leena pendharkar

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We Did It—Thoughts, Tips, and Tricks on Using Indiegogo

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We did it! We raised the $7K we asked for and went even beyond to $9K in 21 days! I really enjoyed the experience! I know it sounds crazy, because working on a fundraising campaign is stressful, but it’s also really amazing. I’ve raised money for movies in many different ways—applying for grants with small films, then with a bigger movie (feature) like Raspberry Magic, getting investors on board.

Looking for grant money sucks because you spend a lot of time putting together applications that are, for the most part, rejected. Finding investors on a feature usually means there is a business plan, an LLC, and some kind of documentation that allows for high net worth (over $250K) individuals to invest in a project. This means there is a way for these folks to make their money back, plus get a rate of return. This is a good way to set up certain films, usually, you are seeking investments of at least $10K, which means friends and family who want to be a part of it and give say, $50 just can’t. But crowdfunding has changed that—people can now be a part something for even $10.

I’ve supported dozens of Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, mostly for filmmaking, but also for other things, mostly art, music or crafty things that I think are interesting. I love seeing the spirit of innovation, and I love things are that off the beaten path. Sure, I like mainstream movies/TV, but it’s really great to see other types of projects being made out there.

For some time now, I’ve been watching a lot of different projects on Kickstarter, and thinking about my own work, and trying to figure out the best thing to crowdfund. I’ve been working on several women-centric web series for So Natural TV that I thought it might be fun to crowdfund, but really, I feel those should have a few episodes out first, with some sort of audience who might want to support.

I’ve had the feature script for Days with Dandekar for some time, and have been talking to the producers about working on a bigger campaign to get that going, say for $50K. One of the producers did this last year for a film, Miss India America. But for me, jumping into a feature seems a little crazy before building an audience and testing the concept.

So… The short film, Dandekar Makes a Sandwich… After pondering this for a long time, I felt that it was the right place to start with crowdfunding. It’s a short film, funny, doable, and since there is no defined/known audience for it yet, I knew I could start off by tapping into friends/family… Now that we did it, here are some thoughts on things I’ve learned:

1. Your friends and family are the place to start. I’m blessed with some very supportive friends and family members, and have been really lucky to be supported by so many people in my life. I don’t want to burn these folks out, so I know that I can only go them this one time. But I have to say, hearing from old friends, family members and then having them support was really cool! A cousin of mine who lives in AU even supported! That being said, once you ask friends/family, you have got to find the audience for your project and really go beyond. This is something I know I need to work on for the future.

2. Your filmmaking (or whatever community you are a part of) supporters/community are important. The Tribeca Film Institute has been terribly supportive of my work, and they were amazing during the campaign. They tweeted it out, posted it to their FB page, and someone there even supported it personally. There was a great hashtag going down on twitter #hirethesewomen, and it was nice to get a shout out on that. We got some supporters from it, which was cool. I can also never forget the power of the South Asian/Indian/Asian community. Since this story is about an Indian/Asian character, we got some press from the likes of Angry Asian Man and others in the community, woo hoo!

3. Email and email lists are key. MailChimp is a great tool for gathering all of your contacts in one place and sending out emailers. (SPAM!) Yes, people will unsubscribe, but assuming you are sending to friends/family, those who love you will look and it will be ok. For us, there were those 15-20 people who might have unsubscribed each time, but over 500-600 people read each of the blasts I sent out, which was great. It’s really important to send out the blasts, updating your audience and personally reaching out. It’s a lot of work, making those blasts, but every time I sent one, we got movement on the campaign.

4. Don’t Just Ask for Money all the Time. That being said, if you are constantly throwing figure in people’s faces, or straight out asking for donations, people will tire. Instead, it’s good to have updates like casting, locations, crew, and just engage people in your process. You can gently remind people of your goals, and let them know how much time is left, but I say, only throw out numbers when it counts (see below).

5. Thanking people on social media is critical. For every shout out and call out that you put out, someone sees it and ponders contributing or just posting it to their own page. I found that these call outs are key to keep the momentum alive. On slow days, this might be the only new thing people see about your campaign. It def gets annoying, and I am sure people hid me from their feed, but I tried to do it in batches, so it was twice day rather than all day.

