Behind the Scenes

Harnessing Social Media to Fund Graduation Thesis Film

On March 31st, 2014 I launched a 30-day Kickstarter crowdfunding project to fund my graduation thesis film. KONOYO is a Japanese style supernatural short film set in Scotland and Japan. The film tells the story of a teacher's struggle to unlock the mystery of one of his elusive students. My film has evolved to become a personal story drawing on my experiences living in Japan. I wrote and directed the thesis film and brought it to life on screen with +25 of my fellow students. On location at Playfair Library Old College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Our crowd-funding campaign was successfully funded blowing past our target by 200%. A large part of the success of the campaign comes from the having a great team and a concept that you truly believe in and resonates with your audience. On reflection, the campaign included a few key points that helped us meet our target:

The following is a 30-day campaign timeline that you may find helpful:

Pre launch

To make your project stand out above the noise you should come up with three important lists:

Personal Email List:

This is a list of friends and contacts from your personal circle of family, friends, colleagues, drop them a note at the beginning and the end of the campaign. Don't over contact people on this list even if this list is not that big hopefully through the power of word of mouth it will spread. This is exactly what happened for my campaign as I was surprised by how many people I didn't know got involved.

Digital Media List:

This is a list of media outlets (blogs, forums, etc.) that cover your project. This depends on the genre of your project. In my case I was making a Japanese supernatural/horror movie so I reached out to blogs that cover Japanese horror movies, etc. and share your story.

Social Media List:

This is people you can approach to spread the word about your campaign on social media. This will include a range of established figures in your genre  (authors, speakers, and personalities) that you can ask to retweet or repost your campaign story.

Konoyo Kickstarter campaign graph

Konoyo Kickstarter campaign graph

Week 1

As soon as the project goes live, it is time to hit up your personal mailing list and Facebook project group to ask them to spread the word, retweet, and repost. Towards the end of the week it is time to widen your reach by hitting up your social media and media list - following up if you need to do interviews or other promotions (we definitely could have done a lot more with this step). In the first few days we achieved more than half of our £500 targeted goal. They say the first and last weeks are when you receive most of your pledges, this was definitely true in my case.

Week 2

The second week of the project can be a bit slow but keep plugging away and following up with your social media and your media outlet list. Also, having a positive team will help during this phase.

Week 3

The third week or somewhere near the middle of your campaign will be very slow and the pledges will begin to slow down to a trickle. This is a good time to follow up any interviews or contacts with your media outlet list. However, towards the end of this week things really began to heat up.

Week 4

This is a week when pledges seem to come in at steady pace. It is now time to send out emails to any of social media or media list that may have not picked up the coverage. Also towards the end of this week I sent another blast out to my personal contact list. During this week everyone seems to get in your corner with the pledges tending to increase and come in a little quicker. It was a very humbling feeling to double our target with the help of the community.

On location at Cramond Causeway, Edinburgh, Scotland


1. Make a good pitch (video): Use your concept to motivate and build a skillful project team (first acid test for your idea), and then use that same team to promote the campaign. If you don’t have one already, create a private Facebook group to communicate with your team.

2. See yourself as contributor first and avoid the “build it and they will come mentality.” In other words, be humble and generous in everything you do. The crowd-funding process is all about telling a story.  Ask yourself…why does my film deserve funding? Put yourself in the role of a backer.Make sure your backer rewards are relevant and generous, check other similar campaigns for ideas but try to be unique.

3. Nobody likes to be the first person in, so have a stable of family and friends standing by to give your campaign that initial push on launch day. Notify your family and friends well before the launch date and get them on board so you will be funded from the first day.

4. Repost any positive buzz that comes from your campaign. For example, one of the tracking campaign websites showed our short film was trending at #4 on the Top 100 Kickstarter short film projects. Also, share you story with relevant blogs and forums in your genre and repost any articles or interviews they run.

5. In my opinion one of the biggest advantages of Kickstarter is the chance to build a fan base and start an ongoing relationship with your backers for future projects as wellFor example, we had one reward level that we broke even with but produced over 40 backers. As soon as possible translate this into an email list to keep in contact with your backers.

