Why is this here?

I'm a filmmaker currently touring the DIY Feature A Genesis Found around the campuses of colleges and universities across the Southeast. This is the personal account, for better or worse, of its successes and failures.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The End is the Beginning is the End

So, it has come to this.

Real original allusion, I know....

Not like I've been around in a while (three years-- really?!?!) but I did want to formally conclude my ramblings here, with a slight update on the progress of the film.

"A Genesis Found" Re-release Saturday

Things have fallen into place for me the past couple of years, and I've kind of been put in a situation that I really can't ignore-- now is the time to really make a go at making this movie thing work as a full-time gig.  I'm not quite there yet, and there's still the very real possibility of failure, but things with my non-movie career have kinda panned out in a way where I'd be a fool not to take advantage of this opportunity.  So, in addition to giving a bit more focus to a few non-Genesis projects I've been developing over the past couple of years, I've also decided to try and figure out if there's a way to yield enough profit from self-distribution of micro budget films to justify going into business for myself, full time.

Though my approach to creating "A Genesis Found" was atypical to the needs of making a profit in the micro budget world (the budget was over $27k and took me close to three years to make), I do just have it kinda sitting around, never really having taken full advantage of my online marketing options.  Sure, the film has been on Amazon for years, but I haven't done much in the way of promoting or generating an audience for the film ever since I finished the campus tour almost four years ago.  I basically dumped the movie online and continued on with my life.

Now, I realize, I was just dumping it until I was ready to make a really solid go at it.

That time is now.

Talk about taking a while to get ready....

After a month of prep, I've re-released both the film and novel online, featuring a revised branding approach (that's much more generally appealing, I believe-- the luxury of having a few years away from the film to develop a much more objective opinion), including a new tagline and cover.  Check it out here!

I’ve also released a second printing of the “A Genesis Found” novelization by Wilson Toney as a standalone, budget-priced paperback (previously it was only available as part of “A Genesis Found: The Film Companion”) and also made the novel available as an Ebook for the first time.  Currently, the book is available in the Amazon Kindle store (as well as available for free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited), and will be available in all major ebook platforms in the coming months.

For the paperback, check here.  For the kindle version, see here.

Also (launching next week), I’ve re-released the film on a single disc, budget DVD– again with new packaging and at a lower price.

I'm also backing up these new releases with a strong online marketing campaign, featuring ad placement on numerous top tier sites and social media platforms, and a renewed push at appealing to online reviewers and "sci-fi" genre blogs.

Though I've always been a little disappointed in the rather meager audience I was able to connect to with the film (which I hope this will help to remedy), I'm also primarily approaching this exercise as a test run for future, more time-and-budget conscience DIY-films-- is there a market for, say, $7500 budget genre films distributed exclusively on open VOD platforms (like Amazon Instant Video) and marketed solely via inexpensive-to-free internet marketing strategies?  Can such films turn a profit and be a self-sustainable enterprise?  This re-release is step one in answering that question, at least for myself.

The Birth of Wonder Mill Cosmos

Over the past several years, as is the way of life, my frequent film collaborator and good friend Benjamin Stark and I have drifted apart professionally.  Not in so much a "we don't work well together and we are no longer friends" capacity-- to the contrary, actually, as I have yet to work with another collaborator who has quite the perspective and skill set as Ben-- but more in just the simple fact that our goals have changed.  

In the years since finishing "Genesis", I've found that I'm much more interested in creating genre and juvenile aimed content than I am at films that play festivals, and in pursuing such ambitions, have found a pretty solid place for myself in the niche market of institutional filmmaking, specializing in developing science-focused educational content for planetariums and giant screen theaters, show spaces mostly found at science centers and museums.

This path began thanks to my day job, actually, as I worked for a little over half a decade as a technician, operator, manager and film buyer for an institutional theater.  I followed this introduction to the industry with my first production (one of the primary projects I've been developing for the past couple of years), LightSpeed Pioneers: Stranded on Mars, which has just secured worldwide distribution for both the Giant Screen and Planetarium Full Dome markets, and hopes to launch in 2016.  

In addition to that project, I've also begun pursuing a few other potential projects in the industry.

