Today we have a special guest blog entry from long-time friend and collaborator, Alistair Marks. Alistair has worked with MTV, Nickelodeon and recently spent a year following Samuel Johnson around Australia as director of the Network 10 documentary Love Your Sister.
Previously, Alistair wrote and directed the short film Shotgun! which won Best Director and Best Comedy at the 2010 New York Independent International Film Festival. Shortly after that we teamed up with Alistair and tried to turn the short film concept into a feature film, but it never quite got off the ground (for those that are interested, you can read about that adventure here – including the very cool live script read). In 2012, we teamed up with Alistair again when he wrote and directed a funny little short film we co-produced called Joshua (which was our first attempt at doing “a film a weekend”). Alistair recently wrapped production on his first music video called Werewolf, for new band Hey Frankie, which will be released next month.
Today we’re chatting with Alistair about his latest project, Sweatshop. Enjoy!
Tell Us About Sweatshop.
Sweatshop is a TV series that I’ve been writing with Phil Spencer for about two years now. Think Clerks meets Wilfred, set in a gym. It’s a place where pop culture meets fitness, and nothing is quite as it seems. It’s a TV show made by fans of great film & TV, so, naturally, it has all those quirky elements you’d come to expect from the aforementioned shows, as well as things like Workaholics, Louie and just about anything Kevin Smith has done. It’s not straight comedy, it’s not straight drama – it’s a melting pot of genre bending hilarity.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea was loosely based on my life and the things I was going through circa June 2012. I’ve never been a PT (although I’ve gone to a fair few), but it seems to me as though the politics and incidents that occur in a gym are the same as in any environment. But on steroids. Punintentional. It’s a turnstile environment, with people from all walks of life constantly coming and going, and in today’s age of superficial gratification, is the perfect setting to put my own experiences, and people in general, under the microscope.
(On a side note, it was on this project that I figured out how I could get the ABC to commission me as a writer – join a crew as an assistant in a department, and then during down time, sit in the back of a truck and type type type.)
How have you managed to get such an great cast attached?
As with all my projects, I am always concerned with getting the best people attached. Working with someone like Samuel Johnson gives the project great authenticity, so I’m then able to approach great people about working with me. The first person we hit up was Michala Banas, whom Samuel had just done a play with. She was on board straight away, and from there, we could use her name and Samuel’s name. From here, I set about casting the show with my good buddy, and the best casting agent I know, Sarah Hallam (also a pretty damn good actor & director). I’m never interested in just packing the show with ‘name’ actors. They have to be the right fit. But having a couple of names attached allows us to shoot for the top. We were pretty fortunate to get a cracking cast full of up and comers, the next big lot of actors, Luke McKenzie, Tegan Higginbotham, Steph Lillis, Lee Beckhurst & Jesse Velik are wonderfully complimented by Michala, Samuel, Rhys Muldoon, Tottie Goldsmith, to name a few.
How have you found the experience so far/any tips for people looking at crowd funding for their projects?
I have really enjoyed the process so far. It’s stressful at times, especially when you’re about to put it out into the world, but it is also your first opportunity to engage with an audience. And, at the end of the day, we’re all here to tell stories for an audience.
The first thing I’ll say is, do research. I remember years ago when I was working with LateNite we were talking about doing crowdfunding. And Chris very aptly pointed out that you really only get one crack at getting it right, and building an audience’s trust. That has stuck with me ever since, and I have poured over many, many crowd funding campaigns since. Studying the rewards on offer, the structure of the campaign, the videos, the updates… Leaving no stone unturned in the life of the campaign.
To be completely honest with you, I didn’t give too much thought into how I would run the campaign via social media, such was the nature of getting this together in such a short amount of time. However, after a couple of days of positive traction and audience interaction, I quickly figured out that what the audience wants is to see the show coming to life. Introducing actors, crew, parts of the show and stunt offerings all help drive pledges and traffic.
Be grateful, gracious and humble, and let your audience and supporters know that they are an integral part of your show. They ARE your show. Without them, there is no show. Don’t forget that. The story may be the thing, but the audience is the what. Coin a phrase for them. Our supporters are all part of the Sweatshop Nation.
