Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 43 / 23 October 2014
 
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Websites kick-start
LGBT films, shows

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Director Skyler Cooper used Indiegogo to try and raise money to make her film.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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Shooting for the short film Hero Mars , loosely based on the life of its director Skyler Cooper, is set to begin the first week of March around the Bay Area.

Writing on the movie's Facebook page, the gender-queer actor explains that her script explores the "limitations of gender conformity and gender stereotypes from my experience as an androgynous person in the arts."

Cooper, who splits her time between San Francisco and a studio she rents near Sequoia National Forest, estimated she would need anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 to make the 15-minute film. To raise the money, Cooper decided to tap into the pocketbooks of her fans.

In early 2012 she created a fundraising campaign on the website Indiegogo seeking to reach $25,000. The online pitch included a short video of Cooper sitting on a motorcycle talking about the film, as well as inducements for giving such as a film credit, a walk-on role, or a day on the set.

Her first stab at using a crowdfunding site, Cooper fell far short of her goal. Her campaign netted $3,625.

"I didn't know what it would get," recalled Cooper during a recent interview. "I did learn from the experience. It raised enough money to do a trailer."

She uploaded the trailer to the film's website, where she continues to fundraise for the film. And she has used Facebook to further seek financial support to cover her production costs.

"When I did Indiegogo it was just me talking about my vision. I hoped it would be enough to energize my fan base. It really energized them more when they saw the trailer," said Cooper, who netted $1,000 through a recent Facebook ask for donations. "I am still tapping into my same sources I did with Indiegogo."

It is a time-honored tradition for struggling artists to seek out patrons for their work. Nowadays, though, their hat-in-hand ask has been updated for the digital age.

LGBT performers and filmmakers, in particular, are taking advantage of web-based fundraising tools to kick-start their projects.

Over the last year the B.A.R. has mentioned a number of such crowdfunding campaigns. The list of LGBT projects includes a production at San Francisco-based the New Conservatory Theatre Center, a documentary about the late gay poet and filmmaker James Broughton, and the indie film I Do about a binational same-sex couple that screened at Frameline.

The best-known platform used by creative types is Kickstarter, which boasts having distributed $414 million to more than 36,000 creative projects since going live April 28, 2009. A search of the campaigns on Kickstarter using the term "gay" found 291 that had either already been funded or are currently seeking support.

Unlike with Kickstarter, where projects are funded only if they raise their stated goal amounts, Indiegogo distributes whatever money is raised even if the campaign falls short. Its fee is reduced if a campaign is successful, taking 4 percent of the money raised versus a 9 percent cut if the goal is not met. Kickstarter's cut is 5 percent of the funds raised for successful projects.

"It is very possible someone can meet their complete budget in Indiegogo or Kickstarter. It depends on what the budget is and how much work you put in to your campaign," said Debra Wilson, program director of the Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival.

Larry Kennar turned to Kickstarter in order to raise enough money to complete post-production work on his TV series DTLA , about a group of friends in Los Angeles that ran on Logo in the fall. He put together a trailer from the footage he had already shot to entice people to support the campaign.

"I have heard a lot of people tell me, 'I'll just go on Kickstarter and it will be easy.' Kickstarter was no walk in the park," said Kennar. "You have to really work it. It is something I don't think I would ever do again."

He was able to raise $33,525, more than his stated goal of $25,000, from 218 backers. But Kennar said most of the money came from family and friends of himself and the cast.

Having to pester people he knew to donate, though, he found to be "obnoxious."

"I don't think you can put it on Kickstarter and assume people will come," he said. "You should not take Kickstarter for granted."

The most pleasing aspect of the experience was seeing straight people support a gay show, said Kennar, who is in talks with Logo about producing a second season of the series.

"There are a lot of straight people out there who are so committed to seeing projects like this come to life because they have a gay brother, uncle, or father or lost someone to AIDS," he said.

 

Base of support

For a crowdfunded campaign to be successful, it helps if there is already a base of support for the project or its creators. That fan base is needed not only for its monetary donations but also to help spread word about the fundraising effort.

"You can't do crowdfunding if you don't have a crowd," said Cooper.

The sites have been especially popular with LGBT filmmakers and content creators who find few avenues in Hollywood to bringing their work to fruition.

"We are seeing lots of people running these successful Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns for their films. I find it absolutely fabulous and wonderful," said K.C. Price, executive director of Frameline, the nonprofit that produces the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the country's oldest and largest annual fete of queer cinema.

In turn it has meant an increased variety of submissions to Frameline, said Price.

"It is bringing us more options and is making more things possible," he said. "There are more works possible and available to view in any variety of platforms. It is not just gay male stuff."

Although easy to launch a campaign, it takes a lot of energy and work to see that is it successful, said filmmakers who have used the approach. Not everyone is.

