Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Haenyeo // Women of the Sea



Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to be joined by the creative team behind Haenyeo // Women of the Sea.  Thank you for joining us today Alex Igidbashian, Kevin Sawicki and Daye Jeong.

Hello James, thank you so much for giving us this amazing opportunity to spread the word about our film. We are thrilled to have this kind of exposure and hope that others find the Haenyeo as interesting and inspiring as we do.

The name Haenyeo lets me place this project as somewhere in asia, but other than that I’m at a loss.  Would you care to describe your project for us?  

Haenyeo is a Korean word that translates to “women of the sea.” It is used to describe the women freedivers of Jeju-do (Jeju Island), South Korea. Utilizing techniques passed down through the generations these women are able to hold their breath for two to three minutes, and dive to depths of fifty to sixty feet. [Freediving means there is no use of an oxygen tank or scuba equipment]

They dive in search of sea food: conch, abalone, octopi, sea urchins, etc. and sell their catch both on the street and to local restaurants. In the past, this was a leading source of income, but  due to a budding tourism industry and more modern techniques, the number of divers is declining rapidly. The majority of active divers are now over the age of 60 and we fear that within the next 10 or 20 years the entire culture will be gone.

It is our goal to travel to Jeju Island this March, and immerse ourselves in the Haenyeo lifestyle. In a “Day In The Life” style film, we will share with the world the daily activities, lifestyle and culture of the Haenyeo Women while simultaneously exploring their rich history and discussing their future.



This film is your senior thesis project?  What brought you to Kickstarter to fund it?  

Yes, all three of us are seniors are Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Kevin & I (Alex) are Film & Video students, while Daye, a native of Seoul and frequent visitor of Jeju-do, is an economics major.

Haenyeo will serve as our Senior Thesis, which requires us to produce, direct, and shoot a project of our choosing. Instead of taking the typical route of writing / directing a script, we found it much more enticing to share real life experiences through documentary filmmaking.

We explore a number of online fundraising avenues before choosing Kickstarter. In the end, we felt that Kickstarter provides not only an easy means of collecting donations, but also a strong and passionate community that supports and shares projects, regardless of personal connections or involvement. Also, they make it very easy to give back to those who donate as we wanted to make sure to thank those who supported us with photos from the trip, a DVD / digital copy of the film, as well as producing credit.

It is not often that a project makes me pull out the old globe and look things up, but you succeeded in making me look up Jeju Island!  How “out of the way” is this to the people in the region?  How well known are the Haenyeo?  

Jeju Island is very well known to Koreans as it is a popular vacation destination for people on the mainland. For Koreans, there is an air of mystery that surrounds the Island, part of which can be attributed to the Haenyeo divers as well as the island’s natural beauty. On the other hand, the existence of Jeju-do and the Haenyeo is completely unknown to most of the Western World. That is one reason why we feel the need to share this amazing culture with those who have never been exposed to it.

What made you want to do a project about these women?

KS: My mother is Korean, and father is American. Throughout the 70s and 80s, my parents frequented Jeju-do and often interacted with the Haenyeo. My father was actually one of the first scuba divers on the island, and dove with the women. Growing up I saw pictures and was told stories about the Haenyeo divers. When I was 16, my father passed down his hobby and took me to get my dive certification. After taking my first breath underwater, I knew I wanted to dive for the rest of my life.

About a year ago, I was looking through a photo album with pictures of my grandparents and parents visiting Jeju-do and was struck with the dream of diving with the Haenyeo, just as my father did. Over the last year, I’ve been slowly planning my trip to Jeju-do. At first, it was going to be a project for after I graduated. Logistically speaking, this film is a nightmare to produce. I thought to myself, “How in the hell am I going to get all the equipment, crew, and time that I need to make this film possible?”  I brought it up with my film professor and mentor, Gerry Hooper, and he was immediately captivated by the concept. From there, I pitched the idea to Alex, who eagerly agreed to co-produce / do production sound. A couple weeks later, Gerry introduced us to Daye Jeong, who, being from Seoul took an immediate interest in the project and agreed to join the team as a producer, guide and translator.

How much of the history versus the today do you think will be in the film?  

Due to a number of restrictions, primarily only have a short time on the island, the main focus of the film will be to document the modern Haenyeo Diver: their daily routine, lifestyle, and culture. .

“A Day In The Life” will serve as the primary backdrop for subsequent exploration of the rich history of the Island and culture, which includes the Japanese occupation of Korea, a heavy tax imposed on the male income, and the subsequent transformation to a matriarchal society when the women began diving. Thankfully the women continue to dive with the same techniques and maintain the traditional values of their ancestors, which makes for the perfect blend of the past and present.

What do you plan to do with the film when it’s complete?  Enter it into competition?  Submit it to Discovery or National Geographic?   

First and foremost, the film will premiere at the Drexel University Senior Film Festival (a requirement for our graduation). After that the possibilities are endless: we will be submitting to domestic and international film festivals, as well as exploring television distribution, but most importantly, we will seek funding for subsequent trips to Jeju in order to complete a feature length documentary.

We plan to use the finished project of this first trip as a jumping off point for raising awareness, as well as pique the interest of grant organizations and sponsors. We have our eye on a number of grants including the Derek Freese Documentary Grant (
http://derekfreesefilm.org/fund.html) and feel that this short film will serve as a fantastic proposal in seeking further funding.

I see you’ve added “by popular demand” a streaming “online premiere” as it were.  Is this in lieu of a download option of the film?

In light of the perpetual evolution of technology, it seems that even the DVD is becoming obsolete. A number of backers messaged us about the possibility of obtaining digital copies of the film instead of DVD copies which led us to do the online premiere. Due to our hopes of submitting to festivals, we wanted to limit the number of digital downloads as we fear this would produce more copies that would circulate without our knowledge and in turn hurt the allure of the film to potential festival / TV audiences.

