A producer's note

24 days of principal photography later...here we are. CENTS is in the "can" as they say.

There are many things to say. Lots of little dramas along the way.

Like the time we noticed smoke drifting up from the drain covers in the courtyard of Desert Ridge Middle School where we spent 10 days of our shoot. We had to evacuate while the fire department investigated.

And when lightning forced us to shut down our generator and a New Mexico style summer rain & hail storm forced us to huddle inside a small, stiflingly warm house.

Then there was day 23, scene at the elevator. Rolling...sound speed...camera speed...ACTION!...whack thump thump whack crash...CUT!. Turns out some construction workers were right outside the building on scaffolding tearing tiles off the outside wall.

And I could name at least a dozen more issues and challenges. But despite that, the shoot was amazingly smooth and organized.

Making a film is like pulling together a big project. There are a lot of moving parts that have to fit and work together smoothly. The script, the Director, Director of Photography and Production Designer create the vision and set the tone. The film crew figures out how to implement the vision - with each craft doing it's piece of the work. Grip & electric (setting and shaping light, building things like rain machines and shades), locations (finding the best places to shoot the movie) wardrobe, makeup & hair, the assistant director department, continuity (script supervisor), art department and props. And not to forget "Craft Services" (for the crew's all day long snacking pleasure) and Catering for those necessary hot meals.

Not to forget the cast - the principals, the day performers and the background (extras).

Then there is the ever present production office, making sure the infrastructure is in place and handling all the things that will keep the production on track and organized and out of trouble.

We began this project in 2011 (and before that for Chris who had already spent time writing and rewriting the script). It's now 2014 and we've just finished our final day of principal photography. The work isn't over by a long shot but we are on the path and its exciting to have accomplished so much!

Less Than 10 Days to Principal Photography. This is Happening.

Five years ago, I got the idea for CENTS.

Four years ago, I wrote the first draft of CENTS.

Three years ago, I rewrote, rewrote, and rewrote CENTS, and Ella Sitkin came on board to join me as producer.

Two years ago, the screenplay for CENTS was named an Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting semifinalist.

One year ago, we established our company to produce CENTS, shot our teaser and started to build our audience here and on Facebook and Twitter.

This year, we launched our successful Kickstarter campaign (read all about how we created the campaign and our wild finish).

Since the end of our Kickstarter campaign, we have:

  • put together additional financing
  • hired our line producer and department heads
  • cast our main talent
  • rewritten the script (again, and again, and again)
  • worked on legal paperwork
  • scouted locations
  • created shot lists
  • drawn story boards
  • debated the necessity of specific scenes and characters
  • squeezed the budget down to point where we can make this happen
  • talked to other filmmakers about their journeys
  • created shoot schedules
  • rearranged shoot schedules based on locations
  • locked locations
  • hired the rest of our crew
  • designed sets
  • built sets
  • gotten creative with the budget so we can be creative with our film
  • and much, much more...

Now, in less than ten days, we begin principal photography on CENTS.

This is happening.

We still have so much work to do, but we have an amazing and dedicated local crew working everyday here in Albuquerque, New Mexico to make CENTS a reality. And we have a vibrant cast eager transform the words on the page into their performances on screen.

We're excited to share more with you as we continue on this journey. Be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter to get the latest glimpses into our progress.

Let's make CENTS.


Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Filmmaker Fund: Third Time's a Charm?

TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund.jpg

We recently submitted our grant application for the Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Filmmaker Fund. We really appreciate this fund because it offers grants to narrative feature films with themes in science, technology and mathematics. In other words, we feel CENTS is a good match for the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund, and we hope the feeling is mutual.

This isn't the first time we've applied for this grant. Shortly after finishing an early draft of the screenplay, I submitted CENTS for a development grant from TFI Sloan. Since I waited until the deadline to write the application, that application was a bit rushed, so I didn't expect to get the grant. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to hear from TFI that CENTS was the type of project that they like to support, so I should come back to them after I made significant progress.

In early 2012, I rewrote the screenplay, striving to write the best screenplay I had ever written. The result was placing as a semifinalist in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. This was a major accomplishment for me personally and also great recognition for the project. 

Additionally, at that time I had also asked Ella Sitkin to join me in producing CENTS. Ella put together a series of budgets, and we worked together to reach a budget that we thought we could raise and we thought would be just enough to make the movie. Together, we reached out to Corey Weintraub to join us as DP and Reuben Finkelstein to come onboard as editor.

Ella's grant writing capabilities proved particularly helpful as we drafted our 2012 TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund application over the course of several weeks. With the Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist placement, a budget top sheet, key crew members, and the beginnings of our outreach and audience development plans - plus my own commitment to invest $30,000 of my own money into the film - we thought we had made significant progress.

