Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! I’m very pleased to be joined by veteran producer Gary W. Goldstein who is self-publishing a “Writer’s Guide to Hollywood.” Thank you for joining us today Mr. Goldstein.
We live in exciting times, especially as a creative person or somebody who supports creative people, and Kickstarter is such a game-changing opportunity that’s rapidly shifting people’s thinking about what’s possible. I’m humbled to be here and please call me Gary.
That’s very true, Gary, so lets get to your project. It’s a pretty straightforward title for your book, could you tell us a bit about it and why you decided to write it?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a career as a literary manager and then a producer in Hollywood for 25 years. Two years ago, I started reflecting on my career and all that I’ve learned and done to help the build the careers of countless writers and I just I started writing down everything that I’ve told writers over the years. At first I just thought it would be my legacy, but after I shared bits and pieces with my friends they told me they’ve never seen another book like it so I decided to go for it and spent the next two years writing the manuscript.
The book is 25 years of straightforward strategies, broken down step by step so that anybody can follow it and take the mystery out of how to “break in” to Hollywood and build a professional, enduring career. There seems to be change everyday in the film industry, especially with technology, but some things don’t change because people are the same. Knowing how to build relationships, present your work, your talent and yourself, all of that is just as relevant and necessary today as it always has been. That’s what my book is all about.
Most folks seem to think of Kickstarter as a place for Indies and small time creators come to seek funding, not full fledged Hollywood producers! What got you interested in Kickstarter and finally pushed you to launch your project here?
I chose to launch a Kickstarter because it fascinates me, the amount of engagement that happens not by putting something up for sale but by asking a community to breath life into a project. I love the idea of actually being able to connect to each person, to provide things beyond the book that might not be readily available like mentorships and workbooks, but more importantly I wanted to leave my legacy with a community that it matters to, a community that has not always had a clear path for its passions.
The day we launched our Kickstarter campaign happened to be the day Zach Braff and Melissa Joan Hart launched their respective campaigns, and given the Veronica Mars campaign earlier I was aware that some people object to celebrities, which I find funny to be considered as one, using the platform. I am respectful of these feelings and of what Kickstarter represents, and I feel that people should always trust their instincts and support projects that they believe in and trust.
I also believe that what indie represents is not whether someone is small or big but any person who strives for creative independence and the freedom to be fully self expressed. In that sense I believe anybody should be able to engage their community and ask for help. Whether you’re a filmmaker or tech startup or creator of any stripe, we find ourselves suddenly able to finance, create and complete our works, effectively get them out into the world, without waiting for permission anymore. That should be available to everyone and everyone has a choice to support someone or not. Also by engaging more and more people on Kickstarter, I believe it only grows the size of the crowdfunding community by drawing in people who’ve never used Kickstarter before and potentially making a lifelong crowdfunder out of them. Can you imagine what our arts and creative community would be like if everybody just in the U.S. alone had contributed to one Kickstarter project?
Now how is your book different to the old classic the Screenwriter’s Bible? Is the book less about how to write screenplays as it is how to sell them?
There are hundreds of books, seminars and the like from reputable teachers and mentors about how to write a better script in many, many different ways. There are also books on how to “break in” to Hollywood and sell your first big screenplay or stories of other writers who have done so. But there are very few books or even resources that teach career, how to measurably transform your passion and talent into something resembling a business or career that will sustain and reward both financially and otherwise. Most professions have a well-mapped, commonly understood career ‘pathway’ involving promotions and climbing ladders. Not so when it comes to ‘creatives’.
The book I’ve written is a blueprint or roadmap of simple, smart, specific strategies anyone can use to gain access, learn how to target the right people given their talent and goals, get their material read by people who can influence meaningful outcomes, how to communicate to stand out and create real rapport, and also how to avoid the myriad of mistakes they’ve been taught and how to avoid getting lost in that confusion and sense of ‘competition’.
