Writer and director Wayne Brandenburg, who created the award winning short Blue Haired Girls and has also worked on The Guild, and The Chicago 8, is working on a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the creation of his next film, The Tuning, a feature-length sci-fi film about mind reading gone wrong. Wayne, a long time reader of Sci-Fi Storm, sent in this great article not just about the film he is trying to make, but also about the experience of using Kickstarter to fund it.
KICKSTARTING THE TUNING: A SCI-FI INDY ABOUT MIND READING GONE WRONG
by Wayne Brandenburg
This is a brief account of my experiences with crowdfunding an independent sci-fi movie with Kickstarter.com.
Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Wayne Brandenburg. I’m a writer and director of short movies and commercials. Notice how I said I’m a writer first and a director second? I started my journey into filmmaking when I was a kid coming up with clever stories. I didn’t have a camera or a crew, just an imagination. When I went to film school I focused on screenwriting first. That’s where I learned the importance of characters that the audience want to watch and follow through to the end of a story. It’s also where I learned the script is the first step in the filmmaking process. Without the script there is no map for all the other departments to follow.
Later I focused on directing and soon learned that directing is more about social skills and an understanding of what the audience will eventually see. I found that the director is actually the first audience member, but they have the power to influence and interact with the product to meet their vision.
Now I’m shooting my first full length movie and I’ve decided to make it in my favorite genre: sci-fi. I’ve always loved sci-fi. It always gives me hope in humanity’s future and a sense of wonder in the possibilities before us.
THE TUNING: a short description
The Tuning is an independent sci-fi feature length movie about mind reading gone wrong. It follows the story of a guy named Mars, which is short for Marshall. He’s an engineering student who invents a mind reading machine (based partly on actual research at MIT). He does this so he can telepathically communicate with one other person. One of his project teammates alters the machine so he can communicate with the rest of the world, but he soon dominates everyone on Earth into his version of world peace. It’s a sci-fi story that addresses some tough issues like: In a world where telepathy is common can you keep your thoughts private? Could telepathy be the original language in the Tower of Babel story? And how can world peace be possible if mankind has a hand in it?
The reason Mars makes the mind reading machine goes hand in hand with why I wrote the movie to begin with. When I wrote The Tuning I was living in Hollywood pursuing a career in filmmaking. My wife and kids were in Texas. I was incomplete and struggled everyday with a feeling of being stranded and alone.
These are the reasons I gave Mars for inventing the mind reading machine. He has a twin brother that’s always been in his life. So Mars’ biggest fear is of being left behind and alone. He believes that if you were telepathic, then even if you were physically alone, you wouldn’t be alone in your mind and in your heart.
When proposing the mind reading machine to his teammates, Mars theorizes that everyone already has the ability to read each others minds, it’s just an innate ability that has been forgotten over time. He continues the theory by proposing that the original language that the builders of the Tower of Babel used was telepathy.
But, once the machine is built and the first subjects undergo the procedure, there are immediate drawbacks. One subject is almost driven insane when the machine malfunctions and she is exposed to all the minds of the world at once. Another side effect comes in the form of the two subjects not being able to keep their intimate thoughts private.
One of the teammates has his own ideas though. He believes world peace is possible. At first he believes the only thing keeping the world from peace is the lack of communication and finding common ground. Soon he realizes people will never find common ground even with communication. The problem is there are too many different kinds of personalities in the world. But, with a few alterations to the mind reading machine, he can force everyone on Earth into his version of world peace.
It’s up to Mars to find a way to stop the madness his machine has created and put everything back the way it was. But, he’s just one man against the entire world… literally.
Every movie I’ve ever made was funded out of my own threadbare pockets. However, when I decided to shoot The Tuning I knew its budget would be well outside what I could afford alone. So the only way to get money to make the movie would be to ask someone else for their money. But, how does one go about asking, and more importantly getting, someone else’s money?
There are several ways to go about raising funds for a project. The most obvious way would be to beg your friends and family, but depending on your style of begging, I don’t think that would go over well. I chose to have someone else do my begging. Someone with a more professional face. Someone whose job is begging. I chose Kickstarter.com.
