By 1934, the American film industry was under siege. Movie theaters, once independently owned and operated, were now mostly under the control of the various film studios. Once free to show what films they liked, they were now (more or less) forced to show only films produced by the studio that owned them.
A Catholic-fueled organization called the Legion of Decency, who had become hell bent on self-regulating the content coming out of Hollywood, saw an opportunity. Bypassing the creation of a government censorship body, the Legion went to and pressured a handful of men in charge of the film industry.
Do as we instruct or we’ll instruct the masses to boycott your films.
Under the threat of far-reaching audience boycotts, the few studio executives that lorded over Hollywood bent to the whims of the “moral majority”. Self-imposed censorship became a reality in America.
From 1934 to the late 1960s, films coming out of Hollywood were forced to adhere to a strict production code or risk being condemned. The standards, referred to as the Hays Code, would become the precursor to our modern day rating system overseen by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The most recognizable change may be the appearance of two beds (rather than one!) in a bedroom.
So, what does all of this have to do with my support of the indie film industry? Simple.
Had movie theaters remained independently owned/operated they may have been more or less impervious to the likes of the Legion of Decency. They would have had the freedom to show films that expressed realistic human sexuality, social inequality, cultural strife, and questioned the status quo. The ramifications – imagine, decades of un-censorship-constrained art that had been consumed by generations – would have been far reaching indeed.
When people ask me why I’m so passionate about supporting the indie film industry, this is where the story begins.
In the Fall of 2012, I decided to launch a 12-month (completely informal) experiment. Over the course of those 12 months, I would identify and support at least 10 different indie film campaigns. Thanks to platforms like Kickstarter, Seed & Spark, and Indiegogo, being an independent supporter of the arts (hell, anything) had become easier than ever. Gone were the days of needing to know a guy who knew a guy working on this project that could use some support. I could go straight to the source.
My criteria for selecting projects was fairly broad. Projects that were well defined, with clear production goals, would be considered. Having a few creative incentives wouldn’t hurt either. I found I was particularly drawn to “reward” segments where I would receive a copy of the finished product. Psychologically, I think that has more to do with my desire to have something to show for the effort than a need to grow my already large media library.
As a gay woman, my first initiative was to locate and support indie filmmakers in the LGBT community. I was surprised at how few and far between these types of projects were. I was excited when I found, and funded, a multimedia project based in Seattle called “The Cost of Gender” whose focus was on transgender issues:
Shortly thereafter, I ran across a Kickstarter campaign for Styria, the film adaptation of Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla. It wasn’t a straight out LGBT film, but the homoerotic nature of the text (two women form a close bond, Carmilla feeds off of her young friend, Lara) and the fact that the filmmakers set the story in the 80s aids in my decision to fund the project:
After pitching in on Styria (a film starring the talented and highly respected Stephen Rhea!), I was invested in my experiment. Fully. I wanted to see more of what was out there and get involved wherever I could.
The Mill at Calder’s End is an ambitious stop-frame animation feature – its gothic feel, its puppetry, its production design just absolutely blew me away. Getting involved in the project was, at least for me, a no-brainer:
So, I’d funded an LGBT multimedia project, a vampire feature, and a stop-frame puppet piece. With an established commitment to three projects, I wanted to really dig in and set my sights on indie horror.
I don’t remember when The Invasion of the Not Quite Dead first showed up on my radar, but I’m pretty sure it was during one of AD Lane’s non-stop Twitter marathons. Not only did I fund his ambitious (all practical sfx – no CGI!) project once, but I came back a second time to increase my contribution. My exposure to AD Lane’s project – a project he has been passionately working on for going on 7 years (I believe) – led me to a whole new community of creative people, including SFX/MUA Michele Mulkey.
This was what it was all about. Pitching in to help creative people realize their own, unique vision. I was hooked.
My contribution and exposure to Indywood would lead to several other crowdfunding opportunities like Gary Spate’s Dead Lies and Carlos Dunn’s I Thought You Were a Nice Man.
My contribution to Dead Lies was completely fueled by Spate’s Twitter campaign. As a marketing tool, independent filmmakers cannot underestimate the power of one-to-one contact with its potential audience. I cannot stress this enough. There are countless projects out here competing for our attention, our support, our dollars. It’s not enough to throw up a campaign page. Contributors want frequent updates, photos, video content, and an insider’s view into the project as it unfolds.
By breaking down the barrier between creatives and the general public, crowdfunders like me feel like they are being welcomed into a kind of family. With unprecedented access to the entire filmmaking process – from preproduction to the final cut – getting involved becomes increasingly appealing.
Occasionally, films that begin the crowdfunding process ultimately receive private funding. Mark Dossett’s project, The Torment of Laurie Ann Collum, got lucky in this way – but not before I was able to slip in and commit my contribution.
Based on true events, The Torment is about a woman who – in the wake of a serious trauma – suffers from agoraphobia. The film’s SFX/MU were produced by indie film’s go-to guru, Michele Mulkey.
Another indie horror film crowdfunding opportunity popped up in the shape of Christmas Slay. Connected to the Indywood family, Steven Davis is a UK-based filmmaker whose project is an 80s-style slasher flick set during the holidays.
By the Spring of 2013, I found myself revisiting old grounds. I wanted to be contributing more to the LGBT filmmaking community. Frequent visits to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Seed & Spark yielded nothing of particular interest so I broke with the routine and starting visiting the individual websites of filmmakers I admired.
When I got to Marina Rice Bader’s Soul Kiss Films site, I read that she was in the process of crowdfunding for a new Dreya Weber project entitled Raven’s Touch. As a fan of Weber’s I immediately jumped on the opportunity.
Admittedly, the process for contributing to the project felt a little awkward. Done through the production company’s website, via PayPal, it somehow lacked the same perceived legitimacy of the Kickstarter/Indiegogo platforms. I also took issue with the filmmaker’s decision to do community updates through a private Facebook page. For some, this presented a barrier to that community feeling I’ve previously discussed as being a major perk to indie campaigns.
All that aside – I didn’t care. I was helping to make a movie starring DREYA-FREAKIN-WEBER. The woman is an icon in the community. I wasn’t going to pass up the chance:
After contributing to a science fiction short film project entitled The Last Generation to Die, I lucked out and found my final crowdfunding project.
As over the moon as I had been with the Raven’s Touch project starring Dreya Weber, nothing could have prepared me for the bucket of awesome that was dumped on me when I realized Guinevere Turner was crowdfunding for a new feature.
Creeps – a film about a couple of gay friends who decide to quit drinking/doing drugs so they can (get this) have great skin for an party. With Wilson Cruz and Magda Apanowicz set to star and Guinevere Turner sharing the helm with her longtime friend, José Muñoz, Creeps will shape up to be a great indie film.
In the coming year, join me as I track each of these projects; reporting on their ups and downs from the perspective of a contributor and committed supporter of the indie community.
Get on board. Send me your projects! Tell me what you support and why.