Don't let crowd-funding leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Despite recent news that one man's quest to make potato salad raised over $40,000, one film out of Phoenix called Broken Leg might just change your mind about the whole issue. Director Kieran Thompson talked with Jackalope Ranch about Kickstarter, keeping interested, and the arts of improv and collaboration in his new film.
Thompson, a 28-year-old Tempe native, made his first short film on a VHS camera in third grade. Since then, he's made two shorts called Caleb Couldn't Love and a more serious screenplay adaptation called RED. After graduating from the Los Angeles Film School in 2008, he began working on a full-length feature called Buffoon with his film school classmate Luke Johnson.
Spending nearly two years working on the script for the feature project gave Thompson time to get to know Johnson, who was already making waves with viral video projects like the Luke Johnson Phone Experiment. In that video series, Johnson prompted folks from around the world to give him a call on a pay-as-you-go phone and posted the ensuing conversations on YouTube.
Johnson's unique brand of comedy stuck with Thompson, though unfortunately funding for their feature fell through when the stock market dipped. That's when Thompson, with the help of his producer Case Barden, set out to make a new film for $20,000 funded via Kickstarter. Rather than recycling the bigger script he had been working on for Buffoon with Johnson and making sacrifices to that story, Thompson started fresh with Broken Leg.
"We wanted to make something easily attainable for $20,000," he says. "I never wanted it to look cheap or cheesy."
The film, which received a little over $24,000 from over 200 backers, tells the story of Karla, a recent college graduate who's stuck between settling for a job that's less than ideal or returning to school for graduate studies and racking up more student loan debt. Karla hopes her older sister will co-sign on a student loan, but has to prove her worth by watching her childish brother-in-law, Theo, who is wheelchair-bound for the weekend.
Using familiar locations like Giant Coffee and Kiwanis Park, which Thompson says he visited growing up, and Phoenix-based actors, crew, and musicians, he made a film that has strong ties to his hometown. In terms of the characters themselves, Thompson says he essentially modeled Theo after Johnson's personality, though Karla, played by Sarah Sawyer, is more of a combination of a few people that he knows.
"He has such a unique style of comedy," Thompson says of Johnson. "What you see in Broken Leg is how Luke is some of the time, but Theo is that way all of the time... to the extreme."
However, this movie is more than a formulaic mismatch of an annoying jerk comic and his beleaguered caretaker. Both Karla and Theo are selfish and frustrating at times. Thompson explains that the "heart" of the film is to show both of them stepping outside of that self-absorbed mentality.
"It's about growing up and thinking about your choices and how they affect other people," he says. "People can be selfish subconsciously."
Focusing on one main location and just a few actors helped Thompson and his team stick to their budget, but trusting Johnson and Sawyer's instincts in the roles helped make the movie what it is. Rather than rehearsing the same scenes over and over, Thompson had them act out events that don't happen in the movie to give the characters depth and backstory to build off of.
One weekend before shooting, Thompson had the two actors run through the movie together, improvising lines as they went along. Thompson says he eventually gave both Sawyer and Johnson writing credits because they used so much of the improvised material in the final film.
However, the difficulty of making a low-budget film, as Thompson puts it, is treating "what should be a full-time job as a hobby." Many in the crew had other full-time jobs and Sawyer was a full-time student while filming, which meant the movie was predominantly shot on nights and weekends.
"Broken Leg was the most insane three weeks of my life. I used my brain to capacity," Thompson says. "One morning I got out of the car and stepped on the asphalt -- and this was in August -- and realized I had forgot to put shoes on."
While Thompson admits that crowd-funding movies on Kickstarter or Indiegogo isn't feasible for every film, he thinks it gave him the unique opportunity to share the process with the people who helped him make it.
"It enabled us to make something and then give it to the people who wanted it," he explains.
It also allowed him to create ties in the Phoenix film community, which he says he is proud to be a part of because it is so supportive and people are willing to share tips and tricks of the trade. Best of all, after about 15 months of editing and two years in progress, Thompson got to see his film screen for a sold-out audience at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival.
"There's no feeling like being in a full theater and hearing the audience laugh at something you created," he says.
Broken Leg is set for release on Vimeo on Demand, DVD, and BluRay on August 1 on brokenlegmovie.tumblr.com. Before then, it will screen at FilmBar at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 27. The first screening has already sold out, but tickets for the second screening, which is all-ages, are $10. After that, Thompson plans to show the movie at a few independent film houses nationally, though he plans on staying in Phoenix, at least for now.
"Phoenix is a city on the rise and I feel like we're a part of that now," Thompson says.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.
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