We Ate A Lot of Brisket: Austin Film Festival Recap

Sunshine makes smile time.

Sunshine makes smile time.

When we were in the late stages of preproduction on The Videoblogs, Rebecca and I realized that we needed to get away. Any endeavor as large and as exhausting as the making of a film requires (in my opinion) that we (the endeavorers) pay a little added attention to self-care. I have learned that this involves not only sleep and a focus on general physical health but also making plans to relax (or it’s not going to happen).

This is necessary not only because it’s just true — but because no one wants to burn out or blow up at a crucial moment during whatever project it is that you’re working on. That sort of refutes the idea that it’s truly important to you. If it’s important, you have to respect the journey enough to know that the journey can’t continue or “end” if you don’t put your best self forward in the journeying.

So we completed some important late-stage tasks as best we could, and two weekends before our first shoot date we booked a last-minute overnight trip to Long Beach. We informed the rest of our team that we were going to be out of touch for two days and I even asked Rebecca to change my email password so I couldn’t work. She performed the task with glee.

It was an important reset. And when it was over we realized we were probably going to need another one after production. One evening, we discussed visiting Austin, since we had been wanting to visit for a while, and when I came home from work the next day there was a mailer from the 2014 Austin Film Festival waiting for us at home. We took that as a sign and booked some cheap airfare, a reasonably priced room on AirBnB, some film passes for the festival…and that was it. We finished shooting the film and just barely recovered in time (it takes a long time to recover from an indie shoot, especially if you have to get back to a day job when it’s over) to make the trip. We went with simple aims — to enjoy ourselves (in and around the city itself, as well as at the festival) and to milk our less-than-ample hill of “post-first-feature” cash to pay for coffee, bus passes and a meaty mess of delicious street truck grub.

Well, we just returned from our short stay in Austin for #AFF2014 — and I’m so glad we went. Here’s a recap of what we learned and experienced:

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Austin is great. Coming from New York, we enjoyed being in a city and yet at the same time being able to quickly leave the busyness of downtown in order to swim, drink free beer (on Saturdays), linger outside at a coffee shop, etc. We can do this where we live in Brooklyn, but streets are obviously smaller and more densely packed. And it’s not 90 degrees and dry in October. And people weren’t scurrying everywhere all the time. Or complaining much. It felt good to move at a more human pace. People in Austin wave and say “hello” and seem to mean it. It took me a while to get used to that.

Also, as Rebecca observed, it was nice to see so many generally fit people casually walking/biking/jogging/skating around in no particular hurry. Although we wondered how so many Austinites could remain fit with all the delicious food around. Speaking of which…

The food was as good as the girl is adorable.

“We ate a lot of brisket.” That’s a quote from Rebecca. We did indeed eat a lot of brisket. And a decent amount of pulled pork. And pulled chicken. And other forms of meat and sweets. The famed food trucks of Austin did not disappoint. My favorite spots we were able to hit up were Valentina’s (for tacos and BBQ sandwiches) and Lick, where I inhaled a cone of dark chocolate ice cream made with sea salt and olive oil and then strongly considered doing it again immediately. I wish we could have eaten more.

Woah. Thank you.

Team #VideoblogsFilm appreciated the opportunity to meet some of our supporters IN REAL LIFE.

Hugs, IRL. I made it a point ahead of time to try to make tentative meetup plans with a few special Twitter friends (and #VideoblogsFilm supporters!) who were also going to be at #AFF2014. In retrospect, I should have done this with even more people. Maybe next time. Happily, though, Team #VideoblogsFilm was able to finally meet Seed and Spark Super CEO Emily Best (along with S&S Community Manager Nicole Malek), as well as #VideoblogsFilm supporter (and writer) Jenni Prange Boran and #VideoblogsMonologue collaborator Asmara Bhattacharya. This felt special, given that our film is about moving from isolation to community — via reaching out through tech.

