I hope this gets seen far and wide, and it leads to some new opportunities in the world of filmmaking!!
A <$5K Feature by Philadelphia filmmaker, Matt Pillischer
Well, I've been behind on A Dark Souvenir stuff, and I thought I would just bite the bullet and release it. No use waiting, particularly as Halloween season is coming and going. Now is the perfect time to get it out into the world. So without further ado, I've posted it in full to YouTube and embedded that into this website. Please feel free to share it with whoever you think might enjoy it! I've also posted a DONATE button through paypal onto this site, so that if anyone watches and likes it, or is just feeling generous to indie filmmakers, they can give to us. We made the film for less than $5,000, of me and my wife's money, our friend collaborators' valuable time. Most importantly, we want to be able to dedicate time to do more work in the future. So contributions help that.
I hope this gets seen far and wide, and it leads to some new opportunities in the world of filmmaking!!
The plan is to BUILD AUDIENCE!
(Hi all-- I apologize that I haven't posted recently. Been intending to give updates on the premieres and other events of the last month, but life has just been so crazy. I've been focused on supporting my wife as she's transitioned into a new career. In the meantime, I thought I would publish this excerpt from a recent application to Philadelphia Independent Film & Video Association finishing funds grant, which crystallizes my plan to give away the film to build relationships with my audience. -MJP)
Outline of Distribution plan: My whole distribution plan is built around the idea of finding and building a relationship with a permanent audience to follow and support my filmmaking career. In the changing nature of direct to consumer distribution, a filmmaker must build relationships with audience members in order to be successful in the long run, even if their films are being picked up and distributed by independent distributors. One-time distribution does not assume sales or continued audience support if the filmmaker is not cultivating relationships with audience. Fans need to like the content, but also like the artist behind it.
As a younger, very indie filmmaker that will likely continue to make my own no-budget productions for a long time, I need to capture a permanent audience to move with me from project to project. My first major film, Broken On All Sides, was a political documentary that had a built-in audience of those impacted by the criminal justice system or advocates working on related issues. The success of that film has been tremendous within the movement against mass incarceration. But with narrative films I intend to make, much of the audience will not crossover-- except those that know me personally and support me as a person and an artist. The idea is to grow these types of people into a fan base, which will financially support future projects.
For all the reasons above, I've decided against distributing A Dark Souvenir through pay-per-view online platforms for $3 per person or for $20 for a DVD. With a marketing budget of a couple hundred dollar here and there, this would mean PRAYING that people will find MY indie horror film through all the noise and trust enough in someone they don't know to give it a purchase. This is a failing strategy that's seen over and over again for indie films. Instead, I will be meeting people out in the real world and online, and GIVING the film away in exchange for their email signup. I also intend to send films to people who signup online through the website, but do not imagine this to be a huge crowd at first. Giving away the movie is showing that I value a direct relationship with them enough to provide my blood, sweat, and tears for free, and is an invitation to start learning more about me.
My marketing and distribution campaign includes an openness in blogging on the movie's website that will hopefully let people into my process, who I am, what I'm trying to do, the fun and struggles I have along the way: http://www.adarksouvenir.com/directors-blog
I plan to print a first run of 1,000-2,000 DVDs, estimated to be about $1,500-2,500. I also plan to budget in $4 shipping and packaging per DVD for 300 that I will send for free to the first 300 signups online (for total cost to me of $1,200). The remaining DVDs will be given out at horror conventions, horror film festivals, Jewish art festivals, and other events in exchange for an email signup. People who signup online after the first 300 DVDs are distributed will receive a link to a secure vimeo upload instead of DVD.
I also plan to put a "donate" paypal button on the site, along with a PO Box address to accept donations for the free work we've done. This may be enough money to begin making the next project. And the next project will feature heavy in email newsletters and blog posts going out-- so that the audience can have input on and feel a part of pre-production for the next horror/drama feature that is already in the works.
