If you think that winning award-after-award in national and international film festivals, combined with strong DVD sales translates into new funding opportunities for highly successful writers/producers/directors of LGBT movies, think again.
Take Shared Rooms, the latest independent gay movie from long-time filmmaker Rob Williams. Shared Rooms, Williams’ latest movie – he has eight films as the co-founder of Guest House Films under his belt so far – is sweeping the award categories in film festivals across the country.
The movie just received a Festival Favorite – Audience Choice Award and a Director’s Award at this year’s Cinema Diverse Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival. So you would think that funding for his next planned project – a bisexual drama titled Happiness Adjacent, would have potential producers and angels knocking on the door.
Happiness Adjacent did not even raise a third of its $12,500 fund raising goal on Kickstarter. Yet Williams went on to shoot Happiness Adjacent and is now seeking to raise $20,000 to cover post production costs in an Indiegogo campaign.
A successful LGBT movie on the festival circuit and strong DVD sales at websites like TLAGay.com doesn’t translate into finding financial backing and/or having an easier time raising money on fundraising websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Just ask J.T. Tepnapa, owner/president of LA-based Blue Seraph Productions. Despite having produced and released two popular and successful movies – The Dark Place and Judas Kiss, Tepnapa still had to make appeals on Blue Seraph Production’s Facebook page and website to raise additional funds for a movie based on the widely popular novel Something Like Summer.
It’s a path Paul Bright also knows too well.
“DVD sales don’t translate into funding for future movies,” Bright says.
Amongst the movies he wrote, produced, directed and even starred in, not even the steady sales of the inter-generational gay romance comedy Angora Ranch, means that funds are available for the next movie he is editing and getting ready to release on the film festival circuit – a steam-punk musical set in the 1800s titled, Professor Tom Foolery Saves The Planet.
DEATH BY FILM PIRACY
“I barely make any income from film sales now,” Bright says. “Online piracy and expectations for free streaming kill indie income.”
Williams concurs. “Millennials do not want to pay for movies and TV shows that they can view for free on the smart phones or tablets. That’s not how filmmakers want people to watch their movies, and the piracy is a big threat to gay indie film making.”
Still Bright isn’t discouraged. “I’m editing movie #9 and starting movie #10,” he says. “I think Rob [Williams] is about at the same place.”
Popular male/male romance author Ga Hauser, who served as executive producer for film adaptations of two of her popular novels; Capital Games and Naked Dragon, concurs with Bright, with two notable exceptions – she doesn’t believe in ‘crowd funding’’, and film piracy has strongly discouraged her from making a third movie.
“Well, I don’t believe in ‘crowd funding’ for films,” Ms. Hauser says. She also directed the film version of her novel, Naked Dragon.
“I paid for all my films, and sadly piracy killed them,” she says. “Indie films can’t make any money, at least not much. They are instantly pirated and no one will pay for it once it’s free. I admire anyone still willing to try to produce films. I really do. It’s an amazing challenge.
Yet, Bright observes that there is a slim ray of brightness that does offer some financial hope for indie movies, gay or otherwise.
“Millennials grew up on free,” he says. “Their attitude has changed the gen-xers and boomers. You Tube is free. Netflix is unlimited streaming. They have no respect for mega corporations, and therefore, no respect to pay-for media. They accept advertising as the tradeoff. So I make some money from advertising.”
The experience with piracy of her movies has dissuaded Ms. Hauser from assuming the mantle of executive producer and director for a third movie based on her one of her many novels.
“I have considered making a third [movie] – but when I balance the cost against the gain, it does put me off,” she says. “Until we have a law with real bite, it’s hard to take that plunge and do it all again.”
“Piracy is an ongoing concern,” Tepnapa admits. “Our first movie, Judas Kiss, was available around the world.” It was also pirated all around the world too as he and the rest of the production team at Blue Seraph Productions found out soon after its initial release.
