Though Blue Like Jazz is the largest film project in Kickstarter history, the real story is about two regular guys — Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard — with an audacious idea. Jonathan and Zach were two longtime fans of the best-selling memoir Blue Like Jazz, and so when author Donald Miller announced in a blog post that the long-planned film adaptation was being canceled at the last second due to funding, the two leapt into action. Their rapid response not only saved a film, it changed their lives. This is their story.
What motivated you to actually do this? It must have been nerve-wracking!
wasn't actually all that nerve-racking because I don't recall thinking
of it realistically at first, to be quite honest! I remember reading
the blog Don posted saying
that the project was dead and just thinking, "This is bogus. There's
another way." I thought about just replying on the blog, then realized
that fifty other people had already done that and it wasn't going to make a
difference, so I just emailed my buddy Zach to see if I was on par or
straight crazy. (I'm more of the extravagant dreamer type anyway.)
Zach's the one that took it to the next level. His response to my
email? First, he made a Nine Inch Nails reference (as he does for
everything he gets excited about) then he said, "Challenge accepted."
What were your thoughts immediately before you hit "Launch"? This will probably fail miserably or change our lives forever.
your video, you take care to refer to yourself as "just a coupla guys — okay, fans." Why that emphasis? The correction seems significant to
your story, as well as the role you two guys were choosing to play in
was specific so that we didn't come across as two guys hired by the
film or anything. We were just like the people we were asking to help
save the film — and it was super important to us to have a community
feel from the get-go.
Did you ever anticipate
the response your project would receive? What was it like once you
realized that your goal was not just going to be doubled — but nearly
Not at all. I mean, we were
hopeful, but it far exceeded our "optimistic hopes." To be real, our
internal goal was $250K — but we decided the lowest we could go at that
point was $125K to get the film in the can (accounting for fees, merch
costs, etc.). We did our research beforehand on crowdsourced funding
for films, and up until then the highest amount successfully raised was in
the $50K range. Based on that, we came as low as feasibly possible.
once the project started — if you can wear out the refresh button on a
browser, we sure did it. We were checking things out constantly and
simultaneously having our minds blown. It was incredible. Day ten of the
campaign (when we reached our mark of $125K) was semi-humorous 'cause
once the celebration resided a smidge we talked to the Director and it
was like "Oh man, we need to go into pre-production! We've got to make a
movie!" Chaos ensued amidst happy hearts and blown minds.
then the last day came: $90k in the final 24 hours. I remember I was
in NYC for work and couldn't check the project as often as I normally would, so
when I got a chance I thought there must have been a glitch — no freakin'
way it was coming in that fast. Sure enough...
Tell me about the experience of connecting with the Blue Like Jazz community. Beyond pledging funds, what was the response of other fans like? Did
you get to meet them? Did you hear from them?
These fans are seriously incredible. Incredible and passionate.
I think that's why we knew this could work in the first place. We were
part of that community, and knew the passion that existed. Everyone
was not only pledging their money, but swiftly sending follow up emails
to offer services of every imaginable kind. Music, camera-work,
catering — you name it.
Two really cool aspects of the campaign, ones that were built into the incentives, were chances to talk to and
meet the fans. At $10, you would receive a call from the film's
Director, Steve Taylor. (That guy is seriously amazing.) He's got a
huge binder that literally looks like a phone book — and he's just
going through, one by one, checking people off the list. And from what I
hear, it's never just a "Hey, it's Steve, thanks, gotta go!" He's
always engaging conversation and thanking them from the bottom of his
heart. He's the real deal. Then, for $1000, you could come on set, hang
with the cast and crew, and be an extra in the film! This meant an
opportunity to meet many fans, and it was so much fun every time.
