BMCC, Anamorphic, & Kickstarter: How the Beautiful Sci-Fi Short 'Prospect' Was Made
Back in 2012, we covered the Kickstarter for a short film called Prospect, which would eventually go on to premiere at this year's SXSW film festival. Besides using relatively inexpensive gear to create some fantastic visuals, the directing duo of Zeek Earl & Christopher Caldwell had quite a bit of help from enthusiastic volunteers who found out about the project after the Kickstarter campaign. The short film has finally been released to the public, and you can watch it below, and read about some of the lessons the team learned throughout the entire project.
Prospect is the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl on a toxic alien planet. She and her father hunt for precious materials, aiming to strike it rich. When the father is attacked by a roving bandit, the daughter must take control.
Here is a little background on how the film was made:
We shot Prospect out on Washington's Olympic Peninsula using two Black Magic Cinema Cameras (2.5k/RAW) over the course of four days. For glass we paired inexpensive Nikon Ai lenses and one Tokina 11-16 wide with a re-purposed Panasonic AG-LA7200 Anamorphic adaptor. The anamorphic adaptor required a whole range of huge diopters to properly focus at various distances. The amount of adapters, diopters, ND filters etc... on the rig was pretty ridiculous and shaky at times - but it got the job done and stayed pretty cheap. We powered the BMC's with Anton Bauer batteries, which though expensive are one of the best purchases we've ever made; they were 100% reliable and lasted for ages. We used a Small HD DP6 monitor which was able to adjust for an accurate anamorphic view. We edited in Adobe Premiere and graded in Resolve. All the "toxic dust" was shot in my basement and painstakingly layered on in After Effects which took weeks.
[This is a guest post from Zeek Earl & Christopher Caldwell]
After a year-and-a-half of developing our sci-fi short Prospect and screening to small film festival audiences, it’s incredibly satisfying to finally have the film online, out in the open. Like many indie film efforts, Prospect began on the internet with a Kickstarter campaign. To our surprise, the network of backers, press, and collaborators that came from this campaign was as (or possibly more) valuable than the funds raised.
We raised $21,298 from 338 backers based on an $18,000 goal. After fees and Kickstarter rewards costs, we were able to use $17,500 to make the film. We received an additional $5,000 grant from 4Culture in Seattle and pitched in the remaining money ourselves. The total cost of Prospect came close to $28,000. However, given the huge amount of volunteer time, labor, and talent donated to the effort, the actual cost would probably have been closer to $100,000. Full disclosure: we also run Shep Films, a small production company that had much of the necessary equipment to make the film.
Before the Kickstarter campaign, we had a core team of 6 people. Quickly after launching the campaign, we received a steady flow of emails from enthusiastic volunteers. Not only was it incredibly encouraging to have all this unsolicited passion hurled at the project, but it also gave us a great pool of talent to draw from. We assembled our 18-person crew largely from volunteers who reached out to us via Kickstarter. In addition, numerous valuable post-production services were offered including VFX and marketing from several groups including the awesome team at Gigantic Squid. Our campaign page, designed to solicit funding, actually became a powerful pitching tool to solicit collaboration, an effect we never intended, but was instrumental in making the film what it is today.
In addition to volunteers, the other unexpected side effect of the campaign was press. We did a lot of background hustle to get our campaign publicized in as many outlets as possible, but, again, our sights were set on funding. What we got was more powerful than just money. Our publicity efforts for the campaign continue to payoff as we publicize the film. We now have a roster of press contacts with a vested interest in the final film. When we cut the trailer, a number of publications immediately picked it up, generating buzz before our festival premiere. And now, with the online release of the finished film, we’re able to follow-up again. Getting attention on the internet often requires that big initial push just to get noticed. Because of our Kickstarter campaign, the ground-work had already been done.
In the spirit of this retrospective, here’s a few things that we feel contributed to the success of our campaign:
1. Be Prepared to Work
Developing and running a campaign is a lot of work. Crowdsourcing is not free money. Research other campaigns to see what’s worked. Put in time on the front end to develop your campaign’s video and other assets. Build a schedule. Reach out to press in advance of launch. You’re basically starting a small business. Make sure you’re prepared.
2. Don’t Be Entitled
Nobody owes you anything. Be gracious. And, most importantly, put in the effort to prove why you won’t waste anyone’s money. We focused our efforts into a concept reel for the film. We invested in creating some initial costumes and props and shot test footage on location. This served as a sign of our commitment and a demonstration of our ability to execute. And it also ended up functioning as a pre-trailer to the film, getting people excited about the film’s aesthetic.
3. Create Compelling Content Around the Campaign
We didn’t think that the pitch would be compelling enough just by itself. While we had a lot of great assets – concept art, design prototypes, even actual props and test footage -- we wanted to do everything we could to create additional content around the campaign, disguising the plea for money in a bunch of stuff that was interesting in its own right. A local artist illustrated a poster for the film. We released behind the scenes documentaries. We created a super-contained companion short to deepen the world of Prospect. We released our previous short film In The Pines online. And we were active in the comments in places like Reddit and here on No Film School.com to be transparent about our development process for those who were interested.
All in all, through Kickstarter we created a community around our film that made it much bigger and better than we had even planned. And the big surprise was that the payoff came more in the form of people than money -- people who were interested in helping us make our film and people who were interested in watching our film. For a couple of guys who did not go to film school and don’t live in a hub of filmmaking, we were able to create opportunity on our own terms that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
Christopher Caldwell (left) and Zeek Earl (right) are based in Seattle, WA where they founded their production company SHEP Films. Their first short film, In The Pines, premiered at SXSW in 2012. Prospect, which premiered at SXSW 2014, is their second film together.