Fundraising for any film is hard to do even with the rise of Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Finding funding for a short film might be even harder. Finding funding for an ambitious science fiction short adds just a tad more difficulty. Then foregoing the biggest names in online crowdsourcing today and deciding to do it on your own might seem like adding another fire ring to jump through on the way to actual production. None of this has phased the filmmaking team of Matthew Nayman and Mike Boers on the way to producing their second short feature together, Shadows in the Grass.
Director Nayman and producer Boers previously collaborated on the well received short Blind Spot (which played the Austin and Toronto After Dark film festivals in 2011), and have set their sights a bit higher this time out for their latest short. They’re looking to raise a total of $12,000, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but for an independently crowd sourced production it’s a significant chunk of change.
The goal of their combined fundraising efforts are to bring a true sci-fi film to potentially welcoming audience. Shadows in the Grass concerns Laura, a woman with no recollection of her previous life stranded in a futuristic medical facility. Her only companion is a robotic looking form of artificial intelligence known as Conrad that’s been assigned to re-educate her. Over time, Laura begins to question if Conrad is actually trying to help her or keep something hidden from her.
Nayman and Boers on their website describe the film as a jumping off point for science fiction concepts that might seem somewhat quaint now in the wake of the blockbuster mounting of genre films like evolution and the nature of religion in a scientific world. Most of the fundraising will be going into the creation of Conrad, and from the concept art they provide on their site, it’s easily to see how it can be a costly proposition.
We talked with Nayman and Boers about the production, their influences, what audiences can expect, and the decision to try things out on their own. You can help them out here and check out a wealth of information including production art, concept drawings, and check out their previous short.
What can sci-fi fans expect from your next film and what would you consider your biggest influences as filmmakers?
Matthew Nayman: I’ve been interested in making a science fiction film for a very long time. Before I was even out of grade school I had seen films like Planet of the Apes, Alien, Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a teenager I read Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. My favourite science fiction films and literature are those with a strong base in reality, ones that respect real science.
As a filmmaker, I draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources. There are the obvious choices like Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, but I also draw tremendous inspiration from incredible foreign directors like the Dardenne brothers and Michael Haneke.
Research, theory, and technological developments in science, particularly in space travel and human evolution, deeply fascinate me. This fascination was nurtured by the writings of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. My love of science has fueled my desire to make and share a film like Shadows in the Grass.
The film will tell a very simple, human story about loss and love while also exploring scientific concepts of almost incomprehensible size and complexity. We are aiming to do what the best science fiction does: explore where we came from and where we are going.
Mike Boers: I am interested in filmmaking as an art, but I see myself more of a craftsman. I find that much of my work in visual effects comes down to how the psychology of perception can be used as a fantastic toolkit to influence the audience to think, feel, or simply perceive a scenario a certain way.
We are trained as an audience to perceive a film as a continuous projection of reality; our brain uses many of the same rules in order to interpret the flat rectangle of light and colour as the world which it represents. However, that flat rectangle is not at all constrained to the rules of a continuous physical world. The pioneers in visual effects heavily exploited this dichotomy long before CG characters, or even computers themselves, were invented.
While this film will be driven by a monstrous amount of visual effects, my hope is that this fact will go completely unnoticed. Even though the visual effects are key to making this all feasible, they are just a technique that we will use to craft the audiences’ perception.
We are also putting in a huge effort to develop scientifically plausible origins for everything you see on screen, and even a lot that you will never see. We hope this allows us to tell the story within a world that feels like it could really exist, but simply doesn’t.
What made you two want to team up again?
MN: As an independent filmmaker, it can be hard to find people to rely on. It can be even harder to find someone who’s willing to tell you when you’re wrong! Even in film school, before we officially started working together, Mike had the ability to provide insightful criticism of ideas but always in genuine, helpful way. He’s a great problem solver who will learn entirely new skills in a weekend to get a project done. He always wants to do things right, not just quickly, and I think that is an exceedingly rare trait in young filmmaker today.
After our success with Blind Spot, which is owed mostly to Mike’s tireless, unpaid efforts, I couldn’t imagine getting into another production without Mike around to make it work.
MB: Since Matt and I finished Blind Spot, I have been itching to start work on another short. Even though working on larger projects is rewarding, thus far this has been the one venue in which I have been able to tell the stories I choose in just the way I want to. Independent shorts provide more freedom than any other outlet I’ve had the opportunity to sample thus far; unbridled by the pressures of deadlines and fixed budgets, we can focus on our craft.
This time, however, we are calling upon the flexibility granted by crowd-funding in order to expand the scope of what we are able to achieve, while still keeping our hearts close to the project.
While there is quite a bit of overlap in our skills and interests as filmmakers, or even in general, it seems like our differences compliment each other extremely well. We have been able to depend upon each other’s strengths to bridge the gaps of our weaknesses. I don’t think either of us could make this kind of film without someone like the other.
Matt is very passionate and refuses to compromise the integrity of his films. However, he never treats our work as gospel, and can detach himself from its genesis to make sure it functions as it should to serve the story, even if hundreds of hours were poured into it. I can’t count the number of times that we have thrown out scenes because they weren’t completely working.
But in the end, Matt is also a mover. Whether I like it or not, he will get it done, or at least coerce me into doing it.
What prompted you to look for donations on your own rather than through an established fundraising site and how important is it for you guys to keep the film a communal effort?
It is incredibly important to all the producers of this film that we pay our artists a fair wage. There has been some unrest in the visual effects industry recently, and we want to show that even a tiny production such as ours can afford to pay our artists reasonably for their work.
We knew that producing a technically complex film like Shadows in the Grass would require a fairly substantial budget, even though it’s a short film. Coherent sci-fi world-building includes designing sets, props, costumes, artificial characters and so forth, from scratch, which becomes expensive. Additionally, the level of reality we are aiming for requires incredibly talented artists to successfully achieve.
Unfortunately, all this design work needs to take place before principal photography can commence. This means that we need to spend a substantial portion of our budget before we can even start shooting.
Existing crowd-funding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are incredible tools, and we may still utilize them to raise the funds for post-production. This is something that is very common with other films on these platforms as production costs are usually easily shouldered by the producers. However, since we need a substantial cash-flow to pay our artists for pre-production, our funding schedule doesn’t fit into the model of these existing sites.
Our first target is only enough of a budget to allow us to complete pre-production and principal photography. Once the film is shot and edited, we can complete the post-production on a small portion of the film – a teaser of sorts – which we can use for the typical post-production push on Indiegogo or Kickstarter.
We recognize the huge reach that Indiegogo and Kickstarter provide, but we feel doing it on our own is worth the risk so that funding can progress hand in hand with production.