Kit Williamson is the creator of webseries "Eastsiders," which just raised $150,000 on Kickstarter for its second season. The first season of "Eastsiders" is available on DVD August 12th.
As storytellers, we are all familiar with how narratives are carefully constructed and presented to an audience. As denizens of the internet we are all aware of the ways in which we curate our public images on social media, highlighting our achievements and downplaying our disappointments. At this point it’s common knowledge that some of our friends haven’t changed their profile photos in half a decade (and let’s be honest it was probably retouched in the first place), yet no amount of recognition of this reality (or lack thereof) can erase the sinking feeling in our collective guts that our peers are so much more successful than we are. They make it look effortless. So why is it so hard for us to achieve the same ends?
Shooting the first season of EastSiders on a budget of less than $30,000 was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It didn’t help matters that at the time I was enrolled in classes full time at UCLA finishing my MFA, teaching a technical theatre class and working weekends at a restaurant in Echo Park. I was also secretly shooting season six of Mad Men, with an incredibly intimidating confidentiality agreement. I couldn’t afford to let any of these opportunities drop without losing something incredibly important to me— I was essentially juggling chainsaws and my hand slipped on more than one occasion.
All that anyone sees now are the end results. EastSiders was picked up from YouTube to air on Logo Online, and then broadcast as a feature on the cable channel. We won the LA Weekly Award for Best Web Drama, Best Ensemble at the Indie Series Awards and were nominated for a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy, and this Summer we will be coming out on VOD and DVD through Wolfe Video. But the journey from script to sound mix was filled with dozens of setbacks and defeats.
During production of EastSiders we lost actors, crew and locations, sometimes the day of a shoot. When you don’t have any money it’s very difficult to lock down availability. We had film equipment break that we couldn’t afford to replace. Many people made promises that they didn’t keep and abandoned the project when we needed them the most, or worse, stayed involved but refused to adhere to time sensitive deadlines. I was so stressed out that I broke out in hives all over my body. I gained ten pounds. My health took a nosedive and I contracted a gum infection— I didn’t even know people got gum infections. I crashed my car. Twice. But through it all I did my best to present an image of success and ease, both on social media and in real life. I think, in part, I was afraid that people would take me less seriously if they knew just how fucking hard it all was. It sounds oxymoronic until you consider that I live in LA, land of a million web series, where the majority of people you meet are looking for any opportunity to dismiss you as unworthy of their attention. But I’m confident enough now in what I’m doing to admit that I sacrificed a lot, I rarely slept, I lived in squalor and I regularly forgot to feed my cat.
I’m not gloating; if I could do it all over again I would’ve much preferred a contained, focused process where I wasn’t spread in a thousand different directions. Fortunately, we are going to have the opportunity to do just that this Summer when we reconvene to shoot season two. Thanks to the benevolent spirit of the internet we were able to raise more than $150,000 on Kickstarter. It’s truly a dream come true, and I am so grateful for the opportunity, but I can tell you firsthand that there is no such thing as free money.
Raising $150,000 via crowdfunding was a dream come true. It was also fucking hard.
All that remains of our campaign now is our Kickstarter page, shining like a beautiful monument erected years ago to commemorate a battle no one remembers, but for a month my partner John Halbach and I were logging 12-14 hour days at the office, emailing everyone we’d ever met (and a lot of people we hadn’t) asking them to donate and share the link, share the link, share the link, not to mention the video shoots, the constant photoshopping of social media assets and the months of careful planning beforehand. I stayed up nights coming up with new campaign strategies and constantly reworking our analytics. There were dark, dark days where we felt completely cut off from everyone we knew. Members of our team dropped off the face of the earth throughout the campaign, like they were being picked off one by one in a horror movie. Many friends doubted us and a shocking number refused to even acknowledge us when we wrote to them. We also had to overcome a lot negativity and vitriol hurled our way by people who didn’t feel we had a right to go back to Kickstarter after having our first season picked up for distribution.
The truth is, we came back to Kickstarter because we had exhausted all other options available to us in terms of funding. What could’ve been a crippling defeat turned into an incredible opportunity for the show to reach an even bigger audience. Many of our backers had never heard of the show until our campaign and new people are writing to us about the show every day since the campaign closed. I am so excited to return to make another season of EastSiders, especially with enough money to pay everyone working on the show decent wages, but I am certain of one thing:
The road ahead will be fucking hard.
With an increased budget there will be new challenges to overcome. With every hydra head we chop off, two more grow in its place. But I suspect filmmaking will always be fucking hard, for the rest of my fucking career, because I want every fucking project to build off the last. I don’t want to rest on the perception of success, I want to aim higher with each new project. I want to carry my micro budget experiences with me and wear them proudly like battle scars. I want to define my success by how much of myself I committed to pursuing my dreams, not by how effortless I was able to make it appear. I want to earn my place in this industry, and I want people to know that it wasn’t easy— but it was worth it.