Last week about 500 people came to Portland for our first Storyline Conference, a conference for people who want to tell stories rather than simply consume them. I was amazed by our time together, but at the same time, I was coming off of a four-year failure, and while you always have stories that don’t work, this one hurt.
Four years before, Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson and I started writing the screenplay for Blue Like Jazz. We decided to make a movie that obeyed a story rather than a message, and the story was about a kid transitioning out of a faith that had all the supposed right answers, to a faith that stayed with him through the confusion and the doubt. He’s an arrogant kid at the beginning, willing to walk way from the “hypocrites” all around him, but after some very hard things happen, he’s humbled, and has to reconsider his own motives.
That said, it’s not the typical story arc of a “Christian” movie. To be honest, I have a lot of respect for Christian film. The evangelical church is a subculture, and despite most people thinking I have a problem with it, I honestly don’t. A subculture that protects families and marriages, that loves God, that does more work for justice around the world than any other institution, is a perfectly fine subculture with me. But it’s not a subculture where a lot of us find a home. We just don’t fit. And this movie is a movie for people who identify with the faith of the church, but our questions and our journey doesn’t seem as clean or neat.
But movies are very expensive to make. A low-budget movie costs about 2 million to create. And we started raising money. And a year went by and we didn’t have the funds. Then another year. We’d hear over and over that we should have the money next month, next quarter, and Steve would start lining up the production teams, even telling people not to take other work because our film would be in production. But it all fell through. Time and time again, it fell through. So when it was more than obvious we weren’t going to make the film yet another season, I wrote a blog that announced the movie was dead. We’d tried for years and it was time to quit.
I was feeling gloomy about the story of the story. I wrote that blog and moved on to the conference, switching my focus, pulling half-nighters on another project I found equally as exciting. I even told Steve that we’d told a terrific story in the screenplay, and we’d told a terrific story in the writing of the movie, but our story of raising funds wasn’t great. We’d told it without heart, without finding people who understood and identified with the plight of the characters. While we found a few terrific investors, their money and support were not enough.
People who invest in Christian movies want the movie to tow a kind-of party line: A character who is really screwed up battling demons is helped by a message he hears at church and turns his life around. That wasn’t our movie. In fact, our movie was nearly the opposite: A kid who gets really turned around by the hypocrisy he sees associated with his faith walks way and finds it again in a place he’d never expect to encounter God, proving that God lives outside our systems and structure, that He lives where justice and the saving of lives is taking place.
So right before the conference, a couple guys in Nashville (Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard ) launched a campaign to save the film. You can learn more about it here. This happened literally while we were at the conference, while I was on stage. Jonathan was even at the conference, attending. They launched a Kickstarter campaign, and to our amazement, within a few days, had raised more than fifty-thousand dollars. If we got to $125k, we’d be able to shoot the film on a shoestring budget, everybody lending their resources either for free or well below market value until we got the film done and returned funds to our investors. Nearly everybody on board would either be a volunteer or working on the cheap, but we could get it done.
And now, only days after pronouncing the film dead, it is very much alive. We may just raise the money and make this movie, and the investors will not be a few people who “get it” but hundreds and perhaps thousands who donate because they want their story told in a film. The investors who didn’t think you existed are now convinced that you do.
But that’s not even the coolest part of the story. The coolest part of the story is, just after telling Steve “our fundraising story wasn’t very good,” God orchestrated the best story possible; a miracle, last-minute effort pushed by thousands of people, making this not only a film that says you exist, but a film that makes history. It will be the first crowd-sourced theatrical release of its kind, and if the Kickstarter campaign goes over 200k (and some change), it will be the largest crowd-sourced project ever. It’s the kind of stuff that leads the national news.
It’s Saturday (I’ll post this on Monday morning) and football is on television and I’m sitting at my computer, reading pages from the four-year old screenplay that we’ve edited and gone over a thousand times, laughing at scenes and wiping tears away at others, and while I think our screenplay is great, I have to confess it’s not as great as the story you are currently telling about raising money for the film. You are living proof that the telling of the story is even more fun than the story itself, that it’s better to produce than consume.
