The true story of acquiring the funds for the full dance/drama/musical feature film Back To 1.
by Doug Penikas
The reason I decided to share this journey is to inform filmmakers of the potential challenges they may face making their own independent films. So many factors come into play and it is easy to get lost in the different promises that are presented to you by people willing to help for a price. I hope my experience is educational and eye-opening to others.
I guess all that there is to say when heading down the path of making any movie is you will always have two options to choose from. Keep going and eventually get to the finish line, or give up. Like the ballerina character and others that Back To 1 is about, I know giving up isn’t an option.
Of course, I feared the definition of insanity as I had already fallen into the same traps in different ways. In my case the only things that were left to do were to contact one top industry director I knew, and one producer, to see if they’d be willing to be part of the project.
I texted the director and never heard back. I emailed and phoned, the producer to which I never got past the assistant, and by this time the movie theaters had shut a lot of their doors, and most big studio films began releasing on streaming services.
A different but familiar approach
With theaters being shutdown, that changed my approach once again. The idea to seek outside help within the industry wasn’t panning out at the moment, and I could always dive back in later. So, what could I actually do that didn’t require me to wait on others?
I could resume work on the piano version of the demo album and turn it into the full demo album. Get it to the point where the only people we would need to record would be all the remaining actors that have yet to be cast. To start, I would need to hire all necessary vocalists for the big ensemble numbers.
To help with this I got in touch with Tim Davis, a phenomenal vocal producer, whom I’d recently worked with on a Netflix movie, and asked if he’d be interested in helping Bryan Arata, Drew Seeley, and myself take the album to the next level.
Tim listened to the songs and said they were solid, and in his free time has definitely helped elevate the quality of the album. So what else could I do to make Back To 1 happen while the music team worked on finishing the demo album?
The next steps once the demo album is ready for actual actors, is to film the movie, and to do that requires having the budget in place. Ideally, it’s better to have distribution already in place, but it isn’t impossible to make the movie without it.
As I’ve learned from this journey so far, having budget and name talent attached helps get distribution before filming begins. There is a back up plan to self distribute Back To 1, even though I’d prefer not to do that, but who knows what the industry will be like when the time comes? Do I wait, or just press on?
The Donation Page
One night talking to composer Bryan Arata, I confessed what I really wanted to do is open a donation page for Back To 1, offering one perk, and no time limit, in order to raise the entire budget for the film. That hasn’t really been done before and for the amount of $1,000,000 it’s not really advised for a film.
Usually, hitting that goal has been done through crowdfunding asking for lower goal amounts and then stretching to one million or more. It’s extremely difficult, but by having a fixed donation amount of $50 bucks, Back To 1, in theory, would only need 20,000 people to donate. That also means I’d be giving out 20,000 digital copies of the finished movie, album, final shooting script, and making of book.
So, the idea I had abandoned years ago of running a donation page to raise the full budget of the movie had come back into play. I would have to ask the actors if it was all right to say they were part of it, as that was our deal.
I presented the idea to all the attached actors letting them know I was going to go in this direction and said since the term for their attachment had expired, I would need to renew it in order to say they were still part of the movie. If they no longer wanted to be attached they would have to tell me as that would completely altar the way I approached creating the donation page.
On October 29th, 2020, I was informed by the two leading ladies that they no longer wished to be part of Back To 1. That is why I haven’t mentioned their names associated with the project. I one hundred percent respect their decision and have since removed their images from all campaigns. Luckily, Drew Seeley stayed as did the choreographers, composer Bryan Arata, and Executive Music Producer Tim Davis.
The New Video
Creating a new video for Back To 1 was even more of a challenge now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic so asking anyone to get together to be interviewed was out. I could have asked them to film themselves, or interview them through FaceTime, but I decided to do the video myself. I spoke with the music team about using some of the demos in the new video to hint at some of the progress on the album.
This time I had to film myself for the video and I wanted new visual cutaways or “B roll” to intercut with it. I didn’t want to use stock footage. So the only way I could share some new visuals in the video was to draw them. I didn’t want to use some of the same artwork I had recently shared online, plus some of it I couldn’t use at all due to the leading ladies having left the project. I didn’t have enough funds to hire a concept artist again either.
I began to teach myself how to draw in order to create the new concept art for the video. I knew I just had to get the mood of the scene in the visual, I wasn’t going for any conceptual art awards, and stick figures wouldn’t be enough. I drew some thumbnail type storyboards for the music section of the video and other spots, and drew a few with a little more detail for main story points.
It was actually quite fun to see the shot form. I even tested the frames with the current versions of the music I have to see if the mood matches. I was thrilled that it did. Some of these frames will look even better when it’s the official live action shot. When I felt I had enough drawings for the video I edited everything together, and created the donation page backto1film.com.
No matter what, at the end of the day, filmmakers all over the world are making their movies. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m making Back To 1 happen. There’s always a way.