When Opportunity Knocks

Shooting Fog City
This is a guest post by Liz O’Neal.

I am not a traditional filmmaker, and to be honest, I was not an experienced filmmaker until I produced Fog City. I moved to SF a year ago to manage a video studio – from operations and client services and video production — for a large corporation. At one of those too-large-and-somewhat-dull conferences that we’ve all been to, I serendipitously stumbled upon the Seed&Spark team. They were amazing to meet, and within several days of meeting Liam Brady, we knew that we wanted to work together. He brought the creative energy, and I brought the focus and project management.

Liam and I have been on an extraordinary journey together.

Our first Seed&Spark campaign went toward pre-production. In the first 30 days, we raised $6K from our friends and family members; it’s hard for them to say no! The development was moving along as planned. We used the funds carefully, printing postcards and hosting local script workshops.

When it came time to create the production budget for our second campaign, the goal was much larger: $50K.

On the set of Fog City

Quickly realizing that the budget and timeline were incompatible with each other – an important lesson that should be learned by all aspiring filmmakers – we did what no filmmaker should do when crowdfunding: in order to stay on schedule, we slashed our budget without fully considering the consequences. The final numbers: we raised $32K in 30 days, but inevitably our film still cost us close to $50K. We are now backfilling with personal funds and hoping to raise enough in our next campaign to reconcile the difference.

To gain followers for our crowdfunding campaign, I carefully developed a social calendar – tweets, Facebook posts, video updates – to include all-things SF, baseball and war veterans. I assumed that we could rally support through hash tags and local associations but severely underestimated how challenging it was to translate support into donations (we needed $1K per day).

Halfway through our campaign, we hadn’t even hit 30%. I went into full-blown panic mode. Why hadn’t I organized a live auction or a fundraising softball tournament? The clock was ticking, and I was running out of options. Through a series of desperate tweets, Facebook posts and personal phone calls to friends and family members who had “always wanted to support our film” but hadn’t yet, we gained some late momentum and, thankfully, finished the campaign with enough funds to shoot the film. Phew.

I learned that you need to spend your money wisely, and some things are worth splurging on. For example, we flew a steadicam operator and his gear out from NYC because he had worked with our crew before, and I was told he was a rockstar – I was hesitant to spend the money on this, but he made all the difference in the caliber of our film.

As a student project, we were fortunate enough to have insurance from NYU and were given student rates for all of our locations. NYU wanted us to have signed location agreements before they would issue any insurance, and our SF locations wouldn’t consider signing any forms without seeing proof of insurance – I ended up in an endless cycle of Catch 22 with 8 locations. Several emails and phone calls later, NYU begrudgingly issued insurance on the promise of location agreements ASAP.

Still from Fog City

The most bizarre part about this is that we received insurance that expired on July 1st, 2013 (our shoot was June 28 – July 8); we learned that NYU’s policy expires over the summer and was being renewed in the middle of our shoot – a strange and awful coincidence that has probably never happened to anyone else because students tend to shoot during the year. So now, I have void insurance for more than half of my shoot, my locations will not give me permits, and the rental houses will not rent us equipment. One of our NYU team members sent a very stern, yet pleading, email to the insurance department explaining that they were single handedly derailing our entire production and that they needed to help us. Meanwhile, I scrambled to take out my own insurance policies for each location and rental house (something we did not have the budget for). 48 hours before we were supposed to start shooting, we were notified that NYU had taken out temporary insurance policies from another company to backfill our gap. My rental houses and locations were confused by the hubbub but accepted the dual insurance policies.

We survived a series of crises throughout our 8 day shoot: our Red Epic broke on Day 1 and had to be replaced overnight – pushing our entire schedule and robbing us of a day off on July 4th. I had to let go of a crew member, and we were nearly kicked off location for not following the location agreement (note: don’t drink bottled beer on a beach!). With each unexpected incident, I had to be a calm and confident leader. There were times that I panicked in front of crew members, but I quickly realized that spreading my anxiety was damaging and counterproductive.

By the end of the week, I had learned to take a deep breath and take my triage center (i.e. laptop and cell phone) to another room. I would have private conversations with one person who could help, without letting everyone know that we had a big problem on our hands; isolating the chaos is just as important as finding the solution. I learned that being a producer is like being a perpetual problem solver; it’s never easy but always necessary. I’m happy and proud to say that we wrapped last week and have stunning footage that I couldn’t be more proud of.

Filmmaker Liz O’Neal

I now know that things happen for a reason. It’s important to trust your gut, to seize every great opportunity, and to know that you can, and will, overcome any obstacle that comes in the way of your film. Liam and I will soon begin phase two of our journey: fundraising for post-production and festival submissions. I will be better prepared for fundraising this time and can’t wait to see our final product in the fall.

Liz O’Neal is a Connecticut raised Syracuse Grad living in San Francisco. She recently accepted the role of Creative Director at Six Spoke Media and is in post-production for her first short film, Fog City. To find out more about the film, please visit http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/fog-city and follower her @LizONeal.