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A destitute man’s life is transformed by a simple act of kindness. Based on an inspiring true story from a prison writing workshop.
A destitute man’s life is transformed by a simple act of kindness. Based on an inspiring true story from a prison writing workshop.
154 backers pledged $25,025 to help bring this project to life.

About

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$25,025

154

Stretch Goal: $26,000

WE MADE IT!  100% funded means we're making this movie!

But if you haven't pledged before and you're considering backing us now, please do join us!  We promise to put every additional penny to good use.  At least 8% of our Kickstarter backing will go to pay Kickstarter and Amazon for payment processing fees.  For us, that's $2,000 that would otherwise go to paying our amazing cast and crew, feeding them, and making sure their wardrobe fits. And wouldn't you know? This week we finalized our production insurance policy and it was about $1,200 more than we projected.  All in, our current total production budget is actually just over $30,000.

So please do join us -- every sawbuck and Benjamin will help us make a better movie!

The Project

GRACE OF A STRANGER is a short film about a homeless, nearly broken man who loses the one thing that gives him hope, and an unlikely stranger who finds himself in a position to help. The screenplay is based on the autobiographical short story “Acts of Kindness” by Aaron Keel, an inmate in the Arizona State Prison system and a student in the University of Arizona’s Prison Creative Writing Workshops. The film will be shot  in Tucson, Arizona, by a team of professionals based in Tucson and Los Angeles. The filmmakers are inspired to tell Aaron’s story and we hope you’ll join us.

A primary aim of the project is to promote the Arizona Prison Creative Writing Workshops, a program of The University of Arizona Poetry Center.

Story

GRACE OF A STRANGER is the story of Aaron (Nipper Knapp), a man just struggling to survive, living on the harsh streets of a hot Southwestern city, and striving to get back on his feet. His only friend is a stray dog, and they do their best to protect one another. Among Aaron’s few possessions is his most treasured: his skateboard. Treasured because Aaron needs it to trek the route to a better way of life. The story takes place over the course of a day on which Aaron traverses the city, looking for work and foraging for food and water. After his first meeting with a supermarket manager (Bob Clendenin), Aaron’s skateboard breaks in transit to his second interview, leaving him stranded and discouraged.

The Rail Yard, where Aaron makes a key discovery
The Rail Yard, where Aaron makes a key discovery

Meanwhile, Bert (Matt Letscher), who recently opened a downtown skate shop, is at his own wit’s end as he struggles with an obstinate partner to get their shop off the ground without going broke.

When these two meet, they’re each on a precipice — Bert with everything to lose, Aaron with nothing.

BLX Skate Shop, where Aaron and Bert meet
BLX Skate Shop, where Aaron and Bert meet

Team

L to R: Nipper Knapp, Matt Letscher, and Bob Clendenin
L to R: Nipper Knapp, Matt Letscher, and Bob Clendenin

Nipper Knapp (Aaron) graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in Theatre. He was a founding member and Artistic Director of the Trueblood Theater Company in New York. After moving to LA, he has worked in film, TV, and dozens of commercials, notably in numerous spots directed by Errol Morris. He and his cowriters Matt Letscher and Andrew Newberg won the Best Writing award for their original pilot “Gentrification” at the New York TV Fest.

Matt Letscher (Bert) currently plays Tom Bradshaw, Carrie’s dad on “The Carrie Diaries,” the WB’s hit prequel to “Sex and the City.”He’s been featured in dozens of other TV series as a regular and guest star.He has appeared in more than 20 films, including Atom Egoyan’s upcoming Devil’s Knot, The Mask of Zorro, Gods and Generals, and Gettysburg.

Bob Clendenin (Manager) is probably best known for his current role as Dr. Tom Gazelian on “Cougartown.” He also played Dr. Zeltzer on “Scrubs” and numerous other comedic roles on TV. His films include Star Trek, Race to Witch Mountain, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and L.A. Confidential.

Nick Smith
Nick Smith

Nick Smith (Stunt Coordinator and double for Nipper) is one of Tucson’s most revered skaters.  He’s sponsored by Larosa and BLX and has skated competitively and in countless videos. Nick will choreograph our stunts, advise on skate gear, and serve as the stunt double for Nipper Knapp.

Oliver
Oliver

Oliver (the Dog) is a quick-witted, affectionate German Wirehaired Pointer who lives in Tucson with his family. Stretching into the role of Aaron’s female sidekick is a dream come true, as his favorite film is Tootsie.

Troy Hollar (Producer/Director and Co-Writer) — click Troy’s name in the widget on the right to read his bio.

