Standing Out Amid Twenty Million People
Edward Burns. Kevin Smith. Michael Ferrell?
Today, there are lots of aspiring creatives out there who are bridging the gap between themselves and the big boys and girls of the respective industries they long to break into. Readily available information can help anyone with a small kernel of talent develop into an indie filmmaker, app designer, or musician while crowdfunding has made it possible for those people to fund their passion projects by going to their prospective audience and raising the money from those who want to see those products get made.
One such case is Michael Ferrell. A few months back, Michael, his girlfriend Devin Sanchez, and their friend Chris Prine, got together and launched an Indiegogo campaign for Twenty Million People, a feature-length romantic comedy. Through the duration of the campaign, the trio raised $3,515 over their initial goal of $10,000 through a fun-filled campaign that offered cool rewards for its 173 funders who’d eventually fund the project. It was actually Edward Burns –– arguably the granddaddy of crowdfunding –– who inspired Michael to do something undeniable during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.
“I was in the projection booth and got to watch Ed Burns’ Q&A for his film Nice Guy Johnny,” Michael began. “Hearing him talk about making a film on no budget and using whatever resources are available really inspired me.” During the following year, Michael flew out to Los Angeles to try his luck at landing a job as a low-level writer in television, hoping it might point him in the right direction. When he didn’t get any of the jobs he applied for, either because he was overqualified or because he didn’t speak Spanish, Michael journeyed back to the east coast. “I think both of those reasons were just L.A.’s way of telling me the doors were closed for now.” Nevertheless, Michael was set on doing something that wouldn’t be ignored.
And as the film that can’t be ignored, Twenty Million People is still being shaped into the undeniable bit of indie entertainment it’s meant to be after months of intense labor. According to Michael, the biggest challenge for his team was shooting the entire 95-page script in only twelve days. In Michael’s own words, “we were racing against the clock a lot of times. The crew was tired. Everyone was sore. Everyone was doing the job of three or four people at any given time. But we knew we could pull it off, and we did. Luckily, we didn’t have any big setbacks. Some close calls, but no setbacks.”
For many independent films, locations are usually difficult to secure, but like Ed Burns, you’ve got to learn to work with what you’ve got and where you’ve got it. For Michael and the Twenty Million team, that was Jersey City. Michael says that about 90% of the film was shot in the Historic Downtown area of Jersey City, where he and Devin have lived for the past four years. They shot at iconic locations like The Warehouse Café, Park & Sixth, and Sky Tobacco Cigar Shop, as well as in their own apartments, along the streets, and on the waterfront. “Jersey City is still in that sweet spot where it’s a hotbed of artists and creativity without being oversaturated,” Michael mentions, but he also stresses the importance of always coming across as professional and courteous to big and small business owners alike. “We didn’t have to pay for a single location…[the owners] know us, they trust us, we present ourselves as professionals. That’s important, I think, because businesses are generous to filmmakers until someone screws it up for everyone.” Professionalism is key, and being a regular at the places you’re looking to shoot at also helps a great deal, too.
In much the same way business owners can be generous, individuals can be, too, even complete strangers, as evidenced through Michael, Devin, and Chris’s crowdfunding experience on Indiegogo. “Crowdfunding is definitely about more than just raising money,” Michael says, and mentions one of his favorite highlights, that of meeting a funder from L.A. who gave Twenty Million People a substantial amount of money. Afterwards, this funder and his wife moved out to New York. “We had dinner and gave them an intro to the city.”
“[Crowdfunding]’s a lot of work and it’s nerve-wracking for sure. But it feels great when milestones are reached and especially when that milestone is the goal, the finish line.” Michael says the team went with Indiegogo over crowdfunding’s “name brand” Kickstarter because of the platform’s flexible fundraising option, which allowed Michael and company to keep whatever funds are raised, whereas a campaign on Kickstarter would have been all or nothing fundraising. They had an honest, endearing pitch video and some great perks that offered a piece of the movie’s world to each and every funder. One of their most engaging perks was set at $25, in which Michael would write for each funder a “Choose-Your-Own RomCom,” complete with three acts and personalized to the funder him- or herself.
The $13,515 Michael and his team raised covered everything from food to payment for the key elements that make a solid film. “What we lacked in money, we made up for in resources,” Michael says. “We had a leg up on crew, cast, and equipment that allowed us to spend a lot (relatively) on what we needed most. Sound was important to us. An experienced DP was important, especially since I’m the director and I don’t know how to turn most cameras on.” They also paid for insurance and, of course, food. “Thankfully, Shadman Indian Restaurant is cheap and delicious.”
Twenty Million People is currently in the editing room, and Michael reports that things are moving very quickly. He has high hopes for this film, especially after spending most of his life acting and writing in North Carolina, Chicago, and New York, further honing his craft over the last ten years writing his own plays, web series, and short films. Perhaps Twenty Million People will catch some eyes at film festivals across the country and may raise enough eyebrows and laughter for Michael, Devin, and Chris to one day put $20M into their next great American feature.
“You can’t half-ass anything when your friends and family have given you money to do it,” Michael says about crowdfunding and filmmaking. But at the end of the day, they simply had to finish the film on time and under budget, so they did what they had to do, just like Ed Burns, Kevin Smith, and other big indie personalities have been doing for years.