Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Invention of Cloudsurfing

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Andrew Mitchell the creative force behind the film “The Invention of Cloudsurfing.”  Thank you for joining us today Andrew.

Thanks for the invite James! I’m a director currently finishing my masters of fine arts in visual effects on a scholarship at the Savannah College of Art and Design.


You have quite the evocative title there, can you give us a description of your project?

The Invention of Cloudsurfing is a short introduction to character Walter Wells as he struggles to turn his grandfather's failed inventions into the stunning new sport of cloudsurfing. It’s an introduction to this character because I’m currently writing a feature film based on this character of inventor Walter Wells.

Walt lives on an old airstrip farm with his grandfather, J. P. Wells.  J.P. also known as Gramps, is an airplane mechanic who has spent his life creating inventions that just don’t work.  Walt’s spark for progress leads them both head first into this new adventure. It’s a story about staring adversity in the face and leaping over it, through it, and around it. . . at all costs. What do you do when the people you believe in most give up on the dreams you shared and the road ahead seems impossible? That’s where we are with Walt in this film. The time is short, the stakes are high.

I’ve spent several years writing about the character of Walt. This short story about his time spent creating cloudsurfing is what I’ve managed to boil down to a short sweet introduction to this world, Gramps and this gyro-stabilization engine that is the basis of many of Walt’s future inventions.

Although my world and characters are based in reality, the sport of cloudsurfing is based visually on Disney’s TaleSpin. It was a cartoon I watched addictively as a child, and we pay visual homage to the cartoon in a few ways throughout the movie.





What made you bring your graduate thesis to Kickstarter?  

We decided to bring this production to Kickstarter as a way to help gain awareness, as well as build a broad base of individuals that can help us financially take this production into completion.  Kickstarter and crowd funding is revolutionizing the way heart projects, like this one, get completed. Cloudsurfing’s Lead Producer, Rob McLean successfully funded, Hellyfish, another short film production that he co-directed with friend and fellow filmmaker, Pat Longstreth.
Rob played an instrumental part in bringing me up to speed on Kickstarter, as I’d been spending months developing character arcs, writing/re-writing, drawing flying machines and determining the most efficient ways to render realistic computer generated clouds.

Why did you decide to make it a stereoscopic film instead of a normal production?  How much harder is it to film in 3D?

Stereoscopy has been around since the mid 1800s. It’s nothing new, Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder was shot stereoscopic and it’s one the the most riveting stereoscopic films I’ve ever seen.  As many champion the death of 3D at the International Consumer Electronics trade show last week in Las Vegas, NV, I’m willing to argue that it’s a MUST HAVE TOOL for films of the future. Younger generations will grow to just expect content to be 3D and be confused why we ever had flat imagery. I’ve been working on flat productions for 15 years, now I want to look into my productions like I’m looking into a window. The opening shot of The Invention of Cloudsurfing drops Walter Wells right into audience’s laps as he flails through the clouds, struggling to bring his engine back to life. Phenomenal stereo-cinematographer Joerg Schodl and young stereographer Luke Culleny have helped compose shots that will leave audiences speechless. Surrounding yourself with individuals more talented than yourself, any obstacle becomes less difficult.

Not going to lie, shooting with two cameras on a beam splitter rig is much slower on set. The result and joy you feel when looking at stereo dailies with your characters leaping out of the screen is FAR more exciting than looking at flat shots. We’re compositing the green screen shots right now and although we have to render everything from two camera angles, the resulting depth is just astounding.

Although The Invention of Cloudsurfing is an action adventure story, Hugo pushed the use of stereoscopy in drama to the limits and I know that Gadsby will take us even farther.

Your project is looking for $8,000, what do you need the funding for?  It looks like you’re already filming and starting some of the post production, what’s left to do?

We’ve only shot the green screen elements. We still need to the shoot the meat of the film at this beautiful airstrip in southeast Georgia. Up until this point, I’ve been funding the production with money I’ve made from doing visual effects and post production work on indie feature films, commercials and music videos. Gaining added funds will really help us take this production to the next level. There are several flyover sequences that we’re planning to shoot out of a Piper Cub aircraft, if we can gain this added funding, it’d be great to get those shots from a helicopter for greatly increased stability from the stereo camera system.

We also have a stunt sequence where Walt chases an eagle off cliff while on his dirtbike. That is one of the most important shots in the film since it’s the moment where Walt is so consumed by his dream of cloudsurfing that he leaves his own mortality behind.

Also, since this is a student production, most all of the crew is working on it to help build their resumes, portfolios and demo reels. It’s very important that we can offer quality meals for the time and energy they are investing into this production. These additional funds will go to onset food, travel to locations and added safety crew for some of our more intense sequences.
We’re trying to make what appears as a multi-million dollar production on a very small budget, so far we’ve been doing great. . . We just need that final push to help bring home the remaining sequences we still need to shoot.  

What festivals are you hoping to enter this film into?  What happens after the festivals?  

All the festivals, well the top ones anyway. Although this is a heavy action/adventure short, we’ve been aiming for Cannes, Sundance and the Student Academy Awards. Those are the tops, after that the goal is to get this film seen projected big and loud for as many people around the world as possible.  The amazing Performing Arts/English Professor and longtime feature film Writer/Director Stephen Geller plays Gramps. (Pictured Below) He and our lead, Daniel Thrasher, have done amazing things to refine the drama of every beat in the film. we continue to workshop scenes that haven’t been shot in order to squeeze every bit of goodness out of each frame.

After festivals? We’ll be seeking funding for the feature film and hopefully have the Unity game online too. If people like what they see in this short, they’ll love what I’ve been working on for the feature.

There seems to be quite a bit of green screen work here how hard is it directing people to react to things they can’t see?

Truth is in the eyes. Luckily the actors we’ve found to work on this production are down right stellar. We were able to build trust within each other about this world long before ever setting foot onto the green screen stage.

I created clear storyboards and animatics of the entire film before we started rolling so everyone on the crew also could know what was to be happening in each shot. The storyboards boards were onset, animatics passed around on my iPad. I’ve been visual effects supervising for small to big budget green screen productions since 2006, although I’m not yet to James Cameron or Robert Zemeckis levels of virtual onset integration.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

We’re currently working on more content to share with our backers. Last week, we shared a rough of the opening sequence with two very lucky (and awesome) individuals from Lucasfilm/Industrial Light & Magic. They had an extremely excited and positive reaction to what they saw and can’t wait to see more. Once we dial that sequence in a bit more, I’ll love sharing it with our backers!  We have several behind the scenes videos that we’ll be sharing in the next few days as well. Daniel Thrasher (Walt) has been practicing on the dirt bike and we’ve got some great video of that going online soon too.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

There are many people within the industry that have been helping me on this story so far. Right now there are people at Disney, Dreamworks and now Lucasfilm that know about this production. We’re hopefully meeting with Sony Imageworks this week to share with them also.

Right now we’ve been mostly using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn. The number of people in the film industry seems to be growing, but we really need to work with connecting to an even broader global audience. I’ve just began using Kicktraq and we REALLY need to step it up if we plan on achieving our goal.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Do it! There is no better time than now to crowd source funding for a project! People love being a part of things that are neat and new. I’ve found several awesome neat/new things since I’ve been on kickstarter a short while!

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thank you for creating this interconnected environment!! It’s amazing to have such a simple way to connect with individuals around the globe that want to see your projects succeed!  We’ve had backers from Singapore, New Caledonia and many places around the world. It’s been amazing the last few days to see new people becoming attracted to our production with a willingness to get involved!!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you James!!

See you in the clouds!
-Andrew