Just Crowdfund the $&*# Movie!: The Agony of Success


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 .

Monday, September 19th, 5:15 p.m.—Everything was set up: The bartenders were ready, the improvised step and repeat photo area was good to go, the silent auction had been set up in the center of the room and the gift bags were stuffed. All that was left was to put on a suit and try to think about my speech (which I actually wrote down), not the heartburn I’d been having for the last week. Our amazing hosts, the Morrises (Bob, Carol and Patrick, who executive produced The Cake Eaters), nervously looked around, wondering if anyone—or perhaps too many people—would invade their loft for the fundraising party for our film, Tiny Dancer. I nervously took my jacket on and off, trying not to dwell on the fact that every move my wife Tiffany and I had made over the past year had pointed to this moment, when we would unveil our work in progress on a large fancy stage (so to speak), in a spectacular setting filled with celebrities, press and patrons. Tiffany and I stared at each other. What was going to happen? Would anyone show up?

6:00 p.m.—They came in droves. First one, then two… then in walks dance superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov. I kid you not. There were rumors, even a confirmed reservation, but one never knows. There he was, weaving through the crowd and expertly dodging photographers and glazed-over looking guests dying to shake his hand. We exchanged a few words, and I said all the wrong things. But a picture was snapped, proving he was here and endorsing in a small way our film about the struggles of dancers in transition at the end of their careers. Some famous actor friends showed their support—Josh Hamilton, Kerry Butler, Lucy DeVito, Zak Orth and writer/director Tom McCarthy—for which I am extremely grateful. (Check out Playbill.com to see some of our press from the event).

We followed the advice from one of our hosts, Kate White: If you’re party’s good, you should always have a press photographer there, so you’ll have the pictures to prove it! Our photographer, the seasoned snapper Bruce Glikas, worked the room.

7:00 p.m.—I barely had a moment to say “hi” as I worked the mostly unfamiliar (by design) crowd of arts patrons and friends of our hosts. This was our plan: To reach out beyond our circle of mostly impoverished actors, moviemakers and artists to a new circle of donors. Tiffany and I could barely see each other through the booming crowd. It started to reach critical mass, and all I could think was “It’s working! They’re here! It’s happening!” A rumor spread that Misha had left. Damn! I was just about to screen our work in progress, projected nicely on the wall of the loft, the culmination of months of work and money spent. Still, I had to focus and push on. Let’s get this show on the road.

7:30 p.m.—A glass is tapped, and I dig deep to make the speech of a lifetime. I talk about the story of Tiny Dancer, our passion for the film, our struggle to get it made and how overjoyed we were to see the amazing crowd that had turned out. Finally, I subtly hinted that those who liked our work in progress should help us finish the film by donating or bidding in the silent auction—a crucial mistake I’ll discuss later. The lights went out. There was a brief hiccup as my laptop screen revealed itself in the first few minutes. I cracked a joke, and the crowd laughed. Then they went on a beautiful ride. They laughed at Daphne Rubin-Vega’s character and cried with Katherine Crockett’s. At the end, they applauded. “We are in the clear,” I thought. “We are raising our money tonight!” I quickly stood and thanked everyone, saluting the members of our cast and crew (and didn’t address donating, a crucial mistake).

8:00 p.m.—Patrick Morris guided me through the room, introducing me to influential donors and film investors. I’m feeling good, getting glad-handed by many while cunningly trying to evaluate who is the real deal—I’ve been working toward this moment for a year, and I’m not messing around.

8:15 p.m.—Iceberg! The ship Tiny Dancer has hit something. Patrick leans in close and urgently whispers, “They’re leaving!” I look around and sure enough, guests are leaving. Of course, they’ve been here for two hours. They’ve eaten and drunk Vodka provided by Medea Vodka, our liquor sponsor. They’ve seen the film. Now it’s time to go. Of course! I’d go, too! But wait… where is our money?

8:16 p.m.—I panic, grabbing whoever is wearing a pinstriped suit and giving them the hard sell. No more Mr. Nice Guy. “I’m so glad you liked it, would you consider donating?” A nice couple from across the hall responds that they just did. Oops. I’m guided to two actor-types whom I know have no money. They are so sweet and want to talk, but I can’t help seeing the door. More pinstripes leaving! There’s a ray of hope, though: I have a few real conversations with film investors who are interested. This could be huge for us.

8:30 p.m.—I zero in on another potential investor. “How about a check for $5,000?” Everything slows down. This is the moment of truth. It’s the Sermon on the Mount from the Investors and Folks with Real Money on High. “Why would I give you $5,000 if you need $250,000 to make the film?” he responds. My mouth goes dry. Holy crap. There has been some miscommunication. Do people not know that we are trying to piece the budget together? That every cent counts?

8:45 p.m.—I reach Tiffany, hunkered down at the fundraising table with her cousin, who worked the table for us. The two of them are counting money. “How did we do?” I asked. They look at me. There’s a beat, and I look over at the silent auction table. People are still swarming around it, and everything has a bid. Tiffany hands me a small stack of bills and checks. “This is it?” She can’t answer. “You raised like $400!” says her cousin, happy that we made any money.

8:46-9:00 p.m.—All sounds stop. How could this be? I must have looked ill, because a few people felt compelled to tell me what a success the party and screening had been and how proud I should be as they said their goodbyes. All I could think was that I had to get to the silent auction table and do the math.

9:15 p.m.—This is the low point. I announce the raffle winners, concealing the fact that we only sold five $20 tickets. Everybody won.

9:30-10:00 p.m.—Everyone is drunk, and I start to pack up alone. I hear rumors that we made a few thousand on the raffle. Have you ever run a marathon then had to pack up the track?

10:30 p.m.—Tiffany and I got a solid Monday morning quarterback speech from our hosts and friends who have fundraised before about how we needed an MC, someone to speak on our behalf and encourage the crowd to donate. I half listened, knowing that they were right and that the event will serve as a lesson for the future. But at that moment, I couldn’t begin to process the thought of doing it again.

11:00 p.m.—Tiffany and I say our goodbyes and thank yous.

Tuesday, September 20th, 12:00 a.m.—We kiss our son good night. My heartburn finally goes away.

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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