And though I haven't completely turned my back on micro-budget (or even regional) filmmaking, it seems like this passion has been pushed more into a peripheral pursuit of mine, while my primary focus has become institutional films, as well as animation-styled projects in various media aimed at young audiences.

Since that's a pretty different style of content from what Ben is doing, it seemed pretty obvious that some form of branding change was in order.  

Hence, Wonder Mill Cosmos was born.

Now serving as my exclusive production banner for my current and future projects, Ben and I also felt it was necessary-- and frankly, helpful to me-- to rebrand the re-releases of “A Genesis Found”– along with any future releases and tie-ins– as productions of Wonder Mill Cosmos.

Though we are now operating entirely separately, we remain friends, and of course, associated-- we are both "Wonder Millians" after all.

Thanks for checking out the blog!  No intentions of resuming posts here (though it will remain online as a testament to the tour), but hope you enjoyed this brief update!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Article about Tour Published at Film Courage!

A little late on this post, but L.A.-based radio show "Film Courage with David Branin and Karen Worden" recently published an article I wrote up for their blog about my experiences on the Campus Tour. If you don't want to read this whole website, it serves as a pretty nice summation of the entire experience. It's got us some nice press, though, and was a buzz for them for a little bit. Check it out!

Monday, June 20, 2011

"A Genesis Found" now available for FREE streaming at Openfilm!

If you haven't seen "A Genesis Found" yet, now you have no excuse.  "A Genesis Found" now available as a free streaming option on!  And it's an editor's pick to boot!

Openfilm's library is available on numerous platforms-- if you use Boxee or a Home Theater PC, look for "A Genesis Found" in HD in the Openfilm Boxee app.  The film is also available on demand for Verizon FiOS users, Miniweb users, and users of Blinkx Remote.  Or you can just watch it here!

Monday, May 23, 2011

All Good Things....

Well, the Tour is over.

That score is about right.
Actually, it's been over for some time-- technically the last performance was our screening at the University of Arkansas in mid-March.  But as there were still a few lingering possibilities for some late-April, early-May presentations, I decided I'd hold off on writing my "Final Chapter" in this saga in case any of those screenings developed.

Our final screening was actually supposed to be in Tuscaloosa, at the University of Alabama (my alma mater) within that April-May time frame, right at the end of the semester.  It was a gig I was really hoping for-- a "homecoming" of sorts, to the place it was written, based and partially shot.  Hell, the University of Alabama is IN the movie, and recognized as such.  So I thought it'd be a great way to wrap up 11 months (plus the four or five months of prep) and 15 screenings (was it only 15????) worth of work with a final 16th in Tuscaloosa.

My numerous attempts at screening at UA were no where near as fruitful as I initially had assumed they'd be, mainly because most of the professors I knew well-enough when I went to school there to ask to sponsor me had moved on since my undergrad tenure.  Another reason I had such a hard time, I think, was my own lack of immediacy about setting up a screening there (I just figured "well of course we'll screen there.")

My taking-for-granted misstep aside, by late-February early-March I was working, quite actively, to get the final few gigs booked up on the tour.  Honestly I was a little tired of the tour (as evidenced in just about EVERY post I've previously placed on here) and was anxious to move on not only to Genesis' next and final phase of distribution-- but also just ready to move on from Genesis all together.

Of course, I wanted to end it on a high note (or at least a screening I was actually able to attend), and by late-March I had decided to write off all the other lingering potential screenings to focus on the UA gig, and make that our sentimental last stop.

I finally got ahold of a professor in the TCF dept. (where I got my degree) who actually took the time to write me back (I thought alumni carried some weight, dammit!), and we started crunching the details.  Despite slow exchanges, it seemed promising that we'd get to have our last show at UA after all, in early-May.

By the end of April we'd again lost touch, but as we still had a few weeks before the potential screening I was still holding out hope of a screening happening, and planned on getting back with my contact the last week of April.

Then April 27th happened.

April 27th was a devastating day for the Southeast-- Alabama in particular-- with the region being bombarded by roughly 288 tornadoes-- the nation's largest single-day tornado outbreak in history-- which included touchdowns of 3 Category EF-5s (the worst there are).

