I lost my job. It was the job that had been paying the bills, that I had given 7 years of my life to.
Yes, it just was a bookstore, but it was a bookstore that kept me cemented in L.A. I was coming back on a family trip from Vegas, and I got a call from my boss which I had missed. I called him back, but my boss didn’t pick up. So, I called my coworker, who was already day drunk, and he slurred: “Yeah, so … we’ve all been let go.”
It was 2017. Another brick-and-mortar bookstore bit the dust, and that was it.
My job was supposed to be the stable thing—that I powered through every day so I could earn time doing what I loved, which was writing and making movies. It was what probably allowed my mother to sleep at night, knowing I wouldn’t be homeless, and it got me to rise at a semi-reasonable time every day and paid for my Coke Zero habit.
So, when my dear friend from my days at Chapman University, Prarthana Mohan, called and said we had a chance to crowdfund for a movie she and I had been dreaming about since we graduated, I said yes. I had never crowdfunded before. I also never lost a job before. I was entering a brand new world.
Yeah, why the hell not? Let’s make a feature film.
It’s funny the power of saying it out loud had: “We’re going to make a feature film.” And the more we said it, the more we dared to take the next baby step. And the next.
“We’re going to make a feature film.”
Plenty of people didn’t believe me. And why would they? I had no job, I didn’t have any money (worse, I had student loans), and no one in this town knew who I was. Often, reps try to fill out their roster of creatives to cover all types of projects, like we’re all Pokémon cards. All of them seemed to have their “white chubby funny girl” cards already—(I think we must have come with the starter pack). My biggest claim to fame in this town is once I accidentally started a heated debate about the death penalty at the bookstore with one of our regulars … Richard Dreyfuss. Even though that is forever burned in my brain, that experience doesn't translate into getting meetings, or any sort of fiscal currency.
I’m not one who believes you need to ask the universe for anything. But I am a believer that if you wake up every day thinking about the thing you want to work on, then you’ll see when there’s an inch free to make progress and take it. Crowdfunding can provide inches upon inches of progress. So we worked for a month on making a video to share with our audience.
The story, The MisEducation of Bindu, is about an immigrant from India who gets put in American public school by her well-meaning (but clueless) new white stepfather. It covers bullying, personal empowerment, and seeing your parents as you get older as lovable but flawed people. In short, it was as coming-of-age a story as it could be.
Since it's primarily set in high school, we assembled a few mini-sets on a friend’s property—assembled a bathroom stall (plywood and a toilet seat on a Home Depot bucket, made a fake classroom—forcing all our kids and their friends to be extras) and lastly, located and painted a set of lockers to fake a moment in a busy hallway (weird fact, I bought the lockers on Craigslist from L.A.’s Cecil Hotel and didn’t realize until I later saw the creepy murder documentary on Netflix). I called in a favor with an old high school friend turned dancer/actress in L.A. who could star in these scenes as our lead. Luckily, she still looked like she could walk through the halls of high school where I most certainly do not. In between these shots, the producer, Ed Timpe, our fearless director, and my co-writer, Prarthana Mohan, and myself discussed the importance of this project and pleaded to our audience that they forgo their morning frappuccino and spend their money on us instead.
We set up our campaign on SeedandSpark.com as part of their Hometown Heroes Competition. The competition lasted a month, and the participants who met their goals had a chance to be executive produced by the fucking Duplass Brothers. (The explicative has not been part of their formal production name, but it really should be, considering how much fostering of indie film they have done in their careers.)
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never thought we would win. There were boatloads of other really wonderful projects competing. But lo and behold: we did.
And soon I would be on a video call with Mark Duplass that winter, taking notes on the next draft of the script.
At the time of our campaign, we raised more money than had ever been raised on Seed&Spark for one campaign (over $60,000) and had gotten donations from all around the world. Not because we went viral, but because we tirelessly used all of our connections day in and day out to keep the campaign alive. We had donors from the U.S., India, Spain, Australia. Our team took shifts to rise and meet the social media flows of various time zones so everyone would see Bindu across their socials no matter where they were on the planet.
I’ve already shared some of the biggest crowdfunding tips in my first article on Pipeline Artists, but I will add that crowdfunding, like all of filmmaking, is a long process and life will occur during that time, derailing things—things that will make it easy to give up on the film or sideline it because it “doesn’t seem like the right time.”
It will never be the right time.
I’m sorry for that, but you have to just keep going. For example, I spent one extremely memorable night of Bindu’s crowdfunding campaign having an ugly wine-induced cry in the cath lab of a hospital after my partner of eight years had a heart attack, thanking donors on Facebook in between rounds of tears and waiting to hear if he was going to make it. And because I kept going, I got to take my proud partner (who made a solid recovery) to my film premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival two years later.
Once we had funding, we needed more. Movies are expensive. And this wasn’t a “one person in a room” type of film (but y’all should check out Bo Burnam’s Inside, just wow)—we needed a high school, we needed kids as extras walking down hallways. But having secured a large chunk of crowdfunding, we found a new inch had given away in our process—people were willing to invest now that they weren’t the first money in.
And when someone is thinking about investing money, they might want to see the script. And the script was what we sat down over Zoom to talk to Mark Duplass about. In our fateful meeting, he smiled, greeted us all warmly, and said many nice things. But they were lost to my memory after he suggested the story about an Indian girl’s 1st semester in American Public School:
Well, what if it occurred all in one day?
We gulped, let our minds silently scream panic, and smiled and said we’d try to work on it from that angle. This was our executive producer, this wasn’t just a note from someone in a writer’s group or a friend. It needed to be addressed before we could move forward.
Suddenly, we went from having momentum, money, fans, new investors, to having no working script…
Part 2: Rewrite Hell - Coming Soon.
*Feature Photo: The MisEducation of Bindu