Traveling to SXSW on the StartupBus

This Tuesday I’ll be getting on a bus of about 30 entrepreneurs for a road trip from Miami to SXSWi in Austin, TX. During this trip these entrepreneurs will be working in teams to launch a company, in time to pitch at the conference. It’s the Miami StartupBus. And I’ll be filming the whole thing.

I got the offer for this project about a week ago its been a bit of a rush to get things together but I’m really excited.

It’s being billed as The Apprentice meets Amazing Race meets Startup Incubator – should be cool.

I’ve got a few responsibilities as it relates to video. First off is to document the experience – what happens when a bunch of strangers get together and have to create a company in 48 hours.

Second, part of the StartupBus competition is to turn in a pitch video, where online viewers will vote on the idea and then the top 6 will move on to the final presentation at SXSW. I’ll be working with the teams to create that. Six videos in a few hour turnaround, should be fun.

And finally I’ll be handling the live streaming – or at least moderating the channel. What would be ideal to me, and I think more awesome, is if every bus member was a camera person, using their phone to broadcast their experience. I want something that would be one official StartupBus Miami channel page, multiple screens of different camera sources going on this page, and the user could pick one to watch. But I haven’t been able to find anything that can do that, though I feel I’ve seen it.

The main chocies are Livestream and Ustream. Ustream can broadcast from phones. Livestream can’t but can hook up with Qik. At first I was leaning towards Ustream, but Livestream seems to offer more for free, like a complete control center to mix live video, online video, overlay text, and setup playlists of looping video if you’re not broadcasting live on your channel.

For the documentary filming part, I’m borrowing a Canon T2i to play with. I’ll be doing most of the filming on my trusted EX1, but I wanted to try out a DSLR as a B-Camera and this seems like a good project to start.

Also, since I’m now traveling to SXSW, I figured I might as well try to find a venue to screen Bots High and tap into the SXSW crowd. It’s looking like I found a place; I’ll find out tomorrow. But for sure I scored a booth at Dorkbot, a mix of booths of geeky projects and Ignite 5 minute talks. So if you’re in SXSW check it out this Friday.


My Kickstarter Experience: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

It’s four days before the deadline for my Kickstarter project reaches its end. I’m only about a third of the way to my $9000 goal – a seemingly impossible feat.

A few hours later the goal is reached! So sudden? Anti-climactic? I know.

Now I wish I could say I received a miracle flood of donations in the 11th hour, or a mysterious backer stumbled on the project and became very interested. But no, it came from a phone call I made asking for an emergency bailout.

A few days later I wrote a check repaying this money. This is my Kickstarter experience.

So this post is not going to be pretty and inspirational, like Miao Wang raising $10,000 to go to SXSW (half of which came from one donor), or Driven raising $25,000, $12,000 of which they raised in the last four days.

Instead it might be a hard hitting dose of reality, but I think it’ll balance out the more popular success stories that you read that actually make you think this stuff is easy. And at the end are some things I learned that you can take away and learn from.

(Some backstory: I made a Kickstarter project to fund my feature documentary Bots High, which follows high school robotics teams built combat robots)

The Good

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge fan of Kickstarter. I think the main thing to takeaway is it’s a tool, not a magical source of funding.

The best thing about having the project is it gave me a hard deadline, and forced me to do stuff I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

So I created the project. Within an hour I got a $25 pledge from a stranger. Yay, hopeful start! I posted the link on all my social networks, and got a good response, mostly from people invovled in the documentary and friends. But then it stalled.

I’m at about $600 and suddenly $9000 seems like a ridiculous ammount. So I started doing what I had been meaning to do – I emailed blogs. Tons of them.

I emailed anything to do with robots, science, technology, teaching. I created a press area on the site so they could grab photos, videos, and logos easily. I got a good response.

A few popular robotics sites wrote about the film, and RSS subscribers went from a handful to a couple hundred. So awareness of the film definitely went way up. Plus I created connections with blogs (and kept a spreadsheet of everyone I contacted, over 100 different sites), which will definitely come in handy once the film is done.

The Bad

Despite the good writeups on various sites, and increased traffic and subscribers, none of that really converted into donations.

Funding was still stalled around $600. I’ve read studies that people are more likely to give if the funding goal is closer to being reached, rather than really low. So I put in $1500 to bring the level to over $2000. Not exactly close to the goal, but at least it was something in the four digits. ((The study is down on page four of the article. Here’s the quote, “To see whether the strategy made sense, List and Reiley wrote letters to potential donors saying that the university wanted to buy computers for a new environmental-research center. They varied the amount of money that supposedly had already been raised. In some letters, they put the amount in hand at $2,000, out of the $3,000 they needed for a given computer; in others, they said they had raised only $300 and still needed $2,700. The results were overwhelming. The more upfront money Central Florida claimed to have on hand, the more additional money it raised.”))