Among the numerous counties and cities of Alabama hit by the storms, a significant chunk at the heart of Tuscaloosa, along with a number of surrounding rural areas, was obliterated.

Needless to say, the storms also killed any hope I had of a final screening in Tuscaloosa, though I refuse to trivialize the event by claiming this was a lamentable casualty.  The devastation the region received is traumatic and continues to affect the lives of thousands.  It's been a nightmare to live through, for all of us, though there have been some positives to result from this tragedy, including the growth of a greater sense of regional identity and internal regional support-- both ideas that are quite important to me and Wonder Mill films.

So, to get back to topic, thus then the tour IS DONE, and I am glad.

I must admit-- if I allow myself, there are still times I fear that I wasted a lot of opportunities, that the fact that I only saw 15 schools is not an accomplishment at all, that I dropped the ball and wasted too much time checking Braves scores and fixing up the new house and working the day job, and not enough time making the most of the past year.  In some ways I feel like I have very little to show for all this work, and ultimately it cost me yet another year of Genesis lingering in distribution purgatory.

Anyone wanna buy my film?????
I think there is some validity to these fears, but as I begin to close this chapter in Genesis' development (and in my life) the fears fade, and I've come to peace with what we were able to accomplish with few resources and varying degrees of administrative cooperation from the schools we visited and the schools we tried.  I regret the two I missed attending, cherished the one overnight trip to the Carolinas and the above and beyond receptions at Murray State and the University of Tennessee, and feel a general sense of ease that it's over with and I am ready to move on.

I've never felt this peace about A Genesis Found before-- previously I always felt held back by it.  Maybe it's a spiritual sense of comfort in knowing I did my best, regardless how mixed the results were-- or maybe it's an intuitive sense of knowing what I needed to personally accomplish on my own professional journey.

Or maybe I'm just tired of it.

Regardless, before I bid my consistent (if infrequent) chronicling on this blog farewell, I would like to again thank the great folks who made this film, this tour, and this experience possible:

Thanks To:

- My Wife Peyton
- My Family - Robin, Arkie and Jason Fanning
- Kathy Taylor and Mike & Sarah Blankenship
- My Producer and Friend, Benjamin Stark, his Wife Danielle, and his Parents, Monika & Werner
- The Casts and Crews of A Genesis Found & The Nocturnal Third
- My Bosses and Work Family & Friends at the Day Job
- Southern Truths Artist Kevin Maggard
- The Administrators, Professors and Student Bodies at every school we attended
- Dr. Jay Cofield and the University of Montevallo
- Ashley Dumas and the University of West Alabama
- Ronn Hague and Pearl River Community College
- Philip J. Carr, Katie Bates, the USA Anthropology Society, and the University of South Alabama
- Jason Flynn and the University of North Alabama
- Arianne Gaetano, Hamilton Bryant and Auburn University
- Jay Franklin, the ETSU Anthropology Club and East Tennessee State University
- Tony Boudreaux and East Carolina University
- Karen Drexelius and the University of South Carolina
- Helen Roulston and Murray State University
- David Moore, John Thygerson and the University of Alabama - Huntsville
- Josh Rosenstein, the UGA Anthropology Society and the University of Georgia
- Deborah Albritton and Jefferson Davis Community College
- Chuck Maland and the University of Tennessee
- Lora Lennertz Jetton and the University of Arkansas
- The countless folks I contacted who took time to forward me along, give me suggestions, and help me try to set up a screening at their facility
- All of the Libraries, Art Councils, Film Commissions, Social Media Outlets, and other Community Organizations that helped us promote and supported our screenigns
- All of the Media Outlets that Covered and Promoted our screenings
- Everyone who made it out to a screening, picked up a promo DVD and helped spread the word
- The Wonder Mill Films Mailing List
- All our Fans on Facebook and Twitter

What we've learned...
I feel there's also an obligation here to wrap up a few philosophical discoveries I've had about this method of distribution, to better serve those of you following my chronicles as research for your own DIY ambitions.  I think it'd also do me some good to review, in simple, direct terms, exactly what I've learned these past 11 or so months.  So here goes:

