Monday, June 25, 2012

Obama, crowdfunding and more

I've mentioned crowdfunding the the past but lately it has changed drastically as President Obama passed a new JOBS act which even got Republicans in on it. What the JOBS act is, is a form of crowdfunding. In other words, another way to raise money for movies.

Crowdfunding started a few years ago with websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These website gave artists in any discipline a chance to raise money through what might be perceived as donations. Up to now it's mostly been artistic endeavors, anything from art to workshops or music and... movies!

Getting to the point here, what you (or I) could do was to register with the two big guys on the block, indicated above and give a total sum of money needed. Let's say it's $25,000 for a documentary on something interesting. You'd have to give details of your project, maybe some video or someone explaining the project.

Then you wait for people to put money into your project; anything from $10 to $1000 or even more. The rules were a little loose. However you cannot really touch the money until you reach your $25k. I think Indiegogo lets you take it out earlier but not sure.

Where does this money come from? 

It comes from people who seem to like to put money into projects they like. Simple as that. They can be your neighbor, or a patron of the arts... there's no real rules. And if you go to Kickstarter, you can see for yourself.In return people can get t-shirts, a day on set, or anything else that might encourage them to throw down some cash.

I've seen film projects up to $350,000 and who have reached their goals. In fact the ones I saw exceeded their budget. And yes, they get to take that too. They were for documentaries with serious content.

I've always thought it would be good for a small feature costing maybe under $100,000 and have considered my screenplay The Casualties Of Love, would be perfect. That is if I did a rewrite.

But what Obama did is this; he made it bigger, the limit now is $1 million.

And of course, it's not as easy as before. For one thing you need to register with the Securities Commission (SEC) but that's not all that hard, in fact the laws governing investments $1 million and under have been loosened extensively.

So why are they changing it?

Well, politics for one thing, but also to help entrepreneurs get start-up money for a business, a restaurant, an idea or anything that might qualify. And it's open to anyone. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are primarily for the arts so those are the ones  who I would deal with.

One other issue that comes up is that, until this new bill, crowdfunding donors didn't have any say in the project, nor any return on their money.

Going thru SEC there will probably be some kind of amendment to allow a return to the investor. This can be good or bad. You don't want 500 separate investors yammering at you about what they want. Yet you want their money and an incentive to get paid back will help. And even a profit. Maybe.

But this can be worked out fairly easily I think, thru a structure that gives the Producer, if the project is a movie, a clean slate to make the movie without interference. Or something like that.

So... take Ghostkeeper. I can now get a chance to raise around $650,000 or so for the movie and, combined with a small Canadian tax credit of maybe 20%, can total another $130,000.

While it sounds easy enough, it's not a slamdunk, the "investors" need to prove that they can afford to put $100 or even $1000  into a project, and that's done by them declaring their net worth, very similar to private and public offerings.

But I think, with the right project and some hard work it can happen. I'll work a little on this and check out all the bugs and holes in a future blog.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Obama, crowdfunding and me?

An interesting scenario has come up for funding movies in a new way, and maybe just the thing for Ghostkeeper 2. The full story on Monday.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sounds familar?

Strange how things come back.

I started this blog in 2009 with a plan to make a movie. It was called Travel Day and it was supposed to be the first feature-length movie for Shirley Petchprapa, a very talented director and camera-person. It was an unusual step for me as I mostly want to direct my scripts.

But in this instance, I would produce it and Shirley would direct. But it never came to be. We came close with a Manitoba producer who was "hot"at the time. But he suddenly became "not hot" when he disappeared. The project never came back from that.

But the blog continued and in doing so, gave a pretty detailed picture of how hard it is to try to make a movie.

So here I am again.

Ghostkeeper 2 "Never Go Back".
 So what's the difference between Travel and and GKPR 2?

The big one is this;

I'm not a first-timer. I've directed Ghostkeeper 1980 as well as some video movies for TV. And I've improved as a writer with 18 credits behind me of produced films as well as episodic TV shows.

I tried to raise funds last year but realized the budget was, at $2 million, just a little too much by today's standards. This is the era of the Canon SLR which can shoot HD video as good as most video cameras, even though the 5D is a still camera.

This translates into a camera that is easily moved around which in turn makes the day go faster and makes the schedule shorter, which in turn requires less money and which means less crew, which again means less money. Voila.

So my first step is to cut the budget down to around $750,000, maybe even lower. My 2nd step is to re-do my original proposition. I'm also getting some storyboards to make investors more secure that this is real.

But producing is a lonely job for a few reasons, the biggest being;

Nobody gives a damn.

