How to Bootstrap a Movie: Seven Entrepreneurs; 11 Days; R10 000… And...

How to Bootstrap a Movie: Seven Entrepreneurs; 11 Days; R10 000… And a Whole Lot of Passion

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Opening Credits

South Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit is not to be trifled with. We know how to work hard, set audacious goals and see them through. We love a good challenge. Tell a local ‘trep something can’t be done, and watch them find a way to show you just how wrong you are. Because that’s what entrepreneurs are.

They’re workaholic, prone to extremes, no personal/work life balance, passionate trailblazers.

Case in point: Seven entrepreneurs from three different companies wanted to create a film according to their rules.

There were a few minor problems: They all had businesses to run and bills to pay, and a project of passion did not fit into their already-overworked schedules.

They had absolutely no budget for the film, which should have meant no cast, no crew, no sets, no equipment – basically, no movie. And without a big ticket distributor on board, in the unlikely event the film even got made, they had no way of getting it to audiences.

But whoever says entrepreneurs are firmly hinged in reality hasn’t met a true ‘trep. Faced with too many challenges and seemingly insurmountable odds, most people walk away, prepared to dream another day. The makers of Shotgun Garfunkel took an entirely different approach.

They had way too many obstacles stacked against them to create more of their own. If this was going to work, they needed to find solutions, not create more problems that didn’t exist.

 

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“That’s the way we faced this. We said, ‘We’re going to do this,’ and then we did it,” says Tiffany Jones-Barbuzano. “Most problems are actually created by the people trying to solve them. We look for restrictions, let our heads get in the way and give ourselves reasons not to do something. If we wanted this to work we knew we needed to let our thoughts be free and not give anything the time to become a problem. If you know there’s a solution to be found, you’ll find it.”

It’s one of the biggest lessons the movie makers have carried away with them since completing the project, but it’s far from the only one.

Related: Why Money Isn’t Everything

The plot thickens

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Bootstrapping a movie is just like any other start-up: You need to do what you know, ask people for a lot of favours, rely on friends, leave your ego at the door and find synergies with people whose skill sets complement your own.

“Deciding to make the Fastest Film Ever Made was the easy part,” says Johnny Barbuzano, who directed the film. “It gave us parameters we could work with and a strict timeframe. We wanted to work within 11 days from conception to a final product, so we couldn’t let the project just take a backseat to our other work.” But the world record also meant that when they sat down on 1 May to get started, they had no title, concept, characters, story-arc, dialogue, cast or crew.

“The entire process must be documented in order for Guinness to officially declare it the record-holder for the Fastest Film Ever Made, and this includes the discussions leading up to a script.

So, what do you do when you start with an absolutely clean slate? Every business coach has the same advice: You start with what you know. Over the course of three days, Shotgun Garfunkel would develop into a coming of age movie for 30-somethings who are no longer in their carefree 20s, but not quite ready for the responsibilities of full adulthood.

“It’s lovingly shot in Jo’burg and makes use of well-known landmarks from Newtown to Northcliff Hill, but it could just as easily be set in any Western-culture city in the world. It’s a story of four friends still figuring out who they are, and because it doesn’t stray from what’s real to the writers and actors, it’s authentic to its audience.

However, while the movie can be likened to a start-up, the entrepreneurs involved are anything but, and this is one of the single most important factors that made this project a success. They had wide networks they could draw on for assistance, and not a single person said ‘no’ when they were asked to pitch in.

“Organisationally we had three different companies that needed to work together seamlessly,” says Ryan Norwood-Young. “For the project to work there needed to be a lot of respect amongst us for each other’s skill sets. We had no time to second guess each other, but this actually worked in our favour. We just got things done.”

“We got a top-of-the-range camera donated to us”

If you’re going to shoot a film in four days, you want the best equipment possible. Eduan van Jaarsveldt approached his contacts at Sony and asked them if they wanted to donate the brand new Sony F55 to the project. They loved the idea. The Canon 5D was used to shoot a short film a few years ago, and on the basis of that became a huge seller in a small industry where everyone essentially knows each other. Sony’s hoping for similar hype for the F55. It’s the first of its kind in South Africa, and thanks to Shotgun Garfunkel is already making waves.

“It was a win-win situation for all of us,” says Bryan van Niekerk. “Sony needed the exposure and we were the perfect vehicle for them – we were bound to generate hype around what we were doing, and the F55 would be at the centre of that. And we needed that camera. Sometimes it’s just about finding the right partners.”

Of course, it helps that Van Jaarsveldt and his Team Best colleagues are well-known and respected in the industry. Trust goes a long way when you’re asking for a favour.

Team Best has a strict policy it never wavers from: It always pays its crews seven days after a job is complete. It’s unheard of in the industry and in Van Niekerk’s own words means they’re “always poor,” but it also means they have happy, loyal crews.

And when you need the best crew no money can buy, those relationships suddenly come in very handy.

“The enthusiasm to help us out was incredible,” he says. “No one said no to us. Most actors heard Johnny was directing and immediately said yes, including Jena Dover and Carl Beukes, and the crew joined because they wanted to be a part of this incredible project.

“We’ve given most of the crew work through the commercials we have shot since the film wrapped, so it’s worked both ways, but the passion surrounding the project was a big draw card. We were creating something special and every single person on set contributed to that.”

Related: Bootstrapping: The DIY Option

“Trust people and they’ll over deliver”

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Shared passion is a prerequisite when taking on such an audacious goal, particularly when three companies are equal partners in the project, but this passion needed to permeate everyone on set too.

“It’s amazing what people can achieve when their hearts are really in it,” says Jones-Barbuzano. “We needed to completely trust each other, but that same attitude had to extend to the wider circle.”

