This band inspired a filmmaker to spend years of her life and thousands of dollars on a documentary film.
This post was written by Chelsea Christer.
The idea for Bleeding Audio had been percolating for me since early 2014, when The Matches informed me of their intention to reunite for a single live performance for the first time in years. I offered to film promotional videos since I was a close friend and filmmaker, and I wanted to support them in any way I could. This band inspired me to pursue a creative living, which I was leading happily, and in my view, this was the least I could do in return.
The Matches’ fans are extremely loyal. They had been long deprived of their beloved band and community, and there was no doubt that the vacuum The Matches left behind would be instantly filled. Sure enough, their “one show” sold out in seconds, and that single show turned into a sold-out North American and Australian tour, and I had the basis of what would be a really compelling feature-length music documentary.
I pitched a feature-length film to the guys and was met with the same humility that convinced them a single show would suffice for their voracious fanbase. Once I expressed to them that their story would share a spotlight with the impact of the digitizing music industry, they provided me with unfettered access, and we were off to the races.
Little did I know it wasn’t a race, but a marathon.
Here I am, eight years, three producers, two Kickstarters, two editors, one pandemic, and almost a house down-payment’s worth of debt later. I remain Bleeding Audio’s primary torch holder and champion, and with 17 film festivals and eight awards to show for it, let me tell you what—I’m fucking exhausted.
But I also couldn’t be prouder of this film, or more grateful for the people who supported me and the project along the way. So in an attempt to save you from some of the more vicious scars I endured from my own experience, I’m eager to share with you my journey making Bleeding Audio.
Your film is a business—work with what you have
Preproduction started on Bleeding Audio with our first Kickstarter in October 2014, which was intended to cover production costs throughout 2015. The Kickstarter was successfully funded thanks to The Matches’ dedicated fanbase, and we had our budget! Yay! But we didn’t set up the LLC or our finances correctly, and since we held onto the funds over into 2015 (a new tax year!), it counted as income instead of an investment fund, and we were taxed accordingly. What was initially a $35,000 budget (after Kickstarter fees!) turned into a $20,000 budget–vastly less than we had hoped or planned for. Biiiiiiig whoops.
This leads me to a huge “wish I did this” budget moment. I wish we’d invested in a decent enough camera, sound, and lighting kit. Just a core, modest kit that belonged to the film. It would have given me so much more freedom and less dependency on the availability of my generous friends and their camera kits and saved us on rental fees when last-minute jobs would pull the loaner kits away.
When people ask what we filmed Bleeding Audio on, I often answer, “Whatever I could get my hands on,” which contributed to the Great Codec Headache of 2019, but that’s a horror story for later.
The funny thing about making a music documentary—most of your subjects work in the music industry, which is largely if not solely reliant on extensive touring. This made our production schedule (to put it mildly) complicated. No one was ever in the same place at the same time. A piecemeal production operation replaced our originally planned block of production dates.
The benefit to having a more flexible schedule was being able to capture music industry legends who had more limited availability (for example, Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, Nick Hexum of 311, and Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s were all filmed in different years). This extended our production schedule to “whenever we could film someone,” and we didn’t fully wrap production until mid-2017, with a few outlier interviews taking place as late as 2018 when there was a rough cut of the film in process.
With our reduced budget and irreverent production schedule, the flexibility in my corporate video producer/director day job was a huge benefit to production and allowed us to get many interviews for the film we never would have otherwise been able to capture. Sometimes we’d sneak in secret Bleeding Audio interviews while traveling on a corporate video project, and sometimes we’d be able to get a run of interviews between jobs.
Filmmaking is never free
While Bleeding Audio had a modest budget to cover production expenses, paying my rent wasn’t a part of that budget, so like many indie filmmakers, I had to maintain several jobs to stay afloat. I essentially had two full-time jobs—one that paid my bills, and the other that fueled my soul. And once our budget was extinguished, the choice became either to halt all progress on the film or front expenses on my own. The stubborn determination in me refused to back down, so if a hard cost came up that enabled the film to move forward, I would front that cost.
I don’t necessarily recommend fronting the costs for your film. But we were rejected by every grant we ever applied for (about 20 between 2015-2019). We stretched every single penny of our Kickstarter campaigns. I tried like hell to find financiers, but because The Matches were relatively unknown, and so was I… it was too high-risk of an investment.
I was able to front costs because, at home, I had a partner to help with our living expenses and a job that paid me well enough to allow me to filter financing into Bleeding Audio. Not everyone has this luxury.
It’s dangerous to tell earnest up-and-coming filmmakers to “just go out and make your movie” because one of the biggest things I’ve learned about filmmaking is that it’s an art form for the privileged. Sure, the digital tools have helped democratize the craft and it’s easier than ever to make a film, but it’s impossible to make a movie for $0. Yes, you can rally your friends to donate their time and talents. Sure, you can have people loan you equipment and software. And yeah, you can take all the time you need to get it finished.