Leaning on all of you
In an hour and a half, we will be starting the drive to Hagerstown, MD for our premiere of A Dark Souvenir at the Maryland International Film Festival. After that we shoot back to Philly for our local premiere at the Women's Film Festival in town.
I have to pause and just be incredibly thankful for a moment. Even if nothing progresses beyond this point, I've made with friends an awesome horror film (something I have always wanted to do), and it is being shown to a couple sets of audiences. That's freakin awesome.
Life is short. Is a horror movie a really important contribution to the world? I don't know. But it is a genuine act of art that I've tried to execute in a thoughtful way, that delves deeper into personal and political issues for me (representation of women and people of color in film, Jewish themes of collective trauma and reactions to trauma, and personal demons too deep to casually mention here).
I want to thank all the people who made this possible. I've leaned on all of you throughout this, in one way or another, and you have all contributed to me and my work.
First of all Karen, who is an amazing partner, who lets me be crazy and take on too many things, including a stupid little horror movie that took up some spare precious time in our busy, insane lives. You are the best partner. And you were really, really great in this movie!
Brooke and Clark, dear friends, who I love to feature in this film. Brooke is the psychiatrist and Clark is the 9-1-1 operator. So cool they're a part of it.
All my musician friends who supported this project by giving me amazing pro music on the cheaps-- music has always been a big inspiration to my film work. I have a long relationship of using my friends' awesome work in my films. I cut a lot of the scenes to your music.
My mom, who I love and miss, the true art teacher in my life.
My dad, even though he had no hand in this and he probably won't like the movie.
Karen's parents, even though they had no hand in this and they probably wouldn't like the movie.
Chad Troutwine, for his generousity in bouncing bigger picture filmmaking ideas around.
Friends from afar who I met online who are helping me promote and bounce ideas around for marketing and promotion: David Poe of thehorrorfreak.com, Sasha Mowen, and Dusty Fleischman.
Gladden Schrock for his critiques, and his friendship and mentorship.
Many thank yous in the credits that could be repeated here, but I need to go and get ready to go. Just a quick note of gratitude.
Reflections from NYC
I am really enjoying being in NYC with my wife Karen. It really helps to have some time away from our normal lives, the space to enjoy each other's company in new spaces and the time to relax (even if just for a moment). I think we are going to be big fans of little local weekend driving/training getaways when we have a baby. Time to get away, but not a big enough trip that it's stressful because of money spent or time away from duties, duties, duties of everyday life.
We are in NY because Karen goes to a big eyeglass convention each year for her family business Philadelphia Eyeglass Labs. The convention is called Vision Expo. Funny story about all this to tie back to our project: we would not have made A Dark Souvenir if it wasn't for Karen's family's eyeglass store. We met Jesper Bystrom, one of the "Swedish couple" that appears in the movie, through the family business. Jesper used to be a eyeglass frame sales representative! He used to sell frames to Karen's grandfather when he ran the company, and then to Karen and Karen's mom after that.
Karen always thought Jesper was cool, and then we happened to bump into him at a keg in a basement of a house party in West Philly (in a building that probably should have been condemned). As the floor beams creeked out dust above us, I met Jesper and his wife, Eleanor. We found out that Eleanor was an artist and student at PA Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA).
This was a PAFA graduation party, put together by my friend David Aponte (also a student there at the time, both have since graduated and moved on). David had asked my band High Hearts to play in that dank, deteriorating basement, which we happily did in exchange for beers. I have a special connection to PAFA because my mom and aunt both went there. And David is a good guy. And High Hearts is always up for an interesting show where people appreciate the music.
Eleanor, Jesper, Karen, and me became fast friends. We were sad when they were moving back to Jesper's hometown of Stockholm, but understanding that they wanted the extensive benefits of their nanny state childcare and healthcare system, we wished them the best and said we'd hope to visit someday.
