Why high profile crowd funding campaigns are good for the small filmmaker.

I was certainly surprised as many others were when the “Veronica Mars” crowdfunding campaign took Kickstarter by storm.  Now Zach Braff is following suit with his campaign to fund his indie feature “Wish I Was Here”, and it looks like he will easily hit and likely surpass his goal of two million dollars.  It’s certainly encouraging that these high profile projects can take a detour around the traditional model of getting a movie made, but how does that help the small independent filmmaker?


While Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other online crowdfunding tools are commonplace to many of us, the general public is not familiar with these sites and how they work.  There are a lot of people who are hesitant to pledge or give money to make a film or a product online.  I certainly know some folks who still don’t feel comfortable purchasing anything online.  I wonder how many of the 91,585 ”Veronica Mars” backers gave money to a crowdfunding campaign for the first time?  I imagine that the number is pretty high, and the likelihood of that project getting completed is also very high.  So not only will these backers eventually get to watch what they were able to make happen with their contributions, but other consumers will see the final product too.  This gives serious legitimacy to Kickstarter.  I know that I feel good when I back a project, even if it’s a small contribution, and when the project is complete that same warm and fuzzy feeling comes back because you helped that film, album, video game, or piece of art come to life.  Many of those backers are going to want to experience that feeling again.  That’s how these large profile campaigns will help the smaller ones.  They are bringing a much larger audience with them to Kickstarter.


The other thing to keep in mind is that these high profile campaigns make crowdfunding look incredibly easy.  In the time I’ve taken to write this, Zach Braff’s campaign has racked up an additional $250K.  While most of us rely on our close networks for the initial contributions, he brings a huge fan base from his years on TV, fans of “Garden State”, and over one million Twitter followers.  Plus he’s getting a huge amount of free press, which us smaller filmmakers would kill for.


With “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood”, our documentary project that’s in the “rough cut” stage of post production, we tapped into the built in audience of our subject matter, a musical group that’s had thousands of members and has been entertaining audiences for 75 years.  We raised $13K in about two weeks for our initial crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo in January of 2012.  The money raised was primarily from friends, relatives, and people tied in with the Madison Scouts (alumni, current members, their family members and staff).  Our initial plan was to have a series of IndieGoGo campaigns, but since almost all the contributions came from people either connected directly to us or the subject matter we decided to create a way to accept contributions on our own website.  IndieGoGo and Kickstarter take a percentage from the money earned, and if we did it ourselves then we could use all of the money raised to make the movie.  We’ve raised an additional $22K on our website.  We aren’t done with our documentary yet and more funds are necessary to pay for music rights and other finishing costs so there’s a chance we will venture back to one of the big crowdfunding platforms, but only if we find a way to tap into a new audience, outside of our subject matter.


While some may feel like the “Veronica Mars” & “Wish I Was Here” campaigns are upstaging the smaller projects, in my opinion they are giving more opportunity for the little guy to succeed.  We are in the infancy of these new crowdfunding models and I’m certainly anticipating what it will be like a few years from now.  Let’s learn from them and apply some of their techniques to our campaigns.



Why so little content on here?

That’s a very good question!  When we first started making the documentary about the Madison Scouts we knew that we needed a company and a website.  Gigantic Cranium Productions was formed and this site soon followed.  This was our only online presence before we created our Facebook page (first was our Untitled Madison Scouts Project, and then once the movie was titled we made our main fan page), had a Twitter account, YouTube channel and Google+ presence.  We soon discovered that it would be much more effective to have a website dedicated to the movie.  That’s when the “Scouts Honor” site was born.  For the last year or so we’ve poured a lot of effort (primarily Garrick and his web wizardry) into that page.  Unfortunately our Gigantic Cranium page has been largely ignored.  Not by you, but by us.  We will do our best to post updates on here more often that focus more on behind the scenes, and technical decisions that are being made throughout the filmmaking process.  Meanwhile, be sure to check out the site that’s dedicated to this documentary.



Wave Agent

Now that we are starting to dive into post production on our documentary “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood” we are learning tricks to make the process easier.  One of the production sound mixers that we worked with this summer mentioned a free application called “Wave Agent”.  He told me about it during a slightly chaotic moment, but I’m glad that I stopped what I was doing and plugged the name of the two word application into my smartphone because today I needed it.