6. People contribute in the mornings and evenings. If you do call outs, or post news about your movie, the early mornings and evenings are best. This is when people are off work, or they are starting/ending their days and this is great time for call outs and putting out substantive material out about your project, like, casting announcements, locations photos, etc.

7. People don’t give for rewards unless they are amazing. This was the hardest part for me to conceive. I was really excited about Ameet’s sandwich illustration, and our sandwich bag + tote + tshirt, but I know we could have been a lot more funny, ironic and creative with the rewards. I think our $100 level especially needed some help, but this is something I will think about if I do another campaign. I think people tend like to like “experiences” rather than “things” but this part was def a bit challenging. I’m personally burnt out on schwag like shirts and hats, so when I contribute, I usually just say “no perk.” But if you can think of some cool/unique ideas, it’s worth it!

8. It takes a team. There is no way one person can do a campaign. It takes contacts from multiple sources to raise money and bring awareness to the project. We had an awesome group of producers, and my hubbie also kicked in with the the drawings. Jane was pushing hard on the campaign, and Megha ended up finding an investor who wants to help us with the feature, too, so these were both amazing developments. If I did it again, I would have a couple more people involved, pushing it out to a new audience.

9. The final hours really do matter. We met our goals well before the ending date, but we decided to do a small push in the 5 hours leading right up to the end, and I am so glad we did! A lot of people wait until the last hours or minutes of the campaign, and a small, polite nudge can really do wonders. I had mixed feelings about pushing too hard since it was mostly friends and family I was reaching out to, but I am glad I did bc there was a lot of people who really wanted to support and forgot about it or just waited until that last moment.

10. Don’t underestimate what inspires/excites people. When setting the amounts on these campaigns, it’s hard to know how people will take it. At first, I wondered, will people contribute at all? But I was really amazed to get 3 people at the $500 level, 3 people at the $200 level, and then of course, our investor who came in as the executive producer, at the $2500 level. You can’t always depend on those kind of contributions, but never underestimate the power of your ideas and project, and the potential it might have to reach other people…. This is really and truly the power of social media, the Internet and human communication.

My 4-year-old daughter Amani colored this!

My 4-year-old daughter Amani colored this!

Jul 3
Illustration by Ameet Mehta for our perks/rewards. For $25, get a sandwich bag, for $50, a tote bag, for $100 a poster! Support us now!

Illustration by Ameet Mehta for our perks/rewards. For $25, get a sandwich bag, for $50, a tote bag, for $100 a poster! Support us now!

My First Week of Crowdfunding

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I’ve watched many of my fellow filmmmakers get out there and do some pretty hefty crowdfunding campaigns over the past couple of years, like Awesome Asian Bad Guys and Miss India America. It’s not easy feat, and it definitely is a full time job.

Last Wed, I posted my first crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for our short, Dandekar Makes a Sandwich. Jane Kosek, Megha Kadkia and Sohini Senegupta are producing, and we have actor Brian George as the lead. We decided to start with a precursor short film rather than the feature, which is a strategy we had pondered for a long time. I felt that making a funny and unique short film with the actors we plan to have in the feature, would be a great way to get the feature off the ground, especially since if we make something high quality, we can send it to festivals.

This past week has really been amazing, we have gotten to 25% of our goal, which has been great. I know we still have a long ways to go, but the coolest thing has just been to see where the support is coming from. I couldn’t believe that on day #2, we got an anonymous contribution for $500, very unexpected and very cool. So here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. More information is better. I’ve spent the last month refining the concept, and really putting together visual materials like the look book, a pitch video, etc, etc and am glad it’s out there… I think the film feels more real with more information.

2. The more people on the team, the better. People are very busy in the summer. They really are. But if you can get a good team of people to help you, that is key. You need people to tweet, FB and just get the word out.

3. Tell everyone. I am super nervous about sending mass emails. Seriously, it’s not something I like to do. But… For the couple of people who have been annoyed, I’ve had so many tell me they were excited to see what I am doing, and excited by the prospects of the movie. Soo… I’d say, put it out there! That’s the goal of social media.