- Distribution, especially DIY distribution, is hard.  There's too many outlets for entertainment now, too much supply and not enough new demand (ie there's the same number of folks looking for movies there always was).  So finding success doesn't always boil down to an original approach to distribution or having a good film.  You've got to be a good salesmen.  I'd say even a natural salesman.  I'm a horrible salesmen.  I found some success on this tour, and I think I'd call the whole affair a positive and successful promotion of the film, but I was never passionate about the experience.  I'm passionate about telling stories, just not selling them.  And it's hard to sell them if you don't love doing it.

- Regionalism is an idea that's marketable and attractive, but it ain't changing the world just yet.  I had a lot of folks come out to see the film due to regional ties-- and to our regionally-focused ethos-- but we could have easily done better exuding much less work marketing a Z-horror picture or a Faith-based flick.  Even bad ones.  Hell, ESPECIALLY bad ones.

- It's easier to sell something than give it away.  For some reason, it's hard to get folks to come out to free events.  I've seen this not only firsthand with this tour, but also with numerous free community events we have up at the day job-- cost equals quality in the cultural conciousness.  The predominant feeling is that if it's any good, we wouldn't be giving it away.  It's hard to argue that logic.

- The South rocks.  I've gotten to see some great places on the tour, and drove through/visited some nice towns.  Wish I could have stayed longer, but I wouldn't trade the experience.

- A Genesis Found is a good movie.  It has its flaws, but the reactions in the tour from numerous and diverse audiences (sometimes english/film students, sometimes anthropology students, sometimes ordinary public) has been typically positive enough to convince me the movie is generally appealing and worth a watch.  I've learned a lot since making it, but I'm genuinely proud to call it my first feature.

- I consider the Tour a success, but I wouldn't do it again.  The scheme worked as well as I figured, if not as well as I'd hoped, and I think the film has benefited from the exposure it brought, which was the point in the first place.  I also made some nice contacts and got to talk to a lot of interesting people, and have an interesting story or two to tell strangers and grandchildren.  So, as a personal experience, it was inspiring, revealing and memorable; and as a business model, it was a neat experiment that did what it was supposed to do-- but I don't think it was successful enough to justify doing again.  At least not without some backing and a bit more focused campaign.

So now that it's over-- what's next?

Well, first things first-- we got another movie on the way, which should launch early this Summer (exact date still TBA).  It's called The Nocturnal Third, and you can read all about here.

After that, I'm personally moving on from Genesis, focusing on my Producer duties with N-3rd, and also allowing myself to make writing my top priory again.  I'm writing a few things-- a new film project; a Young Adult adventure novel; and we've been flirting with the concept of adapting and finishing the stagnant Southern Truths featuring John Patton Jr. comic strip as a "Dramatic Podcast"-- all of which are using the majority of my focus at the moment.

And what's next for A Genesis Found?

Though philosophically I'm "moving on" from actively working on and actively promoting Genesis as of this post, there's still a bright future for our little feature that could.  In addition to the possible tie-in podcast, we're planning another Tour.

Now, I know I just said I wouldn't do this again, and we're not-- we're taking a different approach, this time around, and plan late-summer, early-fall to take both The Nocturnal Third and A Genesis Found around to predominantly city venues as a double feature Wonder Mill Roadshow.  No real details on this yet, but it's exciting, and we'll be sure to keep you all informed, here, on the Genesis website, and over at our facebook page.

There's also the possibility of a new DVD release of Genesis coming in the next few months, and we're hoping this will help make the film more readily available via more online and broadcast outlets.  Not sure if there's any BIG news on this front yet, but might be some coming in the near future, so keep posted here for more updates.  Who knows-- we may even wind up getting involved with a --gulp-- revenue-share distributor.

He's Original-Gansta-Wonder Mill.
And if that wasn't enough, one final announcement-- I've been invited by "Film Courage with David Branin & Karen Worden", an LA-based radio show, to write up a little retrospective of this Tour for their website!  I'm going to try and treat it like the definitive abridged memoir of the tour, so if you've liked my work here, or are interested in just reading the Cliff's Notes, I'll be sure and post the link here when it's up.