To our encouragement, TFI reached out to us repeatedly during their decision-making process regarding our ongoing progress. At the time, we were finishing our business plan to launch our LLC, but hadn't secured additional financing beyond my own money. When the March decision came around, we ultimately didn't get the grant again, but were strongly encouraged to reapply - after we made more significant progress. 

So, what have we done since March 2013? In short, we have:

  • established our LLC
  • shot and posted our teaser (over 3,550 views to date)
  • launched our website, mailing list, Facebook and Twitter accounts to build our audience
  • established contact with thought leaders and organizations focused on girls in STEM and relational aggression as part of our outreach efforts
  • found additional investors
  • held gatherings to talk about CENTS to raise awareness for the project and discover additional potential investors
  • met one-on-one and had phone conversations with several key influencers and potential investors
  • prepared our Kickstarter campaign (coming this December!) 
  • been invited to the second round of the 2014 Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab selection process

As TFI evaluates our grant application, we plan to complete a successful Kickstarter campaign and confirm additional investors for our project, thus demonstrating even more progress. And you'll be sure we'll be keeping TFI up-to-date on our ongoing progress - just like we've kept the Sundance Institute up-to-date on our progress as well.

More importantly, the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund grant application process - just like the upcoming Kickstarter campaign - keeps us focused on our goal: to make CENTS happen. 

We appreciate everyone continuing to spread the word about CENTS because ultimately, this film will get made because of you, our audience. Thank you. 


We’re Launching Our Kickstarter in December: Why You Need to Know Now


We’re hard at work seeking financing for CENTS, and one of the ways we plan to raise money for our budget is through Kickstarter. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website where creative projects, like films, can launch campaigns to raise money. Project creators set a fundraising goal and a time limit, then reach out to their networks to raise money in exchange for rewards. The most popular Kickstarter donation amount is $25, and contributions average $70 across campaigns. Rewards for films can range from digital downloads of the finished film to being background talent in the film and tickets to the premiere.

It’s All or Nothing

The key to Kickstarter is it’s “all or nothing.” You have to raise your total goal before your deadline or you get nothing. Zip. Zilch. Squat.

So, why would you choose Kickstarter to crowdfund instead of Indiegogo, a similar crowdfunding site without the “all-or-nothing” requirement?

After researching crowdfunding for two years, we have discovered that Kickstarter’s “all-or-nothing” approach creates a sense of urgency that leads to successful campaigns. When someone backs a Kickstarter campaign, that person becomes invested in the success of the campaign itself. As a campaign gets closer to its deadline, backers become a powerful network to find more support for the campaign to push it over its goal. Kickstarter campaigns are successful not just because of the financial support of backers, but also because of the efforts of backers to help a campaign reach its goal in the final days of the campaign.

Successful Kickstarter Campaigns Rely on Personal Emails

More importantly, how backers share information about a Kickstarter campaign makes a big difference. Posts to Facebook and tweets on Twitter are great and spread the word, but the most effective tool for getting a friend or family member to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign is through a personal email. We're not talking about spamming your contact list. We mean reaching out one-on-one to a friend or relative to share your passion for a Kickstarter campaign and to convince that person to join you in supporting the campaign.

We know we delete a lot of mass emails that show up in our own inboxes, but we always open an email from a friend or relative. This is the power of connection that we hope to harness to make our Kickstarter campaign successful.

Do the Math

Sammy calculus in stall.jpg

Our story CENTS involves a mathematical plot device that we think is also a great hook for our Kickstarter campaign. In the film, our protagonist Sammy uses a geometrical series as the basis for revamping the school penny drive. This series follows the riddle of giving one penny on the first day of the month, then doubling the amount of pennies from the day before for each successive day of the month. The way Sammy seeks to accomplish this goal is to ask kids to donate a penny a day for the rest of the month plus get them to convince one person every day of the month to do the same thing – hence, doubling the amount of pennies collected every subsequent day.

So, for our Kickstarter campaign, we’d like to ask everyone to consider a contribution in dollars equal to the amount of days left in the campaign, and we would like everyone to reach out to one individual personally via email each remaining day of the campaign to convince them to join for a dollar a day for the remainder of the campaign plus invite a friend a day, and so on.

For example, if you join our 31-day campaign at the beginning, we encourage you to contribute $31. Then, we hope you will email and convince one friend the next day to join the campaign and contribute $30. The next day, we hope both you and your friend will each convince two more friends to join the campaign and contribute $29. And so on.