A producer has to go to people who really don't want or need his movie; he/she has to get them to put money into something they don't want to.

And he/she has to get them to do it quickly.

I also have a strong fan base of Ghostkeeper fans who will offer more encouragement to consider dishing out $750,000. And the fact that sales are good is an indication to investors that a sequel will work. So, as Bill Murray said in Caddyshack, "I got that goin' for me".

But there's pressure on a date to film. The Deer Lodge Hotel, which is very enthusiastic, is closed for a few weeks in early winter, to prepare for the ski season and that few weeks would be perfect for us to film in. That way we don't interrupt the tourists and guests and they don't interfere with us.

But can I raise the money that soon?

That's the question.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What makes a writer

My director friend Paul Lynch suggested that I do a post on what makes a writer. Easy enough to say, but I'm not sure there is anything that separates us from the others. And I'm sure other writers will say that my take on it is wrong. 

So here goes.

I really believe that writers are born, at least some of them. I wasn't so much a writer as a kid, but I read comics all the time and I went to see every movie I could in a little village in northern Manitoba. I've talked about the town in past blogs so I won't bore you with that.

There's an English saying that suggests the person at 7 is the person he/she will be. It's actually not hard to prove that; there is a documentary series made in Britain which follows a group of English people from every life style, poor to filthy rich over their lifetime.

It began with 7 Up, the name of the first doc. Each subsequent documentary caught up with them every 7 years. Thus the 2nd doc was 14 UP. I think they're now in their late 50's. It's a really great series of docs that aired in England but you can find them on Netflix I would think.

And it proved, for the most part, that the people they interviewed at 7 were amazingly similar to what they were at their 40's (the last one I saw).  The rich ones quit the series halfway thru while the lower classes remained. 

So... how does that fit me?

What was the last movie I wrote?

The Town that Christmas Forgot.

It's a story about a city family whose car breakdown causes them to be stranded in a small remote town.

Sounds familar, right? There's also my best screenplay, Emperor of Mars, which is unabashedly my life at 12, which I recently turned into a novel. 

There are other scripts I wrote, but if you look at them, many are set in small towns or rural areas. And I never really knew it until someone pointed it out.

So how come I write city stories too?

I moved at 12 to the Windsor/Detroit area, coming from a village of 500 people to a city across the river of 5 million. And I absorbed every bit of it.

I believe writers reflect their upbringing, whatever happens to to them, good or bad, will reflect in what they right. I lived a perfectly normal life as a kid, lower middle class slightly and relatively satisfied. I did have tons of comic books and I did go see every movie I could but my ideas began to form in high school.

I was never really good at composition, and never won a writing contest. Rather it took me a long time to learn how to write something good, and that was a personal story, Emperor of Mars. For once, I had the story which included a true story about a radio broadcast where a supposed Martian was going to come to earth.

It only took me 8 years to figure out how to write something that was both entertaining and well written. Up to then, I was copying scripts I had read.

The Emperor script was followed by another script that got made, Betrayal of Silence, which was a drama about teen abuse in a Catholic foster  home. I still think it was one of my best scripts. A bit of trivia about it -- they filmed the first draft, no rewrites. That's rare.  And I knew the Catholic world, having attended Catholic school, although mine was with nuns and lay teachers.

Betrayal of Silencs still holds up today, although it's impossible to find. All I have is a VHS copy.

The old saying, "write what you know" is true, at least for me. I wrote one supernatural suspense film, and until now, never considered writing another.  But with the cult fanbase out there, I at least owe them one more shot at Ghostkeeper.

Lessons here are this; if you're going to write, write what is familiar. That doesn't mean that you can't write anything you want, but be true to yourself and your history, that's where the real good stuff comes from.

Finally, I remember what happened when I tried to write out of my world, I wrote a big action piece and the response was "that's not Jim". What? I didn't know what they meant. What they meant was that the action piece didn't have my heart and soul into it. And they could tell.

I wish I could conceal that more, but I am what I am. And they know it.

(Mon: What you need to know how to write)

Monday, June 11, 2012


Finally back again, trying to put the pieces all together. The Emperor of Mars book-signing was great for the ego but little for the bank account. In fact I spent more than I made. But the sales and the fact that it was in the top 5 that week can  help getting other bookstore interest.

It's also one step closer to get EOM getting made in 2013 which is my goal. Oddly enough this goal was originally intended for Travel Day, a screenplay I wrote and would produce for Shirley Petchprapa. For those who never followed this project, you might go back to the beginning 3 years ago when the blog began.

3 years!