“My favorite pirated DVD copy was from China,” Tepnapa recalls. “I was truly impressed by the work they put into it; but it’s not like we saw dollars from China. However, [the bootlegging of Judas Kiss] didn’t hamper our plans on making more movies. It just made [fundraising] and other things a bit more difficult.”
Bright is not taking the danger of piracy to his and others’ future film projects passively lying down. He actively speaks up and out about how film piracy is one of the greatest dangers to gay indie film production.
To help combat online privacy of gay indie films, Bright appears in one of a series of PSAs released by Water Bearer Films. In the PSA that Bright appears in, he seductively addresses the viewer asking in his best, authorative ‘Daddy’ voice as he unbuttons his shirt to display his buff chest, whether they can handle the package they’re about to receive, before hauling out a handful of paperwork that details the cost of indie film production – including filming permits and electricity before the plug is pulled casting the PSA in momentary darkness.
Bright’s PSA, along with the other Water Bearer Films’ PSAs, ends with him (or the actor/director) striking a match to light up the darkness, urging them to “buy the dvd” to keep the light burning on gay indie film production.
“I definitely think there is an over saturation of crowd funding requests on Kickstarter and Indiegogo for gay indie movie projects; but that’s part of the [fundraising] game, along with donor fatigue” Williams reflects. “Small films are fighting for every dollar on Indiegogo [and Kickstarter]” Williams also acknowledges that donor fatigue is not just limited to the number of requests to help fund gay indie movies on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. “There is a lot of donor fatigue with what’s going on in the world and the political [situation] here in the United States.
Gay indie filmmakers are not also competing against each other on Kickstarter and Indiegogo for funds, but they are now also competing against available funds that people are more likely to donate towards social justice causes. “If I have a few extra dollars, who do I give it to? I would more likely donate to Planned Parenthood due to the planned cuts in their funding by the Republicans,” Williams says.
While William’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 for Happiness Adjacent initially fizzled with a whimper, it was just a momentary hiccup in filming the movie.
Williams took the lessons learned from his failed Kickstarter campaign to heart. “We changed strategies for the [current] Indiegogo campaign.”
“We did find the money to make Happiness Adjacent, Williams says. “Part of the reason why the Kickstarter campaign for it failed is because we had to be very vague about how we were filming the movie. We changed strategies for the [current] Indiegogo campaign.”
Happiness Adjacent focuses on the complex interpersonal interactions of a gay man and an openly bi-sexual man and his wife who meet while on a vacation. “We shot it under the radar, guerilla style while on a 12-day cruise to three locations in Mexico,” he says. He had to keep mum during about his plans to film Happiness Adjacent on a cruise ship, because permissions would have been cost prohibitive and next to impossible to obtain.
Tepnapa doubts donor fatigue is a factor in terms of which gay indie movies get funded on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other fund raising websites.
“There is a lot of talk about donor fatigue [that centers around the] idea that if you give 100 dollars to one project, you don’t have another 100 dollars to give to another project,” Tepnapa says. “Untrue.”
“I believe if you present a strong movie and you show that you are serious about your movie then you’ll have a greater amount of success. Most project don’t reach their goals because they didn’t prove the concept of their vision and passion,” he says. “Sure, I believe that we make great movies, but more importantly I believe showing our passion and proving our worth through hard work helps our campaigns become successful.”
Yet Tepnapa readily concedes that to be successful in raising funds to film a gay indie movie, it requires mastering the art of being a jack of all trades in the three ring circus that is social media. A Kickstarter campaign for a gay indie movie that keeps as much of the details hush-hush is most likely doomed to failure, as Williams found out when his first fund raising efforts for Happiness Adjacent fell far short of the goal post.
Tepnapa and the team at Blue Seraph Productions make great use of production diaries and sharing online news and trailers to build anticipation and tease up the suspense..
“We certainly try to be engaged as possible,” Tepnapa says. “I’m actually really tough on myself. I think we could be better at this. During campaigns we are completely on it and share as much as possible. Our entire lives are devoted to the campaign and we are open about our projects.”
Writer: Joseph Baneth Allen