The golden age of independent film financing was over long before I finished school, but I see nostalgia for it everywhere I look. Gone are the days where you can credibly expect your micro budget LGBT film to easily turn a profit, so how do you attract investors? Increasingly, LGBT filmmakers are turning to crowdfunding to get their films made, and the thunderous support these campaigns are receiving is proof that there is still a demand for these kinds of projects. I’m a vocal advocate for this model. This Summer I wrote a piece for the Filmmaker Forum outlining how I raised $150,000 on Kickstarter for the second season of my web series EastSiders. As challenging as it was, without the support from two Kickstarter campaigns there is no way I would have been able to make the series.
In the last ten years, Casper Andreas has directed a number of high profile, award-winning LGBT films, including Going Down in LA-LA Land, Violet Tendencies, The Big Gay Musical, Between Love and Goodbye, A Four Letter Word and Slutty Summer.Anyone who has made an independent film can tell you that it’s a challenge, but what’s even more impressive than Casper’s body of work is the fact that all six of his films have had a limited theatrical release in the US and were released on VOD and DVD worldwide. Many were also broadcast on television. By combining his filmmaking abilities with business savvy, Casper was able to carve out a niche within the independent film market and provide a road map for other filmmakers looking to bring attention to their work. But the road to repaying your investors is more hazardous than ever, and Casper has turned to Kickstarter to make sure that his next film becomes a reality.
Andreas is teaming up with Such Good People screenwriter David Michael Barrett to collaborate on the upcoming feature film Kiss Me, Kill Me, an Alfred Hitchcock/Agatha Christie-style “Who-done-it” set in West Hollywood. The film stars Gale Harold (Queer as Folk), Van Hansis (As the World Turns, EastSiders) and an amazing ensemble cast that I’m thrilled to be a part of. I’m also serving as a consulting producer on the film. It’s a departure from Casper’s other work in a number of ways, but perhaps most notably, the film is being financed through a Kickstarter campaign, which just passed it’s $100,000 goal with two days remaining. I sat down with Casper to ask him about navigating the world of traditional financing and the changing landscape of LGBT film.
Barrett’s previous film Such Good People, starring Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) and Randy Harrison (Queer as Folk) was financed through two successful campaigns.
You have directed six gay-themed features before, several of them that had a lot of success. I remember going to see your movies at the Chelsea Clearview while I was in school in NYC and thinking how amazing it was that gay indie films could achieve that kind of audience. After making so many movies through traditional financing, why are you using Kickstarter to fund your new movie Kiss Me, Kill Me?
It’s true, I was able to make several movies in a short period of time because I kept my budgets low and worked very hard to pay back my investors, which meant that many of them returned to invest multiple times. My last feature, GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, was probably my most successful film in terms of number of viewers, but I’m having a hard time paying back my investors because of how the entire film market has changed.
What’s different this time around?
As we all know it’s increasingly hard to make any money with a theatrical release for smaller film. I opened all my previous films theatrically, mostly with the idea that it would help sell DVDs. But these days, the DVD market is disappearing, and it’s become more difficult to make back even a few hundred thousand dollars on a small film. More and more people are watching films on streaming service, like Netflix or Amazon Prime. That’s great for exposure, of course, but one of the consequences is people are not willing to pay even a few dollars to watch something on iTunes. If you are not on Netflix, or steaming for free on Hulu or Amazon, well then most people just watch something else. And the sad truth is that Netflix pays independent filmmakers very little for their films. I’m talking in the tens of thousands, if you are lucky.
What role do you think piracy is playing in all this?
Don’t get me started on illegal downloads! Almost everyone is doing it. I don’t do it out of principle but almost everyone I know does it and no one sees a problem with it. At the end of last year, I realized that someone had posted GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND on YouTube a month earlier, and it already had almost 100,000 views. There were also a lot of great comments from viewers thanking the guy for posting and saying how much they loved the film. Now, if I had gotten just $1.00 for each of those views that would have been half the budget. But of course I got nothing. YouTube allows filmmakers to file a complaint and they will take the film down, but all my films are available at endless of other sites based in Russia, or wherever, sites that are making a lot of money on Google ads by making stolen films available for free.
So what can filmmakers do about it?
Very little, it seems, until the laws are changed so that those sites can be blocked. That’s why I haven’t attempted to produce a film for a few years because I felt I couldn’t go back to my investors and ask them to put money into an endeavor that I no longer believed was financially sound. But this is why I think crowd-funding is crucial to the survival of independent cinema, unless we get government grants for filmmaking — and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Another option is to make films for tiny budgets and look at it as a hobby. But for me, who has already made six features, it’s important to grow as a filmmaker and make more ambitious films, not smaller ones.
You set a $100,000 goal on Kickstarter. If you don’t reach your goal you get nothing. Why set such an ambitious goal and why not do it on Indiegogo where you get to keep what you raise even if you fail to reach your goal?
Statistically Kickstarter campaigns reach their goals much more often than Indiegogo campaigns, so that was one reason to go with Kickstarter. I think there is less urgency for the filmmakers as well as for the supporters when there isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. But the main reason was that we need that $100K to green-light this film. This is an ambitious project, a very stylized murder mystery. What would we have done if we raised $30K on Indiegogo? Made the movie for $30,000? I didn’t see that as an option at all. The only way this movie will happen is if the campaign is a success.
We believe we have put together a very exciting project and hope enough people will support it to make it happen. Believe me, my producing partner David Michael Barrett, who also wrote the screenplay, and I have spend months preparing this campaign, casting the film, etc. With all the amazing actors that we got onboard, including Gale Harold, Van Hansis, Brianna Brown, Tom Lenk, Yolonda Ross, we are hoping that there will be enough interest to get this film made.
You’ve passed your goal with two days to go, but can you share a little bit about what it was like in the middle of the campaign? I think a lot of people focus on the success stories and forget just how challenging the road to success can be. Be honest, were you stressed out of your mind?
Yes! David calls it the Kickstarter-diet. He claims to have lost tons of weight during the last three weeks. This is very stressful. Trying to get the word out, and getting people to help us get the word out, and encouraging everyone we know to support us, takes its toll. But we tried to stay positive. Last week we still needed $30,000. $30,000 in one week is a lot of money, but we were hoping people would come out in the last few days and push us over the finish line.
You are pitching this as a gay Agatha Christie/Hitchcock style murder mystery. What does that mean exactly? And what got you excited about this script?
Well it’s a who-done-it with multiple suspects. And it’s up to our hero, who is the prime suspect, to figure out who killed his boyfriend. The plan is to make a very suspenseful movie and to shoot it in noir-style. I have made several gay romantic comedies before, a relationship drama, and a musical. I often get sent scripts telling stories very similar to the ones I already told. When I read this script I got very excited because it’s very different from anything I’ve ever done.
What do you think is the future of LGBT indie film?
I think there will always be new queer filmmakers passionate about telling their stories. I think most of those films will be made on tiny budgets, because of everything we’ve already discussed. I sometimes hear audiences complain that American queer films have very low quality. Well, I don’t think that will change unless more people go out there and support these films financially. Gay audiences deserve films by queer filmmakers who tell our stories. But the general population will not go out of their way to watch these films, not with so many viewing options available these days, so it’s up to us to support this type of work.
Can people still participate?
The campaign is still live for two more days. We are now trying to raise money for a stretch goal to improve the overall production value and get better equipment. There are also a bunch of other rewards available, like DVDs, T-shirts, signed posters, my collection of films, pitch meetings, speaking roles, etc. People can visit www.KissMeKillMeMovie.com to find out more.