That day came when we were looking for honeymoon destinations. Jesper and Eleanor offered to host us for a few days in Stockholm, show us around, then let us be romantic newlyweds. We were happy to have local friends set us up and show us around, and we didn't mind spending time with good friends for a portion of our honeymoon (we even traveled to St. Petersburg together).
The footage from A Dark Souvenir's beginning is from our honeymoon, and the toast that Jesper and Eleanor made for us at the start was also real footage of us at a genuine smorgasbord in Stockholm! We enjoyed so many different kinds of cured salmon... mmmm.
I'm sitting here in the lobby of our hotel in NY, as Karen went to the conference and I'm trying to get some work done before meeting with Five Mualimm-ak later regarding Broken On All Sides and Incarcerated Nation Campaign. Started reflecting, trying to figure out how to divide my time working between (1) some work for clients at Alpha Center, (2) some promo for A Dark Souvenir, and (3) some Broken On All Sides work--- this is what came out! Now off to some other work.
Thanks to Dusty Fleischman & to Katherine Sasha Mowen (& how to make connections)
I want to throw big shouts out to Dusty Fleischman of Creepy Crawl Entertainment, and Katherine Sasha Moren of Sasha, the Princess of Darkness for assisting A DARK SOUVENIR with promotion of our premiere screening in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Dusty is a horror filmmaker himself, and lives in Hagerstown. He has been kind enough to offer to hang up some posters and leave some stacks of postcards around town, and that is a HUGE help. Katherine hosts a weekly horror radio show on blogtalkradio on Sundays 6:30-7pm, and has offered to have me on her show. I'm really looking forward to meeting each of them when we are in town March 27-28 for the Maryland International Film Festival.
It's really hard to figure out how to build an audience in a city far from you and where you don't know anyone! I found Dusty and Katherine through facebook stalking! You have to get very creative when you're an indie filmmaker with no budget. Social media is so good for this kind of thing: finding people and reaching out to them out of the blue. For this kind of thing, looking for a specific geographic area (around Hagerstown, MD) and a topic (horror), I find that Facebook is really good for this. I searched for Horror clubs/groups on Facebook in Hagerstown (and nearby towns), and I found a group. Through facebook, you can usually click on the people in the group and send them a message (you may even be able to see their profiles if not set to private, to make sure they're cool). The problem with not being "friends" with someone on facebook is that your message ends up in their "other" inbox. Most people never check that inbox, and some people don't even know they have one. Luckily these two saw my messages, and we started messaging back and forth.
Not everyone is willing to help a stranger, and I tried to sweeten the deal by offering free tickets to our show. I'd also like to treat each of them to a beer or coffee afterwards. So THANK YOU to Dusty and to Katherine, and I'm looking forward to meeting you each in person.
SO EXCITED for the premier weekend!
We are so excited to be adding the first ever Philly Women's Film Festival to the list of festivals we are participating in-- and on our premier weekend no less!
We'll be travelling to Maryland on Friday March 27 (3pm) for the Maryland International Film Fest (Matt, Karen, and Brooke going), and back to Philly on March 28 (7pm) for the Philadelphia Women's Film Festival screening and Q&A panel (with Matt, Karen, Brooke, and hopefully more participants!). Please come support us!
More details on other fests coming soon... - MJP
What the hell are we doing?
I sat down this morning to type up some notes for my phone meeting tonight with an independent producer who's done some amazing work (and shall not yet be named). It's an exciting opportunity to develop a genuine connection with someone very talented and well-connected in the world of U.S. independent film-- and he really liked A Dark Souvenir!! Strangely, as I started to think about the specific list of things I wanted to ask him this is what came out-- things lying under the surface that are more deeply existential. Wanted to share.
WHAT’S THE OVERALL GOAL:
Every answer changes if my goal changes.
My goals are to (1) ensure a way to continue making films*, (2) have this movie seen, and (3) make a little side income. 3 becomes less important if 1 happens. 2 becomes easier if 1 happens. So, how likely is 1, and shouldn't that be my primary goal?
