Film

How will celebs change crowdfunding?

Kickstarter BadgeWhen Zach Braff launched his Kickstarter campaign for “Wish I Was Here”, he caught a lot of flak.

Kickstarter is a platform and I believe anyone should be able to use it. Even celebrities. And I agree that famous people bring new funders to the platform.

Zach raised $3,105,473 on Kickstarter, exceeding his $2 million goal significantly. Since May 24th, when the campaign ended, till today, there have been eleven updates via Kickstarter (there were 32 while the campaign was ongoing). He says he hired a team of three to manage the kickstarter funders as he wanted “everyone to love the experience”.

As Perry and Yancey said in their post:

Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life. Not through commerce, charity, or investment — through a new model powered by a willing audience. The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects offered backers tickets to the premiere, cameos in the movie, access to the creative process, and other experiences in exchange for pledges. Fans were thrilled, and 100,000 people jumped on board.

It is a willing audience, who obviously thought that the perks they were getting were worth what they paid. They got to feel good about making this movie happen and Zach put effort to ensure they felt cared for.

“Wish I was here” premiered at Sundance and was acquired by Focus Features for $2. 7 million.

The budget was, reportedly, $5 million.
$3.1 million was raised on Kickstarter, so let’s say it is roughly $2.7 after all fees and fulfillment. The remaining $2.3 million came from investors of some sort – maybe from Zach himself, friends and family, and investors who didn’t insist on creative control.

This means, with the Focus deal, the investors have recouped their money. And there are still the other territories to be sold1, DVD, streaming rights etc.

If this movie had been funded without Kickstarter, Zach would have had less creative control and he would also still be working to recoup his budget. But with Kickstarter, Zach benefitted and his investors who were willing to have no creative control, also benefitted.

The hurdle rate just got a lot lower when Kickstarter is thrown into the mix. This is true for everyone, but it is specifically true for celebrities because they can fund such large amounts.

This raises all sorts of questions:

  • Is crowdfunding  a risk-free form of filmmaking that celebrities can enjoy? Is it another perk of being a celebrity?
  • Will investors ask celebrities to throw crowdfunding into the mix more often? Investors can validate the idea and reduce their own risk.
  • Will this lead to investors wanting to fund more celebrities (or proven properties like Veronica Mars) who are able to bring in “free” money?
  • Will this this help or hurt independent filmmakers who don’t bring as much crowdfunding clout as a celebrity does2 ?

It will be interesting to watch this space.


  1. Focus bought the rights only for North America, Poland and South Africa 

  2. I don’t necessarily mean “on” Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms (although that might also happen), but rather, the choice producers will make in terms of which movies to take on, the choices PE funds will make in terms of which movies to fund etc. 

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Shripriya in Vogue

For the April issue of Vogue India, Shahnaz Siganporia wrote a piece on three women working with poetry. Many thanks for the article.

THE VERSE SCREENER
SHRIPRIYA MAHESH
In her final year of the Graduate Film program at NYU, the energetic Shripriya Mahesh, 39, signed up for a class called Directing Poetry. Twelve writer/directors would be shortlisted, and each would work on adapting a poem into a short film. She was picked to being her tutelage under Hollywood’s intellectual heartthrob James Franco, who was the leading the study group. And that’s how Mahesh began working on her short film, The Color Of Time, starring Franco and Jessica Chastain, among others.

Poetry was nowhere on the horizon for this Chennai-born-and-raised woman — in school, she was obsessed with her camera and thought she would be a photographer some day. But as she grew up, the need to be self-sufficient took over and Mahesh got her MBA from Harvard instead. She almost found her calling in Silicon Valley — “I loved the Valley, and was happy working on cool products used by millions of people” — but fate led her to New York, where the nascent tech industry provided little satisfaction. The old photography bug bit again, but this time she found it too solitary an experience, feeling more drawn to the world of filmmaking. and that’s how she ended up joining a class in which she trans-created poetry.

Today, Mahesh is a bona fide poetry buff and wants to work more with the art. In the meantime, she’s busy in Singapore, researching and writing her first full-length film, set in South India. “With poetry, it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of the words. Film can make it more accessible because there is a visual clarity,”she explains. As for her favorite verse, Mahesh frequently finds herself immersed in the world of Pulitzer prize-winning poet, CK Williams. “I was drawn to [this poems] ‘The Color Of Time’ and ‘Waking Jed’ because I am a parent,” she says. Both examine the father-son relationship and form the core narrative of her film, out this year.

Vogue Shripriya 1Vogue Shripriya 2

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Showing invisible motions on screen

The New York Times reports that scientists at MIT have uncovered a way to show the invisible motions of your body, like your heart beat, eye movement etc., on screen. You have to watch the video in the link – it’s pretty incredible.

The system works by homing in on specific pixels in a video over the course of time. Frame-by-frame, the program identifies minute changes in color and then amplifies them up to 100 times, turning, say, a subtle shift toward pink to a bright crimson.

What’s even better is that they have released the source code so that anyone can use it. There are a ton of applications to this, across several fields. But in film, there are immediate and cool uses. I’m betting someone is going to come up with a short film, run it through the algorithm and have it up online in… less than 2 weeks.

Such great work. Thank you, Prof. William T. Freeman and team!

Shripriya in the Mumbai Mirror

Last Sunday, the Mumbai Mirror published an interview with Shripriya by Aseem Chhabra.

The link to the Mumbai Mirror here (but behind a paywall), so it’s reproduced below.

