Friday, June 7, 2013

The Secret to Funding an Indie Film

You've written a brilliant feature film screenplay. People who read it invariably give you very enthusiastic feedback containing words like "brilliant", "clever", "ground breaking", "exciting", "suspenseful", "touching" and "hilarious". You need a measly $55,000 in order to shoot this film on your carefully calculated shoestring budget.

There is a surefire secret strategy to obtain this micro budget for your terrific indie movie. I'm sure there is.

I just don't know what it is.

I thought that Kickstarter might be the answer. My project is live as I type this post; our deadline is June 30, 2013 to reach our funding goal of $55,000. If we reach it, we shoot the movie. If not, those who pledged donations will not pay us a penny, and the movie will not be made. Again... I've been down this road many times with several of my screenplays. Just when investors seem to be lined up and ready to sign checks, the deals and/or investors themselves never fail to vanish.

Before posting my movie project on Kickstarter I was aware that narrative films rarely get funded on Kickstarter. Most of the successfully funded films on Kickstarter are documentaries, because the filmmakers can then appeal directly to the appropriate swaths of people who feel passionately about the topic, i.e. "save the rainforest", "cure X disease", etc. I've been getting loads of encouraging emails and messages from friends and fans since my project launched on May 22, saying that the movie sounds great, they look forward to seeing it, they wish me all the best, etc. But very few of these people have sprung for a donation toward our budget...despite that fact that I'm offering lots of rewards for various levels of donation, i.e. signed DVD's and posters, t-shirts, Skype chats with my dummies and me, private ventriloquist lessons, invitations to watch us shoot the movie and to attend a cast party, a chance to appear in the movie, etc. Heck, for just a $10 donation a backer would get access to an online screening of the film before it is released to the general public. But even that doesn't seem to have any appeal to the vast majority of people who have been telling me that they would love to see the film.

I think I know why: since my movie is not a documentary, the only way that I could have attracted enough donations to reach our budget would be if I had a "star" attached to the movie. That's just the way it is with the psychology of movie-goers. Unfortunately, Tom Hanks and Leo DiCaprio were not available for this project. Nor were Meryl Streep or Emma Stone. I must face the brutal fact that I am not a "star".

There's one good thing that is coming out of the looming failure of my Kickstarter campaign: I feel inspired now to dust off my novelized version of this screenplay, While the Village Sleeps, which I nearly got published a couple of years ago. That's a topic for a different blog post. But I've decided to self publish this novel soon as an e-book.

So all is not lost. You, dear blog reader, will soon be able to read While the Village Sleeps...if not see it.

Here's the Kickstarter project...

Friday, May 24, 2013

The other Jonathan Geffner

There is another Jonathan Geffner who lives in the same county as I do. We have communicated via Facebook occasionally over several years but have never met. He is one of the first contributors to my fund raising campaign on for my "dummy noir" movie. I am grateful for his support, but would expect nothing less from a man with such a cool name. 

By the way, if you haven't pledged a donation yet to our project, why the heck not? The deadline is June 30th, 2013, so get off your tokhes and do it already...

Anyway, I'm thinking of writing a short film entitled Jonathan Geffner, about two Jonathan Geffners who simultaneously get amnesia, then simultaneously awake to believe that they each are the other one. I'll hire the other Jonathan Geffner to play one of the Jonathan Geffners and I'll play the other. 

Since we are both musicians we can do the music together. I can't wait to see the credit roll...

Jonathan Geffner a film by Jonathan Geffner

Characters Jonathan Geffner played by Jonathan Geffner and Jonathan Geffner played by Jonathan Geffner

music by Jonathan Geffner and Jonathan Geffner

Any resemblance of the two Jonathan Geffners in this film to any other Jonathan Geffners living or dead is purely coincidental.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New feature film project launched on Kickstarter!

Our Kickstarter project - While the Village Sleeps - has launched! Please visit our project now and help make this movie. Our deadline to fund the movie is June 30, 2013. Please share the link widely. Thanks for your support...