What kind of equipment do you already have and what will you have to purchase/rent to film this?  Have you filmed anything under water before?  

KS: I own a Panasonic AF100 that I have been shooting on for the past two years. This will serve as our primary camera for the on land shooting. As for the underwater shooting, I plan on purchasing a Panasonic GH3 (DSLR) and underwater housing. The size and weight make is much easier to manipulate underwater compared to the AF100. We have also purchased two GoPro Hero3 Black Editions, which will be attached to the divers in order to capture unique point of view shots.

This will be my first time shooting underwater, but ever since I became Scuba Certified it has a dream of mine. I’ve done plenty of research in terms of equipment and how to shoot and look forward to the challenge.

What previous film experience do you have?  Is it all just work you’ve done for school?  

Though school shoots do tend to take up the majority of our time, we are constantly working on independent projects. Most recently, both of us (Alex & Kevin) accompanied Indian Filmmaker, Ajay Raina, to Chicago for the filming of a documentary about Swami Vivekananda (a monk responsible for spreading Hinduism and Indian Culture to the Western World). Also, both of us spent substantial time outside of Philadelphia, Alex spent time in Los Angeles and Kevin in New York City.  We have personal vimeo pages, as well as a collaborative page which display our previous work in music videos, documentaries, short films, and timelapses.
Kevin Sawicki:
http://vimeo.com/kevinsawicki
Alex Igidbashian: http://vimeo.com/alexigidbashian
MindLake Films: http://vimeo.com/mindlakefilms


Hawaii Scrimshaw Teaser from Kevin Sawicki on Vimeo.

Your video mentions a budget of $10,000 but you’re only asking for $7,500.  Minus Kickstarter and Amazon’s fees that still well short of your original budget.  How are you planning to bridge the gap?  

When setting our goal on Kickstarter we decided to air on the side of caution. This is our first major fundraising campaign and though we knew we would be backed by family and friends we were unsure as to how much support we would get from people who weren’t directly connected to us. We’ve been stunned by the amazing number of donations we have received from people who discovered the project online and through their generosity gives us confidence that we will reach and even surpass our goal.  

We have also set up other means of receiving funding. We have applied for two grants through Drexel University and also are currently in talks with Greater Philadelphia Film Office who will be linking us with Fiscal Sponsors (companies / organizations who can donate to our film and receive tax deductions in return).

We are confident that by combining all of these means of fundraising will be able to accumulate a comfortable budget to work with.

You show a delivery date of June 2013.  With your project ending on the 24th of February, then the delay in processing and payment will you have time to book the trip, spend the two weeks there filming, and then edit it all up in time for June?  

The timetable for this project is extremely tight, which is stressful, but at the same time pushes us to be working constantly. We knew that there would be a substantial processing period for our funds, so we decided to end our Kickstarter in February, nearly a month before we depart for Korea (March 19th). In terms of plane tickets, we knew we could not wait for our Kickstarter funds to become available, so those were purchased out of pocket.

A brief schedule for the trip:

March 19th – Leave for Seoul
March 21st – Arrive on Jeju-do
April 4th- Depart Jeju
April 6th – Return to the States

Because post-production time is so limited, initial editing will take place while we are still in Korea. This will allow us to hit the ground running when arrive back in the States and begin working with Megan Pollin, our editor and also a senior at Drexel University, as well as John Avarese, a sound professor at Drexel.


How did you discover Kickstarter?

We were initially brought to Kickstarter because of other projects that we have
backed. Some of them were film projects of friends, others were random products and
artistic ventures that piqued our interests.

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?

Our reaching out to our backers starts with their choice of their reward, we
have a number of different levels starting at a simple personalized thank you, all
the way through 8.5x11 prints, and producing credits. On top of that, those who
choose to receive the updates will be sent notifications whenever we take a big step forward such as getting in our GoPros, buying plane tickets, etc.

Once the trip begins we plan to keep a travel blog via our Haenyeo Facebook page
(www.facebook.com/haenyeoproject) which will include written updates, videos, and
photos.



Haenyeo // Women of the Sea -- Kicktraq Mini  
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 track your progress?  

We have doing most of social media / advertising through Facebook. We have a
page for the project (www.facebook.com/haenyeoproject) and continually post through our personal pages. Our Kickstarter video is up on Vimeo and Youtube,
and we have posted to the Reddit community as well. Due to our tight budget, paid
advertising is unfortunately out of the question, however the amazing support of our
friends, family, and the Kickstarter community has provided an awesome amount of exposure.

We’ve also recently been Staff Picked on Kickstarter which we are truly grateful for.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Get involved! Before you post your own project, hop on and find something you would
genuinely like to donate to and give them some money! It’ll give you a great perspective
on what it’s like to be a backer and part of the community.

In terms of your own project, before you create your page, take a minute and think things
through. If you have the ability to make a video, do it, regardless of the quality. In today’s world, some people would rather watch than read, so shoot to describe yourself and your project in a clear and concise way, be honest with your audience and I’m sure they’ll respond in kind. Plus, people love having a face to go with a name!

Also, make sure your rewards are well thought out. The tier system, where rewards
double with each level of donation works very well.

If you get stuck, have questions, need inspiration, check out other Kickstarter Pages! The
creativity and talent transcends all genres of projects.

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

We’d like to thank everyone for taking time to read about our project. We hope
that the readers are as excited to see this film as we are to make it! Of course, we are still
accepting donations and will never refuse a backer, but even more than that, spreading
the word / sharing this project with any and everyone you know is equally as valuable.
Thanks again and we wish everyone the best.

Alex // Kevin // Daye

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