4. Keep sustaining without asking for $$. This is hard, but I’ve seen some campaigns overstay their welcome by only asking for $$. My goal is to keep people engaged in the film itself. So I plan to share location photos, actor process and much, much more… Should be interesting! Hope you’ll support me!

Jun 9

Dandekar Makes a Sandwich—Short Film!

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I’ve had my script for Days with Dandekar for some time, although it went through some re-writes this fall. I feel now, though, that it is a much stronger script, something I’d def like to make. We are currently building the team, and planning to fundraise later this year for a shoot in 2015.

But this summer, I am going to make a short, 5-6 minute film based on the character in the feature, called Dandekar Makes a Sandwich. Brian George will play the lead, which I am very excited about. It is about a lonely older man who goes into the grocery to gather the ingredients for his sandwich and a moment of connection ensues.

The film will require me to do a little fundraising, because I want to shoot it in a grocery store, plus bring on a DP that can shoot it on film, so I am going to do a small Indiegogo campaign for $5000, as sort of a preliminary run to get the film off the ground. It is a lot of work, but I am super excited. It’s a story I have been sitting with for a long, time and I feel that it’s finally time to bring it to the screen. Here are some reasons for making a short film:

1. Establish tone: The piece is def a drama/comedy. The tone is very peculiar and specific, and I want to be able to show audiences and funders who it will look/feel.

2. Develop the acting style: I’m looking to develop an acting style that is quirky, unusual while also being heartfelt. I want, Dandekar, the main character, to be a little gritty, a little edgy, as well, while displaying this sort of physical comedy. So, I am having some conversations with Brian to craft this performance and develop a style that really sort of stands out.

3. Create a Visual Style: I’ve made a lot of comedic sketches over the past 2 years, and have definitely been developing a sort of “film grammar” for my work. By this, I mean using the camera to tell the story in the way that makes sense for the narrative I am telling. I really like a looser, handheld style for the type of comedy I am doing. But I also like some static shots to establish space and place. I sat down with DP Michael Pessah last week, and we came up with this idea of using a steadicam for the movement, and than using still, more staged shots for some of the exposition. The steadicam will still give that feeling of movement, but it will be less frantic and crazy than handheld. I’m really excited about this. We will be working on lighting over the next few weeks.

4. Collaborate with a team: One of the best parts about filmmaking is that it is highly collaborative. I really enjoy working with cast and crew to bring something interesting to the screen. So, I am excited to begin building out team, and bringing on some great people.

5. Bring awareness to the project. Of course. This way, I am not trying to make a feature right off the bat, and there is already some awareness/knowledge of the movie.

Jun 4

Director’s Vision: On Creating a Unique Visual Point of View

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A lot of people in Hollywood talk about wanting to be directors. Everyone wants to direct. But there is a lot of confusion or misconception about what a director actually does. I would say that the job of a director is to a) Have a vision for the movie. b) Oversee and execute that vision. Directing is a highly COLLABORATIVE ENDEAVOR, because a director will work with every aspect of the movie including: camera, lighting, wardrobe, performers, blocking, sound, music.

If you’re hungry to direct, the best way to direct is to direct. By this, I mean, write something, cast some performers and make videos. Don’t just make one video, make a lot of videos. And try different things. Use different types of cameras, find different types of actors, and experiment with shots and coverage choices. Then I’d say edit/screen as many of your videos are you can. Post to YT, Vimeo, see if anyone likes your material—JUST MAKE THINGS. In my 20’s I made a lot of things and cut them myself, plus added my own effects, color grading and even titles. I experimented with Final Cut, Photoshop, After Effects, and filmed anything I could. This really has helped me know how to do a lot of things in filmmaking.

One of the most important aspects of directing, and I mean becoming an auteur, is having a unique vision, style and voice. Some of my favorite directors are Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Noah Baumbach, and Alexander Payne. All of these directors MAKE UNIQUE VISUAL/CREATIVE choices that make their work distinct. How does a director come to make unique choices? What are some aspects of thinking visually?

