Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Romeo is Bleeding Interview

Greetings friends, today I am pleased to introduce Jason Zeldes the director of Romeo is Bleeding (Working title) and the Kickstarter by the same name.  Thank you for joining us today Jason.

Thank you, James, for taking such an interest in the project. I’m honored to be here.

So after viewing the trailer you have on the Kickstarter I have to ask, “Why Kickstarter?”  It looks like you have the makings of an contest winning documentary couldn’t you have funded it through normal channels?  

Well, I really think that Kickstart has become the “normal channel”, especially for younger filmmakers such as myself.  The website is really accessible, and easy to use, so its the fastest way I know to get exposure for the film while also raising funds.  

In many instances Kickstarter doesn’t replace the other channels you speak of, but it provides the opportunity to get seed funding so you can get the project pretty far down the road before you go and seek funding through other channels.  For me personally, the Kickstarter funds can pay for most of principal photography, so when I begin to approach individual investors and larger foundations, I can present them with a really polished piece.  

Can you give us a quick rundown of the proposed documentary?  How did you ever get involved?  

“Romeo Is Bleeding” is the story of a creative writing program in Richmond, CA using their art to create a better and more peaceful city.  Led by a student-turned-teacher named Donte Clark, the students at RAW Talent are mounting a modern day rendition of Romeo and Juliet, and turning it into an allegory for coming of age in Richmond.

Richmond can be a tough place to grow up.  The homicide rate is unusually high, and its largely due to a turf war thats been waging for decades within the African American community.   There aren’t many positive outlets for kids in Richmond and many find themselves wrapped up in the cycle of violence.

RAW Talent is a creative writing group comprised of kids who consciously reject the negative influences present in their lives.  Every day they come to RAW Talent and discover their true voice through spoken word poetry and other art forms.  No one exemplifies RAW Talent better than Donte Clark, the program’s first student, who turned his life around through RAW Talent.  Now that he’s graduated he’s returned to the program as a teacher and leader, and he is the man responsible for writing RAW’s adaptation of Romeo And Juliet.  

In Donte’s adaptation the Montagues v. Capulets transforms into the turf war that haunts his city and the famous tale of young love becomes an incredibly personal story about coming of age in Richmond.  The play becomes real life, and allows Donte and the rest of RAW Talent to examine the causes and consequences of the behind this cycle of violence.  The play examines gender roles, poverty, justice, and love while ultimately trying to change perspectives in Richmond and build towards a better future for the city. But because Donte represents change in a community mired in violence, he puts himself at risk for the sake of his city.

My cousin, Molly Raynor, is the Director of RAW Talent, and has been telling me amazing stories about her work for years.  I’ve always wanted to make a film about RAW and when I heard about their production of Romeo and Juliet, and how closely it parallels modern life in Richmond, I was compelled to make it happen.  I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been granted total access to RAW Talent by The Making Waves Education Program as the students work with a former teacher and uniquely talented theatre director, Rooben Morgan, on bringing their play to life. As soon as we start getting funding, all major hurdles will have been cleared, I’m VERY excited about what the future holds for this project.  
How many documentaries like this have you done before?  Is $25,000 enough to pull it off?  

I’ve been working in LA’s documentary community for about four years now, making a name for myself while editing for pretty well-established filmmakers.  I’ve now worked on 5 feature films, some of which started right here on Kickstarter, while others had big/privately secured budgets.  Being in the editor’s chair and working so closely with directors has given me an incredible opportunity to learn about the kind of filmmaker I want to be.  I can see the strengths and weaknesses of each director I’ve worked for, learn from their mistakes, and develop my own style.  All that is to say: I’ve been paying attention in anticipation of getting my first film under way, and I plan to avoid the classic rookie mistakes.  

Regarding the pledge goal.... $25,000 was a number I landed at after a long internal debate.  I truly believe that I have a very special film on my hands, so my main goal is to complete this project regardless of what my budget is.  But at the same time, I want to have SOME sort of budget, and $25,000 is enough money to get me through principal photography in a way that will capture my vision with style.  I could have been ambitious and set the goal much higher (a mentor of mine was telling me I was being a wuss with $25k), but my worst nightmare is not reaching the pledge goal and being left empty handed.  And at the end of the day, there is NOTHING keeping this kickstarter from exceeding its goal.  Our film supports a great cause, and I’m hoping that the intentions behind the film will keep the funding flowing even after we cross the $25,000 threshold.  So please Kickstarters:  CONTINUE TO PLEDGE funds!  Every extra dollar beyond our goal redefines what we’ll be able to do with our film.

Under your “Risks and Challenges” section you describe that the Kickstarter is funding “attract support from other investors.”  So are we not actually funding the full project?  

Kickstarter probably isn’t going to be the sole source of funding for the film.  I regard Kickstarter as an amazing way to get my project as far down the road as I can.  And if the word spreads far enough, and we raise enough funds, it absolutely could be our only source.  However, I plan on using the Kickstarter funds to pay for principal photography and to work on assembling a version of the film that we can then take to other potential investors for finishing funds.  

