In Alaska for the 2016 Anchorage International Film Festival

“20 Matches” Now Public, and What’s Next

At this point, it's safe to say that 20 Matches is done with the festival circuit. It had a good run, with 18 film festivals and additional screenings, including a full month on Alaska Airlines. To mark the occasion, I have removed the Vimeo password and everyone can now see this film in its entirety. You can watch 20 Matches on my Short Films page, or directly on Vimeo. Enjoy!

I'm ready to write the script for my next short, tentatively titled Reprieve. The story's all fleshed out; I just need to type the thing. This film, a drama, will have a totally different style and subject matter from 20 Matches, and I'm really excited about the diverse casting I plan to do for it. From what I saw at festivals last year, the vast majority of American independent films still have predominantly white (and often all-white) casts. That bothers me – and yes, I've been guilty of it myself – so while I won't tell other filmmakers how to cast their movies, I've made the decision to cast minority actors in all the major roles. This actually suits the film's theme, so it's not just a stunt.

If I can get my ducks in a row fast enough, I'll start crowdfunding Reprieve in late spring, and if I really have my act together, I'll shoot it in late summer. Life has a tendency to get in the way, though, so it may wind up being a 2018 shoot. Time will tell.

Anchorage International Film Festival

“20 Matches” in Alaska… and on Alaska?

As we wrap up 2016 – a year that most people I know would call an awful one – I am grateful, at least, for the film festival exposure that 20 Matches has received. It's not over 'til it's over, but my current assumption is that the Anchorage International Film Festival, which I'm attending December 7-10 (20 Matches screens on both dates), will be this film's final festival.

Technically, 20 Matches was accepted into 20 festivals, which is fitting, although one festival (Blow-Up, in Chicago) seems to "accept" about 90% of their submitted shorts, but only screens the usual 10% of submissions, so I'm not officially counting that one. Nor am I counting the Columbus International Film + Video Festival. They accepted 20 Matches back in March, then strung me along for 7 months before playing the film to a tiny private audience of screenwriting enthusiasts (led by my old Foreign Correspondents DP Scott Spears!), half a year after their actual festival. Boo.

So really, we're talking 18 festivals. Not too shabby.

The film's still out to three foreign festivals, but my acceptance rate outside the US has been dismal thus far: 3 acceptances out of 30 submissions. So I'm not holding my breath. Compare that to festivals within the US: 15 acceptances out of 32 submissions (not including Chicago and Columbus). That's a nearly 50% acceptance rate, which is astoundingly good!

Onward and upward, in any event.

I recently hatched a new idea for a short film, and right now I think it's a good one. I'm taking a few weeks to mull it over. Come January, if I'm still feeling excited about it, I'll bang out a script and strategize financing.

Meanwhile, I just learned that 20 Matches will screen on December 21 at the Berlin Film Society, so that's pretty wunderbar.

Finally, as hinted at in this update's headline, 20 Matches should be playing on Alaska Airlines' in-flight entertainment next month! After the film screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, the head shorts programmer contacted me to tell me that SIFF has their own channel on Alaska Airlines (a festival sponsor), and wanted to include 20 Matches in their programming. My film could play there for 30 to 90 days. The paperwork's been signed, the deal is done, but there are no guarantees, so time will tell. If you fly Alaska Airlines in the near future, keep an eye out. I myself will be flying Alaska to Alaska next week, so maybe I'll get to see for myself.

20 Matches will screen here, in the movie theater of my youth

Upcoming Film Festivals

This Friday I'm driving up to my home town of Cupertino, where I will be presenting 20 Matches at the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival on September 24 at 6pm. It's not a big festival, but it's in a theater where I practically grew up watching movies, so I couldn't say no. If you're in the Bay Area, why don't you stop by? Especially since I sacrificed a potentially awesome trip to New Orleans for the NOLA Horror Film Fest that same weekend. (My film screens there on Friday, September 23 at 6:45pm.) Alas, you can't be everywhere at once.

