Jersey City Filmmaker Tickled Cerise
Jersey City resident John Trigonis is a not only a poet and fiction writer, he is also a filmmaker. As an adjunct professor around N.J. for creative writing, John is passionate about inspiring and developing new creative minds. His most recent project, Cerise, is screening at the Golden Door International Film Festival. He is also working on another project, Mating Dome, a short film currently in post-production. John took time between grading papers to answer some questions:
Cerise is showing at the International Film Festival of Jersey City. What is the film about?
Cerise tells the story of former six-time National Spelling Bee champ Josh Kermes, whose life is thrown into disarray when the director of the tutoring center he works for hires a new writing tutor, Shivam Shah, who also happens to be the person who won the spelling bee Josh had lost 20 years ago. But through the film, we discover that it may have been a word and not a man that took him down all those years ago, and continues to keep him down.
What inspired you to write this story?
One night, I was watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee with my girlfriend Marinell, who is also the main part of “Team” whenever I mention “Team Cerise.” During the show, the announcers highlighted some of the previous winners and what they’re up to today. Well, being a champion of the underdog, I got to thinking about the losers of the Nationals. What happens to them, I mused, after losing everything to a single word? And so Cerise was born.
Did you learn anything new from the experience of writing and producing Cerise?
I learned that no matter how hard you work on a script, it will always, always change during the filming of it. With Cerise, however, the script went through a complete rewrite mere days before the first day of shooting. My friend and fellow screenwriter Troy Romeo got in touch with me with some suggestions, but he felt bad because it was only a few days before production time. I told him not to feel bad, and I listened to him, and everything he said made sense. So I jumped right back to the script and cleaned it up to make way for a much tighter film to be shot, edited, and submitted to festivals.
What is the most memorable part of producing the film? What was the most difficult part?
The most memorable part of producing Cerise is that I didn’t produce it. This film marks the first time I brought on board two producers ––Camiren J. Romero and Kejal Kothari –– to take care of the one part of making movies I dislike most. The older I get, the more the right side of my brain overpowers the left, so it’s becoming harder to keep focused on all the not-so-creative elements of filmmaking like budgeting and filling out and filing SAG contracts, to name a couple. But outside of producing the film, the best part was crowdfunding for an additional $5,000 with which to make the film the best it could be (but more on that in a moment…).
How did you get involved with the Jersey City festival?
A few months back, Marinell volunteered to handle some of the social networking for Golden Door International Film Festival, and she suggested I submit Cerise. So I did. I then got in touch with Bill Sorvino, the festival’s director, about holding a seminar about crowdfunding, which I thought would be a great addition to a first-year festival, and he was all for it. And I was able to get IndieGoGo co-founder Slava Rubin to be a part of the seminar as well.
What role did crowdfunding and social media play in producing Cerise? How important were they?
Crowdfunding and social media both played enormous parts in the success of Cerise. Our crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo quickly (I mean on day one, when IndieGoGo co-founder Danae Ringelmann tweeted about the film before I officially launched it!) became a campaign-of-note in our indie film circle. We had personalized perks, a fun pitch video, and we put to use some innovative engagement tactics which all led to Cerise raising $1,300 over its initial goal of $5,000. Together with the $10,000 I raised over the course of a year as a freelance professor, we were able to make a top-quality film and build audience awareness at the same time.
Today, Cerise still maintains an active social networking presence on Facebook and Twitter (through me and Marinell primarily). A few months back, I launched three “Crusades for Cerise”–– a campaign which, through our website, people could “Sponsor a Festival” in their area and help Cerise get seen in more places throughout the world. Because of wonderfully generous people like Gavin Ap’Morrygan and Marcella Selbach, two of our Cerise MVPs, as well as many others, I was able to submit Cerise to over 80 film festivals, of which we’ve been an official selection at twelve, have been nominated for four awards, and won an “Award of Merit” at Indie Fest.
What is your involvement with crowdfunding outside of Cerise now, since you’ve become a bit of an expert?
I’ve been offering my services (gratis, for now) as a consultant of sorts to beginning crowdfunders ever since my first Tao of Crowdfunding blog post “The Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” was recognized by IndieWIRE.com as a major asset to filmmakers. My third post of the series, “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders,” was also featured on indie film guru Ted Hope’s blog. I’ve also been part of many seminars and panel discussions at various locations, such as the Apple Store SoHo.
I’m also known to promote projects that I think are either interesting to me or are doing innovative things with crowdfunding. Some of those projects have been the feature-length film Tilt, the short film Sync, and a zombie web series called Deader Days. Crowdfunding is really about helping one another, whether with money or with a few tweets a week. I gravitate towards the latter, but when I’ve got a few extra dollars in my pocket, I look for a campaign that can benefit from it more than I can.
In 2012 or 2013 (the latter year if the Mayans are wrong…), I plan to launch my second crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for my first official feature-length film (‘official’ because I do have one feature film under my belt, but it was meant to be a short), a vampire sci-fi dramedy called A Beautiful Unlife, which I’ve been writing and revising with the help of noted Hollywood script analyst Michael Ray Brown over the last five years.
We heard you have a book on crowdfunding coming out. Tell us about that.
Well, I haven’t ‘officially’ made the announcement on Facebook and Twitter, but yes, I’ve been contracted by Michael Weise Productions to write The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, which will be a 200-page guidebook filled with tips, tactics, and examples for successful crowdfunding specifically geared to DIY film. I’ll be writing the book from November until May, and if all goes well, it should be scheduled for a Fall 2012 release.
You also have the short film ‘Mating Dome’ on its way. What is Mating Dome about and when can we expect its release?
Mating Dome is a 10-minute short film set in a future where people seek happiness through reconfiguration surgery, then they flock to Mating Dome to attract the perfect lover with their newly augmented bodies. But our average Joe, who rejects reconfiguration, tries his luck at landing the ‘perfect lover’ on his own terms, and while navigating the dark and mysterious passageways of Mating Dome, he comes to realize his wildest fantasies and, ultimately, his worst nightmare. Mating Dome was written by good friend and long-time collaborator Joe Whelski (who appears in 70% of my films in a lead role), was shot by my best friend and long-time collaborator Alain Aguilar, and produced by Ruben Rodas of Skyframe Pictures. I’m in the process of editing the film now, which should be released early 2012.
What other creative works have been on your table lately? What can we expect in the future from you?
Too much! I just finished writing, directing, and editing a music video for folk musician Pepper Coat –– my first music video and I’m very proud of the result. I’ve also been working on a second feature-length film alongside A Beautiful Unlife; this one’s an absurdist comedy centered around a hit man and his quirky conundrum called Caput. I’ve got a trilogy of short scripts exploring the theme of memory I’d like to shoot in the near future. And alongside the Mating Dome editing, I’m currently compiling poems to include in my upcoming chapbook Warehouse City Noir. I like keeping suffocatingly busy; it keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Cerise is screening this Sunday, October 16th, at the Jersey City International Film Festival. For more information, follow John Trigonis on Twitter or visit his website. Visit http://www.facebook.com/CeriseMovie for more information.