“Wave Agent” is from the company Sound Devices which is a leader in the digital sound recorder industry.  We use their recorders at work to record sound effects out in the field, and a number of the production sound mixers we used rely on their Sound Devices recorder.  I needed this application today because I was needing to listen to a specific channel on an interleaved WAV audio file.  I learned that the majority of location sound people record their audio to interleaved files.  An interleaved file contains multiple channels all in a single file.  It makes it handy for organizing media since you don’t have to keep track of which file has the boom mic audio versus the lav mic(s).  A single take, no matter how many microphones were used appear in one file.  The downside is that I can’t hear the different channels playing back in something simple like “Quicktime Player” or “iTunes”.  With “Wave Agent” I can import the interleaved file see how many channels were recorded, solo and listen to each one, view metadata and much more.  I’ve only scratched the surface on what’s possible with this tool, but I’m thankful that I was passed along the information about it and that it’s free.


Read about and download “Wave Agent” here from the Sound Devices website.

Committing to Final Cut Pro X

I am a professional editor…a professional sound editor, not a picture editor.  I’ve gone back and forth for months now trying to decide which picture editing platform to commit to for our documentary feature.  For all of our promos and teasers I have used a trial version of Final Cut Pro X (FCPX).  A lot of professionals have cursed Apple for completely reworking Final Cut Pro into this new version.  Have they stripped out a lot of the important elements for the pros?…yes. Have they thrown out all the previous workflows?..yes.  Does it have problems?..yes.  If it’s that bad why are you using it?

I did picture editing in high school and a little in college, but it wasn’t on computers. It was with 3/4″ video decks or S-Video decks. I really enjoyed it, but for some reason my path went in a different direction. I never got into the digital version of picture editing until recently.  Therefore, I don’t have a workflow or an established way of working.  FCPX seems to be designed more for one person to jump in and conquer a project without the need of a picture assistant. While it takes a little getting use to I was happy with how fast I could put something together.  Would it be ideal for a big budget feature film?…no.

I was frustrated initially with some major bugs in the first release, and I was cursing the program quite a bit, but the more recent version seems to have cleared up a lot of the troubles I was having.  The lack of standard tracks takes some getting used to especially since I’m use to that when I edit sound in Pro Tools.  FCPX does excite me with a lot of cool metadata functions as well as facial recognition technology.  These things can certainly help speed up the process for me when it comes to editing.

My goal is to do the first “rough” cut of our project, and then possibly hand it off to another editor who will have a different perspective about the subject matter.  It could be challenging to find the right editor who’s willing to take this project that’s in the FCPX format since a lot of editors have left Apple for Avid or Premiere.  I guess we’ll see if more pros will make their way back to Apple in the next six to nine months.


Camera Placement

20120703-170027.jpgTonight we are shooting a live performance of the Madison Scouts drum and bugle corps in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. There’s always a debate about camera placements. It can be tricky for a fast moving show and we may change our mind up to the last minute of where to shoot from.

The above photo shows two Panasonic GH2 cameras in the press box. Two different lenses will give us options when it comes to cutting a performance together in post. We will also have cameras down at eye level with the members. And last (and far from least) we are recording 5.1 sound.

Looking forward to another great show from the Scouts!


Tedious Yet Important Tasks

20120610-200656.jpg Making a film is a monumental task. While many tasks require you to exercise creative muscles, others are tedious, but equally important. Today was a day to conquer some of those not so fun “to dos”.

Something that many people don’t think about are film releases. Everyone who appears in our documentary has to fill out a release which states that they give us permission to put each of them in our film. Out of our six shooting trips (so far) we have a stack of hundreds of releases. Another complication when it comes to these is that everyone who is 17 and under fills out a “minor” version of the form. If their parent or guardian is not present then we have to scan, and email a partially filled out form to these parents or guardians. Then we have to make sure we get it back.

Today we logged all of these releases into a spreadsheet in order to keep track of them all. We were able to get the majority of the 2012 members and staff to fill these out during the last trip, but we’ll have to get the rest to fill out releases when we see them on tour.

Another “fun” task today was to log expenses. It’s one of those things that’s a double edged sword for me. On one hand I like reliving the memories as I go through what we spent money on. The bad part is seeing the total once the expenses are added up. It would’ve been much cheaper to make a documentary about my backyard. I wouldn’t have to get on any airplanes, rent cars, buy gas, but I don’t think anyone would watch a documentary about the plot of land directly behind my house.