Of course, you can always contribute more than a dollar a day, and we’ll have rewards at higher dollar amounts to entice higher contributions! But what is most important to us is we hope that you actively help us throughout the duration of the campaign, not just make one contribution and forget about us. We can’t do this without your help and your friends’ help!

We launch in December, So Why are We Telling You in October?

We’re telling you about our December Kickstarter launch in October because we need our friends and family to get ready and excited for this campaign now. We want to have a strong launch, then work hard for the duration of the campaign to keep the momentum going. This is the time to look at your email contact lists to see who you think will be passionate and supportive of this campaign.

Collecting pennies.jpg

Also, by the end of this campaign, if we’re really successful, we all may need to dig deep into our contact lists to find someone who has not already been contacted by a friend to join the campaign. Those overlapping emails, though, are still great because if a mutual friend receives multiple requests to join our Kickstarter, that mutual friend is more likely to join than if he or she only receives one email.

We will only be successful with your help. Can you please email this blog post to one friend now to get them ready for our Kickstarter campaign?

Thanks for your ongoing support of CENTS. We’ll keep you posted on our progress with the campaign as we get closer to launch.

As always, you can join our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our mailing list for the latest updates. 


Why I Wrote CENTS

I can't point to a moment in time when a specific idea for CENTS popped into my head. Instead, the story of CENTS really came together as several story ideas converged in my mind. When I look back, what fascinates me now is how disparate some of the story concepts were in my mind, yet when combined, the natural elements of a story emerged.

A Story about Mathematics

For many years, I was aware that the Sloan Foundation gave grants to narrative feature films with science, technology and mathematics themes. Having a personal affinity for those themes, I knew someday I wanted to write a screenplay that involved math or science with the hope that the Sloan Foundation may ultimately support the project. I never specifically brainstormed story ideas with math and science. I just always kept the Sloan Foundation in the back of my mind.

The Need for a Female Protagonist

I spent several years trying to write a screenplay that I thought could sell, which meant writing mostly comedies. After writing a string of screenplays focused almost entirely on men and their foibles, I honestly got tired of writing those stories. Plus, these weren’t the stories I found myself watching when I watched movies.

I had not written a screenplay with a female protagonist in over six years, and I felt compelled to find a story with a female lead. Moreover, I have a young daughter who inspires me, and none of the writing I was doing at the time reflected anything in her world. I wanted my creative process to connect with her life in a meaningful way.

Rediscovering Middle School

Looking back on my own youth, I have very vivid memories of my social world changing dramatically starting in seventh grade. Like most early adolescents, I could only see how these changes impacted me and couldn’t possibly imagine that my friends were going through similar struggles or that my choices would affect their lives in any way.

Also, right around the time the idea of CENTS started to form in my mind, I began working with middle school students on a short film project. Naturally, their relationships and interactions not only inspired that film project, but also gave me insights into how to develop CENTS.

Finally, as the youngest of three boys who went to an all-boys middle school, I really had no idea what the experience of middle school and early adolescence would be like for my daughter. That scared me. And that meant I needed to do some research to be prepared.

Learning about Relational Aggression among Girls

Simply to get up to speed as a father, I started to read books by Rosalind Wiseman, Rachel Simmons and others on girls and relational aggression. The personal stories and experiences in these books really opened my eyes to the struggles young girls face in adolescence, especially how covert some girls could be in their relational aggression toward other girls.

With the rapid change in technology and how we communicate with one another, girls (and boys) now with a single tweet, text or Facebook update can inflict serious emotional damage on one another without really considering or understanding the consequences.

I need to learn and understand more about this world, and I find that writing screenplays gives me a way to explore others’ lives as well as my own in a creative way. Screenwriting for me is really a process of growth and self-discovery.

A Penny a Day

With all of these ideas swirling around in my head, something (I honestly can’t remember what) reminded me of the penny a day riddle I heard one day in math class in high school. The riddle goes like this:

If someone offers you a million dollars or promises to give you one penny on the first day of the month, then double the amount of pennies from the previous day on the next day, and so on and so forth for the entire month, which should you choose?

When this geometrical series riddle reintroduced itself into my consciousness with all of the other story ideas swirling around, I really thought this math problem could work as a great plot device in conjunction with a middle school penny drive.

Everything Comes Together

Once all of these ideas evolved and coalesced, I discovered that I had my character, my setting, my plot device and my conflict: a strong (yet flawed) female protagonist, middle school, mathematics and relational aggression. Nevertheless, even with all of these ideas converging, it still took two-and-a-half years and several drafts to get the screenplay to a place where it reached the semifinals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Mainly, that's because writing is rewriting, and to make CENTS a screenplay worth shooting, I've really had to commit myself to the rewriting process, which frankly never ends.