*This means getting paid in some way to make films, in order for it to be sustainable. It could mean getting hired to be paid director on slightly higher budget indie films, or building a following to the point that I could continue making $2000-10000 microbudget films that would have a paying and excited audience.
What is the future of filmmaking? What should I do to make sure I am making films in the future? [I am a filmmaker. It’s what excites me, it’s what comes naturally to me, it’s what I’m good at. I can and have used it for making political change. I’ve been able to do it repeatedly on no budget, creating high-quality results, so I have a track record. For all these reasons, I can’t stop making films.]
I listen to a lot of podcasts about indie filmmaking, distribution changes, and the changing game of selling directly to audience. It seems true that the artist today that wants to make money on his art (or show his art or influence the world with his art) must collect fans and a following. What is the best way to do that? Regardless of everything else, it seems that building my own audience makes sense. [So, do I for example release A Dark Souvenir for free far and wide, in hopes of building large audience for the next film??]
I could keep making no-budget movies, and could make some money off of it, and that may be more than slightly higher budget indie directors who might go under as the whole system changes to a direct-to-audience approach, requiring lower budgets, artist self-marketing skills, and a following of some kind.
[Pause for a coffee re-fill and open a letter from my friend in prison.]
And I’m sitting here worried about myself, my career, my contentment, and then I look through a stack of mail to find a letter from Leonard Jefferson, in prison for life. What does contentment mean? Am I so selfish? Or does my contentment mean I can do more for friends like him? If I make an easy living, with work I love, it would mean more time and energy for organizing. That was certainly true when my income was coming from Broken On All Sides tours. And prominent movie making would allow for more political films as well. I like to think it’s a little of both. I cannot go on living without some form of nourishment (including art), but it also seems pathetic to say “I cannot go on living” for any reason in my middle class existence as compared to my friend rotting away in a 100 year old prison with pneumonia. Life is not easy to comprehend.
Then there is family to think about. How do I contribute to my family? Karen and I will be having a baby soon by adoption. How can I position myself to provide for my family, with income and with love and support and presence? I want to be a better partner. I want to be a good dad.
Overall it seems like I want to position myself to be doing things that make me more contented and leave me more energy and aliveness. This is both selfish, in that I will feel better in some way, and selfless in that it will allow me to be a better partner to my wife, a better father to my children, and a better citizen of the world. It’s OK to want that for both those reasons.
That position would be doing some “day job” steady work of divorce mediation (but cut back), some filmmaking, and some organizing around criminal justice reform. And flexibility for each, as well as flexibility to maintain a healthy family dynamic. Karen and I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and are trying to move her into a job position that will allow more flexibility, work from home, and less stress without major pay cuts. We think we have figured that out, without totally abandoning her family’s 5th generation small business. It’s all a balance and a hustle and a shuffle to try and get this life right. But we keep making adjustments and are getting better and better about prioritizing the right things and enjoying things along the way.
Now, for the actual ideas I was trying to brainstorm for tonight’s call:
VHX, Seed & Spark, Vimeo on demand, Filmboogie, Indieflix.
DVDs to distribute, still selling among horror fans. My experience with BOAS dvds.
Special higher quality, interactive prop DVD package.
SCREENINGS: to spread the word early on, to sell DVDs later.
4 walling, renting my own theater, for local premier. Do 2-3 nights in my home town, which we live next to. Make it an event.
FILM FEST SPECIFICS:
Ways to promote with no money?
So far, using twitter and facebook to reach people, offer free seat in exchange for some help on ground promoting.
Contacted festival publicist but not too much help.
Twitter, facebook. Using film festival screenings as an excuse to stalk people on facebook and get them involved with the promo. Help galvanize a local audience
In person-- at festivals and at horror shows? Only so much I can do, maybe get some people to help with this. I have friends with boring dayjobs and not much time for creative work, who have expressed interest in helping support/promote some of my projects.