Besides Cupertino and New Orleans, the next upcoming film festivals for 20 Matches are Catalina (screening on September 30 at 10am), Red Ditch Halloween Film Festival (in Redditch, Worcester, UK) on October 28-29 (no screening time yet), and Tallgrass, in Wichita, Kansas, on October 15 at 12:30pm. I dearly wish I could attend Tallgrass, one of the best independent film festivals in the US, but I'll be in New Jersey for a wedding. Again – you can't be everywhere at once.

Oh, one more festival just gave me the nod: the inaugural HorrorHaus in Los Angeles, November 5-6, in North Hollywood. Again, no screening time has yet been set, but I will certainly be in attendance.

At this point, 20 Matches has gotten into 17 film festivals. (There's one more in Europe that I can't reveal yet.) Of course I hope we make it to 20, as that would be fitting, but it's up to the fates. I'm still waiting to hear from 11 more festivals, so we'll see.

But to give you some idea of how hard it is for an American indie short to get into a festival outside of the US, only 3 out of 23 foreign festivals accepted 20 Matches, whereas a whopping 14 out of 29 US festivals accepted it (nearly a 50% acceptance rate – amazing!). So why did I even bother submitting to foreign festivals, you may ask? Because most were free to enter. Though it can be argued that it's wiser to spend $40 submitting to one US festival that might actually like your film than it is to spend hours and hours searching for freebie festivals in other countries that will most assuredly turn you down, and won't even be polite about it. (Many don't even bother sending notice.)

Another lesson I've learned is that I should have risked entering more high-profile American festivals, now that several of them have actually accepted the film. I can think of at least twenty that I wanted to try – but those submission fees would have added up to at least $800, and at some point you have to ask just what you're hoping to gain from it all. Still, I spent about $140 on foreign festivals this past year... If I could do it all over again, I'd take that money and spend it on three good American ones instead. (USA! USA!, etc.)

In any event, while it's been a fun tour on the festival circuit, and I certainly hope to attend one more outside of LA before year's end, emotionally I'm done. At least with 20 Matches. I'm ready to start working on a new film. As of this writing, I have over a dozen ideas, but they are all half-baked. I need to pick one that excites me, and that I can also afford to make, and run with it. It would be great to have a new production going by this time next year. Stay tuned...

At Dances With Films with composer Chris Wirsig, casting director Michael LaPolla, and star Nina Rausch

Midway – Maybe – Through the Festival Circuit

It's only been two months since my last update, but a lot has happened in regards to 20 Matches' film festival journey. The screening at the Seattle International Film Festival went very well, with a huge screen and a large, appreciative audience of local movie lovers. (Sometimes you don't get many people at your screening besides other filmmakers, so Seattle's big turnout was flattering.) And I also had a great time at Dances With Films here in Hollywood, which had a gorgeous venue (the Chinese Theater!), a cool crowd, and lots of friendly filmmakers. 20 Matches star Nina Rausch and some crew members were able to attend that one, which made it extra special.

Since then, 20 Matches has played at two genre festivals, neither of which I was unable to attend: FilmQuest in Salt Lake City and the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea. The latter marked my film's international premiere, and since it's such an influential festival, I'm hoping it will lead to more. (I recently received four invitations to festivals that I hadn't even entered, as their programmers saw 20 Matches elsewhere. It's exciting news, but nothing is set in stone yet.)

Coming up next: two small festivals that are dear to my heart: the Ballston Spa Film Festival in upstate New York and the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival in Cupertino, California. Ballston Spa was the only festival to play any of my previous short films (full disclosure: it was founded by an old friend of mine, who asked to screen them), and of course Cupertino is where I grew up.

If you're in either area, 20 Matches screens at Ballston Spa on August 6 at 7pm and is free! Meanwhile, Diamond in the Rough runs September 24-25 in Cupertino. I do not yet have a screening time, but if it's on the 24th, I'll try to be there in person.

Right now I have yet to hear from 22 festivals, around 10 of which should be sending out their announcements within the next week. Most are foreign festivals that were free to enter, so my expectations are low: American shorts don't typically play at foreign festivals. (20 Matches was one of only eight US shorts in Bucheon.) But while Cupertino would make a sentimental last stop on the festival circuit – growing up, I saw so many movies at that little theater – I do hope it's not the end of the line for this film.

