By Lance Weiler, November 18th, 2009

With DIY DAYS LA kicking off in a matter of days we asked Zachary Levy to share some insight around the making of his latest doc STRONGMAN. The project centers on Stanless Steel, The Strongest Man in the World at Bending Steel and Metal. From start to finish the process has taken 10 years to reach the screen and along the way Zachary has made some interesting pit stops. One of which lead to some unlikely financial opportunities.

By Zachary Levy – I started STRONGMAN in the summer of 1999. I remember thinking at the beginning that there was the potential for a really great film here, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to spent the next *year* of my life making it. That’s the first lesson, I think. A certain amount of ignorance is sometimes really helpful. Had I known just how long the road was going to be, I might have chosen not to take the first step. That’s also the second lesson for me–things can often take longer than you thought and when you’re working by yourself, it’s easy to think that it means you are moving in the wrong direction. It’s useful to check your bearings every once in a while, but trust your internal compass. Don’t waste time beating yourself up about the time it is taking, the road you choose will get you somewhere.

The film was very much a DIY affair from the beginning. I was borrowing a camera, sound equipment, constantly scrambling to teach friends how to do location sound and renting cars to get to my subject’s house. I had saved some money from my day job as a cameraman, but that ran out pretty quickly. I turned to my credit cards. That was also a lesson for me – be willing to make an investment in yourself. This is a tricky lesson because of course you don’t want to take on debt blindly. But if you think of yourself as a business it can be helpful to realize that many business do take out loans to grow. As much as debt is a risk, there is also risk in underfunding yourself.

After filming my subject for 3 years, I was about $40,000 in debt and pretty tired. I still believed deeply in the film, but wasn’t really sure how I could move forward. I felt I reached the amount of debt that I could justify to myself as a business decision. I needed to take a break and regroup both in terms of my financial situation and my energy.

Then came the cards. Like a lot of people when the Iraq war started, I was angry and upset. I’ve always been a person who gets lots of ideas and when I saw the government’s Most Wanted Deck – one hit me. I could make a deck that would be a parody, one that had 52 of Bush’s administration.

It wasn’t about making money for me, so much as saying something I thought needed to be said at the time. But it’s another lesson, I think, as much you want to be extremely focused and disciplined when charting a DIY course, you don’t want to have total blinders on to the world. Keeping another project or other ideas on the back-burner can actually help you be more flexible and give you valuable perspective on other things that will help you in the long run.

My gut said to do this and my debt load actually became an asset to me. Had I had a little money, I might have been afraid of losing it, but having no money, I really felt like I had nothing to lose. So I put another $10,000 on my credit card and printed 2500 decks of newly named Bush Cards. I hesitate to recommend anyone jump on the next get-rich quick scheme as a way of financing their films, but I think maybe the lesson here is if you believe in something, if it resonates with you strongly, you can trust that there will be other people who it will also resonate with as well.

The cards were a huge DIY hit. I was running the whole business from my apartment. One room was my office and the other was the warehouse. I remember at one time having about 20,000 decks of cards sitting in my living room. Over the course of 5 years, I sold over 300,000 decks. I got large press articles in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker. The cards even wound up in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. I learned so many lessons from the cards. Just doing the nuts and bolts work well was a huge asset. When it came to making and selling the cards It meant shipping them quickly, making sure they would be in a place where customers could see them, being persistent with sales calls and follow-ups. None of it was rocket science or fancy marketing advice. Doing the work consistently became its own marketing, as it got the cards in front of people in an immediate way that advertising never could have. Over the course of 5 years, I spent maybe a total of $150 on advertising. Another lesson-people hear about things in a variety of ways. There are a lot of traditional exhibitors out there who think advertising is the primary route for getting people to the theater. From the cards, I am not so sure. I think it helps, but only if people already know about something. The key thing is getting people to know about it.

Flash forward–the success of the cards allowed me to have enough money to get out of debt and bought me the time to finishing the film. It also gave me a big taste of what is possible by going a DIY route.

STRONGMAN kicks off a nationwide theatrical release at the Downtown Independent Theater in LA on Nov. 27th.

