing research for Viva ELVIS.

Follow Your Divining Rod?
In the past, people would use a divining rod (basically a wishbone-shaped stick) to lead them to water. Let your film be your divining rod, and hopefully you’ll find your well before its too late. My film The Cake Eaters (click to buy) had a crazy journey. The film was rejected from the 2007 Sundance Film Festival despite the fact that it starred Kristen Stewart, Bruce Dern and Aaron Stanford and was directed by Mary Stuart Masterson (I’ve heard that there was feedback from Sundance to the effect that the film was too “sweet” for the edgy festival, which screened Teeth and Hounddog that year). The Cake Eaters landed at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, where it fared well. I was certain that it would sell, but after languishing for a year (for a variety of reasons upon which I’ll elaborate in a later post), it seemed that The Cake Eaters was destined to be something I burned onto DVD for my friends. There was talk of a sale to Lifetime, or a small run at the IFC Center, but nothing happened.

Then came the Twilight juggernaut. I got an unexpected call from the producers, who said that The Cake Eaters had sold and would get a small theatrical run on the heels of Kristen Stewart’s Adventureland. Kristen supported our film in the press, and lo and behold, after over a year of sitting on the shelf, the divining rod found its well in Ms. Stewart’s Bella Swann. I say a small prayer to Twilight every night, as The Cake Eaters is in heavy rotation on cable and has become a minor hit with Twi-hards.

Prime the Well
The trick to not having your film languish on the shelf for a year is to find your crowd in the early phases of development. Studios spend tons of time and money on research and development, trying to figure this out. It’s why they rely on tent pole summer blockbusters and neverending sequels: Both are almost certain to have a sizable built-in audience. But you and I have neither the rights to Spiderman nor a focus group at our disposal, so we have to rely on our friends, family and colleagues to tell us who our crowd is.

For example, with Tiny Dancer Tiffany and I immediately thought “OK, dancers will start following our progress because they’ll want to see a film about themselves.” This may prove true, but so far we’re finding that our crowd is made up of artists–since our film is about an artist finding her way on the heels of motherhood–and women, who appreciate seeing a film about the choices mothers have to make.

In searching for the best crowd to appeal to as we raise the rest of our budget, we’re targeting people who donate to the arts, who sponsor artists (including dancers) and who want to see a film about an artist who has to juggle motherhood with finding her creativity. What we’re not doing is trying to get every dancer in NYC to send us $50. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s a crucial one.

So step aside. Take a look at the big picture of your film and find your In Crowd.

Jayce Bartok is an actor and moviemaker who runs Vinyl Foote Productions from Brooklyn with his wife Tiffany. Currently, you can see him on USA’s “White Collar” and in the upcoming feature film Predisposed, opposite Melissa Leo. Follow The Independent Collective at twitter.com/ticnyc to stay updated on the Tiny Dancer crowdfunding campaign.

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