Andrew Newberg (Co-Writer) graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia as a two-time Graham Fellow. In 2010, he and his co-writers Nipper Knapp and Matt Letscher won the Best Writing award for their original pilot "Gentrification" at the New York TV Festival. Prior to moving to New York, Andrew was a charter member of The Second City—Detroit, where he performed for three years. As a Hopwood award-winning playwright from the University of Michigan, he had several of his plays workshopped in New York City. He’s taught improvisation classes at Bennington College, Columbia University, and Artistic New Directions, and served as a Core Faculty member of the Writing Division with The Second City.

Scott Cross (Co-Producer) is the co-founder and co-director of the Vail Film Festival and the Colorado Film Institute. He is a filmmaker who has worked in film and as a successful business founder and manager for the last twelve years. As part of his work with the Vail Film Festival, Scott has negotiated key partnerships with world renowned brands, including Starbucks, Gap, United Airlines, Firefox, and the Virgin Group, as well as a major charity partnership with Product RED. Scott is also the co-founder of the Baja International Film Festival, launched in November 2012, and the co-president of the filmmaker social network IndieProducer. Scott is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.

Sean Cross (Co-Producer) is a filmmaker and entrepreneur who has spent over a decade working in film. In 2004, Sean co-founded the Colorado Film Institute and the Vail Film Festival. As Artistic Director, with his brother Scott, Sean helped build the reputation of the Vail Film Festival’s internationally recognized film program. Sean also secured long-term relationships with major industry partners, including Universal Pictures, Paramount, Brillstein Entertainment, and the Screen Actors Guild. Sean Cross is also the co-founder of the Baja International Film Festival and the co-president of the filmmaker social network IndieProducer. Sean completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Richmond, and his graduate studies at New York University.

Damon Mosier (Cinematographer) has shot three feature films, including the recently completed Unsound, based on the short film Seafood Tester, which Damon also shot. GRACE will be Damon’s tenth short film.

Christina Marafino (First Assistant Director) was first assistant director on Darious Britt’s recently completed Unsound, her second feature as AD. GRACE will be her fourth short film project.

Current Status

We’re in the midst of preproduction. We’ve cast all but one small role; we’ve chosen our locations (photos of some of them below); permitting is under way with the Tucson Film Office; we’re working with the Screen Actors Guild on contracts; and we’re gathering props and wardrobe. Our main focus now is finalizing our shooting schedule and identifying specific camera, lighting, and sound equipment needs. Shooting is scheduled for early October.

The Park, where Aaron sleeps
The Park, where Aaron sleeps
BLX Skate Shop facade
BLX Skate Shop facade
Exo Roast Co. (both a location and a project sponsor)
Exo Roast Co. (both a location and a project sponsor)

Budget

PLEASE NOTE: Funding on Kickstarter is all or nothing. This means in order for us to receive the money pledged to this project we must meet or exceed our funding goal within the funding period. If we are not able to do this, you're charged nothing and we get nothing. If you would like to back GRACE, click either the big green button or the appropriate pledge level, and you'll be guided through the process of making a pledge. 

Doubtless you know that producing a film is expensive. Producing a high-quality movie with a professional team and stunts is even more so. GRACE is being produced with the highest production values and best resources we can martial. Our Kickstarter campaign will fund 72% of our project budget.The remainder is coming from our sponsors, like Exo Roast Co., the finest craft coffee roasters in the Southwest.

Below is a quick view of how our budget breaks down.If you have questions regarding the budget or how your contribution will be spent, you’re welcome to contact us.

GRACE OF A STRANGER Budget Breakdown
GRACE OF A STRANGER Budget Breakdown

Why We’re Making This Film

We’re making this film because it inspires us and we believe it’ll inspire those who see it. The project began when Aaron Keel, an inmate in the Arizona State Prison system, took action to change his circumstances through the simple act of telling a story.

This film will enable us to promote the good work being done by The University of Arizona Poetry Center's Prison Creative Writing Workshops and similar prison creative writing programs around the country.

How It Started: A personal note from the producer/director

One evening earlier this year, I had an NPR Driveway Moment. I was listening to Erec Toso, a University of Arizona English professor, being interviewed about a creative writing program he runs for inmates in the Arizona State Prison system. It was stirring to hear this unassuming, compassionate man talk about why he spends every Saturday behind bars teaching men — often violent men with no apparent future — how to express themselves through writing.

Then Erec read a short story by a young inmate named Aaron Keel — an autobiographical story, as it turned out. It was simple and elegant: A homeless and penniless young man loses the only thing that gives him any sense of hope, and yet he refuses to give up until he encounters a stranger who has the power to give it back to him. The story was a powerful portrait of the resilience of the human spirit and the extraordinary impact a simple act of kindness can have in a person’s life.It moved me in its fresh new take on these themes. I was inspired that a man in a prison cell could write such a humane story. It had exactly the effect on me that Aaron had intended: It renewed my sense of hope. 

