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The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women’s Picture ‘Farah Goes Bang’

The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang'

There’s a metaphor I like to use about what I see as my feminist imperative in filmmaking: our culture tells women that there are only so many rungs on the ladder for us, wrongly framing female ambition as a zero-sum game, encouraging us to knock each other down in order to ascend. My every cell has always rejected that premise, and never more than now: because I’ve spent the last five years building a new ladder with some of the most incredible women I know. That ladder is a feature film called “Farah Goes Bang,” distributed in partnership with a company called Seed&Spark, and as a proliferation of women-led ventures, we’re here to recruit you.

As a writer, producer, and general mover and shaker, I often feel like about 70% of my email traffic exists somewhere in the favor economy: a friend asking me for an introduction to another friend, me asking a friend for an introduction to one of their friends, apartment hunts and newsletters and pitches and lots of crowdfunding campaigns. I take this favor economy seriously for the obvious reasons: Everybody knows that people hire their friends. Everyone remembers a good turn done well with no concrete promise of return. I like to be a helpful, reliable person in general, and I also once raised $81,160 on the internet, so I’ll be repaying that karmic debt for a while, too. I do favors out of love for the askers, out of gratitude for those done for me in the past, and in anticipation of those I’ll inevitably need in the future.

There’s a subtler shade to this favor economy, though. As women, a minority population within the filmmaking community, we all know we’re fighting for our lives, and livelihoods, out there. Every one of us knows how awful the statistics are for women writers, directors, and producers (not to mention composers, ADs, DPs, grips, gaffers…), and every one of us is hoping to beat those stats. We help each other wherever we can because we want to make it just a little easier for our friends, and because we’re hoping those friends who do gain influence might remember the help we once provided. We batten down the hatches for each other because we know we’re all going to take a few punches to the face if we really want to succeed.

There are two women in my camp on whom I’ve betted everything: an old friend, and a newer one. Meera Menon and I met as undergraduate thespians at Columbia; she starred in the first play I ever wrote, which was both badly written and proved very important to the course of my future. She and I became easy friends and collaborators: I played a hooker in her first short film, she sold tickets at my next play, we wrote and directed a few more short films together, we shared a Brooklyn apartment and a lot of maniac late-night art projects, all peppered with laughter and endless conversation. From the earliest stages of our relationship, we knew we were always on call for each other, and at an equally early point, I knew that Meera had the kind of talent and commitment a girl could bank on.

When Meera and I banded together and decided to make “Farah Goes Bang,” we became entirely reliant on each other in the most complex and often confounding ways. I have sat at her kitchen table and filed for an EIN and formed an LLC. She has held back my hair as I threw up from morning sickness at film festivals all across the country.

Together, we have navigated the adventures of jointly shared credit card debt, hiring and firing decisions, engagements and marriages, press interviews and ad buys, and sensations both fleeting and chronic of doubt, poverty, frustration, and exhaustion. There were so many times we both wanted someone else to give us the answer, and every time, we had to find it within ourselves and in each other. No one gave us permission to make a movie. We did it because we couldn’t stand the thought of not doing it. No studio would back us, so we built an independent women-led business venture, and we used it to make an independent women-powered feature film.

About three weeks after we wrapped production on “Farah Goes Bang,” still shattered and recovering at home, I got an invitation to drinks with a girl named Emily Best. Emily had previously been e-introduced to me by another old friend, who’d said of her: “Emily Best is many things. She knows things. I’m pretty sure you both have connections that could help the other out immensely.” Over cocktails, Emily and I shared war stories, bonded over the many trials and tribulations of being a producer, and described our next moves to each other: I was trying to raise investment capital for post-production of “Farah Goes Bang,” and Emily was trying to raise even more investment capital for her start-up tech/film company, Seed&Spark. We recognized in each other smart, savvy women who were hustling their tits off in not one, not two, but three man’s worlds—film, business, and technology—and I think we both immediately knew we would be both valuable and close to each other. We exchanged a million contacts, lined up a never-ending list of mutual favors to do each other, and became fast friends.

Emily’s energy and efficiency are so vast that I fear I may never catch up to, let alone reciprocate, the number of favors she’s done me since that fateful cocktails confabulation—and what’s more, those favors chart a map of the entire Farah Goes Bang road trip. First, Emily donated to and consulted on FGB’s Kickstarter campaign. Then, following its success, she recruited me to write a strategy article for Seed&Spark, “Campaign Like You Mean It: 8 Ways to Crowdfund Hard.” She attended our Tribeca premiere and made further festival connections for us. We met for drinks and screenings in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Minneapolis; we liked to joke that even though we lived in different cities, we both traveled so much we saw each other more than we saw our friends at home.

