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We all live in a…sideways submarine? “The Fitzroy” wins with Kickstarter

Crowd-funding. It’s the latest big thing that’s going to save the creative industries. It seems like everywhere you turn, another indie project is gaining funding through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

So what makes it such an effective way of funding these projects? The cast and crew of The Fitzroy, which raised its production money through Kickstarter, seem to have the answers.

From left: Sarah Griffin, David Gant, Jan Anderson, Stuart McGugan and Carol Robb in "The Fitzroy".

Sarah Griffin, David Gant, Jan Anderson, Stuart McGugan and Carol Robb in “The Fitzroy”.

The Fitzroy is a high-concept black comedy from first time feature director and writer Andrew Harmer. Set in an abandoned submarine in a post-apocalyptic alternative reality during the 1950s, the film stars Cerith Flinn, Jan Anderson, David Schaal and David Gant, among others.

Liam Garvo and James Heath of Dresden Pictures are producing the film. The pair have embraced the crowd-funding philosophy, which helped make The Fitzroy the most successful British film to be financed through Kickstarter.

To find out more about the film, SASi headed down to the set on their last day of submarine shooting.

Director Harmer, star Flynn (who plays the put-upon bellboy Bernard) and producers Garvo and Heath emerged from the rusty old submarine (a former Russian nuclear war sub sitting off Strood Pier in Kent – is there a cooler place to film?) to talk about Kickstarter, The Fitzroy and the challenges of filming on a partially sunk, half-leaning submarine.

The Fitzroy is, to date, the most successful British film to be funded through Kickstarter. Why did you choose to go down the crowd-funding path?

James Heath (JH):
Andrew approached me about a year ago and he said he wanted to crowd-fund it.

Liam Garvo (LG):
As soon as we heard that Kickstarter was launching in the UK, we changed our gameplan and campaign for fit their schedule.

JH:
After we chose Kickstarter, it kind of became an unstoppable force. We raised the money fairly quickly, although it was still scary in the last couple days. It wasnʼt like the Veronica Mars [project] or Zach Braff’s film.

LG:
We had about 850 backers in the end. We knew less than 10% of them, so it just stretched right across North America and the UK and in places we never thought we had a reach in, like New Zealand and Australia.

JH:
I’m a huge advocate of Kickstarter and crowd-funding. It’s definitely the future for indie filmmakers. We’ve never before had such an opportunity to make films as quickly and cheaply and be able to raise the funding through direct sources.

How did it feel to actually raise the money and get the film fully financed?

LG:
All the support was lovely. The campaign really took off when Kickstarter announced it as one of their ‘Projects of the Day’ and then a week later we were one of their ‘Projects We Love,’ which was announced to the whole Kickstarter community. It skyrocketed and all the backers started rolling in.

Andrew Harmer (AH):
I was really humbled and flattered by the amount of people who backed it. It’s nice to have that direct relationship with the audience before we’ve even shot a frame!

Cerith Flinn (CF):
We’re so grateful to the backers. From the bottom of all our hearts, we just can’t thank them enough. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible. It shows how much they wanted [the film] to be made.

Andrew, this is your first feature film and you’ve chosen to film it on possibly one of the most difficult locations: a cramped, sideways-leaning submarine. What’s that been like?

AH:
A challenge is probably the best way to describe it. It’s just so tight in there. Most people, after about five minutes, adjust to the lean. It’s not until you look down the corridors and through the camera that you see the lean.

JH:
You look at it, you think, ‘Ah, got a bit of a lean.’ You get on it, suddenly you feel pissed! (Laughs)

AH:
It kind of slows everything down – moving around and changing shots is a lot longer.

What’s it been like acting in that environment, Cerith?

CF:
It’s been challenging in the space because it’s quite cramped, but we’ve used it to our advantage. You get so much for free down there, regarding the atmosphere; hardly any acting’s required, you feel all the pressure and the conditions.
You really can just sense every single emotion in there. The conditions add that sense of panic and disorder and madness that’s going in the world outside the submarine.
We did a scene where I was putting one of the characters in a torpedo tube. He was claustrophobic, so I kept reassuring him, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not locking.’ (Laughs) It looked great.

The Fitzroy follows a group of people stuck in a submarine hotel in an alternative, post-apocalyptic 1950s world. How did the idea come about?

