Funded! This project was successfully funded on September 23, 2011.

Update #23

How the Sundance Screenwriters Lab changed this project, and my life


Hey everyone!

I wanted to share some of my experiences from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab last month. It was a genuinely life-changing experience, and one that has fundamentally changed the prospects for this film. Here was our great group of fellows:

It takes a village to make an independent film, and there are few villages as important and supportive as the Sundance Institute. If you don’t know the institute and its programs, you certainly know the films that have been helped by the Institute -- like Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Dee Rees’ Pariah, Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Half Nelson, Josh Marston’s Maria Full of Grace, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

For more about what the Lab is, exactly, here's a brief video:

The Institute does so much that extends beyond the five days of the lab, however, providing continual support and connections that help a film get made and find an audience. It has already drastically changed the future for this project and hopefully these updates will start coming much more quickly -- and contain more major news -- as we approach our late-summer shoot.

Now, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to get a bit more personal and speak to how the lab affected me personally. 

During the last day of the lab, as I walked the grounds of the beautiful Sundance Resort, there was a particular moment where I realized it had changed my life. The advisors had dove so deeply into my script that they had exposed flaws in my screenplay that were not just flaws with my writing – they were flaws with ME. While my MANCHILD draft was polished, intellectual, and precise – every single thing in the script was there for a reason, and I believed I’d painted a convincing portrait of a rich world – the overall project was opaque when it came to matters of the heart. As a result it lacked emotional availability – the same emotional availability that has been missing in my own life at times, due to my own faults. (There are plenty of other issues with the script, but this was the global one!). Ultimately, the Lab is all about dropping your shields and allowing yourself to be vulnerable: vulnerable to your material, to your experiences, to your weaknesses, to others. As the week unfolds you can see everyone lower their shields – I certainly did, and as a result I couldn’t be more excited about the next draft of my screenplay, and the next draft of me.

Throughout the experience I forgot the rest of the world existed. This feeling carried on when the festival began (my first Sundance!) and tens of thousands of festivalgoers descended on Park City – because even then, everyone you meet is focused on Sundance. But a few days later, as I was walking up Main Street, I saw through the window of a bar a football game on TV. The idea that this sport was being played, live, somewhere else in the world, and millions of people cared about the result – it seemed almost absurd to me, that time had not stopped during the lab, and that the world had gone about its business, apathetic to such a formative, inspiring experience for me and my little movie. And so I enjoyed the rest of the festival, saw some great films, met a lot of talented people, and got very little sleep. And then I came home, opened my notebook, and returned mentally to a place that I’ll be coming back to for the rest of my life: the Sundance Lab.

I'll have the next draft of the script finished in a couple of weeks -- applying the things I learned from the lab -- and then things should really get going! After so many years of work, it's an understatement to say that I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for all your continued support!

-- Ryan

P.S.: if you're a writer yourself, I added some takeaways from the Lab to the middle of this version of the update at No Film School.

Update #22

Sundance Screenwriters Lab!


Hey everyone!

Great news to share today. MANCHILD has just been selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and on top of that I have also received the inaugural Sundance A3 Foundation Fellowship!

Sundance selects 120 films every year... and only 12 screenwriters. This raises the profile of the film and our long-term prospects immeasurably! Also, on a personal level, I've revised the script so many times now that it feels great to receive this kind of affirmation.

As I shared in the last update, we're shooting MANCHILD this coming summer. So the Screenwriters Lab, which takes place in January just prior to the Festival, will be a wonderful opportunity to make some final passes on the script before launching into pre-production.

I owe Sundance a revised draft of the script tomorrow, so... back to the salt mines! Just wanted to share this great news with all of you first.

Happy holidays!


Update #21

When We're Shooting MANCHILD, and Wrapping up the Release of AMATEUR


The last time I sent an update it was about my MANCHILD prequel AMATEUR, and I was asking for help spreading it around to sports and film websites. I’m glad to say that AMATEUR has now been featured on a lot of prominent websites and has enjoyed a lot of festival play as well — despite being free online! I'm going to delve into the status and schedule of the long-delayed but better-than-ever feature MANCHILD, but first, if you didn't get a chance to see the short, here it is:

Note: a longer, more filmmaker-centric version of this update can be found on No Film School.

Despite the fact that I released it free online, AMATEUR has also enjoyed widespread festival play, including Urbanworld and the NBCUniversal Short Cuts semifinals, where it won the audience award out of a reported 1,400 entries!  As of today, AMATEUR has been featured on JAY Z’s Life+Times, ESPN’s Grantland, Filmmaker Magazine, Indiewire, SLAM Magazine, Short of the Week, Shadow and Act, Director’s Notes, and last but not least it is a Vimeo Staff Pick. The short has opened a lot of new doors, as well as reopened old conversations about the feature, and that's exactly why I made it.

Onto the feature!

When are we shooting MANCHILD?