1. Casting: Ask, what is the style of performance you are going for? Are you looking for more natural feeling performances or something with more artifice? For example, Alexander Payne’s movies are comedies, but they look at real life, rather than say a Will Farrell comedy, which is much more about artifice. It’s really key to cast the actors who convey the tone and ideas that YOU want.

2. How Shots Work Together: A director might use the word “coverage,” meaning how a singular scene would be shot so that it can be edited together in post production. In other words, what are the emotional beats of that scene, and what do you want to emphasize VISUALLY? If a woman is crying do we want to see her eyes, her hands, or see her looking at a photo on the wall? You should make a shot list and plan for to film all of these details. In this short Ice Cream, I wanted to emphasize the guy looking at the girl’s chest, so I shot that from his POV then in the editing, we overlapped that to emphasize it. It heightens the comedy a bit, and emphasizes something specific.

3. Lighting: We live in the age of YouTube where folks put up videos of people talking into their iPhones and audiences will watch it. But again, for a specific point of view in a more in depth movie, the lighting scheme is absolutely key. There is basic 3-point lighting, so your subject isn’t dark, but beyond that, the idea is to have the “world” you are create look very specific, like say Game of Thrones. This is a great article that discusses the look, feel and vibe of the different kingdoms in the show. Lighting in film is like painting, it’s the part that makes a film look like a film and not just another YT video. Even on no budget, here are some simple tips on how to light something so it can look unique or interesting.

4. Camera Lenses: Understanding and utilizing the lenses is a key aspect of directing. You, as a director, must understand how the image will look in a 16mm lens vs say a 50mm. Now days with DSLRs, you can rent some simple prime lenses from a camera store and experiment for the look you want. Once you get into bigger, more expensive cameras, the lenses and how they work are the same, but the image quality can differ based on the actual brand and type of glass you’re using.

5. Art Direction: Art direction is creating the environment of the rooms and spaces in the shoots. Even natural feeling films like those of Alexander Payne use space and architecture to define the space and make it feel more authentic. And sometimes, this is the only job of an art director, to make something feel “real”. The opposite of this is say a Wes Anderson movie where everything single detail is art directed to convey the artifice of the world he’s creating. In Darjeeling Limited, I loved his art direction in the train. The bright colors, unique patterns, just gorgeous… Trust me, trains in India don’t look this way, but he built a very interesting world.

6. Mood/Tone: Mood and tone is just that overall feeling in an image. In my intro to filmmaking classes, I show many, many images from say an Ansel Adams photo to fashion photography, and I ask the students to dissect how that image might have been created. In other words, what were the casting, the coverage choices, the lighting, the lenses and art direction? In class, would dissect and try to pinpoint the emotion that the brand is selling with that image. I can’t emphasize how important it is to consume visual things—painting, photos, movies, music videos, interior design, architecture, all of it to really gain an in depth understanding of how to construct an image.

7. Make It Your Own: Finally, imitate things you know and see so that you can ultimately find your own voice. Photography and design are great places to start as you make your videos. In my 20’s, people hired me to do web/graphic design + make videos. By experimenting with fonts, layouts, colors, designs, and lighting, I came to understand that I like modern fonts with clean layouts and bright color. I like negative space and natural environments. It’s taken me years to know this about me but it’s very helpful as I make decisions for filmmaking.

ON NAILING THE TONE OF COMEDY/DRAMA IN MY FILMMAKING:

One of the biggest challenges in my filmmaking is nailing the tone of something that is both comedic and dramatic at the same time. For years, I was never able to communicate to people very well that this is what my material was—comedy and drama at the same time. Sardonic and sarcastic but rooted in reality. I love the work of Alexander Payne and the Duplass brothers, and even Lena Dunham, the way they construct these multi-layered characters with a vibe that makes you laugh and cry at the same time.

For my second movie, Days with Dandekar, it’s really important to me that I nail this tone—something that is funny, dark and sad all at the same time. One of the things that I like as well, is very visual comedy, like sight gags that they might use in TV, but then framing those in a more cinematic context like in Overly Attached Andy.