The average blog lasts less than a year before it thins out of new stories. Since my stories go back to my childhood and still remain relative is probably due to the fact that I was a writer since I was 8 years old. Many, many decades ago.

But moving forward my plans for now are this; write my screenwriting book based on my UCLA lectures, re-do the budget for Ghostkeeper working on a Canon 5D schedule which John Holbrook feels can be used to make a good movie. John shot the original GKPR and is probably one of the best DP's in Canada.

John has that unexplainable gift of images, he senses what's right or wrong in the frame and makes it a real movie look. And in Canada that's not always the case. And if you think I don't know what I'm talking about, believe me, I do. I shot film for years and even won an award for cinematography for a short directed by my talented friend Phil Borsos.

And I think I'm an average shooter.

Re-doing the budget on MM Budgeting software is relatively easy, it just takes time. We're looking at a possible shoot in November, at Deer Lodge again. This, of course is a sequel, not a remake.

Several people have suggested a remake but as I've said before, I've done that movie. I could never improve on it because it was a different time with different methods of filming and my first feature, which makes it undo-able for me. I couldn't recapture that spirit and tone again.

I would rather take my actors into now, older and maybe wiser and with the considerations I got from the dozens of reviews, as you know, good, bad and indifferent. I don't want to recapture Ghostkeeper 1, rather I want to fulfill it with what it deserves.

By making GKPR this winter, it would be a great lead to Emperor of Mars in fall of 2013, again with John and I. 

So now it begins again, another shot at trying to make another movie. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Emperor comes home

This pic was taken at the McNally-Robinson bookstore in Winnipeg, Manitoba May 28th. Those two characters standing are my Grade 6 teacher and myself. This was a great moment for me since I dedicated my book Emperor of Mars to her as both a teacher and an inspiration.

I wasn't sure she would show up as she has some health issues but it all came together so well that it was almost unbelievable. Several other people who were in my class also showed up to fill in the years. All in all, an emotional evening for many of us.

As of this date, Emperor of Mars is in the top 5 books sold in Manitoba just behind the well-known Hunger books. McNally Robinson has 3 stores, one in Winnipeg, one in Saskatchewan and one in New York. They are unusually helpful to writers, supplying promotional goods for very little and sometimes for free and always ready with advice and support.

This has been a long trip, I left L.A. on May 15th and am still on the road, stopping in Calgary for a few days. Here I will contact the management of the Deer Lodge hotel near Lake Louise, and where we filmed Ghostkeeper way back in 1980. The hotel is interested in selling Ghostkeeper DVDs in their lobby. Go figure.

But I'm also talking to potential investors for the Ghostkeeper sequel, "Never Go Back". I'm hoping to put the project together for filming in November when the hotel closes for a few weeks to prepare for the ski season.

Later this week I head to Vancouver where I will meet with John Holbrook, the DP for Ghostkeeper, who has worked on a crew budget that would reflect a lower budget than what I had originally made, most likely utilizing an SLR camera, either the Canon 5D or the Nikon 7000.

Then I head down I-5 all the way to Sherman Oaks with a few stops along the way to see friends.

So, a journey that included a welcome stay in Jackson Hole, a stop in Montana where I helped my friend Doctor Dave rescue a 3-week old calf whose leg was crushed to a book opening in a small town, to a bigger book opening in a city, to the Ghostkeeper location.
And also a possible gig working with new screenwriters.

And of course, a whole lot of cousins, one of whom sadly passed away.

I've decided what is a priority when I get back, and it consists of 2 major projects, the new budget for Ghostkeeper and starting to work on my screenwriting book. Filming the new Ghostkeeper movie would help me finance Emperor of Mars for 2013.

One more thing about Ghostkeeper.

Some people suggested I remake the original but I never really considered that. Ghostkeeper 1980 is what it is and I really don't want to remake it because it wouldn't be as good oddly enough. There would always be a comparison and that would not work well for me.

Ghostkeeper 1980 reflected what I was then, there are lots of flaws in the movie, but as a first-timer, it reflects what I knew then.

And I think the plotline of the sequel, Never Go Back, is far more interesting than telling the same story.

We'll see.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Almost back again

Finally getting somewhat back again, having driven 2500 miles and seen a dozen friends and a lot of 2nd and 3rd and even great-cousins. The two book-signing "events" came off quite well, the rescue-calf is managing to walk on 3 legs and the weather is good.

I'll be fully back Monday and will give you the moments of the book-signing, of which some where pretty dramatic. 

Pic taken above thru the windshield in Yellowstone, sun burning through morning mist, looking very eerie.