How I Raised $9,750 To Make A Movie (A Strategy Guide To Completing Your Dream Project)

I regularly have long conversations with my readers via email (you should say hi) and after Tuesday’s post on overcoming depression and other obstacles, one reader, Karen, mentioned that depression was becoming even more common in our age group because we are under so much pressure to “perform” and it’s simply overwhelming.

We have all these plans for projects, and dreams of things that we want to accomplish — but it’s SO hard to see them through to completion. How many of us have goals, and in our hearts, we’re just not sure if we’ll ever accomplish them?

I know I’ve been there.

However, there’s also something very special and unique about our generation — and I couldn’t have put it better myself. So I just decided to copy Karen’s words from the email:

The upside is that our generation is way more entrepreneurial than the generation before us. If we aren’t getting the jobs we want, we are creating them for ourselves through small companies and innovative projects. We are daring to step outside the box and make our dreams a reality. We need more of this, we need to see an hear more of this. There is a huge change taking place and we are at the fore-front, all kinds of paths should be recognized, not just the traditional routes. When we can all learn to encourage an be more accepting of these different ways of living, I think we can pull ourselves out of peer pressure and depression. You are already doing it with your blog :)

What do you think? I think she’s spot-on. And that’s why I wanted to share the story with you today about how I raised money to do something that was really, really important to me — and how you can do the same.

NOTE: This article below is about how I rallied a community, raised almost $10,000 and made a film — but remember, the most important takeaway here is how I started with nothing, came up with an idea, defied the gatekeepers standing in my way and made the project a reality.

Would the ability to do that be useful in your life right now? If so, keep reading.

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When I graduated with my Bachelors degree at 20, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to school.

But I also knew that I didn’t want to jump into some lame corporate job that I hated just to bring home a paycheck.

I wanted to do something creative, self-directed and something with the unique possibility to make 7-figures or more.

So I chose…

Acting?

Hmmm, maybe it wasn’t the best move, considering the fact that actors generally take orders from producers and directors (they’re not “self-directed”).

And then there’s the fact that 99.997% of all “working” actors barely crack $1,000 per year. So there goes 7-figures.

But, on the plus side, it definitely fulfilled the creative criteria. And I had a lot of fun.

Florida and Georgia have a surprising amount of film work, and I got to work on some really fun, interesting projects.

 

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Lots of fun roles. Although I seem to die or get beat up really badly in every one. Hmmm…

 

  • I got to jump out of a moving Blackhawk helicopter in full gear
  • I trained for months with pro fighters and filmed a professionally choreographed action movie
  • I ran around Tampa at 3am with a Glock, while police barricaded the streets
  • I died twice
  • I played a gay, homeless murder witness with AIDS

All childhood dreams, naturally.

But acting is definitely a grind of the highest order — and it’s a numbers game. For every role I booked, I got dozens of rejections. The rejections didn’t really bother me, though. What bothered me was the reason BEHIND the rejections.

The moment I said “f*** it”

I remember the moment with something “clicked”…(or was it snapped??)…inside of me.

I’d been called in to audition for a role on AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead. It wasn’t for any big role. It wasn’t even for a supporting role. It was for the role of…you guessed it…a zombie.

I got into the casting room, and a scene partner came with me. We both stared at the CDs (casting directors, for the uninitiated).

There weren’t any lines for us to read…because zombies kinda just moan, right?

So the casting director said:

“Alright guys…act like zombies.”

So we extended our arms, shuffled our feet and started moaning as painfully as possible.

“NO, NO, NO. Zombies would never act like THAT. Be more REALISTIC.”

Ok. Realistic zombie? That’s an oxymoron, and you’re a moron.

So we started doing different things — we tried the “undead” face, the “contorted” face and even the “on the verge of throwing up” face.

We tried more sounds. Less sounds. Different postures. Different mouth shapes.

The just didn’t like any of it…

“Ugh. This just wasn’t what we were looking for” (exasperated).

Ironically, I actually walked out of the room feeling a little more dead inside.

I know I’m supposed to take some lesson from every rejection…but all I got from that interaction was that some people don’t think I’m good enough to play an undead, infected freak with no lines or discernable facial features.

I totally think I could have pulled this off.

The worst part was…

I could be an AMAZING zombie, with a flawless audition, and not even realize that the producers had already filled the role I was auditioning for before I ever got there.

Most people don’t know that oftentimes, CDs continue the audition process, even after they’ve already made their decsion. It’s a politically correct move to make sure agents/actors don’t feel slighted or feel like they’ve wasted their time (this happens quite frequently — Ryan Gosling agrees).

After what I’m calling “The Zombie Episode,” I knew it was time to dive into something that I had a little more CONTROL over.

Acting was fun, but at the end of the day, it was all based on whether the casting director thought I had the “look.”

I didn’t have control over it. It wasn’t up to me, no matter how good I was.

And then I had an epiphany…

“Why don’t I just make my own films and cast myself?”

If I wrote my own material, I could be the star. I could have complete creative discretion, and I wouldn’t have to answer to anybody.

But even suggesting it made me feel dirty and unorthodox.

