Three years before Jack the Ripper, death stalked the streets of Austin, Texas. Who took innocent lives and why were they never caught? Read more
Funding for this project was canceled by the project creator on February 18, 2013.
About this project
As of 2:20 PM CST, Sunday, 2/17/13, the project can be fully funded with 243 Foul Fiend ($125) pledges. 51 Foul Fiend pledges gets us to 50% of goal.
Many many thanks to Stephen Loiaconi of HLNTV.com for writing not one, but two, fine articles on these crimes and my film! If you're here because of those articles, or Neil Gaiman's & John Scalzi's gracious tweets, welcome! I hope you find this project worthy of your support.
In 1885, three years before the crimes of Jack the Ripper entered modern legend, someone — or someones — stalked the dusty streets of Austin, Texas, a frontier town caught in the throes of transforming into a modern city.
From New Years Eve of 1884, to Christmas 1885, eight people — most of them female African-American cooks who worked in affluent white homes — were savagely killed, and more wounded, in attacks of such brutality they left the entire population in a state of terror and fledgling law enforcement in utter confusion. He came to be called the "Servant Girl Annihilator." And yet, like the Ripper himself, his identity remains lost to history.
Why were the killer or killers never caught? And what was the impact of these crimes upon race relations in a Reconstruction-era city, and a culture entirely unfamiliar with the modern concept of the serial killer? Why were the killings so completely suppressed in later years, that to this day, few people know they even occurred, and no comprehensive scholarly work to date has chronicled them?
BLOODY WORK: THE UNSOLVED MYSTERY OF THE SERVANT GIRL ANNIHILATOR seeks to be the first such comprehensive work. Avoiding the pitfalls of "docu-fiction," this detailed documentary will cut through the myths and legends to uncover what verifiable facts there are concerning these obscure and heinous crimes. My goal is to make both an entertaining and suspenseful movie for a general audience, as well as a valuable scholarly document that can serve as a legitimate resource for students and historians interested in the period. Interviews with experts on the crimes and the city's history, vintage photos, period music and artwork will all bring the story to life for the audience.
This is a production aiming for the festival circuit and Blu-ray/DVD/VOD (Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime) distribution market. Interview and other original footage will be shot using the Red Epic. The Blu-ray will contain lossless 5.1 channel audio. All crew will be paid. Prospective donors can read a more detailed breakdown of anticipated production and post-production costs below.
Please join me and embark on this eerie journey into Austin's dark and forgotten past! Who knows what startling revelations may come as we dig deeper into this long-forgotten BLOODY WORK....
If you have other questions that are not addressed in the FAQ below, please message me or ask in the comments section. I will read everything and answer as thoroughly as I can. My boundless gratitude goes out to all who back this film. Please spread the word throughout your own online circles — FB, Twitter, Reddit, G+, etc. — and come be part of this journey!
Risks and challenges
Having worked on the crews of a number of independent films in the Austin and central Texas area, I have experience on both good shoots and bad shoots. The good ones you enjoy, while the bad ones are where you learn. The most common mistakes I see newbie directors make is in lacking a realistic assessment of the scale of the project they have chosen to undertake, in relation to the resources they have at hand to actually make it. I have seen movies with low six-figure budgets trying to pretend they have low million-dollar budgets, and jumping into ambitious shoots for which they lack the money, crew, and sensible scheduling to pull off — only to see everything collapse into chaos. I have worked under smart and brilliant young directors without a dime but with a brave vision about which they are passionate and determined to make happen, and I have worked under bratty rich kids on ego trips who think their parents' money has magically made them Steven Spielberg.
For my own first film as director, I have made an effort to learn the lessons of experience. A documentary like this one offers a way to tell an ambitious story at a period in my filmmaking development where my reach will not exceed my grasp. Also, through Kickstarter updates, I can be in constant communication with you, my backers, keeping you appraised of each stage in the production process.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Not exactly, though it will be the first film. These are an extremely obscure series of crimes, and one you won't find a vast library of material readily available on. (Unlike, say, Jack the Ripper, about whom there must be a million books and movies and whatnot, or H. H. Holmes or Ed Gein.) The magazine Texas Monthly printed the best article to date on the crimes back in 2000, and they were also the basis for one mystery novel, A Twist at the End by Steven Saylor. A local theater troupe even produced a play on the subject a year or so ago. But apart from those very few examples, true crime literature has passed the SGA murders by. Occasionally, an article will pop up from one source or another — and it's shocking just how many lazy factual errors I've found in many of those. It's my goal to get the facts right, and awaken the world to this creepy and compelling unsolved mystery.
I began my initial research as long ago as 2007. In that time I have accumulated a large body of material, though the project then went through a couple of false starts, as well as having to go on the back burner more than once as both personal and professional life changes arose. There is still research left to do: on the one hand, it has been remarkably easy and fun to research, because primary sources are readily available in terms of newspaper accounts, and on the other hand, it's been very difficult, because of the lack of material you'd really like to see (medical and police reports, personal correspondences, etc.). Suffice it to say, after several years, the project is ready to come to fruition.