Something, Anything. This is a feature, Written and Directed by Paul Harrill, that we made a point to see at the festival. I was excited to discover that it was playing, since I used to frequent Paul’s website on DIY filmmaking years ago, and had also remembered seeing that the project had been selected for IFP’s Narrative Lab, which seems like a very cool program (and a necessary one). The synopsis of the film itself appealed to both of us:

When a tragedy shatters her plans for domestic bliss, a seemingly typical Southern newlywed gradually transforms into a spiritual seeker, quietly threatening the closest relationships around her.

The film didn’t disappoint. It was quietly observed, very well shot, and the performances were all great. More than that, I loved the quiet bravery of the story. It’s not a popular choice to make a small, quiet film about spirituality. Not in the fact of a contemporary American cultural environment that more often eschews it in favor of “easier fixes”. Without spoiling anything, it was also wonderful to see a film push against the equally incomplete notions that love can act as a replacement for belief in the self or that life direction is something that can or should be just “stepped into.” I don’t believe either of those things to be true — not now — and it was heartening to watch a story unfold that made me feel less alone in these terms.

I will be reminding everyone again in a few months, but Something, Anything will be opening theatrically in NYC in January. See it then, if you can, or find out how to watch it in whatever other ways it becomes available.

Animation is hugely admirable. Another highlight of our #AFF2014 experience was the Animated Shorts Program. I don’t have much more to say than that. Rebecca and I both were just blown away by how good, and how inventive, and how flawless the animated shorts were — and we tip our hats to the filmmakers and filmmaking teams who make the choice (if it is a choice) to go down that difficult path.

Something that bothered me, though, about the shorts that we saw…was that a lot of them originated from outside the US. That in itself doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mean to suggest that the berths weren’t deserved or that the filmmakers who were accepted to screen shouldn’t be commended (we enjoyed all the films) — but many of the projects seem to have been supported by the governments of their countries of origin. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (it’s a small sample size, I know), but it made me wonder how much more difficult it must be to create complex animated work independently here in the US, where artists don’t seem to get the sort of institutional support that other countries offer. I’d be interested to hear what others think. Still — the animated shorts slate was full of admirable work that made me feel like a bit of a slacker.

Women in film are arriving. All the Twitter friends Team #VideoblogsFilm met at #AFF2014 were women. The protagonist of Something, Anything (the excellent Ashley Shelton) was a woman. Many of the Writer/Directors of the animated short we saw — women again.

I am well-aware of the problem of equal representation in our industry. But the sense I get, at least from what I have observed in my career to this point — is that change is coming — from the ground up. Maybe that’s not perfect and maybe we still have a long way to go but I don’t think this is an incorrect observation. And it’s good news.

And that’s it. It was great to get away for a few days to relax and recharge. And now, to follow-up on what Rebecca reports below…it’s time to get back to work.

The Grace of The Crowdfunded Indie Film

Lead actor Rebecca De ornelas "records a videoblog".

Lead actor Rebecca De Ornelas “records a videoblog”.

As many of you probably know, we wrapped production on The Videoblogs late last month. Years of general preparation and months of work for this specific production culminated in a few weeks of shooting. Overall, I’m proud and happy to say, things went very well.

Also, some temporary stress-related weight gain aside, I also made it out of the process fairly unscathed (if a bit exhausted). This is good. This was a goal.

I’m almost as happy about how generally smooth it all went as I am with the fact that it happened at all. As promised, I will write more (relatively) soon about the entire experience of making the film, but for the moment I think it’s worthwhile to reflect once again at how grateful we at The Videoblogs feel to be in this position. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we seem to have squeaked things out by prioritizing what’s important (story, performance, and the health of ourselves and our collaborators) at the expense of, say, a more expensive equipment list or a more elaborate plot structure. In all seriousness, it was a production engineered for and by both its cast and crew…and its audience.

For instance, as an example of this relationship at work…

More than once while shooting The Videoblogs, a cast or a crew member thanked me for something simple like providing a decent meal.

We mostly ate large turkey legs while on set.