But if you want to complete your film’s journey to exhibition and distribution, you’re looking at thousands of dollars in licensing fees, E&O insurance, festival submission fees, DCPs, Blu-rays, subtitles, posters, postcards, etc. If you have no intention of sharing your film with audiences, then sure, you might make a movie for $0!
If you want to share your stories, and you’re unconnected and ambitious? Start saving now!
The film was ready for post-production with zero dollars in the bank. I had a second Kickstarter in the spring of 2017, and I wasn’t about to make the same tax mistake again. I kept close engagement with my audience throughout the years, and they were so generous with many return-backers chipping in to our second round. We raised another $35,000 for editorial, with the caveat that this wouldn’t cover finishing (color grading, sound mix, motion graphics, etc).
My goal was to collaborate with an experienced documentary editor who had a few features in their credits, and who wasn’t aware of The Matches. It was so important to me to surround myself with objective collaborators to keep my insider knowledge of The Matches in check because I knew Bleeding Audio had the potential to reach a general audience.
Jen Bradwell is one of the most sought-after documentary editors in the Bay Area, and she happened to be available. Jen looked over our years’ worth of footage and rightly assessed post-production would take us at least eight to 10 months. We had only budgeted for about four months’ worth. I made the decision to leverage as much of our Kickstarter budget as possible to have Jen piece together the first assembly of Bleeding Audio, and her cut remains the core skeleton of the film today. My dream was to be by her side, working through the narrative together, as working filmmakers do.
But I still had my own bills to pay.
And so I unloaded everything to Jen—my original treatment, each character breakdown and arc, a full timeline of The Matches' career milestones and major events in the music industry that coincided with their journey. As much as I tried to be with Jen throughout the edit, I could only work with her a handful of times since I was being shipped off to Mexico, England, Japan, and other production locations around the world so I could continue to support the film’s ancillary expenses and my rent. What was once a huge support in production became a detriment to post-production.
Here’s when something interesting happened. We were invited to submit to a big festival. I thought, “Well, if we submit a solid rough cut, and we get programmed from the rough cut, we’ll no doubt be able to easily find finishing funds for the film.”
Do not. Submit. A. Rough. Cut
You hear filmmakers talk about it all the time!
“Oh, we submitted a rough cut to [a huge festival] and then rushed all of December to finish our film in time for the festival! What a crazy ride!”
Don’t listen to these people—they already have an in. They are either well-connected, represented, or their film has been “on watch” for a while through other granting entities or fellowships. I don’t care how great you think your rough cut is, it’s not going to read as well as your picture locked cut. That first impression is all you get. Don’t blow it.
Which is to say—we blew it.
And that’s the thing that I don’t have a good answer for. I have no idea when you should go all in on an invitation or ask if it will still exist in the future. The industry is so fickle, and turnover is so high that there’s no telling when “your moment” is. I thought festival season 2018 was going to be it for Bleeding Audio, but I was wrong. We didn’t get into the big festival with our rough cut, so we didn’t get the finishing funds we needed, and we had a shitload more editing to do.
In reflecting on this time in particular, the more I learned about The Matches’ trials and tribulations in pursuit of a creative career, the more I realized it mirrored my own. Some of The Matches’ own decisions in their career became so meta to my own journey, you think I would have been able to heed the warnings from the narrative I was literally crafting right in front of my face.
It was around this time Bleeding Audio’s current producer, Erin Persley, jumped on board. She came to a screening of our assembly cut and saw a lot of potential in the film. She knew I was on the hunt for a competent producer who knew how to navigate the doc world, and she was experienced and driven. With her fresh energy for the project, she helped recharge my dwindling batteries.
The final sprint
We went back to grants. We didn’t get any grants.
We went back to trying to find investors. We didn’t get any investors.
We tried pre-selling the film. We didn’t pre-sell the film.
Jen got booked on other films and couldn’t hold her time for us. Finally, my oldest friend and collaborator, Luke Shock, offered to jump in and help. His mastering of the montage, my obsession with character development, and our combined passion for strong storytelling were exactly the polish the film needed. If it weren’t for Luke, I would probably still be working on Bleeding Audio today.
Luke started editing in mid-2018. We stayed late after our corporate video day jobs, and booked weekends and long holidays to work one-on-one to get Bleeding Audio to picture lock. Sometimes we would work a few days in a row, and sometimes there would be weeks between sessions, but we fit it in all the same. We never stopped applying for grants, and they never stopped rejecting us, so Luke generously kept working for a deferred fee.