My marketing campaign continued, and I feel like the awareness was great. I emailed all my mailing lists. A few weeks before the deadline I was the Kickstarter Project of the Day. The project was written about in the Miami New Times Blog (mainly because I was using Kickstarter).

So while awareness was great, that still didn’t convert into donations.

But you know what did work? Credible referrals. A super nice and famous robot builder that I met when he came to Miami wrote about my project on a robot forum. I got a few good donations from that, just because his opinion had a lot of weight and he liked the project.

The Ugly

You already know where this is going. It was a few days before the deadline and aside from a miracle I didn’t see anyway that I was going to reach the goal. I didn’t want to lose all the pledges I already had. Plus I couldn’t have an email going out to everyone saying the project wasn’t successful. I always said from the start that success or not, this is happening, it just depends how much hair I’m going to pull out and stress over.

So I called a relative and got bailed out. Not pretty. Not glorious. Not the ending I was hoping for (I could have used that money, especially now that I got rejected from the Tribeca Gucci Grant).


I learned a lot from this experience, and I think I know where I went wrong and what I can do better in the future (and what you can learn from my experience).

Larger Established Fan Base: Sure, I have a few hundred Fans on Facebook and picked up more fans while marketing the project, but this is my first film and I don’t have anywhere near Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans. It’s also harder to build a fan base and raise money in the early stages of a project, before you have something to show and spread. That’s why there’s so many finishing grants – they want to put their money on something that has a high chance of seeing completion.

People like a sure thing (preferably a completed thing): So I just touched on this, but it’s a tougher sell for a film in pre-pro or production. A lot of this stems from my short doc/experiment You 2.0. I had been pre-selling DVDs for a few months for $9.99. Got a few buys – I think 30 or so. Then when the DVD was actually done and I raised the price to $14.99, I got tons of orders. People weren’t willing to gamble on a pre-sale. They were fine paying more for a sure thing. So if you’re trying to raise funds while you’re in development or production, you just have to work that much harder to sell it to donors. ((Case in point: Beijing Taxi didn’t get its flood of donations until after their second email blast, which announced it was premiering at SXSW))

Be a Hustler or Find Someone Who Is: So by my standards, I hustled more than I ever have before. But that clearly wasn’t enough, and I should have found someone who is a born hustler to get in touch with more blogs and groups to promote the film (Jon Reiss talks about this, though it relates more to booking films in theaters. Either way, if you’re not a hustler, find someone who is).

Get on a high profile blog: This is pretty elusive and I might as well have put “Create a Smash Hit Viral Video,” but it’s worth mentioning. If I were to have gotten Fluffy on fire or some other video on Boing Boing or Gizmodo, I would have been set.

Going back to You 2.0, I’m not actively promoting it and pay zero for advertising, yet I get a few sales a week. Most of that is coming from two Lifehacker write-ups – one of a video of a guy talking about his office, and the other about a program I had developed (and there’s also an article I wrote on another popular blog about creating that program solely to drum up traffic). That’s how powerful these big aggregating sites are.

Goal Amount: As far as the whole post on the True Cost of a Kickstarter Project, I still stand behind the issues brought up there. But I might add to throw in a dose of reality. I probably should have set the goal lower, maybe $5,000. After all, more can always be raised (Like Diaspora, which is nearly 1800% over their goal. Insanity! A NY Times article does help. And Signal vs. Noise has an interesting explanation as to why people are giving to them.)


I hope you found this useful. On a positive note, that survey I did that graphed behavior patterns of Kickstarter backers was spot on – all the donations I got pretty much matched the graph.

I’m curious to hear other Kickstarter stories that might not have ended so well, as well as other tips or things learned from fundraising. Leave them in the comments!

BattleBots and South Beach

It’s been a while and I’m sorry, but here’s where my life in the real world is at:

I’m officially done with Film School and FSU, got my diploma and everything. It was a weird last semester because I was editing and doing pick-ups for UnderCover and finishing You 2.0, so when all was said and done (well, UnderCover still isn’t officially done), there was no definitive end. I had already had a graduation ceremony in December, and then a brief mind fuck when I figured out I would be staying another semester. So it was just a weird period of “Do I go out in the real world now? When do I leave Tallahassee?”