First of all, it surprised me greatly to hear that there are still producers and filmmakers out there NOT providing decent meals. “Feeding your team well” is the second most basic rule in filmmaking after “make sure to have a camera”. Not only is it the decent thing to do – it’s just not smart to keep working while anyone (including you) is hungry. Even when pushing to complete a scene. I’m not even going to waste any more time talking about this.

Except to say that I didn’t accept the thanks – not personally. I explicitly made sure to recognize our supporters on Seed and Spark instead.

They (or you, as the case may be) deserve the thanks. And I want to talk for a moment about what that means not only to me personally but on a larger level.

I’d like to put forth the notion that a crowdfunded film isn’t only “cool” and “disruptive” but, also –- graceful.

For me, it felt more invigorating to credit our supporters for the means to make The Videoblogs than it did to accept the thanks myself.

Because the thanks don’t belong to me. They belong to you — to anyone and everyone who has contributed to the film in any way, whether monetarily or by spreading the word. Even by reading this or other posts on my site, you’re helping me and my collaborators to keep moving.

Woah. Thank you.

Woah. Thank you.

Last month, I accomplished one of the major dreams of my life. I successfully shot a feature film that I’m proud to stamp with my name. I don’t even have to edit it to know that. I don’t need any more validation than what we’ve already received by reaching (eclipsing) our goal on Seed and Spark — until it’s time to deliver the film to this same group. I am thrilled to be able to continue my journey as a filmmaker by bringing a cut of The Videoblogs to our supporters as soon as possible.

Beyond ideas of validation, the crowdfunding process is also fun. It’s my favorite sort of fun, too. Mischievous fun. Because, by so many (false, cynical) measures — this should not have worked.

It was not easy shooting a feature film for $20,000. I know people have done it for less. I salute them until my arm falls off, and then I salute them with the other arm until it too falls off.

Still, The Videoblogs is a rouge’s film. I feel fairly confident saying that (whatever it means). We bit, scratched, and clawed to eke it out over the course of a limited number of shooting days. Everyone on the cast and crew, and all of our producers, sacrificed to make it happen. I’m immensely proud to have come out the other side mostly intact. I still can’t feel one foot, sometimes, but as long as it continues to work for now I think I’m good. Right?

But back to the mischievousness. And the grace.

They are one in the same, as far as I’m concerned.

I know the journey isn’t over, by a stretch, but I can’t help it. I feel as if we (all of us) have gotten away with something here.

The Videoblogs isn’t special, by crowdfunding standards. We gave it a try and we thankfully seemed to have pulled it off. But, damn, does it feel good to be doing this in true independent (interdependent) fashion.

Regardless of how the rest of this plays out, I and my team are privileged enough to be making a film — to say it again — for our audience made possible by our audience.

That’s powerful. And beautiful. And it feels right. In today’s difficult indie film environment, it even feels…graceful.

I thank you. Not for the last time.

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Videoblogs Update: A Walk In The Sun

Our three leading ladies for the film.

Our three leading ladies for the film: Masha King (L), Rebecca De Ornelas (C), Phoebe Allegra (R). Photo by Zach Nading.

I just got back from a walk in the sun.

We begin shooting The Videoblogs in two days and I was able to go out and enjoy a walk in the sun.

This is not to say that things haven’t been busy. They have been. It’s been a long few months, and definitely the last two weeks have been a dash.

But we are in very good shape heading into Monday. And this is mostly because of all of you.

Thank you, once again, for your support — both financial and moral. We’re excited to begin this crucial leg of the journey.

I feel very fortunate. If you had told me a few years ago that I was going to have enough peace of mind to take a walk, get a bagel and a coffee, and then take my time on the way home to enjoy and appreciate life — two days before shooting my first feature film — I wouldn’t have believed it.

Has it all gone perfectly? No. But I’m not even sure I had any perfect expectations this time around. All I know is that, soon, Monday is going to come and we’re going to be on set shooting our film. We’ve done as much work as we could do, prior to now, to set things up as best as we could to squeak out something special. We’ll see how it goes.

