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The first feature film by Koo (dir. of The West Side, founder of NoFilmSchool.com) explores the high-stakes world of youth basketball.
Created by

Ryan Koo

2,336 backers pledged $125,100 to help bring this project to life.

We've changed our title to 'Amateur' — and you're invited to a Sundance Reading!

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Hey all,

Exciting news to share! Two things:

'Manchild' is now 'Amateur'

During the course of running this campaign and revising the script, I've heard from many of you that you did not like the title (of course, others thought it to be perfectly fitting — but you can't please everyone). I had my own reservations when choosing the title as well. So I've used several different titles for several different drafts, privately, to see which ones I liked... and the one that makes the most sense is... the title of the short film as well, AmateurAmateur more specifically links us to the ongoing conversation about student-athletes and amateurism in sports (what with multiple ongoing court cases against the NCAA), and better relates to our protagonist's journey in the film.

Manchild always had issues, especially in the non-sports world: if you say the term "manchild" to someone in sports, they immediately get it (a child built like a man, thus a proficiency at sports) but if you say it to anyone outside athletics it has another meaning (a man with the maturity of a child). Look no further than Urban Dictionary, the great arbiter of taste: not until the tenth entry is there a definition that isn't some variant of "immature adult male" — and that tenth entry is "50/50 Whiskey and Apple Juice" (really, that's what it's called?). This film not being about an immature adult male — or whiskey and apple juice — I think it's a good thing that we changed the title. Also, sidenote: this gets us into the "A"s for VOD listings on Cable TV, a practice known as alpha-stacking... which by itself would not be a great reason to chose your title, but is potentially a bonus for us. Hey, you never know. 

I hope you like the new title — it's still the same film about a 13 year-old basketball player. Manchild is dead! Long live Amateur!

Sundance Screenplay Reading Series

In the previous update I wrote, "the next time you hear from me, I promise it will be good news," so I'm happy to share this good news: Sundance has selected Amateur (get used to saying the new title!) for their Screenplay Reading series, which is a live reading of a work-in-progress script. It's a great opportunity to hear my material in the hands of talented actors, in front of a live audience. It's a little nerve-racking too, of course, since I'm putting a work-in-progress document in front of a lot of eyes and ears — and it's a reading, not a finished, directed film — but ultimately the project will be stronger for it, and I'm very thankful and excited to have the opportunity.

It's also a great opportunity to invite... you!

If you're in New York and you'd like to hear my current draft in full (which I'm furiously revising — how is it possible that even on a script I've been writing for years, there's still always a rush to meet deadlines?), here are the details:

Monday, December 1 at 7:30 pm @ The 52nd St. Project 789 Tenth Ave. New York, NY

RSVP is required, by clicking on the image above or here. Seating is first come, first served – arrive early! Hang out afterward! Eat free dessert! It's Sundance! 

I hope to see some of you there — I'll be the guy biting his nails and possibly scribbling copious notes about changes to make...

All best,

Ryan

The long game

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I have started writing this update, and stopped writing it, many times.

I tried to write it following the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, after I rewrote 70% of the film.

I tried to write it by hand when I was hiking out West this summer, after thinking about it for several miles.

I tried to write it on the plane back from Sundance last month, after the Creative Producing Summit.

Every time I tried to write this update, I didn't make it to the end, or if I did I looked back at what I wrote and it felt wrong. It's hard to express my profound disappointment that we won't be shooting this summer as I'd thought, and that we won't just be pushing a few months, but that we will instead have to delay an entire year. Because our protagonist is a minor and we need to shoot during the summer months when school is out, we can't simply push into the fall.

This happened for a lot of reasons, but mainly: after I rewrote 70% of the film earlier this year, there was too much work to do to have everything ready to go for this summer. Everyone was waiting on the script and when I rewrote so much of it, I surprised a lot of people. It's going to be a superior film as a result, but it's going to take longer.

I feel terrible that it's going to be another year before we get to shoot. Yet at the same time, more than ever, I'm confident in the project. Great things have been happening, but I can't share any of them because nothing's final yet -- including the script. So I'm in this weird in-between state, feeling a mixture of disappointment and excitement, of dreading having to write a "we've been delayed" update while at the same time taking thrilling meetings -- and, as ever, revising the script into something that I know is going to be much bigger and better than the early drafts.

I realize I estimated the delivery of the film in August 2013, and we're now a year late -- and by the time we have the film in the can we'll be two years late. That date was actually a last-minute addition to the campaign because, between the time I started my Kickstarter project draft and the time it went live, Kickstarter added the "estimated date of delivery" box as a new feature. I hadn't even thought of it until the time came to launch, and there it was.

Even typing that last sentence feels strange to me, because I hate excuses and rationalizing, hell -- I even hate explaining sometimes. Sometimes I just want to make it, and not talk about it. Indeed, as the founder of a website that has over 100,000 comments, I've heard everything that can be said about me. As a result, as soon as I start explaining something, I can't help but hear the voices of people accusing me of making up excuses, or lying, or not knowing what I'm talking about ("you're afraid to make it" is a personal favorite when it comes to this project). There have been a lot of those kinds of comments, and it's well within anyone's right to say whatever they think is the truth. But when our film comes out and we're up there on stage at a festival like Sundance or Tribeca or SXSW, it's not like those same people are going to come back around and say, "hey, sorry for giving you a hard time, you were right to take the extra time and make it even better." So I'll just keep on making it, and keep on supporting others, and I hope you will too.

In response to the delays of some of their 50,000 successful projects, Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler (who I consider a friend) said this: “You’re not buying something, you’re supporting the creation of it.”

That's an important distinction. Of the 135 projects I’ve backed on Kickstarter, only a small number of them were items where I felt I was actually buying something – a gadget, a watch, etc. The other 120 or so were creative projects where I was supporting the creator, and by backing their project I was telling him or her: “I believe in you, I believe in this project, and with our help I believe you’re going to be able to make it.” I have waited years for rewards -- and I’m still waiting on most of them. Yet not with any of those projects did I ever think to complain to the creator to the tune of, “you’re taking too long.” If one of them said, "hey, instead of backing me to do one year of work, you're actually backing me to do four," I certainly wouldn't see that as a bad thing.

So here I am, signing up for another year of work, not having spent a dime of your Kickstarter funds, more excited than ever about the film, holding my hat in my hand and saying: sorry for the delay. The next time you hear from me, I promise it will be good news.

Thanks as always for your belief in the project.

Ryan

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

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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.

Sundance Screenwriters Lab!

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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!

http://www.sundance.org/press-center/release/12-projects-announced-for-feature-film-program/

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!

Ryan

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

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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,

Ryan