At the 2016 Nashville Film Festival

“20 Matches” in Seattle… and Hollywood

More film festival news: 20 Matches has been accepted into the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and Dances With Films, a well-established festival based in Hollywood. SIFF is thus far the biggest festival my film has gotten into, and like Nashville it's an Oscar qualifier. And DWF is no slouch; out of the dozens of film festivals based in and around Los Angeles, it's easily in the top 5. It's sure to be a party.

If you're in the Seattle or Los Angeles areas, come see 20 Matches on the big screen. I'll be attending both festivals in person, so you can meet me too. In Seattle, it screens at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on Friday, May 27, at 9:30pm (in the "Devil's Spawn" block of shorts). At Dances With Films, it screens at Hollywood's famous Chinese Theater on Sunday, June 5, at 5:00pm (in the "Competition Shorts 5" block).

It may be a while before I hear from any more festivals, though I did just get accepted into my first one outside the US. They haven't told me when I can make this news public, so for now I'll just say it's in Asia.

Greetings from Ashland, Oregon

Gone to Ashland, Going to Nashville

Forget what I said in my previous update: I will be at the Nashville Film Festival after all, screening 20 Matches at 9:30pm on Friday, April 22. My wife Miki talked me into it. She told me that I'd regret not going, and I agreed. So I will be there April 20-23. I'm excited. If you're in the Nashville area, please come on down, see my film, and say hello. (20 Matches screens before a feature called Maskoun that night, and also at 9:30pm on Monday April 18, though I won't be there for the Monday screening.)

As for the Ashland Independent Film Festival last weekend, it was a grand time. I highly encourage all filmmakers to submit their work there. They are incredibly well-organized and generous to their guests. Ashland is also very cute and walkable. 20 Matches screened with some great shorts, and although our audiences were relatively small – it's hard to convince Ashlanders to stay out until 11pm, it seems – those that came liked the film a lot. I hope to return to AIFF someday.

20 Matches also played very well in Sarasota and Phoenix, with my composer Chris Wirsig representing the film at the latter.

I close with this intriguing bit of news: I was just accepted into another major film festival. I can't tell you which for a few more weeks, but it's a good one, and I'll be attending.

20 Matches at Nashville and Sarasota Film Festivals

More festivals for “20 Matches”: Nashville and Sarasota

20 Matches keeps chugging along on the festival circuit. I'm now able to reveal that it will be playing at the Sarasota Film Festival this Saturday, April 2, and next Saturday, April 9, both times in front of the French feature film Disorder. (Ironically, Disorder stars Diane Kruger, whom my casting director and I had tried to contact for 20 Matches, back when we thought it was remotely possible that we could land a well-known star.) Sarasota is a nice big festival, and it's certainly an honor to be chosen to play before a feature, as opposed to being part of a block of shorts.

20 Matches was also accepted into the Nashville Film Festival, which at this point is my biggest festival yet. Nashville is one of those rare "Oscar qualifying" fests, meaning that if I win a prize there, it qualifies my film for Academy consideration. (Not that I'm actually expecting this.) As with Sarasota, I've been chosen to play before a feature: 20 Matches screens with an Arabic film called Maskoun on April 18 and April 22.

Alas, due to my limited resources, I won't be able to attend either of these wonderful festivals in person. But I will be at the Ashland Independent Film Festival next weekend, where 20 Matches will screen for four nights in a row, April 8-11. (I'll be there April 7-10.) So I'm thrilled about that. Due to a death in the family, I had to skip my film's world premiere on March 17 in Victoria, Texas, so I'm happy to be attending at least one festival this year!

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear from from twenty more fests. My running total of rejections is now at 15, while I have technically 6 acceptances. (The sixth festival isn't exactly a festival, as it turns out, but more like a monthly screening. I think. I'll tell you more if I learn more.) Fifteen rejections is a bummer, but frankly, I expected most of them (Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, anything in Europe). Of the twenty festivals I've yet to hear from, it's possible that as many as 7 or 8 will accept 20 Matches. But film, like all art, is subjective. I could be getting twenty more "no"s. Only time will tell.