Every chapter in my book is intentionally designed to teach one key lesson or strategy that, if put into practice, quickly grows a writer’s confidence and ability to take control, track their career growth and progress as a professional screenwriter from day one and, in a matter of months, begin to dramatically increase their relationships and opportunities. No more relying on sending out impersonal query letters to people they don’t know in the hope someone may respond.
It’s not some random lottery or mysterious process. Hollywood is a close-knit community, yes. The beauty is, if you know what to do, you can separate yourself and be the one who gets noticed. Most simply do it the wrong way and waste years in the process.
Looking at the talent you have lined up for this book it is quite the list! How did you get everyone on board for this project? How important was it to you to get all these different views and ideas into the book?
I believe most people genuinely want to help and be of service to others. No less so for creatives in Hollywood. Producers, teachers, writers or others who’ve met with success all had mentors who helped them along their path. These are successful folks I’ve known over time and respect. I asked some of them to read my book to get feedback or criticism. Most were so enthusiastic, they weren’t shy in volunteering to support the book because they felt it offered huge value to creative.
I’m truly grateful to all these mentors who are making themselves available, getting up close and personal to share their experience and insights, answer questions, deliver what I consider huge value that’s very rare. That sort of access is hard to come by and that’s why I felt it was essential to bring seasoned mentors into the picture. I’m excited because they’re all so different, all successful but with unique perspectives and wisdom.
How different is it trying to get a writing gig in Hollywood now than when you were getting started? Besides talent and ambition what is the most important thing a writer needs to find success?
The Hollywood landscape has changed dramatically. All those ‘indie’ film companies that collectively were putting out hundreds of films a year no longer exist. They went out of business or were acquired. The major studios are making half as many films a year as they were back then, and overall they’re developing fewer projects to achieve that level of production. So the number of writing jobs has certainly decreased.
The flip side of the coin is the cost of production for independent filmmaking has also decreased dramatically, while technology has given us this vast, sophisticated toolkit and ability to create, edit and post-produce in ways we could never have imagined years ago. One of the reasons I’m so motivated to write and publish this book is precisely because it is harder to get a high-paying writing job at the studio level today.
My book will give screenwriters strategic tools to increase their odds of success, but not just at the studio level. A screenwriter today can become a filmmaker and/or collaborate to make their film faster, smarter, better than ever before and we talk about that in the book as well.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is my answer to the second part of your question. Success for any screenwriter begins with knowing how to identify and tell their most powerful story. Every writing career I’ve launched successfully had one thing in common. A refusal to mimic what others were doing, or second guess what was or wasn’t ‘commercial’. These were writers willing to write stories based on what they knew so deeply as part of their life experience. They chose to take a deeper cut and write stories only they could have written.
In my book, I give a host of examples of stunningly gifted screenwriters who've been responsible for writing exceptional films but whose earlier work either has yet to be produced, or took years and many other produced films to leverage those earlier projects. But those earlier works were so distinctive, so unique, and thus the flashpoint for their success. Their talent became known throughout the film community all based on one inspired early script that was undeniably unique. An entire chapter of my book is devoted to this singular concept and, while it may seem obvious, too many writers don’t understand the source of their creative power and how to make people stand up and pay attention.
It's about self-trust, self-belief for the artist, the screenwriter. Know thyself and then take the deepest cut possible, tell the story that will make people forget to breathe or make them laugh so hard the tears blur the words on the page. Write what you know, what you care about deeply. It doesn't matter if it's fictionalized, masked, disguised to the nines, so long as the emotional and psychological foundation is so rooted deeply in authentic experience that the characters become bathed in the writer’s inner reality.
Your site mentions the audiobook was unlocked on April 30th, are you going to be reading it or is someone else?
Sadly, people are going to have to suffer through my own reading of the book.
Can you tell us a bit about the “interactive workbook” you mention at the $50 level. Is that the only level you can get the workbook?