And I wasn’t sure what the next step would be. I didn’t really want to intern again, even though my past experience are probably nothing like what working at a real company would be. I had been getting more into photography, so I was focusing a lot on that. But if someone asked me what I was going to do, I probably gave a different answer every time.

Now I’m not entirely sure what made me decide to run with it, but last year I caught the national championship of BotsIQ, the BattleBots High School division. If you’re any level of techie you’ll remember BattleBots from the Comedy Central show from a few years ago. Remote controlled robots (alright, technically machines because robots are supposed to be autonomous) fight it out in a weaponized arena. I loved the show, but I thought BattleBots was dead, until I stumbled on this championship (which was in South Beach, where I was at during break).


So here’s the same arena with big robots battling it out, yet it’s all done by high school students. I thought that would be an awesome TV show or film, but this being right before thesis filming started, it was just a random thought.

Fast forward a year and insert thought bubble of me thinking back to BattleBots and BotsIQ while brainstorming ideas for the future. I even developed a proposal for the film in a professional development class during my fake last semester. Whenever I mentioned the idea people thought it was really cool and I believe it would make a cool film, plus it was the best and most developed idea I had. It’s got a built in narrative (start when the school year starts, end at the climactic championship), it has robots (Transformers 2…box office record setter), and kids doing adult stuff, which I’m a fan of. So I decided to make it.

I met with the head of BotsIQ (Nola) and she was game for the idea (along with being one of the nicest person I’ve ever met), so the project became official. Nola and BotsIQ are based in Miami, and Miami has the largest number of participating schools, so a few weeks ago I packed up in Tallahassee and moved down to my apartment in South Beach. This is ironic on so many levels because I lost count of how many times I said I would never move back to Miami. But the fact that I’m from here is irrelevant – I moved here for the film, because it’s something I really believe in and hope it will get my career started.

I’m working on getting a website up for it, but in the mean time there’s a newsletter you can subscribe to get updated when things start happening:

Subscribe to the BattleBots Doc Newsletter


500 Days of Summer

This past weekend Geoffrey Gilmore was back with a new film straight from Sundance – 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Marc Webb.

I loved it. I thought it was the best love story I’ve seen since Eternal Sunshine, and emotionally very similar. Plus, it has a whole sequence in Ikea, so how could you not love it?

Plus the soundtrack is amazing, though sadly (but understandably) no Zooey music from She & Him.

Here’s the teaser trailer:

Watched it? Good. Thought the narration was ridiculous? Good. That’s the point. Webb said it was meant to be over the top. Some people have even caught on that it was inspired by the trailer for Contempt.

How do I know Webb said this? Because he came by to do a private Q&A and discussion for the Film School, hosted by Gilmore.

The backstory of the film is great. The script had a pretty typical Hollywood beginning – all the studios passed on it until Fox Searchlight optioned it and Webb got a copy of it. He feel in love with it, but the studio wasn’t really doing much to get it made. He said even right now (as in now, where the film is all done) the film still isn’t greenlit.

So here’s the awesome part – Webb made it his mission to prove to the studio that they would be foolish not to make it. He spent three months and a lot of his own money to create storyboards, concept drawings, and a now famous scroll. The film is told out of sequence, and this scroll is an outline of the events in the script laid out on a timeline plotting their 500 day relationship in chronological order. Needless to say, the presentation blew everyone away.

Webb’s background is in music videos, with this being his first feature. People seem to frown when a music video director does a feature, but I thought his background made the film quirky and great. There’s an amazing split screen sequence in the film, but he knew how to make it work because he did it in a Maroon 5 video.

Also, he said the biggest asset to having a music video background is you know how to tell a story economically and make each shot count.

So the film is coming out in July, up against Harry Potter. It’s a good move since the audiences for these films are pretty different. But they have some challenges with marketing the film.

When they did a test screening it rated higher with guys. So how do you market a love movie to guys?

Also, as much as I love Zooey and Joey, when most people hear their names (like my mom), they reply with, “who?”

So a lot of the marketing will probably depend on good word of mouth, so I’ll start it here. The film is amazing, definitely the best thing I’ve seen this year. You will love it, you should see it, and bring your friends too.

Feels Like a Venti Day

Deadlines seem to be the ultimate motivator. After four days of taking it easy and not being able to do much producing because everyone else was taking it easy, I got more done yesterday, between finishing getting locations, deals on hotel rooms for actors, and a lot of little details needed for production, than I did all last week.