Monday, May 20, 2013

We are launching an exciting Kickstarter project in a few days: our feature film, While the Village Sleeps. Here is a link to a Preview of the project. You can be a part of movie making history! Check back with us soon and become a backer at any level. You will get all kinds of cool rewards as you help to bring to life an exciting new genre of film making: Dummy Noir!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ventriloquism is Dead

At least my kind is. Or so they say. "They" being all the tv and movie execs with whom I've talked over the years about various projects featuring me and my puppets. They see ventriloquism as an obsolete art. Passe, anachronistic, old. Quaint but kaput. I've received that kind of feedback consistently over the many years that I've pitched various ventriloquism-centered tv series and movie screenplays to producers and execs. Despite receiving much lovely praise about my ventriloquist skills and about the quality of the scripts and pilot episodes that I've written, the unending string of rejections that I've received always seem to contain either direct or veiled reference to that negative view of my art form.

I don't buy it. I believe there is a huge potential market for the projects that I've written and proposed. I know this from the enthusiasm of my audiences at my live shows; from the feedback that I've gotten from my self-produced educational video series, Puppet Power and Puppet Pride; from the feedback that I've gotten from my self-produced short film, Oxford Park; and from the feedback that I've gotten from my occasional guest appearances on tv shows. It would just require a different mind-set on the part of the people who hold the power to make these things happen.

But mind-sets are difficult to change. Especially when there is no precedent in recent years for the kind of projects that I want to do. I see it as a positive that my projects would stand out as different from most others now in the mass media. But the people who hold the purse-strings see it as a negative - as a gamble not worth taking.

The recent phenomenal success of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham would seem to negate all this. But his meteoric rise to fame has been in spite of this reality. His very non-traditional business strategy brilliantly bypassed the roadblocks to ventriloquial fame and fortune. The great ventriloquists of the past - Edgar Bergen, Paul Winchell, Jimmy Nelson, Shari Lewis - rose to fame mainly via kids and family entertainment venues. I modeled myself after those ventriloquists, and early in my career decided to focus on kids and family venues. Winchell in particular was my hero. His spot-on technique combined with his whimsical, charming, high-energy comedy routines - suitable for all ages - constituted, for me, the ultimate ventriloquist persona and act.

Dunham paid his dues for many years in the adult comedy club circuit. Dummies (puppets) being used as props to tell "adult" jokes has turned out to be the only path to large-scale success for the modern ventriloquist. Dunham leads the pack, but other "adult" ventriloquists have also become very successful in recent years, including Terry Fator (winner of an America's Got Talent contest), Ronn Lucas and David Strassman.

I don't regret my career path. The comedy club circuit would have meant many years on the road for me, and my temperament was not well-suited for life on the road. Especially after my first of two daughters came along nearly fifteen years ago, there was no way that I could have chosen to spend most of my time away from home. As it turned out, I was married to a woman who was away from home most of the time, and so I was virtually a single dad way before our separation. As a result, I got to be with my girls, watch them grow up, experience all of the childhood milestones with them, and am now (I hope it is safe to say) close to both of them. What price tag can one put on that?

Not to say that I don't envy Dunham's career. I certainly do. But he deserves his success. He is very talented, made smart marketing choices and he paid his dues.

I became aware of my inferior career path of "kids venues" as opposed to "adult venues" many years ago, and thought that I had hit upon a way around that. I came up with the concept of a ventriloquist detective who uses his vocal skills as well as his wooden partner to help solve cases. And so, Trillo & Suede were born. Well, Trillo was born, Suede was carved. And I aimed the scripts that I wrote to adult audiences.

But I soon found myself up against other roadblocks. The ones facing any screenwriter who creates a concept that is too "different" from the tried and true formulas that have already worked. With the encouragement of Ian Lewis, president of Farnham Films, UK, I wrote several Trillo & Suede feature film screenplays over several years - each of them inspired by an apparent funding source in one of several different countries. But the funding sources each disappeared sometime before a deal was reached.

