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American Psycho, Taxi Driver Writers Team Up for Film Kickstarter

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By: Noah J. Nelson

In terms of proven storytelling talent The Canyons might just be the biggest project to plant a banner at Kickstarter yet. Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) has written and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Auto Focus) will direct this thriller about the quest for love, sex, success and power in contemporary Hollywood. The film is scheduled to go in front of the lens this summer.

The writer-director team, along with producer Braxton Pope, are self-financing the film. The trio have turned to the crowdfunding site as a means to up the production value, and start building awareness, for a project they chose to keep out of the studio system.

"We didn't want to be in the position where people perceived it as 'Oh these guys are begging for money. Why would they be doing that?'" said producer Pope in an interview last week, at the start of the campaign. "I saw someone tweet 'Why don't they ask Martin Scorsese for a loan?'"

Pope has been working with the luminaries of the independent film world-- directors like Gaspar Noe and Gus Van Sant-- for over a decade now. This is his first time dipping his toe into the crowdfunding pool.

"I think I foolishly had some reservations about it," said Pope, "but once I really discussed it with Paul and Bret, once we explored it a little bit, we realized it was kind of a no brainer. Especially with the new model that we're embracing to get the movie done."

The "new model" Pope refers to is the DIY one, from production all the way through distribution. After a different film from the trio fell through at Lionsgate, a company that Pope has a long standing relationship with, they chose to strike out onto the self-produced path with The Canyons.

"We decided to be autonomous and take control and not have to push dates. Not have to hire actors that might not be best for a given role. That we could just make it and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it."

The campaign for The Canyons is aggressive in its reward offerings. On the day that the campaign went live, Turnstyle's crowdfunding columnist indie filmmaker Lucas McNelly expressed strong reservations online and in a conversation over the structure of the campaign.  In short: McNelly felt that the producers were putting too much into the rewards relative to the money they were looking to raise. More than one film project has tripped itself up by over-promising on the rewards.

Pope, as it turns out, is an avid Twitter user, and was watching the feeds.

"I read Lucas McNelly's tweets because I was curious to see his explanation for his critique. Look, I'm by no means a crowdfunding expert . This is the first Kickstarter campaign I've initiated, so I don't presume to know things I don't know. What I can tell you is that one of the people who is working with us has been through Kickstarter before, is very fluent in Kickstarter and one of his jobs on the production is to oversee the rewards. Get the posters printed. Mailing them out. The DVDs. All our rewards. He's priced out everything, so there's no reward that we've posted that we haven't budgeted and accounted for the hard cost."

One key factor for The Canyons vis-a-vis its generous rewards is the goal of the campaign. The film is going to get made one way or another. What Pope, Easton Ellis and Schrader are looking to do is with the campaign is different from what we usually see at this stage of production.

"It is true that we have more rewards than kind of comparable campaigns, but the reason for Kickstarter wasn't just trying to get financial resources. A big part of it for us is engaging the community and getting people to participate. We very self-consciously wanted to try and be generous with our time. Giving people access to us and creating a lot of rewards so that people feel invested in what we're doing."

This kind of strategy is similar to the self-distribution campaigns we've seen for films like On The Ice. Here the filmmakers are looking to get around the huge costs that can come with marketing a movie right from the start.

"In the past when a studio puts up all the P&A (prints and advertising), then you have to sit behind those dollar figures and those spends before you recoup and that can be very, very costly."

Pope is thinking differently about the fate of the film and putting those thoughts into action right from the start. Before the era of digital distribution and social media an indie film faced a virtual cliff face of obstacles in order to find an audience.

"You were still in the trap of once you've executed this movie: how were you going to get it seen? What's the marketing, what's the distribution plan?" said Pope. "In the past if a movie went straight to DVD then that was essentially perceived as-- in a lot of cases-- as a failure. With VOD I don't think there's any kind of stigma and I think it's really opened things up, because there's been a shift in how people consume films and consume media and content with streaming."

While our conversation focused on the campaign as a marketing and distribution tool, the campaign will have an impact on the quality of the production. Pope notes that the dollars raised will add days onto the production, and give them the option of exploring "the ARRI Alexa's which are very difficult to get for free, [but] we can ge them for reduced rates. It may mean some different locations that we may not have had access to, because now we can afford to get them permitted or rent them out as opposed to just exclusively getting locations for free from friends."

Pope aims to use the campaign to build a community, one that can act as advocates for the production, and that also has a say in the film. One of the more interesting parts of the reward structure is access to the casting process. Backers will be able to vote on finalists for the film at LetItCast.com.

"We want to be transparent and we want to be open and inclusive. Hopefully at the end of it we'll have created a movie that is compelling and works artistically,but I think bringing people into the process is an important shift for us," said Pope. "When you do movies with studio partners there's a lot of control over releasing information. There's a lot of secrecy. In this social media era there's a new transparency and I think it's different and exciting."

Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.

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