For the past two years, I have made a lot of short films for So Natural TV, experimenting with this style of comedy, drama and integrating the sort of visuals I like. I think in Raspberry Magic, I had elements of both here, but I was still defining my style and really making it clear. I’m really proud of some of the sketches I did for the series, So Natural, because I pushed the writing more to the comedic side and made it absurd, but visually treated it the way I might with something more cinematic. One of my fav films that was The Perfect Boyfriend. I felt like the gag, the joke of it worked, but I loved that we shot it and the actress played in it this very serious way.

Like I’ve said before, I huge part of directing is communicating your visual style and ideas to the people around you, and really sticking what your vision is. It’s really easy to get sidetracked by things like hey, maybe you should cast X person or Y person, etc, etc… But it’s critical to know your own vision and really stick to that. I think sometimes in my feature scripts, the tone is a bit unclear for folks, like it’s easy to just box it in as a drama, but really I am doing really dry, sardonic humor or attempting to. A critical part of that is the acting, something I am going to talk more about in another post.

I am making a short film based off some of the ideas in RK that I feel like be helpful to define tone and really make clear exactly what I am wanting to do with RK. I am excited about this short, because I have been sitting with the character and idea for so long… Making the short will also help me refine the vision, voice, style and tone, something that is an important part of the process.

May 8

Making My Second Feature—Days with Dandekar

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In 2011, I received a Tribeca All Access grant for my sophomore feature, Days with RK. I had just come off making my first film, Raspberry Magic, and having a baby. The making of Raspberry Magic was no easy feat, and at the time, I felt unsure about everything… How a second feature would get made, what it would look and feel like, and most importantly, how to polish the screenplay into something I was completely happy with… So, I shelved that project for a little while.

But I didn’t stopped making films. For the past three years, I have been very prolific, making a number of films for my YT channel, So Natural TV, and developing other web series. It has been a lot of fun, but most importantly, I have grown tremendously as a director and a writer, and I have a kind of clarity of vision for Days with RK that I didn’t have before on my work, meaning that I am certain on the vision, style, tone and other elements that a director must take into account. As a first time director, it is very easy to let your vision and ideas get drowned out by all of the noise, so this time, I really want to make sure that I am very clear of the tone/vision/style and stick to it.

I think that sort of clarity comes from making a lot of work, and really just being extremely patient with the creative process, and being honest with yourself about what is working and what isn’t.

So, this past fall, I put in some long hours to get a re-write of the script done. It was considered for the Sundance A3 lab, but didn’t get in. That was ok though, because honestly, the lab was really great impetus for me to get the script into shape. My previous script was good, and it probably would have made for a decent film. But I knew that it wasn’t at the level that it could be—it’s a road trip movie that felt episodic rather than escalating with an arc, and I just wasn’t sure of how to make it work. But I did some heavy lifting, and finally, finally this fall, after putting in some long hours, I am happy with it. I know that this screenplay is the movie I really want to make.

So what’s next? I have been working with producer Jane Kosek to package the project, and actor Brian George, who has been in Seinfeld and a lot of other TV shows has agreed to be in the film. Brian is an incredible comedic actor who is also a great improviser. We are working on a short film version of the movie, which will shoot this summer and I am so psyched about. Simultaneously, we will begin working on the financing for the feature which shoot some time next year. Very excited to work with producers Jane Kosek and Megha Kadakia, stay tuned for more news!

May 7

11 Things I’ve Learned About Short Filmmaking from Watching Hundreds of Student Films

I have been teaching filmmaking at LMU for around 8 years and really love it. I’ve taught everything from very intro level classes where the students are learning the basics to more intermediate classes where the kids really know their way around production, and spend a semester developing a story to then go shoot. In fact, the PROD 300 class at LMU is one of my favorites. This is the intermediate class, and students make short films that are 5-8 minutes, with no dialog—these can only be visual stories, which I think is a great skill set to have.

I’ve taught this class for a few semesters now, and spent yesterday in literally 10 hours of graded screenings. It’s actually pretty awesome because the students show their movies to faculty and other students and get feedback, but after watching so many films, here are some tips that are fresh in my mind, for making the best possible short film:

1. Protagonist: Your story should have a clear protagonist with a specific want, need and desire. And on the screen, we should see that protagonist immediately and understand their circumstance right away. There are so many films I’ve seen where it’s unclear as to who the protagonist is, only because there might be a group or a couple on screen and it’s not clear whose story we are tracking.