20 Matches’ first three film festivals

“20 Matches” Now Headed to Film Festivals!

Residents of Ashland, OR, Phoenix, AZ, Victoria, TX, and a city I'm not allowed to name yet: 20 Matches is coming soon to a film festival in your town!

A couple of months ago, my friend Jon Stout, who's seen his share of film festivals, told me to expect to get into about 10% of the festivals that I enter. Well, as of this writing, I have submitted 20 Matches to 41 festivals... and I've already been accepted into four of them. Now, if Jon's right, that'll be it. So let's hope Jon's not right. I'm still waiting to hear from 29 festivals, but odds are good for at least a couple more acceptances. (With eight rejections so far, odds are good for more of those as well.)

The Ashland Independent Film Festival, which runs April 7-11, 2016, was the first to accept 20 Matches, and I will be there April 7-10. I love Ashland so much that I bought my plane ticket to nearby Medford within 30 minutes of being accepted into the festival.

I should note that, after entering the usual top-tier festivals like Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, and Rotterdam (all of whom turned me down), I wasn't sure where else to submit to, so MovieMaker Magazine's annual "50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" list became my guide. Ashland had made that list, and so had the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, the third festival to accept me, but the earliest to play this year. So the World Premiere of 20 Matches will be on March 17 in this small Texas town. (VTXIFF runs March 17-20.) I can't miss that, so I will be in attendance. Plus, I've always wanted to go to Texas, and Victoria's just two hours from Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. Texans, drive down and say howdy.

I certainly can't forget the International Horror & Sci Fi Film Festival, a programming arm of the larger Phoenix Film Festival, which runs concurrently. They were the second festival to accept 20 Matches, just a couple days after Ashland. This festival is held on April 7-14, 2016, but as they only screen short films April 7-10, there's a conflict with Ashland's schedule, so it's not likely that I can make it to Phoenix in time. However, the film's composer Chris Wirsig will be there to support the film, so Phoenicians and Scottsdaliens, be nice to him.

The fourth festival is a pretty big one, but I can't reveal it until March 16, as per their request. Until then...

Me, Nina Rausch, and über-backer Hans-Peter Zimmermann at the LA screening

The Year to Come

Happy 2016! Here is where I'm at with 20 Matches, since my last update:

In November I hosted two private screenings of all my short films, concluding with 20 Matches, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Each evening was quite unique, in terms of venue and audience, but I had a lot of fun at both screenings, and response to 20 Matches has been strong. I'll put it this way: nobody has yet suggested to me that they hate the film, and I'm pretty good at sniffing out hate.

I am slowly getting to the end of sculpting all 107 clay matchbox figures for my Indiegogo backers who ordered them, with just 23 left to make. I've had a good time creating these figures, and everyone seems to like them (some have gone positively bananas over them), but I'll be so glad to be done with this. A lot of crowdfunded filmmakers disappoint on the fulfillment process, but I won't be one of them, dammit.

As for film festivals, I happily underestimated how much money I had left in the Indiegogo till, and how many inexpensive entry fees (including free ones) I'd come across, so as of this writing I have submitted 20 Matches to 29 festivals, and can afford to enter at least 10 more, depending on submission fees. (I'm no longer bothering with those festivals that charge $50+ to submit.) So far no acceptance letters have come in, but it's still very early in the game.

Finally, I just added a proper page for 20 Matches, mostly to acknowledge all my backers by name, as I promised to do in my crowdfunding campaign.

No other film plans are on the immediate horizon, but who knows what the future holds?

A still from the finished version of 20 Matches

“20 Matches” all finished

As of September 17, 2015, less than two months after we shot it, 20 Matches is done. Music (by Chris Wirsig) is done. Editing (by Dustin Frost) is done. Credits (by William Lebeda) are done. Everything is done! Now comes the grueling part: entering it into festivals. Thankfully, my Indiegogo backers were so generous that I have enough money in the till to submit to 17-18 major festivals before the film's budget officially runs dry. I've already submitted to five of the biggest ones; if there is any good news to report, I will, of course, share it here. But regardless of whether I get accepted anywhere, I am proud of this film. I think it's creepy, moody, beautiful, and thought-provoking.