So that's it!  

Like I said, I'll still be posting here, from time to time, so if you're interested do do your best to make periodic checks here-- or even better, stay connected to us via Facebook and Twitter, where we'll update every time there's something new on this blog.

And Lastly....

Thank YOU for reading along and sharing this fun experiment and personal journey with me.  Now you should Buy the Film, Buy the Book, watch the Trailer for The Nocturnal Third, and have a great day!

New Review of "A Genesis Found"!

Check out this nice review from Jay Burleson, a friend of mine and fellow regional filmmaker, who took time to review A Genesis Found for his blog.  There be some spoilers (thanks Jay, haha) but if you've seen it, READ IT.

And then buy Jay's film Feast of the Vampires, which screened with A Genesis Found back in Athens in 2009.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Book from Wilson Toney!

The tour is virtually wrapped up-- all that remains is for me to put a little bow on it with a final entry on this blog.  Been taking my sweet time on that (though you should expect it sometime next week)-- in the meantime, though, why not do some book reading?

Why, here's a book you could read right now!  Wilson Toney, who I collaborated with on putting together A Genesis Found: The Film Companion (Toney was the novelist who wrote the novelization of the flick) has just released another book-- this time a non-fiction, humorous guide to tertiary education called The Only Thing Lower than a Slave: or How to Succeed in Graduate School Despite Really Trying

A fun read for anyone who's in, has been in, or plans to attend Grad school, from a man who had to get his Masters in a very limited amount of time.  I helped put the book together and it's turned out well.  Just $9.  Check it out on Amazon!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Being Remote is still Being There

I've made it a point to do everything in my power, throughout this tour, to make it to every venue I have scheduled.  No matter how far, how poorly prepared, or how ultimately impractical, if a school or a school's representative took some of their personal time to give me an opportunity and set up a screening for me, I feel highly obligated to keep my promise and make the trip.  Not that I should be congratulated for this, or anything-- this is our arrangement.  But it would certainly be easier just to have the film tour itself, and kinda take myself out of the equation, especially given the resources I have to work with.

"Alderaan???  I'm not going to Alderaan!"
Regardless, with a grassroots approach to distribution, I've learned it's pretty much an essential to have folks associate your ugly mug with your work by meeting you in person.  Seems to be incentive, and seems to help make the experience stick once you're gone.  Ultimately, if you're taking a non-traditional approach with your media distribution, of whatever it is, well, you're kinda asking folks to come out of their comfort zone-- to try and consume media in a way they don't generally consume it.  So, really the only way to convince folks that such a step is worth their time is to show up yourself-- not just because it shows it's at least worth your time-- but because it gives them an opportunity they don't usually have-- to meet and greet with one of the minds behind the constructed conversation you're presenting.

I'm by no means breaking ground here-- but still, nice to remind yourself why you're doing it, from time to time.

Anyway, this whole setup is all just a means, I suppose, of getting around to the fact that, due to some circumstances beyond my control, I wasn't able to attend my fifteenth screening at the University of Arkansas.

This wasn't the only screening I've missed-- way back in September I missed what was our largest screening at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

Frankly, I don't really like touring.  It's not very fun, I'm not much of a salesmen, it's usually not too rewarding, and I'm tired of watching the film.  And yeah, a 10 hour drive to Fayetteville wasn't really something I was looking forward to.  But I hate missed opportunities-- that's the worst-- getting a great opportunity like a screening at a major university and then feeling like, when the crunch time came, you weren't able to make the right decisions, the right calls, to get as much out of the opportunity as possible.

The Romanticized Grind
 But there was a death in the family, and there was no way I could make the screening, and no way the screening date could be changed.

But that didn't necessarily mean I was going to have to chalk this screening off as a missed opportunity.

Unlike the circumstances that forced me to miss the PRCC screening, I knew for a few days a head of time that making the Arkansas screening wasn't in the cards.  Again, not wanting to miss an opportunity (especially not when the Arkansas screening was looking like it was going to be the Tour's last) I decided to see if my contact and I could work something out where I could do a remote Q&A, either via phone or via web cam or something similarly slick and "High Tech".

