If you aren't begging A Year Without Rent to visit your set, then you don't understand social media. -- Producer Wonder Russell
Earlier this year, I made a film in the middle of nowhere called UP COUNTRY, a thriller about a fishing trip gone wrong, set deep in the Northern Maine woods. It’s tricky making a film several hundred miles from a city, in a town that has so few residents it doesn’t even have a name. There’s no rental houses, no hotels, no Starbucks, no airport, and no community of filmmakers to work with. You have to bring everything with you, including the cast and crew. There are no local resources. And while that’s a daunting hurdle to overcome, in the end it frees you, allowing the production to pull people in from all over the country. You quickly realize that there’s great filmmakers all over the place, not just in the usual places, and not just where you live.
Sure, you already know that, but it’s something else entirely to see it in person.
It got me thinking about how over the last year or so there seems to have been an influx of filmmakers who are making a name for themselves outside of NY and LA, thanks to the rise of social media and transmedia all those web 2.0 buzzwords we’re always hearing about. Whereas before, you had to be in NYC or LA to get your projects made, people are starting to find ways to be successful in out of the way places like Minnesota and Idaho and Georgia and the deep woods of Northern Maine. How? What are they doing to make that happen? And just how connected are we by social media and all of our hip technology?
That’s why I’ve decided to embark on quite possibly the craziest project around. We call it A YEAR WITHOUT RENT (@YearWithoutRent). Essentially, I’ll spend a year travelling the country and volunteering on indie films around the country. I’ll basically be an extra set of hands for the project, doing whatever needs to be done. (Have you ever been on a set where they couldn’t use an extra set of hands?) Along the way, I’ll document the entire experience using geo-tagged photos, video, and blog posts. Think of it as a travelogue meets a series of DVD extras. The goal of the project is both to help these filmmakers get their films made and to start to introduce them to a larger audience.
One of the things Ted Hope talks about a lot is the idea of curation, of using what soapbox you’ve got to tell people about things you think they’ll like. Or, to quote Ted:
...with such a plethora of great work being made we need to offer audiences better filters to sift through it. What’s up with our collective failure to deliver more Oprahs, individuals whose support will lead to action?
And that’s really where part of this idea comes from. It’s a karma-centric approach, but I really think that the film community isn’t a zero sum game. If your film does well, then that makes it easier for everyone else. Maybe there’s a finite level of success out there, but we’ve managed to access such a small fraction of it that we should be doing everything we can to build as strong and as wide a community as possible. It’s no secret that the tide is turning and no one’s really figured out how the hell things are going to work going forward, so this is an opportunity. At least, it seems like it should be.
So here’s important part if you’re a filmmaker and you’ve got a project that’s going to be filming this year. We will come to where you are filming, help in whatever way you need, and tell people about you and your work in progress in places like, say, Film Courage. Sounds good, right? There’s gotta be a catch. Nope. No catch. Nada.
We want to canvas the indie film landscape and that requires working with all different types of filmmakers on all different types of films at all different stages of production. That means helping you with your film.
Anyway, that’s the project. Right now we’re crowdfunding on Kickstarter for a couple of reasons. First, because gas is expensive and we want to make sure the filmmakers we help don’t have to worry about covering our expenses or anything. And second, because I really feel like crowdfunding is the best way to build a motivated and emotionally invested audience, and there’s no way a project like this can survive without that. So one thing we tried to do was create a series of interactive perks that will last throughout the course of the year, stuff that will mimic a road trip experience. My favorite perk is the $35 one, where we will adapt your haiku into a Instant Polaroid (well, the Fuji equivalent) you can put on your fridge. We’ll send you mementos from the road. Hell, we’ll even send you a birthday present. Not everyone can take a year of their life and just travel the country, so we’re trying to let the audience and the backers experience that as much as possible from the comfort of their homes.
Plus, if part of our job is telling you about all these projects we’re working on, there’s no point in doing that if no one is paying attention.
We’re partnering with some innovating companies like Tripline.net and Shuttercal.com in a hip, interactive way. As an example, check out the Tripline.net Bizarro World Map where we’re creating alternate realities of our $25 and up backers.
Of course, this all becomes a lot harder if we don’t hit our Kickstarter goal and, honestly, it’s going to be something of an uphill climb. We’ve gotten a great amount of support from places like Film Courage, but the backers have been slower rolling around than we anticipated. Hopefully that has something to do with the holidays (but if there’s anything we can do to clarify our project for you, let me know). If we’re going to make it, it’ll take a hell of a rally. Cross your fingers and check out the campaign. Every little bit helps.
Lucas McNelly (@lmcnelly) is the filmmaker behind UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t.