It was a long day but I enjoy being that busy. But looking back at everything I got done, I realized I could have done all of this a week ago.

But no, because for some reason humans must wait until the end to do what we must do. This seems to be a common occurrence in the Film School – no one got done what they wanted over Thanksgiving break.

Parkinson’s Lawwork expands to fill the time available.

Stress is like a drug. It brings a rush and we’re addicted to it. So I don’t completely mind waiting for the rush. I’m also just pretty calm about things, because I know in the end it will work out.

And it just doesn’t seem as fun to slowly get things in order far in advance. But it’s probably better.

This is it, the final day before production. Checking equipment out, having a production meeting, and raiding Costco. Leisurely call time of 6:30 am tomorrow, at a location an hour away. Bring on the Ventis!

Coffee Break – Blue is the New Red Huge Roast of Links

So a while back I used to post cool links each Wednesday for a Coffee Break series. For many reasons (mainly time and laziness), I haven’t posted cool links in a while. But I still have a bunch saved up.

So in the spirit of new beginnings, I’m just going to offload everything I’ve had stored up and start fresh.

And just to recap why yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life: Voted in my first presidential election, free Starbucks, free Krispy Kreme, got an iPhone(!), ScottDobie thought my tweetI feel like today is the day Frodo tosses the ring into Mount Doom” was wittier than both Leo Laporte and John Hodgman, watched the election results at the Democrat results party with all my friends, and the good guy finally won!

The best part – Obama robot at Disney’s Hall of Presidents!

Now enjoy the links.

The company now offers celebrity wannabe packages, including the A-List—Ariel’s choice—which gives clients four personal paparazzi for 30 minutes and a mock-up of a high-gloss tabloid magazine cover with their picture, for $730. The Superstar package ($990) lasts for an hour and the Megastar ($3,000) provides clients with six paparazzi for two hours, limo service, a publicist and a bodyguard. And for customers who hope to get into places like the Waverly Inn or La Esquina just because of the scene they’re setting, it’s priceless, says Drew Tinnin, Celeb 4 A Day’s New York manager. “We’ve gotten people past the velvet rope. Restaurants and clubs usually like the attention we get them when we show up with our clients.”

15 Minutes of Fame, On Sale Now | Page Six Magazine | The New York Post.

Objectified: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit – On seven years in the indie film business

From the director of my fav Helvetica on how he’s made a living doing small documentaries.

The Gentleman’s Guide to the Calling Card | The Art of Manliness (via Chic and Charming)

Documentary Club – If you like documentaries

Hi-Res Star Trek Comic-Con Posters – Movie News

Day 1, Chip Heath on Flickr – Very cool illustration explaining the must-read book ‘Made to Stick

Full List of Stuff White People Like « Stuff White People Like – Very funny. One of the fastest Blog-to-Book examples

indieWIRE: FIRST PERSON | Film Department’s Mark Gill: “Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling.” – I plan to write more about this, but if you haven’t read it – do so

Channel 4 recreates The Shining to promote its Kubrick season | Media |

2008 Design Trends – Very cool designs for inspiration

Metropolis « Finding Some Direction – The missing reels from Metropolis have been found. This is so amazing.

The Steady Approach Part 2 | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio (via Coudal) – Interview with Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam

The Media Equation – Little Movies, Big Problems – – Indie films not doing so hot

Filmmaker Magazine | Spring 2008: NO VACANCY – The Visitor, the only indie film that did pretty good this year

Typeface – Documentary on Typeface. I have a feeling I’ll like this film. Helvetica and Typeface box set coming soon? Wingdings as a special feature?

The Simple Dollar » How To Write an Effective Thank You Note for Any Occasion

The Ira Glass Guide to Link Bait | Copyblogger

Cat got your tongue, follow these tips — Young Go Getter

What Does A Stylish Man Look Like?

Grocery List: Never Forget an Item at the Supermarket – These two links good for craft service shopping | FREE DOWNLOADABLE GROCERY LIST

Mastering the Informational Interview – Shifting Careers – Small Business – New York Times Blog

russell davies: how to be interesting

the media artist: Are You Interesting?

Prepping for Warren Buffett: The Art of the Elevator Pitch (Videos) | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss » Scripting a short film » Rethinking motivation

From the Heart Productions :: The Roy W. Dean Film and Writing Grants

Ultimate Video Relay | How it Works

south by southwest festivals + conferences

The Best Places to Watch Documentary Movies Online |

2008 Animated Shorts Nominees — OZOUX.COM

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