One of these days, if I can figure it out, I'll create a separate page for 20 Matches on this website, since I promised my Indiegogo backers that I would thank them all on such a page. Until then, I do have a trailer on my short films page. Please take a look. (The actual film won't be posted publicly online for at least another year; I want to keep it under wraps while I submit it to festivals, though my backers will soon get to view it privately.)

Everything else is going well. In August I celebrated 10 years of marriage with my lovely wife Miki, I'm writing the content for this fun tie-in website for The Last Witch Hunter, and I'm still plugging away for Fandango and some other clients. That's all for now. Enjoy your autumn!

20 Matches: Nina Rausch and hot-headed costar

“20 Matches” – It’s a Wrap!

We did it. We shot 20 Matches.

"We" in this case is me and the extremely talented German-born, Los Angeles-based actress Nina Rausch, along with our equally talented crew: director of photography Marianne Williams, costume designer Mary Wuliger, casting director Michael LaPolla, production sound mixer Brent McClain (who also worked on Party Pooper and Ron and Nancy), key makeup artist Keely Maroney, and Marianne's camera assistant, who wishes to remain anonymous because he only wants the public to know about his actual DP credits. (Showbiz people! But seriously, he was a nice guy and good to work with.)

It was a one-day shoot in Burbank on Sunday, July 26. And we really did light the whole film only with matches, one at a time. (The Sony a7S is remarkable for low-lighting situations.)

Now it's up to the editor, composer, and post production supervisor to work their magic. (I'm keeping their names under wraps for now until I sign their contracts, but I'll talk more about them once the film is done.) The editor is already progressing quickly, and I'm hoping that the film will be finished by September 3, so I can start entering it into festivals.

Once again I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the good people, friends and strangers, who backed 20 Matches on Indiegogo last March. Whether you came in at $2 or $500 or anywhere in between, it was greatly appreciated, and your money was put to good use. I hope you will soon agree that you helped me make a strong, compelling, and truly unique film.

A still from the test shoot

Prepping “20 Matches”

I was going to wait until after we shot 20 Matches before posting an update, and then I realized that I hadn't said anything about the film since March! I hate it when people don't update their blogs, so I figured I'll say something now, then tell you more in a month or so.

In short, over the last three months the film has slowly been gathering steam. I hired a cinematographer, a casting director, a sound recorder, a post production supervisor, and (most likely) a composer. I have a place to shoot, and of course I have a budget, thanks to my generous Indiegogo backers. Now I just need an actress, and that should happen shortly: we are holding auditions this Tuesday. If all goes well, we will shoot the film on Saturday, July 25th. I'm very excited about both events.

Meanwhile, my DP and I shot a test film in late May, to see what kind of camera to use. The actress in the still is my friend Rachel, who was kind enough to help out that night. For those who are interested, we used the Sony a7S, which excels in low-light scenarios, and we plan to use it again on the 25th. The other goal of the shoot was for me to cobble together a rough edit, sort of a "live-action animatic", to determine where I should place the camera for each shot, so we're not scrambling on the 25th. I've been busy, and lazy, and haven't gotten to editing it yet. I am filled with shame.

20 Matches is actually a creative project with three different fronts: along with making the film itself, I've been painstakingly sculpting little 2-inch-tall Sculpey matchbox figures for my Indiegogo backers (see, the matchboxes are tie-ins with the film) as well as designing and printing the T-shirts, which turned out to be a bigger production than I expected. Thankfully, all 100+ shirts are now finished, and I'm mailing them out as I can, usually with the clay figures as I complete them.

Along with all the 20 Matches work, I'm still working as a freelance writer for Fandango.com, and am plugging away at a couple of other freelance gigs. It's a busy summer.

 

20 Matches

“20 Matches” – Funded!

The 20 Matches Indiegogo campaign came to a close on March 4th, and I ultimately raised $7,120 (well, technically $7,140 – someone mailed me $20). As you can see if you read my previous update, I didn't believe that I'd even raise $6,000, so I am quite pleasantly surprised – and humbled – by support and generosity that this campaign engendered, mostly from friends and fans, but also from a handful of strangers.