Ian and I did manage to self-produce a short film that I wrote: Oxford Park. We shot it in England in two days and it had quite an impressive run on the international film festival circuit. But it failed to attract funding sources for any of my "real" scripts, the feature film ones. Ian and I are still trying to come up with a way to shoot one of these movies. We figure that we could shoot one of them on a shoestring budget of USD 150,000. But in this recession, neither Ian nor I can afford to invest our own money.

Last year I finished writing a Trillo & Suede novel, While the Village Sleeps. It was tentatively accepted by a publishing company, then they decided against it. That was my one shot at publishing it the traditional way. Without an agent, there are very few publishing houses that will look at manuscripts from unpublished authors. And agents are less and less inclined to look at anything written by unpublished authors. But one cannot become a published author until one is published, right? Catch-22. I'll self-publish it one of these days.

Meanwhile, I still bring this "dead" art form to vibrant life frequently at schools, libraries, camps, private organizations, etc. And the Trillo & Suede characters will live theoretically forever in Oxford Park, and in a Making Of documentary, and in a little intro video to the T&S characters.

I even bring dummies to life in other languages, on occasion. Mainly Yiddish and Hebrew. I'm fluent in the former, somewhat fluent in the latter. Lately I've become quite popular in Hasidic circles. Not bad for a non-religious, Yiddish-speaking ventriloquist. Go figure.

So, the next time someone tells me that ventriloquism is dead - or that my kind of ventriloquism is dead - I'll reply with a toast...


Sign of Hope for Middle East Peace

A recent phenomenon throughout the Arab world gives hope for peace. Localized, Islamized versions of classic and current Broadway musicals are becoming all the rage in many Arab countries. This heralds a refreshing counterweight to the more conservative wing of Islam. And the fact that Broadway musicals have always been largely a Jewish enterprise - the product of (more often than not) Jewish writers, composers, lyricists, directors, producers, etc. - portends well for a softening of Arab attitudes toward Jews generally. Here, then, is a list of the more popular Moslem Musicals today...

Fiddler on the Mosque
Annie Get Your Hookah
Chitty Chitty Baba Ganoush
Bye Bye Burka
A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To The Intifada
Kiss Me, Koran
Meet Me in Mecca
My Fair Fatwa
La Cage Aux Fanatics
The Best Little Prayer House in Tunisia
Barefoot in the Mosque
Dreamgirls (76 Virgins)
Avenue Al Qaeda
Damn Yankees
How to Succeed in Business without Being Jewish

Now if only the Jews would reciprocate by producing some Jewish versions of classic Moslem works of art...

Sign of insanity?

Talking to oneself. Often. For long periods of time. In different voices. With distinctly different personalities...

I'd say the above is pretty indicative of insanity, wouldn't you? And it's what I do for a living. So that makes me...

No, I know that my puppets aren't real, and that I'm throwing my voice...

...or do I?

Well, talking to myself is what I'm doing right now. If no-one reads this blog, then I'm retroactively insane. So somebody please read this and save me from insanity.

Ventriloquism is a lonely profession. Moments of intense joy and inspiration as I feel my puppet partners coming to life through my considerable skill; moments of gratification when I bring joy and laughter to an audience, giving me the fleeting feeling that my existence has a purpose. Then the show is over, the audience gone, I pack up my dummies and equipment and head back on the road. Me and the dummies, alone together.

Not that my life is so lonely. My profession yes, but I'm a single dad to two wonderful daughters. They take up loads of my time, and it's anything but lonely around them.  The divorce is not finalized yet, but the marriage has been over for a long time. All for the better, I feel. But this profession of mine...weird, you think? To you, maybe, but to me it was the perfect profession, as soon as I discovered my talent for it as a young man. There's a cliche, an image of a shy ventriloquist who uses his dummy to say things that he would never have the courage to say himself. That cliche is quite apt in my case. And doing it all these years has made me less shy. There are other adjectives that are often associated with ventriloquists aside from "shy", like withdrawn, reclusive, antisocial, weird, mad..."withdrawn" fits me, perhaps, but I don't accept the others, especially the "mad" one.

Then again, mad people don't know that they are mad, right?