Crowdfunding has now become a legitimate way for creative people to launch ideas. However, don't be fooled, campaigns are no easy task and you will have to pay the price in terms of time and effort to get it off the ground and also keep up to date with your backers. In my opinion Kickstarter is a great alternative source of funding for creative projects.  Besides KickStarter there are other platforms available like IndieGoGo, Kiva, Peerbackers, Fundable, Bloom VC, and SquareKnot that are making it possible for people with ideas to leverage the power of the crowd in their growth. Either way, if you are a grad student harnessing social media is a great way to fund your graduation thesis film.

Written by David Simpson

Sonic Foundations: Sound Designing and Composing the Film

"If you went to strip joint on an alien planet then this is what they would be playing," says Josh my composer. We were both very taken and influenced by the Under the Skin soundtrack.

Great session today with Josh Sabin (composer) and Chris Gayne (sound designer). We held the session in the editing suite with Chris remotely skipped in from Glasgow. To be honest I just love sound design so it was a very exciting to sit down and listen to sample sounds and strategies that my the boys cooked up. Also, it was great that we will on the same page as I have been meeting with Josh and Chris for a couple of months now. They were some of my first collaborators as I knew that my short film would hinge on sound.

We discussed a lot of the same strategies that I explored in an early essay I wrote on Sound Design of Valhalla w/ Douglas MacDougall. Here is a excerpt from my essay:

Douglas continues, “When I say start with wind, it's three weeks of gathering wind sounds, and exploring what wind does such as different pitches of wind. I looked at how I could move the wind in a way through the film. Obviously the film comes in different chapters so you had that to work with as well.”

Wind is also a huge element in my studio film, Konoyo. A portion of our story will be shot at Cramond Causeway so we want to use the wind to tell our story. Moreover, juxtaposing various intensities of wind elements with beautiful and harsh images and rough editing to create a textured atmosphere.

Douglas adds  “You don’t want to burden the film with direct (realistic) sound all the time, you want a sense of something, a feeling of something in the air. That was my biggest move forward on Valhalla in my thinking. This concept of a heavy atmosphere without it being musical was the beginning. That was the invention of the style of the film.”

Douglas’s perspective on sound made me question what does a tsunami sound like? Most of the world is familiar with the images and sounds of the waves of destruction on the news and Internet. The idea of draining everything away as if following the tide, pulling it back slowly. I think that is a much more interesting idea to tell the story for my studio film in terms of sound design then the rush forward of the sea. Building the sound design for the film within this seam or subtext will allow us to approach the tsunami in a unique way. A specific example of this could be subtlety using the soundscape that the animals produce throughout the film to foreshadow the impending doom.

Color Grading: A True Painter at Work

No film is complete without the color grading especially a Japanese supernatural film. I was lucky to have wonderful color grader, Jennifer Wagner from the Screen Academy Napier program. Jenny is a total artist and crafts person. When you are dealing with a person who really knows there work such as Jenny what I realized is you have to be able to communicate your vision. In other words, it is important to have sample photos and reference material on hand to explain your vision. Also, it is very important to remain open minded even though you may have planned suggestions. For example, I suggested the color palette from Valhalla Rising as I liked the earthy tones, and Jenny was all about the Godzilla style. Well, it wasn't too hard to convince me about my Japanese champion Godzilla. So, in the end we settled somewhere between the two ideas. So far everyone who has seen the grading work on the film had great things to say. I'm excited to show you Jennifer's work...

Why I Cut Some of my Favorite Scenes?

The first part of editing is very tedious, it really just involves organization. Once you move past that point it is rough cut time. I was lucky enough to have two editors Martin and Anka, both are great. I began the project with Martin, he laid all the shots down all the shots according to the script for a rough version. The obvious tendency is to want to lay the story down in the sequence which has been burned into your head from the inception of project. However, you quickly realize the time for honesty has come. You have to evaluate the strength of actual footage that you have shot against the script you have poured your heart into. In other words, the task is to make something that still says your vision in most elegant way possible with what is in the can.

