Below is an update I sent out to Kickstarter backers of my documentary project Portrait. I want to share it on my blog because some of my lessons can be valuable to others considering Kickstarting a film project.

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Making a movie is a long process. Everything has gone pretty smoothly for Portrait. But even in a best case scenario, it will have been about 11 months from the start of the idea to launching the final film.

Pre-production

I had the idea that I wanted to do some type of documentary about photography at the end of last year. It wasn't until after I had put together a behind the scenes video about a local photographer that I realized what I actually wanted it to be.

If I had to pin it down, I'd say the idea for Portrait came about at the end of January, maybe early February.

From there, it was a matter of figuring out how to make it happen. I always knew Kickstarter would be a great way to help start my career in filmmaking. The fact that I had previously launched two unsuccessful campaigns didn't deter me. In fact, I felt like it taught me a lot of lessons. Turns out, there were still a lot to learn.

So I started reaching out to photographers, watching as many documentaries as I could, and jotting down notes and ideas almost every day. The original idea was that I'd follow three photographers for a few days each, and compare how different photographers worked to achieve their images. I had the photographers lined up, and a handful of people really interested in the concept. It seemed like a great idea.

Kickstarter

Then Kickstarter happened. The initial campaign launched and received a decent amount of interest. Some blogs wrote about it and people shared it online. But we only reached half of our goal.

I decided to run the campaign for a relatively short amount of time, just 21 days. Kickstarter recommends 30 days or less, because people tend to ignore projects or bookmark them for later if there's an excessive amount of time left. Who cares about a project that's raised $500 with 53 days to go?

21 days was a bit of an experiment. I hoped it was long enough to catch enough people's interest, yet short enough that people didn't forget about it. It seemed to work fairly well, we didn't really hit a lull in the middle like most campaigns do. But we just didn't generate enough interest or we didn't have enough time to reach enough people.

The biggest mistake I made was not having a couple people dedicated to helping me promote the project full-time. I received a lot of support from a lot of people and it didn't go unnoticed. But when certain people that were supposed to be in the documentary couldn't be bothered to share it with their friends and family, it didn't do me any favors when I was already working on the project 24 hours a day. You haven't lived until you wake up at 3 am and check your phone to see if a new pledge has come in. I'm still recovering from that compulsion to check my email every five minutes.

But the most important thing I learned was that people did care about the idea. Over 100 people pledged to it, and we did raise nearly $6000. So I needed to re-focus on something both more achievable on Kickstarter and that I could deliver on if we didn't far exceed the goal.

Kickstarter part 2

So we relaunched. The campaign was scaled back and more focused on a single idea: show a professional photographer and an amateur photographer. Let people see how they work, how they think. And we did it. You're here, so you already know about that part of the journey. (Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.)

Production

I had never been to Seattle before. So while I had to figure out how to plan a documentary, I was doing so without any real knowledge of locations or just getting around the city. I relied heavily on Andria and Cory to help me find the best spots in Seattle and they sure did.

We were there for about a week, but only after Zach and I were delayed getting out of Columbus due to bad weather. This caused us to arrive late to Minneapolis. Guess where we got to spend the night?

Between the two of us, we slept for probably 25 minutes that night. The massage chairs at the airport are a hidden blessing when you're exhausted with nowhere to go.

Finally arriving in Seattle mid-way through our first day, we decided to take the rest of that day to regroup and get what sleep we could.

Luckily everything else went pretty smoothly. I don't want to give away too many specifics about locations or things we filmed, because you'll get to see it all for yourself soon enough.

We met so many great people in Seattle and I still miss many of my new friends. I can't recommend more that you get out, go somewhere you've never been, and meet someone new. All of us involved in Portrait will have a story to share for the rest of our lives.

Post-production

Post-production is... mostly great. It allows you to take the pieces you've collected, the idea you originally had in your head, and start to piece it together. But you just want to be able to finish it. Having the patience to take the time to do things right is easier said than done. But I do want to make sure Portrait is as good as it can be before I share it.

A lot of the advice I read said that especially for a documentary, it is important to have a script before you start production, but also the understanding that it absolutely will change. This was totally true. I had an idea of what I thought it would be, and I wouldn't say it changed entirely, but it definitely evolved. What you are able to capture will dictate what the story becomes.

I didn't really know what to expect in terms of how the story would flow or even the total length of the documentary. My ultimate goal was to give an inside look at these people and their photography, but I didn't know if that would take 10 minutes or 60 minutes. (It's settling down at about 25 minutes for the final documentary. It's a nice short piece that allows enough time for their stories to breath, but it doesn't overstay its welcome.)

So that's where we are right now. The original music is being worked on as I type this. Soon I will be making final adjustments and edits to the film, then color correcting and final audio production. A little polish and it will be released on the internet for everyone to watch. (And you'll get your download and access to watch before everyone else.) I'm hoping at this point we can launch late October. As long as it's out by the end of the year, we're ahead of schedule, and I'm happy about that.

I'm sure I'll learn more lessons once the film is complete and I can step back and reflect on the whole process. For now, this will have to do.