By: Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie
It seems that the recession and high unemployment rate, as well as general worker dissatisfaction, has created a unique atmosphere for entrepreneurship and creativity. People have been laid-off, sometimes more than once, and many have realized that they’d rather work for themselves than work for “the man.” But starting and funding a new business or venture takes money, and as a result, people are turning to crowd-funding sources like Indiegogo and Kickstarter that allow individuals, businesses, non-profits and organizations to raise money from family, friends and friends-of-friends. This new trend, which also got a boost from President Obama’s Jobs Act last year, is really taking off and helping people raise money so their businesses and projects can take off too!
Nancy Vitale and Nilou Safinya recently launched a fundraising campaign for their new film/TV production company to raise money for their first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS. The women met through the Middle Eastern theater community and have been friends ever since. Nancy studied dramaturgy/new script development at Columbia School of the Arts and worked as a dramaturg for various regional theatres all over the US. She is also one of the founders and the Producing Artistic Director of Noor Theatre (www.NoorTheatre.org), a Company-in-Residence at New York Theatre Workshop, which co-produced the critically acclaimed play ‘Food and Fadwa’ in 2012. Nilou’s background is also in theatre – in directing, stage managing and producing. She studied Theatre and Psychology at Columbia University and then worked for several years in the NY theatre scene, and more recently for an independent film and TV production company before turning freelance.
Their joint venture, Eyes Up Here Productions, is a film and theater production company through which they hope to provide a venue for women ( and men!) to tell their stories. They first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS is their own story of being bullied at an aerobics exercise class and the chaos that ensues.
Currently, they are raising money to fund and produce their film and are in their second week of their funding campaign on Indiegogo. You can learn more about their venture and make a donation here http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/running-with-sharks-a-comedic-short-film-series-pilot.
Recently, Money Moxie sat down with Nancy and Nilou to chat about their plans for their production company as well as their first film.
MONEY MOXIE: What is the concept behind your new production company?
Nancy: The concept is simple – to develop great stories in collaboration with artists we believe in. The name and branding focus the attention of all audiences – up here – at the big screen, small screen, mobile device, theatre stage, you name it.
Nilou: As far as the more tongue-in-cheek implications of the name, we are two real women with real stories to tell, and we want to direct your gaze to those stories. The rest is in the Eyes of the beholder.
MM: How long did it take to get the company started-from idea to where it is now– and what did it take to get you where you are now?
Nilou: When the script for RUNNING WITH SHARKS was complete, we decided that producing it ourselves would be a great way to launch our new company.
Nancy: This way we are also challenging ourselves to continue generating and developing work once this production is complete.
MM: What are your goals for your company?
Nilou: Our immediate goal is to produce and finish this short by the summertime. Once it is completed, we plan to send it out to both film and TV festivals. We are also going to use the short as a pilot presentation to put forth to networks and broadcasters as a concept for a comedy series.
Nancy: Following that, we hope to develop more properties for TV, film and theatre. We are looking to develop our own content as well as the content of other artists we admire.
MM: Tell us about the project and your goals for the project. How did you come to the $ goal that you set in your fundraising campaign?
Nancy: The project is a short comedic film called RUNNING WITH SHARKS, which we describe as a story for anyone who has ever felt judged in a swimsuit. It was loosely inspired by our own experience at a swanky Upper East side gym, where we were yelled at by territorial gym rats, who happened to be older than our mothers. Rather than letting it bother us, I wrote about it in an effort to point out how we ladies can be oddly competitive with one another. I would say that the competition doesn’t help anyone, but it made me write a short film script rather than cry in a corner, so it was somewhat helpful.
Nilou: Even though we almost did cry in a corner! Especially when I was yelled at for putting a support belt in the way of the alpha rat and Nancy was snickered at behind her back! The $8,500 goal we set for the Indiegogo campaign is the honestly the bare-bones minimum we need to rent the necessary equipment, get insurance, hire cast and crew (at extremely minimal fees) and take care of anything else that we cannot get our friends to donate out of the goodness of their big, beautiful hearts.
Nancy: Setting up the campaign, we turned to friends who have funded films and plays using Kickstarter and Indiegogo and asked them about strategies that worked for them. Everyone recommended a brief, upbeat and fun campaign that engaged people as often as possible without being annoying.
MM: Why indiegogo as opposed to other avenues for investing? Did you get help from family/friends, bootstrapping or finding investors?
Nancy: As a new, unknown company, finding investors to give us thousands of dollars of start up money is not easy. We could also beg friends and family to help, but that is not a sustainable model. By launching this campaign, we have to put ourselves out there to the rest of the world, tell them why we want to tell these kinds of stories, that they’re important and that we want to tell more of them with their support. It’s about building a base of supporters that will eventually also be our audience.
Nilou: We are simultaneously talking to any brands we have access to as well as possible investors we know just to get the ball rolling and who knows – maybe someone will bite! However, once we complete this first project and have a tangible example of the work we want to do, we will certainly seek investors more actively for company proper as we explore raising funds for our next projects.
MM: What has been the response so far regarding the company and your campaign? Where are you in terms of your fundraising goal?
Nancy: We are half- way through the campaign and half- way to our goal. Let’s keep it up!
Nilou: The response has been lovely, very positive, and people really seem to enjoy the pitch video as well as the company name. Our friends and family have been very supportive and complementary. We just need to get more people to see it.
MM: Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything about raising money? What advice would you offer people who are thinking of bootstrapping, fundraising, asking money from family/friends?
Nancy: Don’t do it too often. Eventually you’ll exhaust your base.
Nilou: We both often raise money for projects that are non-profit in nature, so there’s no financial return on investment and this sort of fundraising can be very difficult, especially past a certain level. To be very clear, Eyes Up Here is not intended to be a non-profit venture.
Nancy: We’re excited about moving into the next phase of profit-bearing entertainment, but we need a little help with this test run first. Please.
Nilou: And thank you.