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Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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By Lance Weiler, October 21st, 2009

We’re less than four weeks away from DIY DAYS LA. On Thursday November 19th, DIY DAYS returns to LA for an evening of talks and networking. Plus the night will end with a rooftop party. More details will be available in the coming weeks.

DIY DAYS LA is FREE but requires you to REGISTER in advance of the event. Space is limited and is on a first come first serve basis.

The following is the current program listing. There are two very special guests who we’ll be announcing in the coming weeks. And as always if you’re interested in lending a hand we’re always looking for volunteers work [@] workbookproject [dot] com. It’s the volunteers who help to make the events possible and also allow us to make them FREE.

SPEAKERS

The following speakers are confirmed for DIY DAYS LA.

Jesse Alexander (Heroes, Lost, Day One) :: Elan Lee (4th Wall Studios) :: Lance Weiler (The Last Broadcast, Head Trauma, HiM) :: Scott Macaulay (producer of Gumo, Raising Victor Vargas, editor of Filmmaker Magazine) :: Jon Reiss (Bomb it! and author of Thinking Outside the Box(office) ):: Jerry Paffendorf (artist, futurist, entrepreneur) :: Dan Mirvish (Omha the movie, Open House, The Eisenstadt Experience) ***CHECK BACK we’ll be adding more speakers in the coming weeks.

ADDITIONAL SPECIAL GUESTS TO BE ANNOUNCED

FIRESIDE: THE EVOLUTION OF STORYTELLING :: JESSE ALEXANDER and ELAN LEE
As we continue our series of discussions around the evolution of storytelling we’re joined by two pioneers in the space who are extending the experiences that surrounds the stories they tell. From massive global gaming experiences to hit TV shows Jesse Alexander (Heroes, Lost, Day One) and Elan Lee (Co-Founder and Chief Designer at Fourth Wall Studios) share the art and craft of how they design and develop transmedia experiences that create rich media franchises and engage audiences in new and interesting ways.

PRACTICAL: SOCIAL MEDIA FOR STORYTELLERS :: LANCE WEILER
With the advent of new technologies, devices and the emerging real-time aspects of the web, stories can travel and build audiences in new and exciting ways. The confines of a single format are replaced with the ability to move audiences from one experience to another — from one screen or device to another. There has been a lot of hype around the concept of social media but what does it really mean for storytellers? How can you use free tools and services to tell stories, engage an audience and most importantly, extend the life of your project? Lance Weiler (The Last Broadcast, Head Trauma, HiM) walks you through the process of getting up and running, understanding how to staff, how to budget, how to engage an audience and how to set realistic goals whilst determining measurements of success.

CASE STUDY: THE EISENSTADT EXPERIENCE :: DAN MIRVISH
Dan Mirvish (Omaha the movie, Open House) charts his course from short film to web series to political scandals to an eventual book deal that is now leading to the whole story being optioned and turned into a film. “I Am Martin Eisenstadt: One Man’s (wildly inappropriate) Adventures with the Last Republicans,” is a mix of political intrigue, campaign-trail escapades, and cyberspace detective work. Desperate to rise through the ranks of Washington’s media punditocracy, Eisenstadt insinuates himself into the last 30 years of American politics – from losing his virginity to Fawn Hall, to interning on the Willie Horton ad campaign, to buying Sarah Palin’s wardrobe. Mirvish shares how his work has evolved beyond a single medium and the liberation that working within one’s limitations can bring.

ROUNDTABLE: ALL ABOUT ME ::
As content creators of all kinds strive to build fan bases and cultivate audiences for their work, many are finding that their best promotional vehicle is themselves. Panelists will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of creating an online cult of personality. How to develop an online persona, issues of privacy, and extending your own persona to work by others will all be discussed by a diverse group from different content industries.

PRACTICAL: THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX(OFFICE) :: JON REISS
The world of discovery and distribution is changing by the moment. DIY and hybrid distribution is becoming the A option for many filmmakers. But how do you find the strategy that’s going to work best for you? How do you reach and engage audiences while achieving a degree of sustainability? Join Jon Reiss, award winning filmmaker and DIY distribution expert as he shares stories from the frontlines, much of which can be applied to those wishing to connect their creative efforts with an audience in meaningfully ways.