In June 2019, Erin was a resident at SFFILM House, and they graciously opened their doors to allow us to host a test screening. This version of Bleeding Audio was one hour and 45 minutes, and I had a goal for a clean 90-minute documentary, which left 15 minutes to cut. It was time for outside perspectives. This was it, the first time Bleeding Audio would be seen by scrutinous filmmakers, music industry folks, and one lucky Matches fan.
The response was pretty positive. And also frustrating. And at times pretty intense. And yeah, maybe I did cry—a little bit—but overall, the areas that needed work were very clear in the responses we got. It wasn't long before Luke and I got our clean 90-minute audio-locked cut of Bleeding Audio, and this time, all the responses were overwhelmingly positive.
If it isn’t already apparent, I was... pretty overwhelmed around this time.
My husband had been laid off at work, and I was the sole provider of our household. I had a film that didn’t have any budget remaining that was nearing picture lock and would require finishing funds for color correction, sound mix, animation, and motion graphics—not to mention festival submission fees, exhibition music licenses, E&O insurance, a fair use assessment, and other legal paperwork, and...
On July 15, 2019, after a particularly challenging day at my corporate video job, I received a rejection letter from a local Bay Area grant for which we felt very well positioned. For me, it embodied the last shred of hope in catching any form of relief or industry support financially for our precious film. After five years of manifesting this movie from the pits of my soul, I felt utterly defeated.
There is no cavalry in the film industry. It’s just you, and whoever you can recruit along the way. If you can pick yourself up from the several rejections and defeats you will undoubtedly face, you just might make it. And if you can’t, I don’t fucking blame you.
Because later that night I had the worst headache of my life, and the next day I couldn’t feel any temperature on the right side of my body. July 16, 2019, marked the start of a terrifying diagnostic journey for me that I had to manage while being the sole provider of our household, and while trying to finish a film that had no funding.
Spoiler. I’m generally just fine (though I’m still a freak who can’t feel temperature on the right side of her body), and like a good little filmmaker, I’m repurposing this traumatic journey into a screenplay. But my perspective during the four months I spent in and out of MRI machines and getting other miserable tests shifted to, “I have to finish Bleeding Audio… while I’m still alive.”
Bleak, but that’s where I was at. I didn’t know where my diagnostic journey was going to lead (and I still don’t), and what the doctors were presenting wasn’t what you’d describe as “fun.” I was getting dangerously close to manifesting The Matches lyric, “May your organs fail before your dreams fail you.” As such, if it was the last thing I did it would be to finish this damn movie.
We picture-locked Bleeding Audio in September 2019 and submitted it to “the big festivals” with our picture-locked cut. We recruited Disher Audio in San Francisco to sound mix the film on a generous payment plan.
And then we got a huge break.
The thing about working as a filmmaker in San Francisco is that 99% of our paid work is through tech companies and corporations. It’s well paid and good work, but I can’t always say it’s the most creatively fulfilling. This leaves a lot of filmmakers in the Bay Area hungry to flex their atrophying creative muscles.
CT-SF, a post finishing house in San Francisco, was one of those companies who were looking for a project to push their creativity. They took on our film as a production company and lent their incredible talents to color grade the film, do all the motion graphics design, and manage our online editorial and deliverables. I am forever grateful to them for swooping in when we needed it most.
CT-SF also gets legendary status because they graciously handled the Great Codec Headache of 2019. Because this story is gory enough, I’ll allow your imagination to run wild as to the nightmare onlining a six-year-long project with three different RED camera models, two Blackmagic camera models, every single Canon DSLR model, two types of Sony a7S camera, and archival content from video cameras existing between 1997 and 2006.
If you don’t have chills running down your spine after reading this, you’ve never worked in post-production.
So what inspirational thing happened next?
We were rejected by every single one of the “tier one” festivals. Sundance. SXSW. Tribeca.
But we got several truly great invitations from wonderful festivals. Ultimately, we decided to make Cinequest our world premiere. We had the benefit of being on local ground, and it’s a fantastic festival to be a part of. We booked an after-party at a local brewery near the theater in downtown San Jose. The Matches were set to play a surprise secret show on a makeshift stage inside. It was all finally happening, and the date was set! We had locked a world premiere for Bleeding Audio—and it was on March 7, 2020.
I think you might have an idea about what happened next.
Premiering a film in a global pandemic
The morning of our sold-out screening for Bleeding Audio, Cinequest announced that due to the rising concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, they were shutting down the festival after the weekend. By some small miracle, our premiere screening was preserved. Many folks opted out of attending (and in hindsight, I do not blame them one bit), but we were still able to have a magical world premiere.