"It has been a bit of a rocky road, I won't lie about that," said Jack Bryant, 30, a gay man who teaches screenwriting at Ithaca College and wrote the film Camp Revelation.

Bryant wrote the screenplay several years ago and had tried to secure funding from more traditional sources.

"We tried going to film studios, producers and investors and things like that. We found that didn't give us a whole lot of results," recalled Bryant.

So he and his director, Kerstin Karlhuber, tried to raise funds to shoot the film, which is about anti-gay reparative therapy, through a Kickstarter campaign in the fall. They aimed for $50,000 but received $4,290.

"We thought it might be a nice change of pace to go a more independent way of raising the funds. We had heard good things about crowdsourcing from news reports and things like that," said Bryant, who has donated to such projects himself.

Not having any footage of the film to show to the public hurt their efforts, said Bryant.

"I think we may have taken for granted that the LGBT community would jump on board with another film about LGBT themes and overlooked the need for emotional connection," he said. "You can't assume just because you are a member of a niche community in the film world and are appealing to a niche community that they will get behind it."

Kit Williamson, the writer-director who also stars in the web series EastSiders, about a gay couple in Los Angeles, waited until after he had posted the first two episodes online to begin a crowdfunding pitch to complete the first season.

"As far as initial funds go, I think that crowdfunding is most effective when you can show somebody an actual example of the work," said Williamson, 27, who is studying playwriting at UCLA. "It makes sense when I think of my own donating practices. I am much more inclined to give something to a feature already shot and raising funds for post-production or an ongoing project. I can see the work and see people's commitment to it."

He is set to star as a gay serial killer in the film Sam's Story, for which his friend Mae Catt raised $20,904 through Kickstarter. The online sites are contributing to a "democratization of content," said Williamson, as content creators can use inexpensive equipment to "make something beautiful and put it online for very little money."

This new model, he added, allows filmmakers to "get their work out there to a larger audience and within your control. There are so few things that are in your control as a filmmaker, I am really encouraged by it."

 

Thao Nguyen, left, and Heidi Rhodes have postponed a series of live performances.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Unexpected pitfalls

There also can be unexpected pitfalls to taking such a public approach to raising money.

Looking to bring a larger audience to queer and transgender people of color performers, Heidi Rhodes and Thao Nguyen decided to create a series of live performances to address the "paucity" of QTPOC-centered spaces.

It is built off of a blog they launched in late 2012 to promote and profile various artists. They had intended to host the first live performance in March centered on themes of colonization, with both Rhodes and Nguyen among the six people presenting works that night.

They turned to Indiegogo to try to raise, at minimum, $500 to cover rental fees for the venue and equipment. To induce donors to support their FCQ! project, Rhodes and Nguyen posted a videotaped personal plea for donations and offered a variety of tiered giving levels.

A $10 donation came with a mention in the program; $50 donors received a poster; while the top tier at $200 provided a variety of gifts and either a photo with Rhodes or a handmade wallet by Nguyen.

"I think crowdfunding as a way to fundraise is a way to reach out to a community we know wants to support our community," said Rhodes, 31, who lives in San Francisco. "I think also, given the economy we are in and how that has affected access to certain sorts of resources, if you have 2,000 people give $1 that is a good chunk of money."

Friends and collaborators with Nguyen, 33, Rhodes said it was the first time she had used a crowdfunding site to raise money for a personal project. In the end the campaign netted $290.

"Because it is a really new project, we felt this could be a fairly low labor intensive way to raise money quickly within a month or two," said Rhodes. "I also deal with chronic illness. My energy for what I can do for fundraising or producing is limited."

Two days after their Indiegogo campaign ended, Rhodes and Nguyen announced they were postponing the March event. In an email to the B.A.R. Rhodes said it had to do with "unforeseen circumstances."

But a message posted to their blog suggests it had to do with criticisms the two received over the name of their project, FCQ! (For Colored Queers). Several people objected to the use of the word colored.

"While other black people in the community have been very affirmative of the name and the project, we are truly, truly sorry for any hurt it has caused anybody, and are working on how to address this with as much care as possible," stated the message.

For more information about Cooper's film, visit http://www.5blackstallion.com/.

To read the blog by Rhodes and Nguyen, visit http://fcq.tumblr.com/.

Logo has the first season of DTLA available for viewing online at http://www.logotv.com/shows/dtla/series.jhtml. Uncensored episodes of the show can be purchased for $1.99 on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dtla-season-1/id569298448.

Webisodes of Eastsiders can be found at http://eastsiderstheseries.com/.

To learn more about the production team behind the yet-to-made film Camp Revelation, visit http://www.silentgiantproductions.com/file/Camp_Revelation.html.

 






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