I immediately envisioned it as a short film. I contacted Dr. Toso the next day, and he put me in touch with Aaron. Within weeks, it was on a course for production this fall. And with your help, we’ll bring GRACE to life.

—Troy Hollar

Cool things about GRACE

Sick Skateboarding: In skating parlance, “sick” means cool or great.

A Great Cast: See the “Team” section above.Three of the best working actors in America are coming with their A-game.

An Amazing Dog: Oliver will steal your heart in the role as Aaron’s sidekick.We’re not kidding.

A Sublime Soundtrack: The score is infused with jazz and hip-hop. It’ll have original music and some gems you either love now or will love when you hear them here first. Even punk makes a cameo.

Righteous Rewards: As a backer, you’re creating this project with us, so we’ve carefully chosen each reward package so you can experience the thrill and delight of making GRACE. For starters, everyone who contributes will have access to our project log, where you’ll receive updates and can interact with the filmmakers and other backers.

A Purpose Beyond Itself: Aaron Keel's generous spirit gave us the story on which the film is based.  We're bringing his story to life to spur support for prison creative writing workshops and their positive contribution to rehabilitation.

Montage location
Montage location

Risks and challenges

The risks in filmmaking are numerous. The main risks in production are logistical problems, weather, and accidents. Painstaking planning will mitigate logistical and weather challenges. Once we start shooting in October, we’ll have spent over four months planning every need for every detail in every shot, including making contingency plans in case anything goes wrong — an exceptional amount of planning for a film of this scale. Accidents could certainly happen, especially since this film involves skateboarding, which is why we’ve budgeted for on-set first-aid personnel and are working with the Tucson Film Office to ensure first responders will be at close hand if we need them.

Marketing and distribution are our other main challenges. Short films almost never make money, no matter how popular they become, so it’s crucial to: A) find partners who care more about the film than its profits; and B) work hard to connect with audiences who we think will love the film. Fortunately, our team is made up of not only seasoned filmmakers, but also veteran business people who know exactly how to do both. We’re already reaching out to friends and colleagues to garner support and sponsorship for production. Once the film is completed, we’ll submit GRACE to important film festivals, where we’ll actively market screenings to prospective distributors and filmgoers. And we’ll leverage our extensive network of contacts in the film industry to engage in early talks with prospective distribution partners.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

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    You’ll receive our heartfelt thanks and the option to receive project e-updates. Any contribution means a great deal to us and helps us reach our goal.

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    In addition to the above, we’ll send you a social media shout-out, acknowledgement on the GRACE website, and a digital download of the film when it’s completed!

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    In addition to all of the above, you’ll be listed in the Special Thanks in the film’s titles. You’ll also receive a GRACE sticker suitable for slapping on your bumper, skateboard, laptop, chapbook, or sax case.

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    All of the above, plus we’ll send you a postcard set of stills from the film and the edition of Rain Shadow Review literary journal where “Acts of Kindness” (the short story on which the film is based) was published.

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    In addition to the above, you'll receive a pound of our fresh, exclusive GRACE coffee blend, crafted-roasted by our partner Exo Roast Co. This unique blend, created specially for the film, will figure prominently in a few scenes and we'll be consuming it (in great quantities) on-set.

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    You’ll receive all of the above, plus a signed DVD and a GRACE t-shirt.

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    You’ll receive all of the above, plus a special travel mug just like the one in the film, and a hand-written letter of thanks from the producer/director.

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    Pledge $350 or more About $350

    You’ll receive all of the above, plus a skateboard from one of our sponsors.

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    You’ll receive everything in the $350 pledge level, plus an additional skateboard signed by Nick Smith.

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    You'll receive an invitation for two (2) people to a private screening of the final cut, followed by a reception.

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    You’ll receive all of the above, except the signed skateboard will be one that was used in the film.

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    Pledge $1,500 or more About $1,500

    You’ll receive the website acknowledgement, Special Thanks, the full GRACE kit (sticker, digital download, t-shirt, and travel mug, letter of thanks), plus a signed skateboard and a special GRACE/Bird Lives! T-shirt.

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    You’ll receive everything in the $1,500 pledge level, plus an invitation for four (4) people to the private screening of the final cut, followed by a reception.

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    You’ll receive everything from the $2000 pledge level, plus a two-hour, one-on-one skateboarding lesson from the film’s stunt skater.

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    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000

    You’ll receive all of the above, plus a producer credit on the film, and the filmmakers will host a personal, in-home screening of the director’s cut at your home — the first time anyone outside the film's production team will see it! And we’ll cook dinner for you!

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Funding period

- (30 days)