A Magical Experience

The class was called Directing Poetry and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for 12 graduate film students at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“Poetry is so personal and visual, and it seemed like a great class to take on how to adapt a poem,” said Shripriya Mahesh, one of the two Indian Americans who managed to get into the class. Her classmate Shruti Ganguly also attended the course offered last year, while the two were in the third year of the program.

What made the class fascinating was that it was taught by the Oscar-nominated actor James Franco, who has also been collecting a series of degrees himself.

Franco’s plan was to make the class read Tar, a collection of poems written by Pulitzer Prize winning poet C.K. Williams. Each student was then to write a script and direct a short film based on the poem. Franco, who also played the role of the producer then planned to edit all the films into one full length feature.

This Friday, Tar – the film written and directed by Mahesh and her 11 classmates had its world premiere at the Rome Film Festival.

Mahesh picked two poems that spoke to her – Color of Time, where Williams remembers his childhood and Waking Jed, where the author observes his son who is about to wake up. “I thought it would be wonderful to connect the two ideas,” Mahesh said to me on Skype. A former executive at eBay, Mahesh finished her NYU program in May, and moved in the summer to Singapore with her husband and twin boys.

Franco invited Williams to the class and he read out all the poems selected for the film. “Just listening to him read was amazing and moving,” Mahesh said.

Then a few fortuitous things happened. As the students started to think about casting for their films, Franco offered to act as adult Williams.

And since Franco at that time was acting in Detroit in Oz: The Great and the Powerful, the shooting of the Tar segments also moved to that city. One more thing – Franco brought some of his Hollywood friends to act in the film. So Jessica Chastain drove down for a few days from a film shoot in Canada to act as young Williams’ mother. And Mila Kunis agreed to act as Williams’ wife.

All of this meant that Mahesh along with a few other classmates got to direct both Franco and Chastain. “It was very generous of the actors,” Mahesh said. “They didn’t have to do the films.”

“Directing James and Jessica was a joy,” Mahesh said. “They were very professional and collaborative. It was a very mutually respectful environment where I never felt they were stars.”

“He (Franco) switched roles very easily, “ she added. “When I was directing him, he took directions, even though he knew the script very well. But he would ask me ‘Do you want me to do it this way or another way?’ When I would call cut, he would ask how was that?”

She added that Franco nailed the performance of Williams in just a couple of takes, especially a tender moment towards the end of the film where he observes his son’s finger and ear. And while Mahesh was directing Chastain, Franco watched her and even gave helpful advice.

A lot of Mahesh’s beautifully made ten and a half minute long film has the free flowing style reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. “When you are talking about memory and this was a year ago, that was a very relevant film. James suggested it to us as a visual reference.”

The visual style also matched through the shorts, since the films were shot by two cinematographers and the project had one production designer.

Last week Mahesh was heading to Rome for Tar’s premiere. “It was a very unique opportunity and the great thing is we went into it without expecting any of this,” she said. “I thought adapting poetry will be interesting. And then it became a magical experience when all these things fell into place.”

Photo credit: Anna Kooris

 

 

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TAR premieres at Rome Film Festival

In the fall of 2011, I was involved with a very unique, collaborative feature film. Twelve directors, twelve different poems from a collection, twelve short films, all coming together to make a feature, TAR.

The writer/directors from NYU Grad Film, guided by James Franco, adapted the poems from a wonderful collection called Tar, by C. K. Williams. I chose to combine two poems, “The Color of Time” and “Waking Jed“, to make my short film.

In “The Color of Time“, as C.K. Williams observes his son Jed, in the special moments just before waking, he remembers a phase of his childhood dominated by the sounds of the dark, a strange woman across the courtyard and his stern father.

In November 2011, we were in Detroit, shooting. As I said when I posted a few pictures of the city, it was an intense, stressful, magical and unforgettable experience. I had the pleasure of directing James (as C. K. Williams) and Jessica Chastain (CK’s mother). For the role of young CK, I was lucky to find and work with the wonderful and talented Zachary Unger.

And this November, TAR, starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Henry Hopper, Zach Braff and Bruce Campbell will premiere in competition in the Cinema XXI programme at the Rome Film Festival.

TAR SYNOPSIS
TAR is based on Pulitzer prize-winning poet C.K. Williams’ collection of the same name. Written and directed by 12 filmmakers, the film blends together adaptations of numerous poems, creating a poetic road trip through C.K. William’s life. Waltzing through time over several decades, C.K. Williams goes through a certain sense of rejuvenation as well as feelings of loss, as he experiences a series of significant past and present encounters. His constant wonder at and desire to grasp his memories makes him struggle to be fully present with his wife, but he then realizes through his journey, that he is inexplicably bound to both.

DIRECTORS’ STATEMENT
“Maybe the right words were there all along. Complicity. Wonder.”

Our project began as a collaborative experiment rooted in the idea that the language and ambitions of poetry provide a fertile source from which to create a unique cinematic experience.

Our source was Tar, C.K. Williams’s 1983 poetry collection that is a narrative of a remembered life – personal stories of brief as well as long-lasting encounters with people, places and situations. It is an extraordinary poetic achievement.

TAR, the film, consists of contributions from 12 individual directors developed in a Graduate Film class at Tisch lead by James Franco, and comes from a shared belief that a truly collaborative experiment could yield something more powerful than we each could have achieved by ourselves.

Central to the collaborative nature of the film were the actor’s improvisations, allowing little accidents to happen, letting the actors’ inventions shape the moments, and in this way helping us explore and celebrate the wonders of one man’s recollections, seen through a glass cinematically.

It is our hope, that TAR will meet an audience open to watching and experiencing this kind of improvisational and experiential cinematic jam- session.

For more details on The Color of Time, view the film page.