I also feel like the subject manner for “Romeo Is Bleeding” lends itself to several grants, so ultimately I think grant money will be used to help pay for post-production.
I honestly think the documentary could be entered into film festivals, do you have plans to do so?

Thank you James!  That is the goal for our film.  I’d like to get Romeo Is Bleeding in front of as many eyeballs as possible, and film festivals are obviously a great route towards getting there.  Festivals generate buzz around a film, and in a dream scenario, we’d get picked by a distributer for a theatrical run  following the film’s festival life.

How hard is it to “sell” a documentary through Kickstarter?  It’s not an pure entertainment like a work of fiction is, nor is it interactive like a video game, or even produces a tangible object like a technology Kickstarter so how do you get your project across to prospective backers?

Good question.  For me, a good documentary works on a couple of levels for potential investors.  First of all, if done well, documentaries really can be pure entertainment.  The best documentaries (in my opinion) are the ones that shed any stigmas regarding the genre and are riveting for a full 90-minutes.  Secondly, and more powerfully, the investors in a documentary film like this should get a sense of philanthropy.  Not only are you directly supporting the arts by investing in this film, but you’re indirectly supporting the amazing young artists that Romeo Is Bleeding will feature!  

Its very early in my Kickstarter campaign, but so far selling the project hasn’t been a problem, and I think its largely due to the subject matter.  Like I said, an investment in this project means an investment in the betterment of a city, and the development of an entire youth arts community!  Its a slam dunk!!
What are you doing to get the word out about your project?  Twitter?  Facebook?  Google+?  Youtube? Are you using Kicktraq?  Are you buying any outside advertising?  

Well, for the duration of the 30 days of my Kickstarter I’m going to be the worlds most annoying Facebooker.  Friends if you’re reading this, I apologize, but there is NO WAY you’re going to make it through your day without hearing about my project at least once.  We’re also using vimeo, youtube, twitter, and just emailing the link to everyone we know.  I just now found out about Kicktraq! And yes I’ll be using it.

We’re doing interviews with a lot of news sources in Richmond and the Bay Area.  Ultimately, I’d like to also set up some press back in my hometown in Michigan, and in as many other cities and communities as possible.  All press is good press!  So thank you again, James, for allowing me to talk here today.

You’re quite welcome, that’s what we’re here for. How hard has it been to gain any media interest in your project?

There’s been a good initial response as far as media interest goes, and again I attribute this to the subject matter of the film.  Romeo is Bleeding is showcasing a youth arts movement in a largely underserved community.  Therefore, if you support the project, you’re helping to support an arts movement as well as a city.  So the press in Richmond and in the Bay Area is beginning to take a real interest in helping to promote our project, and for that I am thankful.
An evolving and backer responsive campaign tends to do the best, what are you planning to do to keep the enthusiasm level up for your campaign?  Do you have a plan for more updates?  Production photos?  Interviews/discussions with Donte?  

Yes, all of the above.  Right now we’re leaning heavily on the trailer to generate excitement for the project, but as the campaign continues we’ll release stills from film, updates on any press we receive,  interviews with the cast, and even a sneak peak at scenes that aren’t contained in the trailer!  The trailer serves as a great introduction to Donte, our leading man, but RAW Talent is a full of inspirational and gifted students and staff.

How can folks who are interested get involved or support your project besides just donating funds?
The best way to get involved is to help us spread the word!  If you’re touched by this story then tell everyone you know about it!

And if you’re a business owner in the East Bay, be a sponsor of the film! The crew and I would not argue with nice gestures such as discounted hotel rooms or meals :)

On a serious note, there are several talented people, like the play’s director Rooben Morgan, who are putting in countless hours on this play basically free of charge.  So if you really want to support RAW Talent directly, contact the Making Waves Education Program about RAW Talent fundraising, and see how you can help!

What tips and words of advice/warning can you give others who are thinking of using Kickstarter for their film projects?  

Kickstarter is the way to go, but make sure to have a plan in place before you launch your site!  Generate a buzz about the project prior to your Kickstarter campaign so you can get off to a fast start.  Contact media outlets early so they can promote your project on time, and figure out ways to sustain the buzz over the course of an entire month.  

It has been a pleasure speaking with you today Jason, I thank you for your time and hard work.   Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?

When I first heard the story about Donte Clark, and RAW Talent’s production of Romeo and Juliet, I was compelled to just drop everything and tell their story and it quickly became obvious that I had a really powerful story on my hands.  Please, Kickstarter community, help me bring this project to life on the scale that it deserves.  $25k is the goal, but feel free to blow that out of the water!  Help me make a difference in the lives of these brave students and lets help to create a better tomorrow in Richmond.

Thanks again for your time, I look forward to seeing the final product.  

Thank you!  And believe me I look forward to seeing the finished product too.


  1. What a great project! The film still of the person's hands writing (at the top of the interview) is beautiful!

    1. Thank you, I hope you can tell Jason that directly and support the project! :)