At one point earlier this year, I wondered whether God didn’t want this movie to be made. I told God, look, it’s your movie, and if you don’t want it to be made, just kill it. I thought He had, and we were all confused but had to let it go. But what has happened since is a God-sized miracle, and speaks more to the beauty of our community and it’s heart than a thousand stories told on a movie screen. Everything changes after this. People will know they can be honest, they can tell the truth, they are safe living their own story rather than conforming to a “role” that has been written for them.
All that to say, thank you. I am having a shirt printed that says “thank you” and I intend to wear it everywhere I go (Maybe I will get a few so they don’t smell) because I just can’t say it enough. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you. Thank. You.
We aren’t there yet. As I write this, we have a long way to go. At $125k we can shoot the movie, as long as none of us order a coke or break a lightbulb. At $200k, we make world history. If we get anything over $200k, everybody in Hollywood will wake up and read about us in Variety, and wonder what in the world this Blue Like Jazz Movie is about, and who in the world are the thousands who grouped together to make it happen. They will no doubt follow our lead. How’s that for a story, Hollywood following our lead for a change?
Every small donation helps. If you can, give $25 or even $10, we move an inch closer. You only get charged if we make it to $125k. But when this movie hits theaters, and I hope it does, you’ll know you took part in history, that you made this film, that you told the world a story, and the world watched because it was a story told with heart and risk and without cynicism.
What we could not do alone, we are doing together. There’s a story in there somewhere.
To learn more about what Jonathan and Zach have done, along with thousands of others, please visit their site. www.savebluelikejazz.com.
Here are some practical ways you can help:
1. Donate if you haven’t. There are plenty of terrific incentives that are lots of fun. You could even get your name in the credits.
2. Tweet about the campaign. And tell your friends in person.
3. Share about the campaign on your blog or on facebook.
4. Pray and ask God to be with us, to make something meaningful and beautiful happen on set, just as it has behind the scenes. Pray for Marshall Allman, our lead, and for Steve Taylor, our fearless leader and director. Pray for a great story.
Thanks again. I’ll keep you posted as we move forward.
P.S. BECAUSE I WILL BE TRAVELING IN CENTRAL OREGON I WON’T HAVE PHONE OR INTERNET AND WON’T BE ABLE TO MODERATE COMMENTS. I’LL GET RIGHT TO IT ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT! THANKS!!
FAQ’s From Zach and Jonathan (taken from the Kickstarter page.)
What happens if the money isn’t raised in time?
Unfortunately nothing. If our goal isn’t met before the deadline, no money changes hands and no movie is made. We want to avoid this scenario at all cost!
Can we exceed the goal?
YES! What an amazing problem to have. Kickstarter will allow as much money as is given before the deadline. Maybe that would mean a more widespread theater release, or more unique physical copy packaging. The possibilities are endless.
How do we contact you?
Glad you asked! You can contact us directly at email@example.com. We check it. We will get back to you. We promise!
Is Save Blue Like Jazz a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization?
Unfortunately neither this movement nor Blue Like Jazz is set up as a non-profit. Donations are raw gifts. Non-tax deductible.
If I donate, when can I redeem the incentive?
All incentives, big and small, will only happen if our goal is met. If we do meet our goal, immediately after our deadline we will start to manufacture and ship all physical merch directly to you. It will be our priority to schedule the more personal incentives as soon as possible. You will hear from us. (More on this as we get closer to our dealine)
Who does the money go to?
Every penny (minus the fees for Kickstarter’s involvement) will go directly to Director Steve Taylor’s movie budget – i.e. Your money goes directly to the funding of this film.
$125,000 seems like a low number for a movie budget. Doesn’t it?
You are correct. Fortunately, there are still very important investors involved in this film. The $125,000 figure is the remaining balance of a larger total budget. Our goal is imperative for the film to be a reality.
Any other questions? Just ask us. We’d be stoked to answer them. firstname.lastname@example.org
— Zach Prichard + Jonathan Frazier —