Why did you choose the crowd funding route?
I’ve always been petrified of crowd funding. I have had projects before where I’ve thought about it, but I’ve always found a reason not to do it. “You only get one chance”; “I don’t want to be another one of those campaigns”; and “what if no one likes the idea” are common thoughts that roll through the hollow cavity that sits on my neck.
I’d also been apprehensive about the association that I have had with crowd funding campaigns, predominantly related to a sense of entitlement I see in some campaigns, where it seems like just turning up and putting your project onto pozible should be enough to get you a cool $10k. No thought given to the rewards on offer, no real effort put into a video, and certainly no more than 5 minutes put into engaging the audience at this early and crucial stage.
So, naturally when it was suggested to me that we crowd fund to raise a short fall of our budget for Sweatshop, I was hesitant and skeptical. But when I crunched the numbers, and worked backwards from our shoot dates, I realized that I didn’t have time to hesitate. I had to pull the trigger and bite the bullet. Which is hard to do without blowing your head off.
I think I had about 6 days to get the campaign together, to launch it on a date that would allow for a 4 week campaign, with enough time to process the money before the shoot at the end of the campaign (still with me?). This included working out how much we wanted to raise (the easy part), allocating parts of the budget to the crowd funding pledges, scripting a video, shooting the portion with Samuel, shooting the portion with me (thanks Nato), shooting some stuff with some actors in a park, in a gym and some voice over (because I never script anything straight forward), figuring out interesting rewards that are relevant to our show, figuring out an approach to the copy within the body of the campaign (story of the project; funds allocation; challenges). I worked around the clock for those 6 days to make the campaign as strong as it could possibly be.
Thankfully, I’d done those 2 or 3 years of research. I established what I loved about some campaigns, and common areas where I felt that others were weak. From there, it was a race against time, but we got there. And now we have a little under 2 weeks to try and smash our stretch targets out of the water. What a position to be in!
How did it feel to reach your target so quickly?
Out of this world, staggering, humbling, amazing, sexy, stunning, mind blowing! Forgetting the fact that it meant we were definitely going to make the show, the generosity and interest that the campaign has sparked in the project is truly remarkable. To reach our goal in two weeks was a pretty amazing feat, but to then blow, not one, but TWO of our stretch targets out of the water in 15 days (a little over half) of our campaign… I was, and still kind of am, speechless.
To me, it backs up my point earlier about really using the crowdfunding campaign as your first port of call for your show, project or product. Engage the audience, introduce them to and get them excited by that thing that you’re more passionate about than anyone else. I guess it’s a modern “build it and they will come” kinda deal.
What is next for Sweatshop?
We’re not done yet. While we didn’t expect to get this far, this quickly, we did make a “best case scenario” plan. So, we are launching into phase 2 of our crowd funding – stretch targets. Here, we have identified some areas of the production that would be improved, given bigger budgets.
The important thing to note here, is that hitting our target means we have enough to make our show, and make a very good show. The stretch targets just mean we can take it from a very good show, to a great show, thus giving us the best possible chance of getting attention, and being a success.
By way of example – currently, the plan is to shoot it on a Canon C100 with stills lenses. This would give it a great look, as the C100 and the glass is very nice. However, if we can hit around the $15k mark, we’ll be able to get a RED Epic and some cine lenses, upping the ante on our aesthetic and production value (not to mention make the shoot even more enjoyable for our crew, who are all working for next to nothing).
Beyond the crowd funding campaign, we will be shooting the pilot episode, packaging it, and taking it to ABC2 and SBS. Failing a pitch with either of these networks, we go back to the public, and look at other options. Maybe we go back and crowd fund for the whole season. Maybe we just make the whole show, and then self distribute. Maybe we just give it away for free, and create an entire world around the life of the show – BTS, Director’s Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reels, Merch – are just some ways you can recoup your output.
The Netflix model, that has seen so much success for shows like House of Cards, is becoming a more realistic approach – make the whole show, and give it to the audience. Let them, no sorry, let YOU decide when and how you watch it. We just need a platform to launch that from. Any ideas?
Any final thoughts?
Check out our Pozible page for more info!