There was a standing ovation. We surprised the crowd with The Matches playing live acoustic guitar in the theater aisles during the credits and then had a thoughtful Q&A. The afterparty carried on with a secret sweaty punk show with 150-200 people jumping around in an echoey cement cube of a brewery. We were all smiles and catharsis. It felt like the quartet playing on the sinking Titanic. One last musical moment together. I’m very grateful to have had that night, at least. It sustained me during the months that followed.
Because then the world stopped. Festivals canceled left and right. Other festival acceptances paused their invitations.
We finally got here after six years of the hardest work I’ve ever done, and it all vanished overnight. And this was a small burden to bear given all the horrors we witnessed and endured for 2020.
When there wasn’t a clear end to the pandemic in sight, Erin and I found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we hold out for “normalcy,” or do we push onward and go for virtual festivals? I personally couldn’t keep carrying Bleeding Audio much longer, so we opted to do virtual festivals, and it was worth it. We had incredible experiences at Dances with Films, SF DocFest, Sound Unseen, Denver Film Festival, and more.
Reviews for Bleeding Audio poured in from these festivals, and it was overwhelmingly positive. We won four audience awards in a row—it was a validation and catharsis I can’t describe after all the “no’s” we experienced in the film’s journey.
We even got into one of my all-time favorite film festivals: Slamdance.
To me, Slamdance captured the spirit of Bleeding Audio and The Matches so beautifully. It’s defiantly independent and a punk-spirited festival with a welcoming community. Slamdance was huge for us and opened up the doors to so many other festivals during 2021.
So distribution would be easy, right? We got into a number of reputable festivals and won eight awards! Now the distributors would be clamoring to pick us up!
Have you not been reading this story?
The distribution dilemma
We had a few bites from the “usuals,” but it took initiative on myself and Erin’s part to reach out to find the right fit. All I wanted was for someone to support us with marketing, which isn’t an offer many indie films like ours get from distributors today. I’d spent the last seven years marketing this film and had reached the limits of my ability. It was time for fresh ideas and more reach.
Now here is the biggest lesson of Bleeding Audio. Remember when I said the industry changes quickly and turnover is high? You never know when “your moment” is? This is where you need to trust your gut and remember the people who get your film. After all the work and love you pour into this project, don’t compromise. Make sure the person who takes on your film fully understands what your film is all about.
Well, I felt I met that woman in a distribution conversation we had in April 2021. To be frank, the distributor she worked for wasn’t my first choice—I knew we’d be left to market Bleeding Audio on our own. The thought of shelling out more time, money, and energy into yet another marketing campaign for the film chilled me, but I’d rather work with a person who understood my film than with the alternatives I faced.
At this time, it was December 2021. I followed up on an old email with her and instantly got a bounce back that she had left the company. I was crushed. We missed our chance.
Follow the people who get you and your film
But then I remembered. Turnover is high. So I looked her up on LinkedIn to reconnect. The first question she asked me was if Bleeding Audio had found a home yet. When I said no, she responded that she had recently signed onto an acquisitions team for a different distribution company that she thought would be a perfect fit for us.
We signed the official contract with Cranked Up Films/Good Deed Entertainment in January 2022.
Then came the long and arduous journey to get the film to pass QC and button up all of our licenses for distribution. I’ve watched Bleeding Audio hundreds of times and am constantly oscillating between loving it more than anything and wanting to gouge my eyes out every time I see something I’d love to change (I never dreamed I would feel a kinship with George Lucas).
But we’re here. On May 27, 2022, North American audiences will finally be able to watch Bleeding Audio.
Will people love Bleeding Audio? Will they hate it? I don’t know if I actually care anymore. I only hope people watch it and take something away from it.
Every movie is a miracle
While a bulk of this story details the hard times, and indeed there were vastly more hard times than good on this project, the good times enormously outweighed the bad. There’s nothing like the privilege of making a film. There are so many wonderful memories I have where I felt a strong sense of purpose and belonging. My whole body and soul went into getting a piece of art I’m overwhelmingly proud of out into the world, and I hope that is understood when you see how much we poured over every frame. The Matches and their fans are happy.
I’ve proven to myself I’m resilient and determined as ever, with an incredible community of talented and supportive creative people who helped carry me through.
I’ve adopted a mantra in the last year that I continue coming back to. Every movie is a miracle.
So many things have to culminate in order for a film to be finished and out in the world, and I respect that now more than I ever have before.
If there’s anything Bleeding Audio taught me most of all, is that I truly love the art of cinematic storytelling, and if I can go through what I did with this first feature and still be hungry for the next, there’s no truer calling for me.
So thank you. You all know who you are. Thanks for reading this, I hope in some way you’re able to glean some semblance of learning from my long and winding journey, and if my ramblings aren’t answering a query for you, you can always ask me directly on social media.
In the words of The Matches and their fans, "You belong."
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