Any particular anecdotes that stick out in your mind?
first is a personal anecdote that Zach and I reference quite
often internally. The night we put together the pitch for Don and Steve
(before we knew that it was all "a go"), it was a crazy night of no
sleep, yet lots of dreaming, in my garage. At one point we stopped and
momentarily talked about the craziness of what we were potentially
doing. We looked at the clock (it was still early on for that night,
before we got too thick into it) and we said, "Let's take one minute, 60
seconds, and just think about how this moment could forever alter our
lives." That time was 11:46 pm.
second notable anecdote is the immediate rise of people reading Blue
Like Jazz (the book) within a fifty mile radius of anyone involved with the
project. From the digital tech on-set catching a quick read whenever he
had a break to my 81-year-old grandmother-in-law, everyone was now
wondering what this madness was all about.
Okay, the big one. What was it like actually meeting Donald Miller?
Odd. Hah. It just so happened that I was already going to Portland the weekend before the Save Blue Like Jazz
campaign launched for Don's first ever "Storyline" conference. This
was planned long before anything ever happened with the Kickstarter
campaign. So by the time I got out there, we had emailed and talked on
the phone (at this point, we were actually talking quite frequently) but had never met
face to face. So that weekend I walked up after one of the sessions and
it was this weird, "Hey...I'm one of the guys trying to save your
movie..." kind of handshakes. Once we got past that though, it's been
one of a kind. Don's a killer guy with a huge heart.
Tell us about quitting your job to follow the production! When did you make that decision and how?
This is one heck of a can of worms. Without going into some of the "not-so-pretty" details — this was a decision a long time coming, but
definitely not easy nor swift. I had been working for a great
financial planning company as the marketing director at the time, but my
dream had always been to go full-time creative. I had been
moonlighting as a photographer for a few years at that point, and felt
like I was getting close to making the move — but with a wife who stayed
home with our newborn daughter, there were so many variables the risk
seemed too high. I then somewhat unknowingly forced myself into what
seemed like an ultimatum: Once we hit our goal, Steve asked Zach and I
to come on set during filming to shoot behind the scenes as well as
oversee marketing and promotion. On top of that, I had just gotten a call
for one of my biggest photography gigs to date: to go out on the road
with Taylor Swift and capture the festivities of the release week of her
latest album, Speak Now. This was five straight weeks of dream-work,
and moon-lighting just wouldn't cut it.
was October, finances weren't exactly where I'd wanted them to be, and I
still had risk and responsibility staring me square in the eyes. So, I
asked for a 5-week leave of absence, hoping I could come back and get
through the Holidays, then re-evaluate. Four days before I was supposed
to fly out, they turned me down. I obviously had a big decision to
make, and I couldn't make the call without my wife's support. My family
means the world to me, and as a new father, and a husband always
striving to be better — I told my wife I'd pass it all up and stay where
I was if that's what I needed to do. She told me plainly, "It's time —
you can't pass this up. I believe in you." I cried, then told my bosses
that I had to go for it. They supported me 100%, and the rest, as they
say — is history.
How is life for you now? (Different, I imagine!)
Different, hah. Now, Zach and I have formally started a company
and we're hustling artists just like our peers. Our mantra, if you
will, is to "Tell engaging stories visually" with a holistic,
cohesive-voice approach. It's so much fun though — not to mention
freeing — to do the work you love. The best part? I can wake up and
have breakfast with my wife and daughter if I so desire, and not have to
worry about calling my office manager and explaining "why I'm late."
And that, is awesome.
What are your thoughts on why the fanbase of Blue Like Jazz was so specifically receptive to this project?
familiar with this book knows that it didn't sell 1.3 million copies
and reach the New York Times Bestseller list 46 times because Don was an
established writer at the time with a massive and loyal audience. His
previous book barely sold 10,000 units and he nearly quit writing to
work at an insurance agency. Blue Like Jazz was his "last shot" so to
speak. Since he figured no one would read it anyways, he was brutally
honest. Who would have thought that vulnerability would have ignited
fire in the hearts of a generation so abruptly? The book got handed
around college campuses quicker than a joint at a Dave Matthews show.
This wasn't a cult-like, pity-giving, charity party. This is a fanbase
whose lives have been radically changed, and would do anything to keep
the story alive.