Now I just need to make this film.

The next step is to finesse the script, make a valiant attempt to get it into the hands of a well-known German actress, and if that doesn't work out then I will start casting around for the best actress I can find. Ideally I will finish casting in early May and shoot shortly after that, finishing post production in the summer.

Happily, so much money was raised in the campaign that I should have plenty to spend on screenings and film festival submissions. Anything to get this spooky little short out there. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of time making the perks for my backers – I have around 100 tiny clay sculpted figures that I need to produce. It's daunting, as each one takes at least 2 hours to do, but I wanted the campaign and fulfillment efforts to be as creative as the filmmaking process itself.

Don’t you want this T-shirt?

The “20 Matches” Indiegogo campaign is live!

Yesterday I quietly launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $1,000 for 20 Matches (click here to take a look at it)... and within two and a half hours, the whole thing was funded! Now, less than 24 hours later, I'm at over $2,000, and the campaign still has 19 days to go. (I thought I'd be clever by giving it a 20-day length.)

Whereas last year's ambitious Kickstarter campaign failed to raise $120,000 for Dial 9 to Get Out, now I'm in an opposite but equally awkward situation, asking for money when I theoretically no longer need it.

Of course, I hope enough additional contributions will come in to pay for a theatrical screening of 20 Matches and all the other short films I've made in the last decade, so that's one reason to keep banging the drum.

Also, a film is like the proverbial goldfish that grows as you increase the size of its fishbowl: I told people that I could make 20 Matches for $1,000, and I can. But I could also make it for $10,000 – or, rather, $6,000, which is more or less the maximum I can raise from this campaign. That would get me nicer camera and sound equipment, a more experienced (and thus more expensive) crew, a longer shoot time, a studio to film in, and more money to spend on film festival submissions. While $6,000 is not a likely scenario, I am curious to see how high I can get.

For now, at least I can relax in the knowledge that this film is fully financed. Now I just have to worry about producing all the perks.

20 Matches will look something like this.

Igniting “20 Matches”

We're now in 2015, and boy, do I feel stupid. My previous update, written way back in July, stated rather confidently that I'd make a new short film – specifically, a creepy little story called 20 Matches – in 2014. Obviously that did not happen. Let me explain.

This short has been on the back burner for years. I wrote it for an actress friend of mine who lives in Vienna. (The story is about a Vienna-based serial killer.) At the time, it seemed likely that she'd be able to fly out to Los Angeles and shoot it. But she's now an in-demand actress throughout Europe. Great for her, not so great for me. Simply put, she won't have time to come out here for the foreseeable future. So we decided that the project should go on without her.

The script is done, barring some fine-tuning of the dialogue, and the photo of me at left is more or less what 20 Matches will look like – only with an actress. The entire short will be match-lit.

I am now forcing myself to rise above the apathy of the world – and my own laziness – and make this film. To this end, I'll be launching an IndieGogo campaign to raise $1,000 for it next month. That's a bold statement, since I haven't even started putting the campaign together, but I can do it. I just have to shoot an intro video and design some of the perks, which should turn out cool. (I'll be hand-sculpting tiny matchbox figures in the likeness of certain backers, or of whomever they wish.)

Why not use Kickstarter again, like I did last year for Dial 9 to Get Out? Because for a micro-budgeted short that will eventually get made anyway, IndieGogo's "flexible funding" option is the better way to fundraise. In other words, if I fail to raise the entire $1,000, I'll still be able to use what I do raise to make a better looking and sounding short. I would never have used IndieGogo to fund Dial 9 because there was no way I'd have been able to pay for the balance of the film's $100,000 budget out of my pocket. (The Kickstarter campaign only raised about $42,000.) In contrast, even if I come up $500 short for 20 Matches, I can handle the rest. The film will get made.

Until then...

With my wife Miki at the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

No film news, but keeping busy

My silence here over the last three months hasn't been due to post-Kickstarter depression or anything. In fact, as you can see from the photo (the wife and I took a lovely trip to Spain and Italy in early May), I've been doing just fine.