The digital workbook is very intentionally designed to be an extraordinary tool for the screenwriter. The book is a complete map of strategies that empower the writer or other creatives to literally create momentum and track their progress. Like a workout log for exercise, the workbook is designed to make certain writers are (a) in action, (b) doing the right things on a consistent basis, (c) truly heading in a right direction for their unique talent and goals, and (d) tracking the interactions, submissions, personal contacts and responses triggered by these strategies. The workbook also asks questions that require greater focus and clarify direction.
One of the coolest features of the workbook are these beautiful, detailed graphic works of art that capture the substance and nuance of each chapter. The artist is world class, highly sought after, and was so taken with our concept for the workbook and the role these renderings could play to visually summarize both essence and detail that she immediately said 'yes' upon hearing our vision.
The final piece we're adding are some video segments where I'll augment chapters with some additional thoughts, illustrative anecdotes and the like to give even more depth and examples of how to put these strategies into actual practice.
The workbook is available at the $50 level and all levels above that, thanks for noticing we’re going to do an update right away to clarify that!
I have to say your upper level rewards are all exciting! $100 for 5 video conferences with the writers involved in the project? That’s amazing! You are even offering an appearance on your soon to be broadcast show “Naked Wisdom?” What kind of show is that going to be? Are you able to line up that kind of commitment because you’re the boss and the show does what you tell it to?
We understand, appreciate and respect the creative individual's genuine desire to gain access and engage with those who've succeeded and live inside the beltway of Hollywood, to learn, get their questions answered, seek counsel, learn how others made their way.
I wanted to provide them that access by bringing smart, successful producers and others who have the right mindset and generosity of spirit that makes them excited to give back a bit, to be more available than might be typical, and who are willing to share their insights and knowledge. To be clear, the mentors involved in the Kickstarter project are not writers of the book itself but amazingly gracious friends in the industry who signed on to help support the campaign and are donating their time.
I know from experience the more successful people are, the more accessible and generous they tend to be. Since success is a team sport and no one builds a huge success all by themselves, successful folks like to repay the generosity of those who helped them along their path by paying it forward. Our mentors are just great human beings who happen to know a heck of a lot about how to succeed as a creative professional. And they're fun, good personalities, not an oversized ego in the bunch.
As for the show, yes, I have the luxury of deciding who to feature on the show. The majority of featured guests will be fairly well-known leaders in their field, ranging from authors and thought leaders to filmmakers or musicians or other creatives, possibly philanthropists who are innovating and breaking new ground to create bigger, faster, smarter solutions. It's about showcasing creative intelligence across a variety of sandboxes.
Your campaign is looking for $12,000 as its goal but it implies that the project will cost more than that. Where is all the money slated to go? Are the Kickstarter funds going toward any of the writers or only the production costs of the actual books?
Our stated goal is shy of our actual budget to go from manuscript to published book (including audio book, e-book and physical book). When you add together the costs of a reputable proofreader, editor, layout designer, book cover designer, formatting for kindle and other devices, initial print run, shipping or fulfillment, a web person who is sophisticated and experienced with books and Amazon etc, potentially even someone to manage all the moving parts inherent in a book launch in today's self-publishing environment (web, radio, print, social media, affiliates, etc), as well as a videographer and editor for the workbook videos, a graphic artist, possibly studio time for recording and mixing, it'll likely cost close to double our goal before we're done, even without travel for in-store signings and talks and so forth. The Kickstarter funds will go towards these purposes and help the book have a successful launch and ensure as many people as possible hear about a really high quality book meant to help launch their screenwriting careers.
With the rise of crowdfunding and the slew of independent films and webseries being produced do you see your book helping out these self-starting creators?
Without a doubt, self-starting creators will benefit every bit as much as those wanting to walk through the front door of the major studios. The book is designed with one goal in mind: to provide screenwriters and creators a proven path to career success, whatever their goal -- whether animation or live action, micro to longform content, film or tv or web. The book provides a blueprint for each entrepreneurial or marketing strategy that I’ve used and refined as both manager and producer, without regard to form, genre, or length of resume. If anything, self-starters by definition will likely benefit faster simply by virtue of their personality type, habits and entrepreneurial bent.
