Jennifer Redfearn imagined her passion leading her to living in homeless shelter. It was 2009, many people were out of work and the unemployment rate was 10%. It was the lowest point in the worst economic downturn since the great depression. Jennifer found it difficult to find freelance film work. She didn’t go out and lived on very little. It would have been crazy for her to imagine standing on the red carpet of the Kodak Theatre for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards ceremony.
The previous year, Jennifer was shocked to learn that the people of the low lying Carteret Islands in the South Pacific were being displaced by rising sea waters. Jennifer describes the start of her passion, “It struck me as an incredibly compelling story to tell.” She decided to create a film called “Sun Come Up” to tell the islander’s story. She didn’t know what she was going to film, how long to make the film or whether the islanders would even participate. There was no way to communicate with the islanders, as they didn’t have electricity or phones. Jennifer had to decide if her passion was enough to pack her bags for an uncertain adventure and future.
We see and experience creativity embedded within a piece of art, a film or an innovative product. What is invisible or less apparent is the creativity involved with making it happen. Often, the most creative component is securing the funding for a dream and big idea. Jennifer’s creativity and passion were able to inspire a freelance cinematographer she never met. She was able to convince him to travel to Carteret Islands with her for 6 weeks, film the story and receive no income. She was able to get a small grant from the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting to pay for the travel costs.
Jennifer and Tim Meltzer left for the islands with two backpacks and solar panels to charge their camera batteries. With limited food, rationing water and bathing in the sea, they were able to capture some incredible islanders willing to share their stories on film. The other story that developed was Jennifer and Tim fell in love.
The challenge when they came back was figuring out how to get funding for the post production of the film. They had 120 hours of film, needed to hire a composer and package the film for distribution. Jennifer was able to defer payments on her student loan and get limited freelance work. They received small grants from New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the non-profit Chicken and Egg. The last big push was the direct appeal (see appeal) to people on the crowdfunding site kickstarter.com for the $14,000.
To successfully achieve a dream or big idea, you most likely need funding from some or all of the sources below:
Personal Funds – Jennifer had limited savings relying on freelance work to pay living expenses.
Inspire – Jennifer used her passion to tell the story of the Carteret Islanders to get a talented cinematographer to give up 6 weeks without income.
Negotiate/Barter – Jennifer was able to put her student loans on hold
Crowdfunding – Jennifer and Tim were able to raise the money they needed to finish the film, raising $14,029 from 63 backers in almost 60 days.
Funding Programs – Jennifer were able to secure small grants from 3 non-for-profit organizations interested in seeing the “Sun Come Up” completed.
Optimize – Jennifer was able to live light in Carteret Islands and after they returned.
Family and Friends – People interested in your success and help when possible
Investors – These are people or organization (i.e., Angel Investors) interested in having ownership in what is produced. It is hard to find investors for Documentary films.
Loans – Student Loans, Home Loans, Small Business Loans, government subsidies loans, personal loans and credit card loans can be helpful if there is a way to pay them back.
Long after Jennifer and Tim’s film “Sun Come Up” (see movie trailer) debuted at film festivals, two separate FedEx packages arrived in their joint mailbox. They each contained beautiful black envelopes. Inside were beautiful invitations to the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony in February 2011. After a little time, they began feeling confident in believing it wasn’t a hoax. They were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Although they didn’t win the award, their film was the first crowdfunding academy award nominated film. In 2013, the kickstarter crowdfunding documentary film Inocente won an academy award.
It is too easy to imagine the pursuit of a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation taking us to places we don’t want to go. Following a passion, securing funding and enduring grit could take you to the red carpet or help you make almost anything happen.