2. Arc: In the same vein, there should be an on screen arc that occurs with the character. In other words, that character starts in one place, goes through a journey  and comes out at the end with a new perspective or place in life. We should be able to track that arc, and again, if the scene structure isn’t showing this, then it’s good to shuffle or cut scenes.

3. Conflict: I’m not saying that that every film needs some huge drama or conflict, but it’s really hard to watch a movie or even care about it if there is nothing at stake. In other words, if this character’s life is perfect, then why am I watching this movie?

4. Casting: Newbie filmmakers often go for the prettiest most youthful actors. I find in student films, the cast tends to be young, nice looking people. This is ok sometimes but really, it’s often not interesting or doesn’t serve the movie very well at all. I think pushing the casting and being creative with the onscreen faces is really critical. Exploring race, age, usual types of people in casting can make a sometimes boring movie much, much more interesting.

5. Musical Choices: Scoring a movie is no easy feat. It’s always tough to know exactly what type of music might work best with a movie. I always tell students, a big part of being a director is having interesting and unique TASTE. In other words, sticking something under your images that sounds like Hans Zimmer probably isn’t going to work for a number of reasons. I try to encourage kids to find indie bands in their circle that might be interesting or experiment with music that different or that they really like. Some of the kids have really have eclectic taste, and it’s always great to see what they come in with.

6. Production Value: Student filmmakers have no problem with high end production. Often times they are able to use school cameras + rentals that give them a super expensive, high end look, way better than some of the pro filmmakers out there. And they know how to hire stunt people for complex fight sequences and more. But again, the production value and the “look” which I find film students are about, should really serve a story goal.  I encourage kids not to go out and spend money but instead, tell a simple, heartfelt take without fancy tricks. Keep it simple.

7. Coverage: I review the concept of coverage and shot choices over and over again in class, and ask kids to turn in detailed shot lists. But most kids end up with palettes of MS and WS. I think mapping out those emotional beats, and knowing what to cover in CS, and having a variety of choices to work with is key. It’s not easy to learn this, but that standard coverage with wider shots can become laborious to watch. I think this skill only comes with making a lot of movies and understanding how to have a strong POINT OF VIEW, something I will talk about in another post.

8. Acting, Acting, Acting: Finding actors who are interesting to watch on screen is one of the most challenging aspects of filmmaking at any level. In auditions, it’s not only about finding actors who can bring something unique to the table, but also who can create a character and really make the screen ideas pop. Not easy, but so critical. (And don’t just casting the hottest actor possible!) And as a director, it’s really important to be honest with yourself—if someone is not working, audition until you find that right person. That means that this person will rehearse, show up and take your movie seriously. You’d be surprised how many actors can’t do this!

9. Locations: Again, find a location that is visually interesting and says something is more important than just finding a place that “looks nice” or is easy to shoot in. If you are trying to define your character as being poor, you can establish this very quickly and easily with the right locations.

10. Kill Your Darlings: Most short films I watch can be about 2-3 minutes shorter. But often, filmmakers are precious about the things they’ve shot. I get it, it’s tough to kill your darlings. But almost all movies I’ve seen can be better if they are a little shorter. So… If you’ve gotten notes to cut something… Just cut it. This is why I love working with good editors…. Because they are going to cut out anything that doesn’t need to be there and feel the same emotion that I might.

11. Personal. I can’t emphasize this enough, tell a story that’s personal, comes from your own unique life and the unique things you have gone through. I am not saying that you have to put your own life up on the screen directly, but what I am saying is, let your storytelling come from you and not something that’s derivative or from the filmmakers you love. Just be yourself!

Mar 4

I shot this video back in 2012 but was stuck on it forever bc I couldn’t quite figure out the music, and how I wanted it cut. Finally, my husband, Ameet Mehta came up with a really dope track and I think it works…. Thanks also to editor Justin Zagri for bringing a fresh eye to it.