Do you think crowdfunding will be a key part of the future of film? Or is it always going to be for the student and independent filmmaker?
Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in particular are recent phenomena and my intuition is they will remain a key and increasingly meaningful dynamic in the larger landscape of the American and global landscape. And while I suspect it may not be the sole source of finance anything besides modestly-budgeted projects, it could very well provide essential seed budget that makes launching a project an achievable reality. Film entertainment, no different than music or radio or publishing or any other entertainment sector, is in flux. An overly contracted and corporate network and studio system that’s also overseen the demise of an independent film production community in the U.S., while more profitable than some prefer to advertise, may not satisfy the appetites of creators and audiences who appreciate diversity and are available to support new voices, new stories, more choices. I believe there’s ample room for both, I see cracks where new opportunities begin to shine through and strongly suspect crowdfunding will play an even larger role going forward.
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 studied a lot of Kickstarter projects to see what backers liked the most and also just read a lot of stories from those who’ve had success and were gracious enough to share what went well and what didn’t. Nothing has been around to be a guaranteed recipe for success but we have learned that the most successful campaign consistently did backer updates and updated their project descriptions to let backers know how the campaign is doing and how they can be involved. We also learned that listening to backers can yield new ideas for the project and that’s how the digital workbooks came to be. And most of all, social media and Facebook seems to be the most effective way of sharing however you want about your project with your closest people and their networks.
You have to be humble, brave and straightforward and simply just tell people what you’re up to and ask for their help. We’ve shared everything from simple updates to personal stories, excerpts from the book, extra campaign videos and more. This combined with our efforts on Twitter and email to writers and aspiring writers is our best shot of not only reaching our goal but possibly getting noticed by a relevant blogs and websites of which I already have many to thank including but not limited to Film Industry Network, Cinephilia and Beyond, Film Directing Tips, Hollywood Outbreak, Higher Frequency and Passive Voice.
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?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been mentioned in many writing and film related blogs and it’s truly because of them that I believe I was able to get interviewed on a local, California radio station and will hopefully be mentioned in more blogs as the campaign hits the home stretch. I’ve mainly been focused on Facebook and Twitter and just recently discovered Kicktraq which is great because it saves me from having to manually calculate our progress all the time but also awful because I can get lost staring at that chart for too long. I should also mention I will be doing a AMA on reddit on Wed April 15th at 10:30AM PST. I’ve been told I should expect nothing but Steven Seagal questions.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
Like I mentioned before, do research by simply Googling ‘how to do a Kickstarter’ or ‘successful Kickstarter campaigns’ and learn and prepare for what could feel like 30 very long days. Just like my book discusses strategies for building a screenwriting career, build or copy someone’s successful Kickstarter strategy that at least ought to include how to find your communities, how to set a proper goal, what things you can prepare prior to the launch of the campaign, what resources and time you’ll need to run your campaign and be involved and a reality check on whether or not you are confident you can deliver on what you’re promising your backers. One common piece of advice that I read from all creative who completed very successful Kickstarters is that preparation is key and I agree. And then just do it.
Thank you for spending your time with us! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
I am truly humbled and grateful for all the support in every form that I have received in this adventure on Kickstarter. The book’s campaign ends soon on May 24th so please take a look and share it with anybody in your life with a couple easy clicks:
As I shared in one of my backer updates, I want to leave you with this. Be vulnerable and go after it. Be as big and out there as you can and soak it all up. It is a frightening world where you cannot control everything but the journey is worth it, to feel alive and like you are making an impact. A film producer is always behind the scenes, but in this Kickstarter I choose to be vulnerable to the world and come to the forefront in order to make the difference I believe I can. Thank you for the bottom of my heart.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!