For those that don’t already know, Kickstarter is a website that crowdfunds for you. They put a professional face on your project with secure credit card transactions through Amazon.com. This gives your potential backers confidence in you and, in turn, more likely to throw money at you.
However, Kickstarter is an all or nothing fundraising system. You have to meet your fundraising goal by the deadline you set. If you don’t then you get no money and your backers are not charged.
And what does Kickstarter get out of this? They get 5% of your fundraising if you meet your goal.
I started up my Kickstarter campaign on September 12th. Since then I’ve learned some things I wish I knew before starting up.
1. Plan your Kickstarter campaign several days, even weeks before you actually launch so you can make your presentation look and sound as good as you can.
2. Before your project is ever launched, you must submit it to Kickstarter for review to make sure it isn’t indecent. That takes time. Up to 3 days in some cases. Plan for that.
3. You can still edit your project even after you’ve launched it. I couldn’t find anywhere on Kickstarter.com that says that, so I was going a little looney before finally clicking the launch button.
When you finally get your Kickstarter campaign going, you’ll probably be posting it on Facebook, Twitter and all manner of internet communications. The first visual most people will see of your project will be a little thumbnail. The average person, I believe, is less likely to click on that thumbnail if they don’t know what the picture is. What I’m saying is that your thumbnail is very very important. So what should your thumbnail be? I came up with some simple rules that I followed in my own thumbnail.
1. Put a face in it.
The human face is one of the most recognizable patterns. It’s ingrained in us. Babies will visually recognize a face before anything else in their lives. How does this apply to the thumbnail? Put a human face in your thumbnail. Remember the thumbnail will be small so make that a big human face.
2. Focus on eyes.
In film school I learned, when bringing a picture into focus, target the main person’s eye. That’s where people will focus their attention. You do it in your everyday life. When speaking to someone you will automatically focus on their eyes. The old saying “The eyes are the windows to the soul” should play a big part in your thumbnail. Focus on them.
3. Put a girl in it.
Before I ever went to film school I sold dental plans. Yeah… glamorous, right? I did learn something very important there though. Men can sell to women, but women can sell anything to both men and women. The theory was, salesmen could sell to a female customer by appealing to her feminine desires. I know, I know it’s corny. But, not only can a saleswoman appeal to a male customer’s masculine desires, they can appeal to a female customer’s ranking system. You see if the saleswoman comes off as confident and knowledgeable about what they are selling then the female customer unconsciously sees the saleswoman with higher regard. And a person tends to follow the advice of people they see with higher regard. Needless to say, there were some very successful female saleswomen selling dental plans. The weird thing was they had horrible teeth. So what am I trying to say? Put a woman in your thumbnail… with nice teeth.
4. Use color.
The human eye can see millions of colors, but the color the human eye can see easiest is green. That’s probably because early humans spent so much time in dense green vegetation. The next easiest to see is red. Probably because so many fruits are red when they are ripe. Another likely reason is because blood is red. Early humans probably wanted to know when someone in their group was injured. Don’t limit your thumbnail to a black and white picture when so much relies on a person clicking it. Give it color.
The folks at Kickstarter advise you to have a video and for good reason. Most successful campaigns have a video. It’s easy to do this, but it’s also easy to mess it up. Most potential backers will back you, not just the project. This piece of advice is more important for filmmakers than for product makers. Product makers usually have a working prototype that they can actually show in use in their video. That’s something a filmmaker can’t do because our product hasn’t been “built” yet. So what can the backer put money in? You. So what does this mean for your video? Put yourself into your video. And I don’t mean just shoot a video of you. Tell the backers who you are and how you’ve put your heart into your project. Backers want to know you’re dedicated to the project. They want to know you’re going to get the dang thing shot. They don’t want to put money into something that won’t get made. Seriously, who wants to be part of a failed project?
That’s my experience with crowdfunding so far. We’re currently raising funds and only have a few weeks left. I do have to admit it is a stressful process. I hope the things I pointed out in this article help you in your own efforts and relieve some of your own stress. If a lack of funds is keeping your dream from moving towards reality, I suggest you kickstart it.
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