After “Farah Goes Bang” premiered at Tribeca, where Meera was honored with the festival’s first Nora Ephron Prize for distinction in filmmaking by a woman, we were positive that a major festival premiere and a major award win would ensure our distribution prospects. We were patently, and at times heartbreakingly, wrong. Despite the continuing best efforts of an ever-growing team, as well as a few unappealing offers from traditional distributors, it became clear that “Farah Goes Bang”’s channel to a wider audience wasn’t going to come easily. Once again, we were going to have to find the answer within ourselves. Luckily for us, the independent film distribution landscape is currently evolving at the speed of technology, and while Meera and I were building our humble empire, Emily was busy building her own.

It was at first casually that Emily mentioned to me, “You know I want to distribute ‘Farah Goes Bang,’ right?” Seed&Spark had been steadily building its film streaming platform for films that used the site to crowdfund, but when I called Emily to discuss what it might mean to take her up on her offer, I learned that S&S was finalizing plans to offer filmmakers a revolutionary new kind of distribution option: Emily had negotiated a partnership with iTunes and Verizon Fios VOD to distribute Seed&Spark films. Platforms like Distribber have offered filmmakers direct-to-consumer distribution options like these for several years, but Seed&Spark planned to outstrip those options by lowering deliverable fees for filmmakers, keeping films’ profit margins much wider than traditional distributors could, and promoting their films with all Seed&Spark’s social media, tastemaker, festival, and press clout.

As two women-led business ventures both born out of the radically changing landscape of digital filmmaking, “Farah Goes Bang” and Seed&Spark combined in 2015 to create a symbiosis of mutual profit opportunity: we offered Seed&Spark the opportunity to exploit a film that had already earned accolades and an audience, and they offered us a distribution strategy that allowed us to keep 60-70% of every sale while still benefiting from the clout of S&S’s dynamic, enthusiastic independent film community. It was the best of both the traditional and self-distribution worlds: we would be able to craft our own direct-to-consumer strategy without sacrificing support from a respected institution.

Meera, Emily, and I have all been inspired by the wild-west shakeup of digital film fundraising, production, and distribution, and the arrival of “Farah Goes Bang” to your fingertips via iTunes on April 10 is the product of these new frontiers. “Farah Goes Bang,” as a product, represents three women’s dissatisfaction with Hollywood’s existing power structures. Emily, Meera and I all rejected the premise that the right way to make a film was to tell a story dominated by men within a company dominated by men, or to wait for millions of dollars from a studio acquisition, or to work shitty assistant jobs until someone decided to make us an executive, or to let our film collect dust as the old model of six-figure distributor acquisitions dried up. “Farah Goes Bang” exists to testify that you really can wrench open a revenue stream with your bare hands.

The statistics are dishearteningly bad for women and diversity in film, yet every day I feel the swelling of the energy of all those who want to change our status quo. In a sea of bad news for women in film, “Farah Goes Bang” is the good news. Like America itself, it’s a grand experiment: could a group of women with real talent and earnest work ethic make a film profitable by lowering overhead, widening profit margins, and building an enthusiastic grassroots digital network? I’m betting we can. In a sense, I’ve bet my entire livelihood on the power of feminism, on the idea that if a group of smart women batten down the hatches for each other, we can build our own dream jobs. We can tell our own stories. We can be our own executives. We can, as Gloria Steinem once said, be the men we once wanted to marry.

We’re going to take a few punches as things improve all too slowly for diverse women in film—but I know women, and I know you do too, who can ice a black eye and direct the shit out of a movie at the same time. I know women who can work 12-hour production days in their third trimesters. I know women who can hustle at day jobs, make dinner for their families, and still find the energy to shoot their wildest dreams on evenings and weekends. Women have banked on our favor economy for thousands of years, delivering each other’s babies, listening to each other’s problems, bringing each other food after weddings and funerals, caring for each other’s children. Things are more complicated now that we expect so much more of ourselves than a husband and children and a beautiful home—so now we fix each other’s hair and invest in each other’s companies in the space of the same breath. We batten down the hatches. We get better at it every day.

If you decide to rent or buy “Farah Goes Bang” on iTunes, you vote with your dollar. You not only count yourself among those who are fed up with stories and power structures that obscure and exclude women, but you stand up for the solution to those injustices, in favor of a more perfect feminist union. Things are hard but we all really do carry within us the capacity for change and the power to effect it. “Farah Goes Bang,” wrested out of nothing with hope and a dream, is the change Meera and I wanted to see in the world: a story not just about a desirable woman, but about a woman’s desire. That desire is, of course, Farah’s own: to have sex, to bond with her friends, to be wild on the American road. But it’s also a ferocious, unrelenting desire that now belongs to Meera, Emily and me: to represent the truth of women’s diverse desires, to build a feminist community, to live our wildest dreams, and to build our own dream jobs. We refused to knock each other off a faulty ladder, so we built our own. Climb it with us.

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