There has been essentially zero fallout, negative or positive, from the Kickstarter disappointment. No post-campaign offers of funding from charitable friends or strangers. As far as Dial 9 to Get Out is concerned, I am back at square one. I did at least try to turn my loss into someone else's gain, so I wrote two well-received articles about my experiences on Indiewire, for whom I continue to write.

Speaking of writing for websites, earlier this year I was hired as a freelance writer for Fandango.com. It's been keeping me busy. I get paid to work from home doing essentially what I've been doing, unpaid, on this site for years: researching movie trivia and then writing about it. My work includes photo galleries, personality quizzes (yep, I get paid to write this stuff), multiple choice quizzes, and other interactive content. (Lots of links in that last sentence; click away!) It's a good gig, and I'm happy that it landed in my lap, just as I was once again pondering whether I will finally need to get a regular full-time job again.

I've also gotten other freelance writing jobs for opening sequences for big studio movies. I can't say what those movies are, as two are not out yet. The third was just released, and let's just say it has to do with dawn, a planet, and apes. But I don't think much of my actual work made it into the final cut of that one. Still, I got paid.

I do have lots of solid ideas for new short films. The only person I'm waiting on is me. I have to start the planning process: finding actors I want to work with, scouting locations, and landing a new cinematographer as I am not a good cameraman. Once I commit to a short and start assembling the elements, it should come together fairly quickly. The most immediately filmable short is a serial killer story called 20 Matches. In fact, why don't I just say this right now: I will make all attempts to get this particular film in the can before year's end.

A still from a 1928 film appropriately titled “What Next?”

After the Kickstarter, What Next?

The Kickstarter campaign for Dial 9 to Get Out is now over. We raised nearly $42,000 over the past month, but it wasn't enough to fund the film. Too bad, as I had a lot of fun on the campaign, and I think Dial 9 would make an excellent movie. We (meaning, frankly, I - though I've had help come and go) might go back to the old "raise individual investments" route to get the film financed, but we'll see.

In any event, I do have several short film ideas that are easily doable for no money. All I need to do is write the scripts, which will be easy, then find the right actors and locations. So while I may be throwing in the towel on shameless self-promotion, I'll still be making films, which is what I really love to do. And to be honest, right now the concept of quietly posting new short videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and not bothering to tell anyone about them, greatly appeals to me. People would then discover those videos out of chance and curiosity alone. If a video is only watched five times, but watched in earnest, that's fine by me.

The Internet is full of people desperate to be "Like"d. I don't want to be one of those people. I just want to make movies.

The film’s first victim, and her killers

Animating interest in Dial 9 to Get Out

The Dial 9 to Get Out Kickstarter campaign has just nine days left to go. Facing somewhat insurmountable odds in raising a remaining $90,000 by April 3rd, I spent the last week drawing and animating a funny 2-minute pitch video, which rushes through the first half of the DIAL 9 storyline.

You are welcome to view it on YouTube. Share it with friends and so on. It's actually pretty entertaining. And yes, the actual feature film will be live action.

For those of you just coming into this and somehow unaware that there is a Kickstarter campaign going on for my third feature, better check out the campaign and pledge a little something if you want to see this movie get made! Lots of nice rewards and amusing updates every day. But you only have nine days to help. Thanks!

The Kickstarter splash image. The film’s tagline: “Temping can be murder.”

Dial 9 is now live on Kickstarter!

It's been a very exciting day: After months of cautious planning, this morning I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Dial 9 to Get Out. That right there is the link you need to click on to see it.

The page itself was a lot of fun to build and hopefully you will enjoy looking at it, especially the intro video. We shot that on the set of the TV show Castle, which my producer Meta Valentic works on. Scott Spears, who was the cinematographer on Foreign Correspondents, shot the creepy hallway footage that opens the video. Christopher Farrell, who scored both of my features as well as my recent short A Trophy, contributed some scary music. And my good friend William Lebeda, who did the titles for my features as well as for half the Hollywood movies you've seen in recent years (he's Creative Director at Picture Mill), designed some fabulous titles.

