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!