Luckily, my contact was the head media librarian, and she was a very gracious person, and was all in (as Auburn fans say) to help me coordinate a Rube Goldberg-esque construct to facilitate a remote Q&A.

We couldn't really do a straight web cam to web cam broadcast via Skype, so we decided, instead, to have her and the audience communicate with me via speaker phone, while I answered the questions over a live broadcast feed via Ustream

The concept seemed pretty solid, actually, and it all worked in theory.  Plus, it kinda opened up new opportunities for us-- since the Q&A would be streaming live to a public channel, anyone with an internet connection could tune in.  So, now it wasn't just keeping me from missing an opportunity-- it was generating new ones.

The only real problem, going in, was that I'd never done a live web broadcast via Ustream before, and I didn't own a web cam.  But it couldn't be that big of a deal, right?!

To complicate matters more, I've yet to get internet at my new humble abode, so in order to do the stream I had to set up shop at my folks' house-- coulda been worse, coulda had to use McDonald's WiFi or something-- but halfway-hacking a bunch of new technology using a Windows laptop not exactly optimized to my needs didn't make things easier.

"I am speaking Tech-nol-a-gy."
I'll spare you all the little glitches we ran into in our "rehearsal" prior to the screening, but we eventually got it somewhat working, despite my webcam's penchant for freezing video and the Windows Laptop being anything but an efficient, reliable machine.

So, after probably the greatest two hours I've ever spent while waiting on this damn movie to finish (it was the first day of March Madness, after all) I started re-prepping everything for the broadcast.  And, of course, as these things always go, the computer and/or web cam took turns freezing and resetting in the minutes leading into go time, extending even on into it.

There's this kinda panic you feel when things don't go as they should with time sensitive events-- you kinda amp everything in your mind and you fear that if things don't happen on cue, all existence will invert itself and spill off the edge of the film strip.  It's why stage managers are so impractical and have such thin nerves; why Assistant Directors tend to be jerks; and why I'll never work for local news.  As silly as it is-- it's entertainment for crying out loud-- that panic is there and it's as enveloping and blinding as the panic felt in any great personal catastrophe, like losing a lot money or a limb.  It so deafens your objectivity that you forget what it really is-- a play, or a film, or a news broadcast.  Or a Ustream Q&A with a bunch of kids in Arkansas.

This is for my wife.
So, about 9:10 I finally got a phone call, and having just restarted the Windows Laptop again-- did I mention it was Windows?-- we decided to go ahead and start the Q&A via phone while I continued to try and get the stream working.

A little while ago I blogged* about an interview I did over the air in South Carolina while I was at work, and how freaking scattered brained I can be when I'm partially distracted (which, if you ask my wife, is virtually all the time... j/k Peyt).  (*Check out the Sunday, Nov. 28 entry  for Lee's Projectin' Adv.-- Stan)

Luckily this night was a little different and I actually felt I did a decent job fielding questions while messing with peripheral annoyances. After the first three or so questions, the stream was up.

In true half-assed prepped fashion, about halfway in the video froze, so we did the rest of the Q&A via audio only (while I'm sure a zinger of a photo of my frozen face, jaw half-cocked and jutting teeth pix-elated and distorted in grotesque fashion lagged on the screen in Fayetteville the remainder of the evening).

 I'll let what I have recorded of the Q&A speak for itself, but overall, really great questions.  I hate I wasn't able to make it out there to meet some of these guys-- sounds like we got some real perceptive film students out there.  I do apologize for committing the cardinal  sin and not remembering to repeat back the student's questions for the stream, but I think you can get the gist.

We also got some nice press out of it, from Arkansas' school paper.  Here's the link.

Despite the glitches, I think, overall, the screening and Q&A went as well as they could, and I was spared that awful feeling that's associated with missing an opportunity.  So, at least to my own peace of mind, me not being there in person didn't affect the film's impact or the opportunity of the screening.  Maybe I shoulda thought of this remote stuff back in July.

Thanks to my contact, everyone who made it out despite my absence, and be expecting your promo DVDs in the mail.