AH:
I wrote it during evening classes at London Film School; I just wanted to write something that I really loved, that I would want to see.
I grew up watching British sitcoms like Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army – those sort of shows that have characters who wouldn’t normally cross paths in life thrown into situations together. I wanted to emulate that. [The characters in The Fitzroy] are stuck in this hotel, they can’t go outside. And that, for me, is hopefully where a lot of the comedy comes from: those characters butting up against each other, being forced to live together.

What drew Dresden Pictures to Andrew’s script?

LG:
The concept is quite quirky; it’s just fun, a little bit different. The dialogue is very clever and it’s funny, which, as a comedy, is important. (Laughs)

JH:
It’s so original and it harks back to to a classic age of British comedy, which I absolutely adore.

You’ve got a first time feature writer and director, in addition to this being Dresden’s first feature. Any nerves?

JH:
Big-time pressure. For Liam and me, this is the whole reason we set up the company. Because this is our first [feature], we feel that it has to be right and we have to make it as good as possible. There’s never any guarantee that you’re going to get the funding again, so you have to think of every project as the last one and make it as good as you can.

LG:
It’s nerve-wracking. Stressful. Exciting, though! That’s the big one. A lot of it’s unknown territory, so we learned a lot on the go.

AH:
I never saw the film being quite this big. I thought I’d just shoot it with mates at the weekend and just make a film for fun. But then it did very well on Kickstarter and there was a lot of goodwill towards the concept. I started to realise that maybe it was a bit larger than I originally thought.

James, you’ve become a bit of an expert about raising successful Kickstarter campaigns. Can you share some of yours and Dresden’s lessons with us?

JH:
The big thing that we’ve realised since is that crowd-funding is not really about the funding; it’s really more about the crowd. The people who gave us the money will, hopefully, be seeing the film and talking about the film. Kickstarter and [Indiegogo] are only going to become more competitive and it’s going to become much more difficult to raise the money, so it’s all about engaging the fans.

Five tips for first time Kickstarter campaigns:

1. Is your project right for Kickstarter? So many people just do their projects thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll be fine.’ But it needs to have something that will stand out: a great cast or a cool concept.
2. How are you going to structure the rewards? You can’t just go, ‘Oh, we’ll put a DVD at that price, a t-shirt at this price.’ You’ve really got to be well-organised about what’s right for you campaign. Prices need to be cleverly tiered; they can’t just be massive jumps.

3. Use video. So many campaigns don’t use videos. Ideally, three minutes is the maximum and it should engage people. No people waffling on about, ‘Oh this is my dream project.’ (Laughs)
4. Don’t make the campaign too long or too short. Generally people go for 60 days thinking it’s more time for them to raise the money, but it doesn’t really work that way. You need to be able to reach an audience quickly and with a sense of urgency. They need to feel that they need to hit the target. 30 days is the way to go.
5. Finally, update regularly. Have new videos, new rewards. Basically, keep the conversation going throughout for the fans. Tweet and talk to the fans; on the flipside, don’t talk too much. There was one campaign that did like, three updates on Kickstarter in 24 hours, just basically asking for money. It needs to be stuff that people want to read.

Finally, what’s been everyone’s favourite moments from filming The Fitzroy?

LG:
I make two appearances in the film! I have no lines – Andrew wouldn’t let me speak. (Laughs) I’m a hand double and a foot double.

AH:
Working with the actors, for me. They’ve brought so much that I didn’t think was there – making lines that weren’t funny funny. That was exciting for me.

CF:
Mine has got to be working on the set. I felt like a kid every day, just running around playing Battleship. The film is about this submarine that comes up after this nuclear event and here we are shooting on an actual submarine! It’s like a dream and I’m genuinely really sad to be leaving it.

JH:
For me, it has to be Kickstarter campaign. It was the moment we were named by Kickstarter as one of their ‘Projects We Love.’ In two hours, we had 200 backers. We’d been building up the campaign for ages and we were getting traction but not the kind of traction we wanted. When that moment happened, we kind of realised, ‘This works, people love it and this is gonna happen.’ Liam, Andrew and I were all on Skype at the same time. It was one of the rare moments during the campaign when we were all speaking together and we just went, ‘Wow.’

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