I liked the idea of having more control…but somewhere deep down, I didn’t know if I was “worthy.”

Immediately, all the doubts started popping up in my mind. The same type of doubts that make us the serial killers of our own dreams and leave us with dozens of half-finished or never-started projects.

Doubts like:

  • What if this doesn’t work..
  • I’ve never done anything like this before. I didn’t go to school for this…
  • I have no idea where to begin…
  • This is going to be expensive. I could never raise the money…

 

What I didn’t know at the time was that none of this stuff even MATTERS because you don’t need to be perfect to pull off an amazing project. In fact, there’s a HUGE margin for error.

Focusing on perfection is the absolute fastest route to Never-Started Land. It’s not a fun place to be.

Somehow, I gathered the courage to start. So many good things were in store.

Taking the first step

One of the most common frustrations with starting any new project is simply not knowing where to begin.

The paralysis of the unknown keeps us from moving. Don’t give in to that.

The solution to “where do I begin?” is to begin at the simplest, most obvious starting point. 

For me, that was just writing the movie. I had to write the damn thing, otherwise, everything else was just talk.

Honestly, of the entire production, this was my favorite part. Every day, I came home from work at the restaurant and sat in my dark apartment with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine…and just wrote whatever came to my mind.

I didn’t know what I wanted my film to be about, but I knew I needed to flex my creative muscles and become an idea machine (hat tip, J. Altucher) — so I also spent a lot of time surfing the web, specifically looking for things that inspired me.

And one day, I ran across this video. I can’t place my finger on why or how, but It changed me inside:

 

As if by osmosis (is that the right word?) the entire script just came to me. I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew the characters. I knew the plot. I knew how it would end.

In an instant, I had my movie. Now, I just had to write it. So for the next week, I poured into it. Here’s what the script looked like — I wrote it using a free program called Celtx:

Download the Blossoms For Clara script

(BTW, I think the script is really good. Read a few pages and see if you like it.)

Building the crew and getting the money

Once I had this script in hand, things became real. I knew I had something special and valuable. I was motivated to actually follow thorough because I wasn’t just “thinking about making a movie.” I had a movie in my hands, and it had to get made.

So I went to work raising money and building a crew.

The goal of this article is to give you actionable strategies so that you can complete whatever project you want — but I hate to disappoint you. The strategies aren’t that complex.

There are no magic tricks, but there are a handful of things that work pretty well.

Again, think about your dream project, and how you could use this to your benefit.

1.) Getting the crew together and creating the budget

At this point, I’d been acting for a few years, so I had a collection of friends who were actors, cinematographers, and producers. They were people that loved film, had skills and wanted to do fun, interesting projects.

The important point to note here is that I laid the groundwork early for my project by making friends and connections.

I got involved with projects that others were working on that had no direct benefit to me, knowing that later, having these friendships would be valuable.

I volunteered for dumb projects on Craigslist.

I worked at film festivals and participated in events like the 48 Hour Film Project.

I went out to coffee with people who were doing cool projects, just to let them talk about their work, with no agenda or ulterior motive in mind.

Are you doing selfless, fun things like this just to help other people and surround yourself with potential partners? This is simply the best way to meet people, make connections and get things done in the future.

I started recruiting my friends and putting together production team. If I needed a particular skill set, I asked friends of friends until I found the type of person I was looking for, and I pitched them the project.

The idea here was to spend most of our money on the making the film look great and keeping the actors comfortable. Our entire budget went to locations, actor salaries, film crew expenses and misc.

The producers didn’t make any money. I was the only actor who didn’t get paid.

But we were happy to work on something that we were passionate about. In effect, the production team was doing the same thing for me that I’d done for them in the past — getting involved in a project for a friend to build a relationship.

That’s powerful.

(So powerful, in fact, that one producer even bailed me out of jail years later. But that’s another story for another day. Ahem.)

After I assembled the production team, I leveraged my network of actor/producer/director friends to help me find a talented film crew. I needed the movie to look amazing. But I also knew that we basically wouldn’t have any money.

So I called up the director of a film I’d worked on the year before and asked him to connect me with, Brian Bourke, the one of the cameramen from that film.

Brian agreed to be DP (Director of Photography), and a few days later, I had an agreement to shoot my film which I can only classify as a GIFT. It was such a bare bones project, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

(See how that happens? Work on someone else’s project >> do great work >> build a relationship >> have them work on your project >> repay the favor by referring them more business. Why aren’t you doing this???)

Next, I had to put together the budget.

I really had no idea how much all of this would cost, but after reading some books about putting together film budgets, choosing some arbitrary numbers and adding them to what I knew the fixed costs were, I came up with $10,000.

(Here’s a look at the rough budget I drew up.)

I would need $10,000 to make this happen. All the other pieces were in place. Now I just had to find the money.

2.) Raising the money

Now, something you need to keep in mind here is that a project with momentum is inspiring. When you’ve told people about your project and you’ve already gotten the machine moving, there’s no turning back.

For that reason alone, I’d always recommend that you set other pieces in motion first before worrying about money. If you have enough people involved, money will come — often from unexpected places.

As Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

To raise money I:

  1. Started an Indiegogo campaign: then shared it on FB, Twitter, etc. This didn’t raise the most money, but it brought awareness so that I could ask family and friends later.
  2. Asked friends and family: but not begging, and not spamming. I literally went down my entire Facebook friends list, and wrote personal messages to EVERY single person that I thought might donate, mentioning something specific about our relationship so that they knew I wasn’t spamming, and asked them to donate anything they could. Literally over 400 PERSONAL messages. This took me about 3 weeks. But it WORKED.
  3. Talked about the project passionately at gatherings, parties and events: the craziest things happened. One guy, who I’d never met in my life, took out his check book, wrote me a check for $500 and said “good luck.” He didn’t want anything in return.

So amazing.

As simple and stupid as it sounds…the money just came.

Little by little, the entire team came together, and we were able to do amazing things – like turn an old warehouse into a 40’s jazz club:

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I also try to put my parents in everything I work on. At least for one shot:

 

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It was no more complicated than that.

So you see, you can do this. It just takes guts, brains and the willingness to put yourself out there.

Can you do that? I know you can.

PS – here’s the final cut of the film Blossoms For Clara, (the best $714/minute I’ve ever spent):

 

What’s your dream project?

Well, now you’ve seen how I organized and completed my “dream project.”

What’s yours?

What’s something that you really want to do, that until now, has been too overwhelming to take on?

How can you steal some of my strategies to get started on your own project?

Let me know in the comments.

If have any questions, I’ll jump in and help.

 

17 comments
IgnatiusLMedina
IgnatiusLMedina

I am watching the show as I cut some fabric for our next design show, I am always looking to keep inspiring material close by.

iamcesarromero
iamcesarromero

I don't even know what to say........I got to hang with a movie star in Nicaragua and the best part of it all is that you remain humble after all your accomplishments........TE AMO!!!! LOL!!!!


But seriously, this is really a great post and it all comes down to hanging with the right kind of people and knowing when and how to ask for what you want out of life.....


The Alchemist baby!!!

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

Christina I couldn't have done it without you!

Christina
Christina

Another amazing post Daniel.  BFC was a beautiful project and I am honored to be a part of it.  Reading your blog helps me to feel encouraged & inspired about going down a nontraditional path.

ddsuber
ddsuber

You are so right about the connections part of it.  Plus being able to communicate your vision and having a knack for  identifying the key connections necessary to make your vision come to life are very important.  Look at your own strengths and weaknesses and build your team accordingly.

RobMcNelis
RobMcNelis

I think sometimes people have trouble defining what they want to do. Doesnt seem to be a problem for you though. You just dive in to stuff that sounds cool. Thats key in my opinion. Thanks for sharing!

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

@iamcesarromero  The Alchemist!! Dude, thank you. BTW, you're actually very good at networking and making friends yourself!!!

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

@ddsuberTotally, Diana. Couldn't have done BFC without you. Not even one bit :)


So much of it comes down to who you know, and if they like you enough to help you. It's so important to make friends — which means social skills are at a premium.

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

@RobMcNelis Interesting, Rob. So you think the bigger problem is deciding what to do, not knowing what you want, but not knowing how to start?

iamcesarromero
iamcesarromero

@Rich20Something thanks man. I'm all about paying it forward. By the way, you got so much awesome amazing content I don't even know where to start lmao.....I'm still going through the Elance blog post

Tom
Tom

@Rich20Something @RobMcNelis  in this day and age of super connected lives just about every avenue is open. The fear to pick a path knowing the pos and cons of each path is what i believe holds a lot of people back. 


I would definitely agree that the problem is not the lack of knowledge of how to start (the action steps are well publicised).  The problem is confusion in the avenues to chose.  Questions that play on my mind frequently are :

how do you know its going to be right for you?

how do you know its going to be fruitful?

how do you know that time spend failing is just gong to be a waste of time from something that you could've been doing? (progressing up a career ladder etc..)

Thanks for having this blog 

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

@iamcesarromero I probably should do a post about it. But not too many secrets. I've been writing for about 2 years on this blog, so you just get into the flow. Once you find your true voice, it gets much easier. For instance, in my WP backend I have 12 post ideas/titles ready to go. So I can just start writing. But before I knew what I was really about, I struggled to get anything done. Just takes time and consistency :)

iamcesarromero
iamcesarromero

@Rich20Something damn!!! can I ask you, how are you doing it? how do you find the time to create all this great content? I struggle with creating 1000 words post because I take my time with it. Can you do a post about this? You're a content machine.......best of all is that the quality is amazing!!

Rich20Something
Rich20Something moderator

@iamcesarromero Thx! Wait until you see Monday's post. Fun stuff. By the end of the year, 5 days of content. 2 blog posts, 2 podcasts, 1 video every week.

goska
goska

@Tom @Rich20Something @RobMcNelis  I agree. It also seems to me that the more talents you have the more difficult it gets to decide on one path. The pain of choice.


"I can do anything in the world. Is it really THIS what I want to spend my life on?"