All four of these talented people will work on the Dial 9 production - if we get the project funded.

So for those of you reading this who I'm not otherwise in touch with, I encourage you to visit the page, get the word out, share the link, become a backer, and so on. This is going to be a really dark, funny, over-the-top film with great characters, crisp dialogue, and lots of juicy tension. If you liked Claustrophobia, this is going to be about 50 times better than Claustrophobia.

We have until April 3 to raise $120,000. It was a stellar day today, in that we raised $4,000 in just the first eight hours. If we keep up this momentum, we can hit that goal. But I am very aware that the first day of a crowdfunding campaign is typically one of the biggest days, thanks to friends and loved ones helping out. So I'm already preparing for those grim times when I only raise $5 a day. But if the word spreads, that may not happen.

So spread the word!

The Chicago Tribune on my first crowdfunding efforts, 1999

Reviving Dial 9 to Get Out – Via Kickstarter

I think it's safe to finally tell you all that I am embarking on a Kickstarter campaign very soon, in hopes of raising the $100,000+ that I need to shoot my long-gestating third feature, the darkly comic thriller Dial 9 to Get Out. The only thing left to do is shoot my intro video, and I'm currently waiting for the resources to fall in place for that. If all goes well, the shoot could happen next week. Then as soon as I have the video edited, we'll go live with the campaign.

Why did I take so long to embrace the idea of crowdfunding Dial 9 - especially since I basically invented film crowdfunding (back in late 1997, when I launched my site for Foreign Correspondents)? Well, the thing is, I simply didn't consider this option until a few months ago.

Looking back at the smattering of media attention I received in 1999 over how I raised money for ForCor, I did wonder why crowdfunding - and of course, the term hadn't been invented yet - didn't take off right after that. According to Wikipedia (more reputable accounts of other early crowdfunding efforts are scarce), it would be five more years before another filmmaker dared to raise money online. My guess as to how this fallow period came about? The dot-com crash of early 2000. After that fiasco, all the people who had once insisted that their Pets.com stock would make them millionaires went off to lick their wounds while the economy recovered. Meanwhile, no filmmaker would dream of asking for money from total strangers online. And so the concept would lay dormant for a while.

The funniest thing is that, because ForCor's financial adventures were so long ago, I actually overlooked my own role in the history of crowdfunding, once the term began being used in earnest. I didn't make the connection until about a year ago.

That said, I'm excited about my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. Whether or not it's successful, it should at least be a memorable experience.

As for A Trophy and its film festival fortunes, I have no good news to share. I entered it into 17 festivals, with my final submission going out on December 31st. I decided I wouldn't waste any more time or money on this in 2014. Since then, I've gotten the first round of rejection form letters. The ones from foreign festivals weren't very painful, as they were all free or cheap to enter, and have a prejudice against American films anyway. (Don't believe me? Check this out: Barcelona's Mecal short film festival accepted 350 entries for 2014; only 2 were from the US. Tampere, Finland's highly-regarded festival? 61 shorts total, only 1 of them American. And so on.)

Even if I get nowhere with the festivals, it's been educational. Mostly, I've learned how it's like playing the lottery. I looked at the stats for the 2014 festivals who have announced their lineups. In many cases, these fests received over 4,000 short film submissions - for fewer than 100 final slots. Typically, only about 1.5% of the submitted shorts get accepted. A refreshingly candid festival director I spoke with confessed that while a third of the films he gets each year are simply terrible, perhaps a tenth are truly great films, all worthy of his festival (one of the major ones in the US) - and yet he has to reject 75% of those great films!

So as you can see, it's almost the luck of the draw: whether the interns randomly assigned to your film take a fancy to it, whether the highly argumentative selection committee can come to an agreement on it, whether your subject matter fits the festival's various agendas for that year, and of course whether favors are owed to other filmmakers, who can gobble up a healthy portion of those coveted slots.

Long blog post short: At this point, I'm not counting on any festival love for A Trophy (especially as its main character, a film festival winner, is not a particularly sympathetic person). But I'm glad I tried. And it is a good film, dammit.