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Joan Didion’s Story To be Told, Thanks to Blockbuster Kickstarter Campaign

Joan Didion's Story To be Told, Thanks to Blockbuster Kickstarter Campaign

The new documentary about the life and work of Joan Didion, “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live,” set out to raise $80,000 on Kickstarter and hit its goal within a little over 24 hours. The campaign runs until November 21st and has already raised closed to $178,000.

According to the Kickstarter page, the film will trace “the arc of Joan’s life through her own writings, and in her own voice.” The filmmakers have already shot 60 hours of footage, primarily of Joan. They plan to interview her famous friends, family members and colleagues, including Patti Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Allison Janney, Graydon Carter, Robert Silvers and Bret Easton Ellis.

Indiewire recently spoke to Griffin Dunne, the Academy Award-nominated director, actor and producer — who also happens to be Didion’s nephew. Dunne will co-direct the project with award-winning documentary filmmaker Susanne Rostock (“Sing Your Song”).

Did you always plan to crowdfund the project? 

The inception of this was that Joan suggested to Simon & Schuster that I direct a video that goes with the promotion of “Blue Nights,” so they gave us some money, so Joan and I and Suzanne Rostock, who I was working on with another project – she’s a very talented edited and director – we just went out with Joan and we chose passages from the book we wanted to do and put together a kind of audio book for the eyes. It was kind of a visual representation of the words and capturing grief and in “Blue Nights”‘ case, the post-grief that that book was about, the loss of [Joan’s daughter] Quintana, with some years in reflection. Despite the sadness of the material, we had a great time making it….Once we showed it to Joan and Simon & Schuster and her friends and her agent, everyone really thought at the same time, “Why isn’t there a documentary? Why hasn’t there been a documentary made? And why shouldn’t we continue this?”

READ MORE: 9 Kickstarter-Funded Films from 2014 That Deserve Your Attention

What were your first steps after that?

The next step was asking Joan how she felt about that, if she would give permission for such a thing, to which she agreed. I wanted to get started right away so I pretty much funded this out of my own pocket a good deal of all of the things we did next. We went to get some more money. We went to pitch various different investors and specialty houses that specialize in documentaries and grants. And as popular and as enormous as this response has been, at the time making a documentary about Joan Didion was a tough sell in this day. Quite candidly, we couldn’t really get the money.

So how did you decide on Kickstarter?

My cousin Annabelle [Dunne], who is producing this with us, turned us on to the idea of going to Kickstarter. She made it all happen. She made the introductions. They were incredibly excited about it, the people at Kickstarter. We had shot a presentational film with the pitch and we asked for not much money deliberately, because we were told that if you ask for too much and you come in even a penny under, you lose it.

I guess we underestimated how overwhelmingly huge the response would be, because we well surpassed the goal. It’s just incredible. Apparently, it’s understood among people in crowdfunding that you keep giving, that the goal was just an arbitrary figure. Despite how much money it is, of course, we’re still going to always need more. But our plan is to get us to a rough cut that we could put together on our own terms. We obviously would have some creative freedom to do this as opposed to being somewhere else where we wouldn’t.

Did Joan have any hesitations about doing a documentary on her life?

I know she has in the past, because it’s never been done and I’m sure she’s been asked. It was about four seconds between the time I asked and the time she answered where I couldn’t tell from the expression on her face whether it would be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ But she said ‘yes.’ I think the fact that I’m family and have obviously made films, had a real comfort level for her and she knows that because it’s about her life, the audiences are either going to be people whose lives and perceptions of the world were affected by what’s she’s written or to garner new fans. It’s going to be very much about her words and her essays and her essays are about herself and her life. It’s very much like we’re using the material of her life to tell the story of her life.

What was her reaction to the fact that the money was raised so quickly?

So incredibly touched. The first few days we were just given her bulletins and she couldn’t believe it. Crowdfunding and Kickstarter, this is all new to her. Annabelle and I went to her apartment to show her the presentation. We didn’t ask if we could do this and then shoot the presentation. We shot the presentation and then asked her so she could see how we were going to present it. And she really liked it. She liked how I described our approach would be and the way it was put together. She knew nothing about Kickstarter, but she really was incredibly touched by the mounting love coming her way in the comments and in dollars and cents.

Watch the Kickstarter campaign video below and visit the campaign page here.

READ MORE: D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus Turn to Kickstarter to Fund Their Latest Documentary

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