MANCHILD needs to be a summer shoot, because it stars kids. Shooting with actual minors (and not twentysomethings playing teenagers) means you must have short days. The typical indie film configuration of shooting 14+ hours a day does not work when child labor laws limit minors to half of that. The reason films shoot for such long hours is everyone works on day rates, so it generally follows that the longer your days, the more you get done for the same dollar, and the shorter your days, the less you get done for the same dollar. If you must shoot with shorter days, then you need a higher budget, to get the same amount of work done (yes, you can always try to shoot faster, but this is an indie film — our schedule is already lean and mean). On top of this, if you film during the school year and are causing kids to miss their regularly scheduled classes, you must also hire a tutor for a few hours a day, causing your budget to go higher still because the tutoring hours are cutting into your already-shortened days, and then you also need to pay your tutor(s) as well. To avoid this problem, you shoot in the summer. This summer is already over, so we’re shooting, absolutely, positively, next summer.

Why are we raising more financing to make MANCHILD?

We are raising traditional financing in addition to the Kickstarter funds. We’re not hitting up you, our Kickstarter backers, again — we’re going out and raising private equity to use in addition to the crowdfunding. This is true of the vast majority of film campaigns on Kickstarter — very few people raise 100% of their budget with one crowdfunding campaign. Looking at projects on the film finance site Slated, the average crowdfunding raise of $45,000 accounts for just 8% of the average overall budget. We are no different, and on my original campaign page it says, “Once there’s a producer attached, they will come up with their own budget, which will undoubtedly be higher than mine, and then we’ll have to raise more money or make tough decisions about what we WANT in the film versus what we absolutely NEED.” That’s exactly what’s happening now — we're raising more money, and we’re making those tough decisions.

Every feature film is going to be a learning process, but this is my first feature film, and I’ve seen a lot of criticism thrown my way for taking so long. I get it — I’ve backed a lot of other Kickstarter campaigns myself (over a hundred) and almost all of those take longer than the creator thought or hoped! I understand what those creators are going through, and all we need is some patience. We’re working hard, and it’s going to be worth the wait. 

After working on MANCHILD for two years, I’ve still not spent a penny of the Kickstarter funds or been paid a dollar myself — all of the money is going to the film’s production. Nothing has changed, other than two main things I learned by running my (first!) Kickstarter campaign to make my (first!) feature film: one, I was naive to think that I could make this film for $100k, and two, I was naive to think that my screenplay was ready to go. I have gone through dozens if not hundreds of drafts since the Kickstarter campaign, and it is a much stronger story today.

At the end of the day, the well-known film producer Ted Hope has said the average independent film takes 5.5 years to produce. I’m at the 3 year mark now, and ultimately, for you backers (thank you again!), I’m now working more years for the same crowdfunding dollar.

I’ll end with this question put to me by the indie filmmaking site Film Courage: “Do you feel that maybe MANCHILD is too ambitious for a first feature?”

The long answer is in the video above, but the short answer is: no. Absolutely not!

Ever since I ran this Kickstarter campaign, MANCHILD has been public, and that means I’m going to hear a lot of opinions. But one argument I’ve heard several times has been: “make it simpler, make it faster, make it easier.” But nothing I’ve done to date has been simple or fast or easy. Following the anti-ambition logic, I never should’ve tried to make a Western set in an empty version of New York City with my co-director Zack Lieberman -- with no budget or resources. (We won the Webby for Best Drama and launched our careers). I never should’ve started a blog as a unemployed kid living in North Carolina with the goal of getting myself to New York City and launching a film career. (Which is exactly what it accomplished). I never should’ve tried to turn that personal blog into a daily filmmaking resource all by myself, with no experience developing, building, scaling, or monetizing websites. (Today that web site, No Film School, is doing great!). I never should’ve launched the single largest narrative film campaign in Kickstarter history without any help. (Thank you for making that dream come true!). And I never should’ve written, directed, produced, and edited a short prequel for a feature project that was already out there. (The short has garnered a tremendous reception and completely changed the prospects for the feature). All of these things were risky, and ambitious, and without precedent in my own career, and MANCHILD has all three of those qualities, on a larger and more ambitious scale. I’ve never been more proud of this project, I’ve never worked harder on it, and while it’s going to take a while longer, it’s going to be a lot better for it.

Thank you for your patience and for continuing on this journey with me!

All best,


Update #20

We're on the ESPN website Grantland!


Hey everyone,

The last time you heard from us, we were trying to get our short prequel for MANCHILD, AMATEUR, on sports websites. This was in the thick of the NBA playoffs so in retrospect we suppose it's not that surprising that this was a difficult undertaking.

However, it's summertime, and the bloggin' is easier. And there we are on the front page of our favorite sports/movie website, Grantland! Grantland is ESPN’s in-depth, long-form journalism spin-off that features movies alongside sports coverage, which made it our #1 target for AMATEUR. Here's an excerpt from the Q&A:

What can we expect from Manchild? Where else do you want to go with this story?

One reason I want to make Manchild is, it’s not The Blind Side. And one reason Manchild hasn’t already gotten made is, it’s not The Blind Side. When you pitch a sports movie, there are often expectations of what’s going to happen in it. But Manchild is not about a rich white lady saving the day by rescuing a poor black athlete.