First, most of you may be familiar with Kickstarter by now, but for those who are new here, it is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either the entire goal is met, or the project does not get funded at all.
Mainly the approximate budget breakdown is as follows:
Camera and equipment rental: $5000. I am anticipating interviews with up to 5 subjects, each requiring rental of the Red camera plus necessary lighting package. There may be additional "b-roll" shoots around locations in Austin as well.
Personal expenses including travel: $4500. At least three of my interviews require me to go out of state. Also, some additional research is necessary outside of Austin.
Crew: $7500. Yes, my people will get paid because that's what a hard-working crew of pros deserves. The interview shoots will, at minimum, require a director of photography/camera operator, a sound engineer, and at least one stalwart PA (the backbone of every shoot). Craft services and meals for everyone must be taken into account as well. Also, a production accountant will be employed to make sure the beans are efficiently counted.
Musical score: $7000. This is a vitally important part of the film's artistic ambience for me, as it is my goal to commission an original score utilizing both period music played on vintage instruments, plus a more cinematic score for the film's main themes. Watch Ken Burns' masterpiece The Civil War to understand just how a great musical score takes a historical documentary to a whole new level.
Licensing and permissions: $7500. This, believe it or not, is the most staggering cost. The archives of the Austin History Center are the most comprehensive collection of vintage photographs and documents, many of which have never been published, that this production will make use of. And their licensing fees are astronomical, running around $80 or so per photo. Additional research materials have their related costs as well.
Sound design and surround mix: $5000. Again, quality sound is vitally important to a movie's success. Many audiences will even forgive a less than stellar image, but everyone hates lousy sound. A lossless digital soundtrack for the HD release is essential.
Contingency (5% of budget): $2500. I've found this is usually a sensible safeguard for those "OMG, wasn't expecting that!" moments that can plague a shoot (unexpected cancellations, you name it, Murphy's Law can strike even the most well-planned production).
Blu ray authoring: $2600 • Kickstarter 5% fee: $2400 • Amazon 5% fee: $2400
When the fundraising goal is met, I will announce my plans for a stretch goal, and what will be done with the additional money should that goal be met.
My original plan was very ambitious, envisioning loads of reenactments. But this would not only have added enormously to the budget (actors, costumes, period props, location scouting, production design and set dressing, even some CG to create 1885 Austin where we couldn't just fake it), it would put the film at risk of turning into "docu-fiction," where artistic license is used often to spackle over missing facts. And that's just where I don't want to go with this. I want audiences to trust that they can believe everything they see and hear onscreen, without risk of compromising journalistic integrity or historical truth.
Still, this will not be a dry talking heads doc, nor is it my plan to make something that's a glorified cable TV "true crime" show. (I love those, by the way, just not doing one here.) Interviews with historians and experts, plus a wide array of vintage photos as well as original art, will make this a rich and uniquely compelling movie to watch. Think Ken Burns for the scary-movie crowd.
Because too much of that is counterproductive. I have tried to do my homework on successful vs. unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns, and the most important lesson I've learned is that "success" isn't "I got all the money!", it's completion of the project. And too often, artists (we often don't think things like this through) go a little nuts thinking up the bonus goodies they offer their backers...only to realize that they're having to spend more of the money they raised producing those goodies than they anticipated, and it's eating into the actual project.
Say, for instance, I offered a T-shirt starting at the $30 pledge tier. Well, to get a 1-color silk-screened T-shirt done, I might be looking at a unit cost of $5-$7 per shirt. Then there is shipping, which could run around $5 for US first class mail, or around $10-15 if it's going overseas. So right there, anywhere from $12-$25 of the $30 you'd pledged me to make my movie with would be going to print and mail a T-shirt! Five or fifteen bucks left over for the actual production? FAIL.
I want to promise all my backers that all of the money they pledge will go to the production of the film, and things directly related to the promotion of the film (the one-sheet, for instance, is a useful item for festivals and related theatrical screenings) when I am shopping it for distribution. Anything blown on trinkets and fannish merch is defeating the purpose.
I have also noticed that many people who come to Kickstarter look at the various pledge tiers, and think they must donate in one of those amounts only, and leave without pledging if they don't think they can afford it. This is why I wanted to make people who wanted to pitch in, but whose funds were limited in these days of belt-tightening, feel like they could still be part, by making the download available for only 2 bucks. Conversely, you can donate as high as you please, and decline the reward if you don't care about it.
I intend to have a locked final cut by Fall 2013. But I wanted to allow extra breathing room in anticipation of the unexpected, which can pop up in independent filmmaking, as I'm sure those of you who have been involved in it know. I would rather set a long-term date, then beat it, than a short-term deadline, and blow it.
You will just have to see the film, won't you? ;-)
- (45 days)