Back in 2011, Jocelyn Kelvin and I were going to make a movie. We had a script, a director, a cast, and funding. Overnight, all of those things disappeared. Rather than scrap our dream, we turned to a newish website called Kickstarter, which we used to annoy the shit out of everyone we knew, begging for a few bucks of support. Somehow it worked, and it was the most important month of my life.
See, whenever you get a donation on Kickstarter, they send a little emailing telling you who was chipping in. My phone’s email notification ding became a Pavlovian trigger announcing that one more person believed in our dream. I couldn’t breathe. One email would come in the middle of the night from a friend I hadn’t spoken to since middle school. Another from a family member who had never supported anything about you until this moment. Another from a stranger you’d immediately Google and try to understand how they had even heard of you, much less become invested (literally) in your idea.
When your first coverage comes from a blogger in Germany, and a couple of personal heroes ask how they can be involved, you realize this has become much bigger than yourself.
While there was a financial target, the KS experience’s joy was never about the money. I’ve abandoned dozens of creative ventures because, like so many others, I didn’t know how to believe in myself. What that month of KS brought was a donation of belief from the outside world; those who knew us and believed we had a voice that deserved to be heard, and (perhaps more shockingly) those who recognized that potential from across the void of the Internet.
On the afternoon of July 6th, 2011 our Kickstarter closed. In 30 days we’d raised, outside donations included, about 150% of our target goal and we began shooting immediately. Not only were we forced to believe in ourselves, we now had an obligation to the several hundred people who backed us. No matter what, this movie would get made.
When we ran out of funds much earlier than expected, our cast and crew doubled down and made sacrifices because we all shared in that obligation. When we were still shooting days past our deadline with half the equipment we needed and sleep deprived delirium, we shared an obligation. When it was a year and a half later and an entire act of the film remained unfinished, we found new people willing to join in our obligation.
In many ways, donating to Your Friends Close was not a gift, it was a damnation. We could not lose and we could not quit, so we kept playing the game. (Especially director Jocelyn Kelvin and editor Lauren Tracy, who put more blood and sweat into this film than you can possibly imagine.)
Tomorrow night, the first public audience gets to see Your Friends Close. For our talented cast and crew, it will also be their first screening. While the title’s meta-commentary on our process has had both heartwarming and satirical implications throughout the process, it remains impossible to forget that we would never have reached this point without those closest to us, and surprisingly, from those furthest away.
Today it seems necessary to share this story, as the storm of controversy over Zach Braff/Veronica Mars/Melissa Joan Hart threatens to turn people off to the process of crowd-funding. Without commenting directly on any of those projects, what I can say from our experience is that Your Friends Close is something wonderful. It is not wonderful because it is a good film (which I think it is), and it is not wonderful because of the potential it offers (to the people and ideas involved), but it is wonderful because it exists.
It exists where, otherwise, nothing would.
Its creation is far more important than its reception, because each person involved has been changed for the better. They were not simply given an opportunity to share their talent with the world, they were actively encouraged to do so, by an involved group of supporters. Both in-front of and behind the camera are some of the most impressive people I have ever known, and the notion Your Friends Close may introduce a few of them to the world is the greatest contribution we could hope for.
I can only speak for myself, but that KS campaign was a direct influence on my decisions to start doing standup comedy, to write books, to continuing making movies, and to stay in Los Angeles. Without that month in 2011, I would have never evolved from the angry, rudderless, and generally trapped person I had become. If you meet Brock Wilbur today and find anything about him to like, there’s 150 people from two years back that deserve your thanks.
I had never crowd-funded a project before we asked people to donate our way. Since then, having felt the impact one “silly Internet thing” had on my life, I’ve donated to a lot of projects. I lack any real financial power, especially since this movie is nowhere near paid off, but I have learned first-hand that even a single dollar can have the kind of impact that changes a life. That is not an exaggeration. One backer who gave us a dollar opened their first bank account just to do so. When a stranger can have that kind of belief in you, it will change the way you see humanity, and yourself.
So when a multi-millionaire asks for your money, you have every right to give it to them. You will be empowering the creation of something that would not exist, and while it may improve their lives only tangentially, you’d be amazed how many other people involved will be changed by your action. At the same time, there are thousands of other options, where five dollars might be the difference between a creator giving up on their dream, or being forced to believe on a scale they could not prepare for.
If you want to be a part of our dream, come on out Saturday night to the Los Feliz 3, and see what happens when people take a chance.