New Credits vs. Old
There was something not quite professional enough about the old titles/credits. Probably because I was using the built-in fonts on Final Cut Pro 7. Although I liked the cursive writing for the title, it did look "pre-built," like I was staring at a Microsoft Word document. What prompted me to change the titles, last minute, was that I realized "duh: I need to match the poster/cover art font with the titles in the film." Jay McPhillips, the artist that did our cover art, had searched far and wide for an appropriate font for the title, and I think he really nailed it. It's called Futura Medium, and I just love it. So, I took a high quality pic of his cover art, took it into preview (because my Photoshop kicked the digital bucket), cut out all the background, and imported a PNG into FCP to overlay. Also did a version where I cut out the "V" and a portion of the "N," which is how I was able to isolate those. So now we have really professional-looking titles! So excited and glad I took the time to do that. You can compare the credits below.
Here's a brief report-back from the Broken On All Sides event yesterday.
On Feb 27, 2015 from 1-3:30pm, I spent the afternoon with about 50-75 men locked up inside Maine's maximum security Warren State Prison, along with about 15 community members (some of them very distinguished like professors, long-time civil rights activists, and the new dean of UMaine Law School, Danielle Conway), as well as the Warden and Deputy Warden of the facility.
It was the most incredible experience, and I hope a conversation that adds to the ongoing efforts by the Maine NAACP to link organizing inside and outside the Maine state prisons, and continued partnerships for education and political/social change.
NAACP branches outside the prison have been cooperating at the lead of the Warren State Prison NAACP Branch (led by prisoners) to put on a film series: each month a movie is viewed by community members on the outside, and people in the prison, then they come together the next week to discuss the film. So far, none of the films have been about criminal justice or prisons. Until NOW!
The leaders of the NAACP branch on the inside of the prison made history last week, by playing Broken On All Sides inside a prison for the first time. Then we did again, I think, by having really deep conversations about race and racism, prison oppression and prison organizing/fightback, inside the prison yesterday (in front of the Wardens mind you). I have to hand it to the Wardens, who Rachel Talbot Ross (head of Maine NAACP) cited as politically progressive and seeking to initiate important reforms. It was amazing to hear one of the guys say "We need to strike like they did in the Georgia prisons. But how many of you are willing to do that? Raise your hands if you'd be willing to do a strike here in Warren!" A majority of the men raised their hands, there in front of their "overseers," and the young man continued for 2-3 minutes on this. How fucking fantastic.
They talked about not letting race, appearances, or backgrounds divide them.
They talked about how they want education inside the prison, and how could they begin to create programs inside to rival the gym and weightlifting facilities.
They talked about getting more guys involved, about speaking up about this and filing grievances.
They talked about the bigger picture: most of them are in there for drug offenses, as are most of the nation. The "War on Drugs" is a war on people, that does not make our streets safer, and it must end.
A couple of them talked about the part in the movie where Michelle Alexander says "all of us are criminals: there is not one of us who has not violated the law and some moment in our lifetimes." But it's about how law enforcement and prosecutors choose to target poor communities, especially communities of color.
They talked about starting a think tank, along with community members coming in.
They talked about what happens when they get out, the best ways to stay out, and how to continue to have an impact politically and grow themselves when they are released.
They facilitated their own conversation better than any college presentation I've been at, respectfully listened to each other, and never let themselves go on too long.
We talked about how things change for them when outside community members are there to observe (the COs and the Wardens mostly kept quiet the whole time), and how we community members might be able to continue coming back inside to allow prisoners the space to organize for change, the space to discuss these ideas in large groups. They talked about grievances with their specific facility, the racism experienced by Black prisoners from the COs there, and their white brother prisoners backed them up and said "I have seen it, I have seen the racism against my cellmate."
This was a mixed-race crowd. And although guys sat in groups that were mostly white or mostly Black, there was definitely some mixing of races, friendships, and political groupings (such as the group in the back corner who had studied Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow together).