Stretching Dollars

During our last shooting trip for “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood” we really stretched our dollars. We were on the road, in the air, and covered 4 states in 15 days.

While air travel was our biggest expense, the families that we visited during the first half of the trip took very good care of us. We didn’t pay for a single night in a hotel during the entire trip.  This was due to a combination of staying with relatives, or the families that we were interviewing. One family even put us up in a nearby hotel for a couple of nights.  Once we reached Bloomington, Indiana for Spring Training we stayed at the facility where the corps rehearses just like the staff and members do.

Out of those 15 days, I think we paid for 5 meals.  Again, the families that we spent time with took very good care of us during our travels, and once we got to Bloomington we were able to eat with the corps and the staff.  All of this support makes a tremendous difference and allows us to spend additional time to get the footage that we need for our film.

I’m guessing that we saved well over a thousand dollars in lodging and food expenses on this important trip to capture “Home Visits” and “Spring Training”. We will minimize these food and lodging expenses during future trips as well, but that doesn’t mean that we can go on these next trips unless we raise the needed funds to pay for airfare, shipping of equipment, rentals and purchases of additional shooting gear, rental cars, and gas.

Please consider making a contribution to help us get on the road.  Contributions can now be made on our new website for the film.  These next trips are even more important to capture the start of the summer tour for the Madison Scouts.  Anything you can do to spread the word about our film and our fundraising campaign would be terrific. Share our latest video on your Facebook wall, tweet about our film, and pick up the phone to tell your friends.  And don’t forget to tell everyone about our new website for “Scouts Honor”. We want to bring you a documentary film to remember in time for the Madison Scouts’ 75th Anniversary.

Thanks for your support!

Mac and Tom

Home Visits & Spring Training

20120530-083322.jpgWe wrapped late last night our fifteen day trip for “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood” which started off with pre season visits to three states.

Directors, Mac Smith and Tom Tollefsen met up in Richmond, Virginia with section leader and center snare of the Madison Scouts drumline, Brandon MacConnell. We arrived the night before Brandon received his culinary degree and witnessed his final day of his internship at the Internationally acclaimed restaurant “Lemaire” in the historic Jefferson Hotel. It was great seeing the parallels between Brandon’s percussion skills and his talents in a world class kitchen.

The next stop was Atlanta, Georgia to visit Jo Higdon who is marching his second and final year with the color guard of the Madison Scouts. We met Jo during our test shoot In 2011, and knew that he would be a great person to focus on for our documentary. Jo’s family opened up their home to us and gave us meaningful insight into their lives.

The third state on our trip was Texas. We flew into San Antonio and met up with Adam Adorno, director of photography who opened eyes last year with his beautiful work with the Cadets drum and bugle corps. The three of us drove to Corpus Christi to visit the Paradise family. Fifteen year old Hunter Paradise is the youngest member of the Madison Scouts and has a unique story to tell. We shot footage at Flourbluff high school with Hunter’s band class, his band teachers, and his Naval ROTC Commander.

The final stop on the trip was to Bloomington, Indiana for the first week of Spring Training of the 2012 Madison Scouts. Capturing early season footage was crucial to our documentary. We not only witnessed heat exhaustion, and injuries, but these young men coming together to work towards a common goal. We focused on Brandon, Jo and Hunter and how they fit into the drumline, the color guard and the hornline.

We’d like to thank the staff, and the members for not only treating us well, but treating us like family. The Madison Scouts are so much more than a drum corps, and we are doing our best to showcase how they shape these young people to be amazing adults.

Our plan is to rejoin the corps towards the end of June for the start of their tour across the United States. Please help us get there by making a contribution today on our new website. Any size contribution will help us get the material we need to make this a memorable film. Please tell your friends about our website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Thanks for your support!

Mac & Tom

A 15 year old Madison Scout

20120528-002029.jpgOur last home visit before we joined the Madison Scouts for spring training was along the Texas coast in Corpus Christi. We went there to see the youngest member of the 2012 Scouts, Hunter Paradise. He is not your average 15 year old. Hunter was inspired by his father to play trumpet and has become quite a performer in the short number of years he’s had with the instrument. He’s involved with a number of other activities including ROTC and restoring old cars. Another thing that makes him unique is that he’s never seen a live drum corps show. We had a great time with Hunter’s family and look forward to bringing a bit of his life into our documentary about the Madison Scouts, “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood”.