Again, it couldn’t have happened without all of you. And it definitely couldn’t have happened without the wonderful cast and crew we have on this project.

It’s a privilege to be working for and with you all. More soon.

- Michael

The Videoblogs Monologues, Part 4: “Ramona”

Hello, wonderful readers (and Videoblogs supporters).

Here is the final installment in The Videoblogs Monologues. As a reminder, these videos were crowdsourced and produced as examples of what we’re aiming to accomplish with “Phase 2″ or our project, which has been renamed The Videoblogs Dialogue.

More info on that here.

Also, today is our last day of funding for the film. We’re hugely grateful to be over 100% funded on Seed and Spark. But any additional contributions still make a difference and are appreciated. Reasons as to why can be found near the bottom of this post.

Plans, Expectations, and HOLY SH*T

Woah. Thank you.

Woah. Thank you.

It’s part of the beauty (and sometimes the cruelty) of life — that it proceeds without regard to our plans or expectations. Which is my attempt at a more eloquent way of saying: Holy Sh*t.

The Videoblogs is currently 102% funded on Seed and Spark.

With a little less than two days to go.

How did we get here? The short answer is that a generous supporter, in the words of a pal, helped us “kick the door down”. We went from about 62% to 102% funded in an instant.

This was not planned or expected.

Before that, two friends from college had each contributed at a high level, to bring us to that previous point of 62%. What they had to say to me when I rushed out my sincere and surprised thanks — left me in tears.

Rebecca and I (and the whole team) are so very grateful for all of you. I cannot express that sentiment enough.

Thank you. Your support means the world to us. It serves as validation, and a reminder, that the struggle and the fighting is worth it. As I have said before — we promise to bring a great film to you.

Thank you.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, for the next few days, we would still encourage you to contribute if you can.

Here’s why:

  1. We’re already operating at a very limited budget level for a feature film. This is not at all a problem and we continue to be grateful to be in this position, but any additional funds past our goal WILL be similarly stretched to make challenges (and they will come) less challenging.
  2. We want you to see the film first. As summarized here, this film is also an experiment in helping to arrive at a model for sustainable, empowered indie filmmaking. Every person who simply “purchases” advance access to The Videoblogs via a $10 or $20 contribution is voting for this model. What does this mean? It means you’re helping us make the films that a growing subset of people want to see but which aren’t getting made by big business. We’re going to get The Videoblogs to you quickly, because you are our supporters. After that, who knows? It could take a year or longer before the film is otherwise made available.
  3. In line with our bootstrapped approach, we have not budgeted much money for post-production (editing) or marketing. This is because I can do most of it if I have to do it. But I am simply not as skilled or as efficient at certain elements of post as a professional editor, colorist, marketer, etc. And, even so, the completion of these tasks cost money. We may have to fundraise again next year for theses stages. I can promise you that if we end up with even a small surplus this time around, it will be stocked away to make that process easier.

It feels awkward to keep “the ask” open for these final days, despite our position, but these are in fact legitimate reasons. We would be doing the film, and those of you who have already supported us, a disservice by failing to be transparent about the fact that every additional little bit still helps.

The urgency, of course, is gone. I literally dreamed of puppies and kittens last night. And a few dead birds, because there are always going to be some dark corners in there.

But, let’s choose to focus on the brightness today. At least in this one regard. That’s not going to be a problem for me, I don’t think. Because all of you have made me proud to do what I do.

Cast Interview: Masha King + Final Days of Funding

We’re down to our final few days to fund The Videoblogs.

We’re getting there, but we still need your help to get the Green Light on Seed and Spark.

We're a STAFF PICK. And we are over 60% funded.

We’re a STAFF PICK. And we are over 60% funded.

If you’re able to contribute, please consider doing so today to help us build momentum heading into Friday. What we’d most like to do is show you the film. For $10, we’ll send you a download when it’s finished. For $20, we’ll mail a DVD.

In the meantime, here’s our very own Masha King (Cass) answering some questions about her role in the film: