Seed&Spark is rapidly becoming the choice for indie filmmakers looking to fundraise. Elle Schneider is one of them. She’s worked as the cinematographer on the 2013 SXSW favorite I Am Divine and 2014’s That Guy Dick Miller. She’s a two-time winner of the Marguerite Roberts award for screenwriting, and her short film One Small Step premiered at the short film corner at Cannes. Now, she’s out to fund her latest short film Headshots.
In a recent article wrote that was featured on Indiewire, Schneider discussed her passion to explore more genre specific projects. In Headshots, that Schneider wrote and will direct, two hitmen take an aspiring actor for ransom, hoping to get back the unpaid gambling debt his father owes them.
Paste had a chance to chat with Schneider about why she chose this story for next project, raising almost 30k and her goals for the project. Headshots is in its last 24 hours, so check out the campaign here and support!
Paste: Why is it that genre-specific shorts are so rare? Why are you out to make one?
Schneider: I think it’s pretty common to see short horror films; they can be made on a low budget because scares can be manufactured psychologically and [one can use] production elements like lighting, sound effects, and the right score to achieve the desired emotional effect, even if all you have to work with is a haunted house.
With an action film, it’s almost impossible to elevate tension without seeing the action on screen—the adrenaline rush of the building tension and the dopamine release when that tension is relieved requires believability in what’s happening between the performers on screen; and that rush is what draws big audiences to these kind of films. However, believability in the action also requires choreographed sequences that can take weeks to rehearse and execute, and as a result the budgets are often much higher than a run-and-gun horror film might be, since it costs more to ensure that all stunts are performed safely, with the right permits and insurance in place, and to make sure that your cast and crew are always comfortable. At the same time, there’s a huge emotional payoff and higher suspension of belief from an audience when a story is told through action, and I find this really appealing. I am myself a huge fan of the action genre; to me, creative fight choreography is every bit as impressive as a Busby Berkeley musical number. I feel that, more than any other genre, action creates a typically heroic avatar through which to experience harrowing and exhilarating stories, which builds a special kind of connection with a protagonist, whereas other genres, like horror, can make you less inclined to identify with characters who you know bad things will befall.
Paste: You need to raise almost 30k. Why did you choose Seed&Spark and not Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
Schneider: Seed & Spark is an exciting new film-centric platform that’s had a lot of success in both financing independent films and getting them distributed. Their entire concept of “fair trade filmmaking” is very important to me, and their hands-on approach with each campaign they permit on their platform makes me confident in myself and my crowdfunding abilities. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are such large platform now, with so many projects live at once in a wide spectrum of industries, that there’s no possible way to give industry-specific, one-on-one attention to each project, which results in many failed and half-baked projects being released. With Seed&Spark, I know Emily and Erica can identify weak points and offer suggestions throughout the campaign to keep things energized, and as a result Seed&Spark has a nearly double success rate than that of Kickstarter.
Paste: How will you utilize your budget? Where do you cut back, and where do you see funds are crucial?
Schneider: Headshots has a shoe-string budget at $30K, and a more full budget at $50K. Funds are most crucial where it comes to safety and preparation: Locations, insurance, permits, stunt coordinators, stunt people if necessary, and safety equipment are all fundamental. I would also never cut back on catering because it’s possibly the most important perk of a low-budget set, and a crew unhappy with their lunch is a very, very unhappy crew. I can always beg and borrow lights and lenses rather than renting, and I can put festival submission fees on credit cards or space them out over time, and seek additional funds for post-production, but right now we’re focused on raising exactly what we need to get the film in the can, so to speak.
Paste: What is it about this story that you’re excited to share?
Schneider: Headshots is an absurd, dark story that carries a lot of commentary on Hollywood, fame and amateur criticism, and is based on a number of personal incidents I encountered both before and after moving to Los Angeles. More than anything, I love creating a protagonist who’s so ill-suited for the profession he’s hoping to join, but so passionate about doing so that we don’t really know whether he’ll be successful or not; we’re as taken in by his shot at fame as he is.
Paste: How is crowd funding changing the climate for filmmakers?
Schneider: Crowdfunding allows filmmakers to connect with an audience that’s excited to invest in many wildly different genres of film. Previous to the rise of crowdfunding, it was extremely difficult for a young filmmaker with limited access to funds to raise money for an independent film through “bake sale” type fundraisers, and certain genres of films more easily found investors through grants and fellowships looking to push a particular message. Crowdfunding is basically a digital bake sale, but you can bring your cupcakes to the buyer rather than waiting for them to come to you, which means you can connect directly to the audience who will be most excited to watch and invest in your film. Especially for women, who represent less than 5% of Hollywood investors, and as a side effect a similar percentage of directors being funded, crowdfunding has made an enormous dent on getting more diverse voices telling their stories—whatever stories they want to tell, rather than whatever stories people feel they need to tell in order to find financing.
Paste: With AFM coming up, do smaller films, already funded or produced, have more of a chance for exposure?
Schneider: Because of declining DVD and unsure foreign sales in today’s film climate, there are actually fewer small companies that can afford to take advantage of events like AFM, which means fewer opportunities for independent filmmakers to get their work out there. Companies like Troma (who is still standing) have always had a great presence at AFM. Lloyd Kaufman was even the president of IFTA (which puts on AFM) for a number of terms, and companies like Troma are important for a healthy film market economy because they open the door to young filmmakers who might be shut out by more corporate entities, and they’re often to be congratulated for finding the next generation of studio directors who those corporate entities want to embrace, like James Gunn. So to see smaller companies unable to compete is difficult, but I think with the Internet and the rise of VOD, smaller distributors are able to connect with independent filmmakers like never before, creating partnerships that wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago.
Paste: What is your aspiration as a filmmaker? Are you interested in continuing to pursue this thriller genre?
Schneider: I like small stories told in a big way—films like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Empire of the Sun and Die Hard that are deeply personal internal struggles that take place in the midst of a sweeping epic. These are the kinds of stories I’d like to tell on screen, the stories that made up Hollywood’s bread-and-butter for decades, but they aren’t made as much any more, which is too bad. I’d love to continue working in this genre to build action 2.0, a genre that is more character-based, with a lot of soul, but can still take advantage of all the VFX and technological advances that have made action films even bigger than ever in the last decade.
Meredith Alloway is a Texas native and freelance contributor for Paste, Flaunt, Complex, Nylon, CraveOnline, Press Play on Indiewire and The Script Lab. She writes for both TV and film and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare nerd. You can follow her on Twitter.