Director Tyrrell Shaffner brought her comedy Katie’s Mom to the screen. This is how she found her funding.
This guest post was written by Terrell Shaffner
I'm a director-producer who was making short-form content for over 10 years for various productions in Los Angeles, but I grew restless working for other people. It was time to direct my first feature film. I could feel it in my bones.
'Katie's Mom' Official Trailer
Finding The Script
Anticipating an indie budget, I knew that I needed a fantastic script that was manageable to produce and that also represented my voice as a filmmaker. Something sexy, funny, and moving.
In 2015, I met writer Meryl Branch-McTiernan at a production company. Meryl always had the funniest quips at the water cooler, and she had a great idea for a script based on a true story about a scandalous ex-boyfriend who had slept with his girlfriend’s mother during college. She framed it as a modern take on the classic film The Graduate.
As someone with their fair share of dubious ex-boyfriends myself, I could relate. It was a simple story that would be easy to produce and something that I was passionate about directing. I was in!
Still From Katie's Mom
We decided to center the story around the mom’s POV in the script and started writing together on evenings and weekends. Little did we know at the time that this would be an 8-year-plus journey that would take us through countless page-one rewrites, a lot of workshopping, and a few fights. In other words, the beginnings of a beautiful partnership.
Script development took five years while we simultaneously worked other jobs and went to graduate schools on separate coasts. Friends would question why we kept grinding on something that we weren’t getting paid for. But we believed that we had something special, and it felt different putting in the work for ourselves.
BTS From Katie's Mom
A Scary Next Step
In both 2019 and 2020, our script (then called The Dropout) placed as a quarterfinalist in the Academy’s Nicholl Screenplay Competition—placing in the top five percent of 15,000 scripts. Not bad for what some would consider a sex comedy. This achievement gave us confidence that the script was special, but now we needed something that was even harder to find: money.
We tried pitching the project during the Sundance Film Festival and to production companies that I had met through my membership with the Producer’s Guild of America. While we got some interest, we always heard the same thing. We needed cast or cash to be taken seriously.
BTS From Katie's Mom
This chicken-and-the-egg problem is well known by every indie filmmaker trying to raise funds. How do you get actors without the money? Or conversely, financing without names?
I was attending UCLA to get my MFA and had access to capital for my education. After some serious conversations with myself, I decided to take out a considerable student loan and put it towards the film. It’s the scariest thing that I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
However, that chunk of money was our first piece of the financial puzzle.
With some seed money in hand, our conversations with producers improved, but we didn’t have any real bites. A friend of mine from a directing collective in Los Angeles called the Sandbox told me about an exciting new fundraising platform.
Wefunder was a crowd equity site that allowed filmmakers to raise money by offering investors a piece of the profits, unlike, say, a donation to Kickstarter. My friend went on to successfully raise over $100k for her first feature on the platform.
Inspired by this success, Meryl and I launched our crowd equity campaign on Wefunder in the Spring of 2021. We started with the seed money and a “friends and family” private raise, followed by approximately six months of campaigning directly to investors in the Wefunder community. We found that the project struck a chord because of its commercial nature and the experience and passion of our team. In total, we raised $180,000. It was incredible to watch the film gain its own momentum after toiling on it for five years.
During this time, we also attracted an additional investor who wanted to support businesses that were female-focused. After hearing a lot of nos from industry people over the years, it felt like kismet to pitch our story about an older woman rediscovering her sexuality to this particular investor. The investor agreed to commit the rest of our production budget; we were fully funded!
Still From Katie's Mom
The Finish Line
As we began to prep for production, like a snowball rolling down a hill, the film gained some amazing collaborators, including Cinematographer Aakash Raj, Assistant Director Heather Mingo, and Editor Daniel Martens. Then we nabbed veteran actress Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers, All American) in the titular role. We shot the film in the summer of 2022 in Los Angeles.
Katie’s Mompremiered at Dances with Films in Los Angeles in July 2023, where it won the Audience Award for Best Fusion feature. Walking on stage to applause at the historic TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood with Meryl, Dina, and the other amazing co-leads, actors Aaron Dominguez (Only Murders in the Building) and newcomer Julia Tolchin, was a beautiful full circle moment.
The team at Dances With Films
Without betting on myself, I would’ve never arrived at this stage, both literally and figuratively. But by taking those leaps of faith, I had the most rewarding experience of my life.
Katie’s Mom is now represented by Premiere Entertainment, and both are heading to the European Film Market in mid-February. For more information about Katie’s Mom, visit @katies_mom_movie on Instagram or katiesmom.com.
Tyrrell Shaffner is a director living in Los Angeles who specializes in threading the needle between comedy, drama, and romance. You can see more of her work at tyrrell323.com.