Before the event started, and as many of the guys were coming inside the "multi-purpose room," I mingled with them to introduce myself and ask them how they liked the film, get any other comments, etc. The guys were so grateful that we were there. I tried to express that the pleasure and gratitude was sincere for me too, and that this was the most important screening event I've done to date.
They talked about how they could spread the word about the project and help the movie tour across the state (and country)-- by telling their families when they talk to them. I handed out business cards (through the prison Chaplain) so that they'd have the information. And glad I printed cards that had some political info on the back and a description of the project: "The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, yet 25% of the world's prison population. The "home of the free" also locks up more of its ethnic minorities than any other country. This documentary explores the biggest civil rights struggle since the end of Jim Crow segregation. It dissects the War on Drugs and the targeting of poor communities of color, exposes the "tough on crime" movement, and offers possible reforms and solutions to ending mass incarceration. The director is raising money to do an organizing tour across the U.S., setting up screenings of the movie followed by meetings of people who were formerly incarcerated/convicted, along with allies, to begin the discussion of how we can dismantle the system of mass incarceration."
I tried my best to say that this is not about me, or the project, but about human liberation. My project my goal is liberation.
The business cards were no good for staying in touch with them directly, since there's only email on there and they don't have access to computers (reminder that I need to set up a P.O. box with easy to remember number for guys to be able to write). But they can spread the word to their fams, and some of them were getting out soon and had interest in contacting me (one of them was from North Philly!).
I have to thank Rachel Talbot Ross, who is an unstoppable powerhouse, incredible and beautiful human being who is doing incredible work as the head of the Maine NAACP and in other capacities. This happened because of her and the NAACP prison branch inside. There was an NPR reporter on the inside who was able to record some of the conversation and took some photos, so hoping to share that soon!
This trip makes me want to double-down my efforts and expand the Broken On All Sides organizing project. Maybe now is the time for applying for grants again, for pushing the national connections, and for getting this moving forward with others.
Politics at the Oscars!
OK, well love em or hate em, the Oscars are in the air.
I have to admit that Karen and I could only stomach about half of them before getting bored and going to sleep. But we did see Patricia Arquette's amazing acceptance speech, in which she demanded equal pay for women, and we were cheering at the T.V.! This was surely one of the best moments along in the Oscars, along with some others that I'd like to highlight in support, even though I'm just learning of them the next day.
I watched the Glory performance, and was brought to tears, as many of the audience at the Oscars were. And in accepting the Oscar for the song, Common and John Legend also had some powerful words to share. What a great song, and great performance. Although Selma didn't get all the recognition it deserved, I think this was a powerful tribute clearly linking to the social justice struggles today, particularly the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Another amazing moment, was to see Glenn Greenwald on stage holding an Oscar. There was a time recently when Greenwald wasn't sure he could come back to the U.S. without being prosecuted because of his brave journalism reporting Edward Snowden's whistleblowing. Citizenfour, the documentary about Snowden, won for Best Documentary.
Although I'm not sure Birdman was the best picture (I'd probably vote for Selma) though it was very good, it was awesome to hear the amazing director Alejandro González Iñárritu speak for immigrants' rights in his acceptance.
I'm still not sure what to think of Eddie Redmayne winning for best actor portraying Stephen Hawking. When I saw the movie, I thought it was beautiful and that his performance was great. But since then I have read many activists who are disabled criticize the performance as not true, and criticize the fact that they once again took an acting job away from a person who is disabled (who could have played the part, or part of the role). I'm conscious of the fact that the movie biz has a history of (inaccurately) portraying people disabilities, and of able-bodied people playing people with disabilities.
Overall the Oscars had some powerful political messages, I think it's a sign of the times.
So there it is. That's my political Oscar rant.
Filmmaker, artist, lawyer, activist, animal-lover, and soon-to-be adoptive parent. Here, mostly talking about the making of A Dark Souvenir.