Early Bird: what to do when your crowdfunding campaign fails

How a low budget British horror film came to life - even when its Kickstarter campaign floundered...

There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you’ve thought about making your first film. And with digital equipment becoming cheaper and crowdfunding, it’s never been easier. But producer Chris Nials and screenwriter/director Andrew Flynn’s dark comedy Early Bird nearly had its wings clipped by failing to reach its funding target on Kickstarter.

However, rather than throw in the towel, Chris and Andrew went ahead with the filming. “In hindsight, it was actually quite liberating for both of us, largely because we were both so exhausted by the end of the campaign. The failure afforded us an opportunity to take a long hard look at the project and ourselves, and having done so, we became more determined than ever and agreed to push on” recalls Andrew.

Early Bird is Chris and Andrew’s debut feature, telling the tale of David. An average joe who loses both his girlfriend and flat and has to find a new domicile. However, in current day London where even a glorified cupboard can command high rents, finding a room cheaply and quickly is a daunting task. Until he finds a decent sized room for a very agreeable price. His live in landlady Sasha only has one rule: you have to be perfect.

The seeds of Early Bird‘s conception were sown when Andrew moved to London from Cardiff after graduating from his MA. “I’ve been flatsharing in London for about four years now and I’ve had my fair share of highs and lows in that time. Obviously the events in the movie are purely fictional but some are loosely based on actual experiences, especially the opening scenes!”

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Early Bird‘s concept couldn’t be any timelier, with many 20- through to 40-somethings having to live with others in London, supposedly the centre of all wealth. The film explores as it does the at times fraught relationship we have with the people we’re literally forced to live with.

“For me, Early Bird is a fish-out-of-water narrative that challenges familiarity and what you perceive to be your ‘comfort-zone’. It’s something that most of us (including myself) have experienced at some point in our lives, especially when we’re faced with an unfamiliar environment.” explains Andrew.

“Flatsharing forces total strangers into an unnatural living arrangement where the newest tenants are generally expected to conform to the living standards already in place. Initially the newbie tends to want to make a great first-impression, but once the comfort-zone is established, standards tend to slip.”

What brought Chris Nials on to produce was that “I’m very much a believer that horror movies are at their most terrifying when people can really relate to the subject matter, and as the concept of Early Bird is so commonplace to many people’s everyday life, I knew we could make something special. Andrew and I actually only met for the first time last year. The London Horror Society was assisting in promoting a Manchester-based horror movie that he was co-producing. We realised that we both had very similar ambitions, and when Andrew started spelling out his ideas for the initial Early Bird script, I leapt at the chance to be part of it.”

It was this determination that carried both Andrew and Chris through after the initial knockback of failing to reach its target of £13,000. A drop in the ocean for summer blockbusters but vital for an independent production. Chris remains philosophical about the initial failure. “I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with crowdfunding. It can provide a fantastic way for film makers to obtain valuable funding that would otherwise be impossible to find. But like so many things, it’s open to abuse. And now you find people seeking funding that they could easily provide themselves, but don’t want to shoulder the risk.”

Now Early Bird has completed post production, the last stretch of a long journey. Andrew completed the first draft in two-weeks back in September 2013. “After the kickstarter failed. I basically stripped it down to its bare bones and rewrote it several times with a zero-budget in mind. It was challenging but fun. We went into production at the end of January, and the shoot itself lasted 10 days. It was already a mammoth task and we wouldn’t have the luxury of re-shoots. So, I cut any unnecessary locations and characters from the story and combined scenes . I basically re-wrote the entire script from start to finish. It was a great opportunity to refine the story and really clarify the focus. If the Kickstarter succeeded, I’m honestly not sure that I would have been as critical of my own work as I ultimately was.”

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Indeed, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter were set up to provide a new avenue of funding for creatives and inventors. Unburdened from having to appease potential investors, now they could pitch to the public directly and get them to cough up. However in recent years, established names such as Zach Braff have begun to exploit people’s goodwill. Not to mention the Internet’s inexhaustible desire for overworked horror concepts. A small scale, darkly comic film without zombies would have a hard time getting the attention of an audience that wants to fund more ‘brony’ documentaries. The lukewarm reception afforded to kickstarted features such as Lust For Love and Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here seem to confirm that all that glitters isn’t gold.

It’s a sentiment that’s shared by Chris. “Budgets really aren’t everything. I’d hate to think that good projects aren’t being made because people think that they need a huge supply of cash.” And Andrew is also full of encouragement for wannabe film makers. “Go for it! You can spend years thinking about wanting to make your first feature but chances are you’ll talk yourself out of it. That said, don’t underestimate how much work is involved every step of the way. Make sure you are extremely well prepared, realistic about what you want to achieve and have total belief in your own project. If you can’t convince people that it’s worth making, who will?”

There’s a small word of warning from Chris as well. “We had to work even harder to secure even the most basic equipment! And we’re eternally grateful to everyone that helped us out here. Not to mention the cast and crew who worked insanely long and gruelling hours to make sure we got what we needed each day.”

Looking ahead, Andrew and Chris are hoping to secure distribution for Early Bird with hopefully a few screenings at upcoming festivals to generate some interest. As for dream projects, Andrew is hoping he can someday helm a reboot of Disney’s Gargoyles. But for now, he’s working on another horror script with Chris entitled Ask Me Anything and hopes to tackle other genres such as superheroes, zombies and football. And Chris is hoping to continue to offer students their first work in film. “We’ve been blown away by the amount of talent out there that can’t get a job in the industry, simply because of lack of experience. And if we can provide that platform to help launch people’s careers, then all the better!”

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