CASE STUDY: LOVELAND :: JERRY PAFFENDORF
Loveland is a collaborative art meets urban revitalization meets social ownership experiment that is attempting to sell off a million square inches of Detroit off at a $1 each. Jerry Paffendorf (artist, futurist, and entrepreneur) shares his vision for the project and how he is crowdsourcing the funding of his start-up while taking a creative approach to the design of not only the concept behind the project but also the way in which it is funded. Rooted within a hook that some might consider a novelty (million dollar homepage pops to mind), Paffendorf is embracing the playfulness of LOVELAND’s actual and virtual inches by documenting the process as if it was a natural history / storytelling project. The approach appears to be paying off as inchvestors are preparing all kinds of creative things around their plots. In the process LOVELAND could prove to be an interesting revitalization project that turns areas of Detroit and other cities into collaborative social art that is self-sustaining.

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Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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By Lance Weiler, September 4th, 2009

DIY DAYS heads to LA on November 19th with a evening of speakers, talks, networking and a few very special surprises. More details coming soon. In the meantime here’s a talk from DIY DAYS Philly.

TALK – FROM HERE TO AWESOME: Production has become democratized while digital distribution is quickly becoming commoditized thus fragmenting the marketplace and resulting in little to no revenue. The problems that the independent film industry faces are well documented but where do we go from here? What are the new models of discovery and distribution? How are storytellers going to fund, create, distribute and sustain from their work? ARIN CRUMLEY (Four Eyed Monster, As the Dust Settles) SCOTT MACAULAY (film producer & editor of FILMMAKER MAGAZINE) NOAH HARLAN (film producer & mobile app developer), SCOTT KIRSNER (journalist and author), DON ARGOTT (ROCK SCHOOL)

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Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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By Lance Weiler, August 21st, 2009

DIY DAYS Philadelphia was a mix of people working in different creative disciplines and there was much talk about ways to tell stories beyond the screen. The following panel was focused on transmedia storytelling. Video of the panel will follow soon.

PANEL – EXTENDING THE EXPERIENCE With a decline in the penetration of traditional advertising due to digital technology and the emergence of an on-demand culture, studios and brands are experimenting with extending the way they reach audiences and potential customers. ARG (alternate reality games), virtualization, visualization, geo-locational services, augmented reality and mobile apps are all extending storytelling experiences. But how do you strike the balance between an industry that has come to measure itself by impressions with the value of audience engagement? Where does IP reside when authorship changes and the audience or consumer becomes creator? And is it possible to channel brand dollars into original content? MICHAEL MONELLO (Campfire Media, producer of the Blair Witch Project), BRIAN CLARK (founder of GMD Studios) and DAVID BEARD (Chief Technology Architect STM), JOHN THREAT (media threat) MODERATOR IVAN ASKWITH (Big Spaceship)

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Posted in DIYDays interview

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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  • TICBR podcast – Karin Chien
    This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix and Breakthrough Distribution – Karin Chien is an independent film producer based in New York City. She’s produced a number of independent films such as Robot Stories, The Motel, and Undoing. For films such as Robot Stories and Undoing, Karin and her team applied a hybrid DIY approach to… read more
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By Lance Weiler, August 12th, 2009

Nina Paley shares the results of the hybrid distribution strategy she is using to release her most recent feature SITA SINGS THE BLUES.

TALK – SITA SINGS THE BLUES Distribution Project Report
“If it’s free, how do you make money?” 5 months after the Creative Commons Share Alike release of her animated musical feature Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley presents the first round of hard data from the project. Contrary to MPAA propaganda, the more the audience freely shares the film, the more they purchase DVDs, theater admissions, and merchandise; witness the $$ numbers that prove it.

For more info on Nina Paley and SITA SINGS THE BLUES visit www.sitasingstheblues.com

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Posted in DIYDays

Lance Weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects.

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