In my case the process of honest cutting came with the help of my editor and some great tutors we have at the Edinburgh College of Art. They basically helped me kill my babies which was not an easy task. Nonetheless, the whole process was very illuminating and tough at times. There were at least 3 scenes that we worked so hard on that we had to kill. The fact that my editor was not on set made him that much more objective about things to cut.

Konoyo Short Film Production Dairies

On Set Day #1 I arrived early around 8am in classroom location, we used the old library in the University of Edinburgh Geosciences building. I had bit of a nervous feeling in my stomach as this was the big day and really didn't know how it was all gonna to go. I hear wheels and footsteps getting closer coming from outside the classroom, in walks my production designers dragging a huge suitcase full of props. Immediately they diligently started rearranging desks and putting things in order. From there things began to get hectic with the entire crew arriving and soon after our 12 extras.

I can remember the elated feeling on the first take when I saw the camera roll across the dolly tracks as I peered into the monitor at the crisp image.I finally started to settle down after we got into a rhythm with the camera team and crew. Despite all the chaos going on around me I was very happy doing what I came here to do - direct. The Sushi arrived and I saw the whole team kick back and relax, it was also nice to see some of the extras mingling with the crew. Overall, the first day was a brilliant success.

Rehearsals with the Actors and DoP

On a student film your resources are very limited, however you usually have a  little time to play with since the film is your main focus at school. The process of rehearsals was very new to me. I was very happy to have onboard Alex Gray (Cobb), Eren Fukushima (Aya), and Vera Badida (Japanese student). On rehearsals we meet and did a few read throughs and meet with our great director of photography (Laura Shand) for some camera set ups as well. Working with Laura was awesome, she really knew what she was doing with that RED Camera. All and all it is a great chance to refine the script with your actors feedback and flag up any potential issues.

Notes on Building the Ultimate Team


The Konoyo project really started the day I stepped on stage in front of the college and announced my idea to the student body. It was a very nerve racking day to say the least. There were probably over 200 people in attendance that included our peers, professors, and industry people. The format was simple: get on stage and pitch your idea and whoever is interested will ask to join - very much like the real world. Afterwards we had a reception party to mingle and talk to interested collaborators. I felt very privileged to have a high level of interest in my project. I think it helped that I pitched a Japanese supernatural genre project, which set me apart from the start. So I used my pitch/ concept to recruit, motivate, and build a skillful project team (first acid test for your idea). One of the most critical members of the team is the producer. My producer, Gianna Arni Andrea came on board a little later but as soon as she did the whole project really started to hum along. Gianna is super organized and really knows how to manage a team. The first thing she did was to create a private Konoyo Facebook group to communicate with our team.

Soon after we began have regular meets up at the college sometimes twice a week to discuss all aspects of production. In the end we had over 29 members on the production. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is put all your time and effort in to select a great team. In others, make sure they have experience or ability to do what you want do and that you get along with each other. My production team is the engine that makes the film hum and I owe a great debt of gratitude to all of them.

Experimental Film Project at Edinburgh College of Art

Well, my first semester has come to close here at the Edinburgh College of Art. I am studying my MA in Film Directing for one year. It has definitely been a life changing move from Japan to Scotland. Also for my graduation project I have chosen to do a Japanese horror short film set in Edinburgh. Will keep you posted... The origin inspiration for our experimental film, BAR MAID came from the painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère the last major work of French painter Édouard Manet. The painting is a rendering of a scene at a Paris salon of the same name in 1882. Our film is different from the painting but we tried to maintain some of the original ethos from Manet’s work. The Barmaid is a film about the transformation of a woman from a vulnerable, submissive object into a dominant, condemnatory human being. This was my first film project at film school.

Anyway, happy holidays and all the best for 2014.

Behind the Scenes Photos: Shi-chi-go-san Film Shoot

"Shichi-go-san" (Seven-Five-Three) is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three & seven-year-old girls and three & five-year-old boys, held annually on November 15. The ages three, five and seven are consistent with East Asian numerology, which claims that odd numbers are lucky. It was a pleasure to spend the day with the Spence family to help capture this rite of passage for young Kairi. The Shi-chi-go-san film shoot was produced and created by Lee Blois. My role on this shoot was photography, here are some of the images from that day below. See the gear we used.