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With A Little Help From My Friends

The power of crowdsourcing, social media, and your future audience’s helping hand…right from the beginning.

As a filmmaker, it’s not enough to dream of an idea for a film. You need to find the resources to bring it to life. Sometimes, this can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be- not with a little help from your friends. Or your mother. Or your next-door neighbor. Even a complete stranger may be ready and willing to believe in you.

The power of film as a medium is its ability to unite all walks of life in a shared setting and spark discussion. Whenever I’ve sat in a dark theatre of anonymous faces in anticipation of what we’re about to experience, I’ve often wondered: “Why not turn the lights on before your film hits the festival circuit? Why not seek out your future audience and humbly ask them for the help required to execute a piece of work that will ultimately speak directly to them?”

I think I can safely assert that most filmmakers want their films to eventually be seen by eyes other than their own. That being the case, my strongest recommendation and inclination is this: Find your audience members now; don’t wait for them to find you.

This of course begs the question, “How?” Well, the good news is that we’re living in an exciting era for independent cinema. There is a growing array of online (and offline) arenas to raise project awareness, as well as the necessary funding, for the budding artist. The encouraging truth of the matter is that if you invest the time and energy from the very beginning of a film’s endeavor, you will never have to go it alone.

I’m currently in post-production on my new short film Rockaway, a coming-of-age survival tale set in a two-day time frame of a sexually abused and displaced young woman. The objective of the film is to illustrate a flawed character who behaves in damaging ways both to herself and the world around her due to the dangerous and misguided terrain she has been forced to navigate from unprotected childhood to young adulthood. 

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele

The story was to be shot on location in the cinematic beachside community of Rockaway, Queens, NY, a place that bears great personal significance as I spent much of my childhood there under my grandmother’s gentle and protective wing. The area is an interesting amalgam of sweet nostalgia and deep sadness for me, but there is a mystical and beautiful timelessness that I felt I needed to capture on film. And so, I began seeking help to realize my dream of making Rockaway.

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele

Long before I walked on set, I was promoting the film months prior on social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and most fruitfully, on the increasingly popular crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter to achieve funding and support that would prove crucial to getting the film underway. In just a few diligent weeks of spreading the word, I was able to successfully reach and in fact exceed my preset monetary goal and raised about $6,000. I was amazed and frankly moved by the outpouring of help from arts-minded individuals, many of whom I had never even met, excited to contribute in any way they knew how. In the weeks leading up to the production, I continually received offers to further publicize my film and casting/crew notices online, equipment and film stock donations, free wardrobe, and most meaningful of all- kind, inspiring words. Words are never cheap- especially to a writer.

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele

Sometimes as artists, we debate how our time should most wisely be spent- on the art itself or on the business of making it. (“Who has time to make up business cards, build a website, or learn how to tweet?”) It’s a war that exists within many of us but what I’ve discovered in my own aspirations is that there is an undisputable power and affirmation of one’s creativity while collecting the much-needed resources to foster it. And while there are the revolutionary digital tools, I sincerely hope that none of those ever replace the “offline” and personal approach of meeting people face-to-face. Before filming Rockaway, I went door-to-door and met with many local residents who opened up their homes to me, their places of business, and their spirits- all in the name of art. I would not have had a film without their generosity. These types of people are the everyday heroes of the independent filmmaker. Never take them for granted.

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele

Having recently completed my master of fine arts degree in filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore, I’ve come to the conclusion that you never stop being a student. Time and again, the most lauded filmmakers have proclaimed that filmmaking is a process where you never stop seeking new ways to improve upon your existing skill set. One of the most exhilarating aspects of being a filmmaker is that there are constant opportunities to experiment, to be bold in a directing choice, a casting decision, an aesthetic. It is perhaps one of the biggest challenges, but also among the most gratifying. To that end, always fight for your right to make the film you envisioned. Learn from experts and realize that there aren’t any. Learn from failures and realize that there aren’t any. Break and re-shape the mold of the infrastructure of filmmaking. There is no right or wrong way to get your project made if you do it respectfully and with a little grace and dignity. Shake hands, return favors, and express gratitude to those people who gave you this freedom to explore- because in the end, it’s no longer just a right; it’s a privilege.

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele

My self-proclaimed mantra as of late is “Dream it. Do it. Repeat.” In an undoubtedly tough industry where perhaps we hear the word “no” more often than we would like, it’s important to remember and take considerable comfort in that it only takes one yes- other than yours- to get the ball rolling. And the source of that yes may be closer than you think. It may be that person sitting next to you in the dark movie theatre eagerly awaiting the next big attraction. Let it be you.

Trailer: ROCKAWAY, A film by Melanie Schiele from Melanie Schiele on Vimeo.

Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele


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