Those movies are financed based on star power, not subject matter. It’s “Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side,” or “Sean Connery in Finding Forrester.” Look at the Forrester poster: Rob Brown’s face is 1/100th the size of Connery’s. And this isn’t limited to sports movies — Tom Cruise sells a film about samurai, Leonardo DiCaprio sells a film about African conflict diamonds. I understand these are perfectly sound decisions for studios, but sometimes I want to see films where the main characters are the actual samurai, or the kids working in those mines, or the athlete who isn’t rescued by anyone.

The full article is here and we go much more in-depth on the state of "amateur" athletics. Please share it around if you like it!

We also made a 15-second teaser to make it easier for other sports websites to pick up the film, since it's faster to watch and gauge interest from a teaser:

We've also been selected for IFP's No Borders co-production market next month.

We know there's already a long road behind us, and a long road ahead of us still. Because MANCHILD stars school-age children, we have a number of restrictions on when we can shoot -- on a budget, at least, since we can't afford to pull kids out of school and hire full-time tutors to shoot during the winter. That came out wrong, as if we're going to be lining up tutors on frozen tundra and getting out the rifles. Not so! Our point is, MANCHILD is almost certainly a summer shoot, and as as this summer wanes, we may well have to wait until next summer to get the film in the can. But rest assured it WILL happen no matter what, and we believe it will be worth the wait. At the end of the day we're delivering the film you backed, whether it takes us two years or three (or four). Ultimately we'll have worked longer and harder on it, but the film will be better for it.

We're proud to have released a short that has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response, without touching a dime of the Kickstarter funds, and we're looking forward to seeing the below screen at several upcoming festivals (more on that soon)!

All best,

Ryan Koo

  • Image-304167-full

Update #19

An inspiring reception for AMATEUR! Also, do you have basketball connections?


Hey everyone!

Have you had a chance to see AMATEUR, the lead-in short film for MANCHILD? I hope you enjoy it and that it makes you proud to be on board with the feature as a backer! If you haven't caught it yet -- which is understandable, as it's only been out for two days -- here it is again:

Since launching on Wednesday we've had some great things happen and some very nice things said about the project:

First off we're a Vimeo Staff Pick, a prestigious honor awarded to a very select few videos out of the millions posted to the video sharing service. The laurels placed on the video as a result are the closest thing in the online world to a film festival award, and since we're forgoing festivals with AMATEUR, that makes it even more important for us!

Filmmaker Magazine did a very nice interview with me about the project: 

Amateur, which Koo debuted yesterday at his own site, is a sharply acted, skillfully directed drama with an extremely clever final twist. With strong production values, Amateur introduces us to a hustling basketball recruiter who, in a darkly lit gym, plies his trade on a naive high-school player. What does the player need in his life? What does his family need? What can he do to steer the player towards a school that will make these problems go away? How Koo plays all this out will bring a smile to your face while also interesting you in what the recruiter will do next… and that’s the story of MANCHILD.

Short of the Week selected us for their curated site, which, like Vimeo, is an arbiter of quality in the online world (and one of the foremost sites devoted to short films).

We were featured on Indiewire (on the front page!), one of the largest independent film sites in the world. Initially there was a spoiler in their intro but we were able to get that removed!

Directors Notes also featured us, saying:

Dialogue-heavy and character-based, with a truly outstanding lead performance from Curtiss Cook Jr, Amateur’s measured pace won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. This is filmmaking that requires your undivided attention if you’re to fully reap the rewards. Cleverly subverting the cliches you’ll be all too familiar with if you’ve ever watched a basketball movie before, Koo’s short has one of the most satisfying of ends – the kind that actually gives you goosebumps.

All of this has been amazing and makes the hard work even more rewarding. It's been a long time (too long!) since I had new work out in the world, and I literally could not have asked for anything more from the indie and online film communities for our launch. 

But here's where we need help: reaching the basketball world. This short is ABOUT basketball, but it's been hard to get traction in the sports media as an independent film without any particular connections. So -- do you know someone covering, working in, or playing basketball? Do they know someone? The success of releasing this short directly online, for free, so that everyone (especially Kickstarter backers!) can view it right away hinges on crossing over to the sports media. So please pass on to anyone you think might be able to help. If you don't have any connections yourself (but are on Twitter), you can also help us out by tweeting at the folks listed on the MANCHILD website! In fact if you hit refresh you'll get new folks you didn't see before...

We've put together a document that will help folks in the press understand the context of the short film, and we believe it's a good story with a number of hooks (remember Phil Jackson backing the Kickstarter campaign? Hi Jeanie!). If you're passing on the project you can also send this link, which tells the story of the project:

An online video release is all about garnering as much support as possible in the first few days, so we're trying to get coverage ASAP. That's why projects with big budgets hire PR firms, because finding contacts and reaching out is a full-time job (it's all I've been doing for the past few days... and that's after months of devoting myself to the production (and post-production) of this short). ANY help is greatly appreciated!

I hope you really enjoyed the short and it makes you look forward to the feature even more. That's certainly how I feel! All the best,

Ryan Koo

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