“Everyone has things that they’re really good at,” agrees Meren Reddy, “and we needed to allow people to get on with it. There was no time for second guessing, but what we learnt was that when you trust someone to do what they’re already good at, they’ll deliver. We didn’t micromanage anything, and the result was a crew who all felt like this project belonged to them. We really got the best from every single person involved because of that.”

Take, for example, a friend of a friend who ended up on set as an observer.A dive instructor by trade, she had no on-set experience, but was keen to help out. After 11 days she was a production assistant, wrangling extras, solving problems and keeping things running smoothly.

Today she’s employed by Team Best as a PA – all because there was an inclusive attitude throughout the production process that encouraged everyone involved to roll up their sleeves, get involved, do their best, and feel ownership of the project.

It’s an amazing productivity and efficiency tool.

“Social media is changing the game”

A lot of those extras ended up on set in the first place because of social media. From the beginning the partners knew they would need to leverage social media platforms to make the project work. Retroviral’s Mike Sharman was roped in to assist (and play a bit-part in the film too), and a website, Facebook page and Twitter account were established thanks to another freebie from web designers (and fellow entrepreneurs) Plastic Duck Armada.

“Social media allows a project to suddenly become collaborative and inclusive in an industry that can appear quite exclusive most of the time,” says Barbuzano. “We were telling everyone that Jo’burg was going to break a world record, and people loved it – they wanted to be involved. We have a club scene in the movie that we needed extras for. We sent a tweet out that morning – one tweet – and by the early evening we had an entire club full of extras. It was incredible.”

The collaborative nature of the film spread beyond cast and crew though. What was a movie without a poster? “We chatted to one of our clients, Dean Oelschig from ad agency Halo, about helping us out with a poster. They had offered their services, and this seemed like the perfect project for them,” says Asher Stoltz.

Instead of just designing a poster though, Halo joined in the spirit of the film. Within hours they had invited eight top local designers and illustrators, booked a venue (Wolves in Illovo) and organised to audio stream the world’s fastest poster competition.

The contestants had one hour to design the poster for Shotgun Garfunkel, without (obviously) seeing the movie. People could vote for their favourite on Facebook. While there was one winner, the team ultimately got 12 different posters (worth thousands of rands) for their film – without paying a cent.

Curtain call

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The film was screened at independent film theatre The Bioscope, owned and run by two entrepreneurs in the Maboneng Precinct in downtown Jo’burg. Chosen because it’s an independent theatre and Stoltz and Van Niekerk previously worked from offices in Maboneng, it was the ideal venue to preview the movie.

And now the really hard work begins. “When we started this project, all we wanted to do was create a film we loved. The record was a great motivator, and once the title is official it will give us a great hook when we send it to festivals, but it was never meant to detract from the quality of what we were creating,” says Barbuzano.

“We bootstrapped a movie, and the way we sell it will be as unique as the way we made it. We know we need to get creative.

“Do we do pop-up screenings, create cult followings and use social media to create excitement around the screenings? These are the things we’re now working out.”

For Van Niekerk, the personal side of the film was one of the reasons it worked. “People felt involved in the story of the making of this film,” he says. “It’s not just about the final product. It’s the restaurants and clubs who let us use their venues and fed us; it’s the extras; the school we used; how we convinced a group of people to skinny dip in the early hours of a May morning. People want to know the background of how we did this, and the way we distribute this movie should mirror this.”

“It’s personal, and we want to share the experience.”

Vital stats

  • Title: Shotgun Garfunkel
  • Produced: 2013
  • Claim to fame: Unofficial world record holder for fastest film ever made
  • Start-up capital: R10 000
  • Visit: thefastestfilm.com

A meeting of minds

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It’s November 2012, and Asher Stoltz, Bryan van Niekerk and Johnny and Tiffany Barbuzano are catching up. They’ve shot a pilot for a local version of The Office and the project has come to a standstill. They’re all suffering from a bit of disillusionment.

Their companies are doing well and they’re respected industry professionals, but too many projects are non-starters and it’s completely out of their control.

What they really want is to create something that’s all their own and feeds their passion for the industry.

Their first idea is to create the worst movie ever made. Hardly a passion-igniter. But it does lead to a real discussion of what they can do – not separately, but together. Barbuzano had just come off the M-Net soap, The Wild where cast and crew had worked at a breakneck pace. International norms are to shoot an episode in two weeks.

South African crews typically shoot three half-hour episodes a week. “It raised the question of just how far you can push crews in this country,” says Barbuzano. “What are we really capable of?”

And then someone Googled ‘The fastest film ever made’ and they learnt about an Indian film that had broken the record. What if they aimed to break it again?

Screw the worst movie ever made, they wanted to make the best movie they were capable of producing, but without taking too much time away from their companies, asking too much of the people who would be involved, and most of all without spending any money, because they basically had a budget of zero.

Breaking the record for the Fastest Film Ever Made gave them parameters: They weren’t allowed a concept, a script, a cast, a crew, investors or an interested broadcaster. Perfect, they didn’t have any of those things anyway. What they did have was three entrepreneurial businesses (they quickly brought Meren Reddy and Ryan Norwood-Young on board) determined to create something incredible in un

The players

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  • Team Best: Asher Stoltz, Bryan van Niekerk and Eduan van Jaarsveldt
  • Est: 2008
  • Day jobs: Commercial production
  • Ghost Sheep Productions: Meren Reddy and Ryan Norwood-Young
  • Est: 2012
  • Day jobs: TV production and corporate video work
  • Localala Productions: Johnny Barbuzano and Tiffany Jones-Barbuzano
  • Est: 2006
  • Day jobs: TV productionder 11 days with no capital. They needed to bootstrap a movie – and that’s exactly what they did.