Interview with Brent Joseph, Director of Mirza the Miraculous

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Brent Joseph has been making a movie for 14 years. His initial plans to turn lo-fi footage into a sci-fi cartoon didn’t quite work out because the visual effects were too taxing at the time, but now, after the footage has aged like a fine wine, he rediscovered it and came to appreciate the aesthetic. He’s also spent the time in between working in editing rooms of feature films in New Orleans.

So basically he’s met his movie in between: He’s increased his own abilities but also lowered some of the technical requirements for the film (he’s no longer planning to convert it to a cartoon). And in those 14 years, technology has also advanced.

The result is Mirza the Miraculous, which he’s now trying to fund on Kickstarter.

Brent told me about his plans to fund the film on Kickstarter the one time we met in person, so I looked forward to seeing what he put together, but the pitch is solid and far more crafted than I ever expected. The text on the project page is flawless, which is good, but the video also does a lot of things right, which is what you would expect from someone who works as a film editor. Here are some things that struck me:

Length. The video is only 3:30, which is under what I consider the 4-minute magic number. Any longer than that and people will tune out. Brent also does a great job of concisely summarizing the story behind the film and what his goal is in a compelling way.

Quality. The original footage is definitely lo-fi, but when the pitch video cuts to Brent, it’s clear that he’s using an HD camera and a mic. This really surprised me (in a good way) and made it clear that this is a professional endeavor. Great job of creating credibility here.

I thought it would be interesting to ask Brent a few questions about the Kickstarter process. Check out his responses here:

I know you’ve been putting together this project for a while. How long do you think the planning stages took you? And how long would you say you spent crafting the page and the pitch video?

Brent: I hadn’t thought about Mirza the Miraculous in a while and last year while going through my old hard drives, it dawned on me that Kickstarter would be the perfect way (if not only way) to resurrect the project. I made notes here and there, but wasn’t able to dedicate a lot of time to the campaign until this summer. It’s hard to pin down the exact amount of hours it took to put it together, but it might come in around 2 full weeks if you put it all together. Maybe more. I actually shot my pitch and cut it together twice. It didn’t quite work the first time. I’m not used to being in front of the camera and I don’t think my excitement about the project came through. I’m an editor by trade and I have to say it’s a pretty odd experience editing yourself. When you cut together your own image and voice you can sorta get stuck in a feedback loop second guessing yourself. My usual radar went kerplunk. At some point, you just have to say it’s done and move on.

The Kickstarter page looks polished, so I’m impressed how quickly you put it together…although in terms of calendar time, it sounds like it took a couple of months over the summer? Is that the case?

B: Yes, over a couple of months. So maybe my two week estimate is off. Really hard to say. 3?

You got off to a fast start and raised over $3000 in your first two days. What kind of work did you do to promote the Kickstarter launch?

B: Most of my initial funders are the result of an email I sent out. I briefly explained the story and why I was returning to the film, but I made sure to not duplicate too much of what was in the video. I mainly wanted to get people to watch the video. I knew that watching the actual footage would get people to consider donating more than just describing it.

What kind of promotion do you plan to do to help sustain the campaign over the next month?

B: I plan to highlight the footage as well all the people who are associated with the project. For starters, I will be posting stills from the movie on Facebook with descriptions of the actors and the roles they played. It was a lot of fun to shoot the movie and I think that if people see all the characters and hear about the people that played them, that sense of fun will come through and lead them to watch the video and donate. I also plan to approach art and music bloggers to highlight the two main stars and the composer. They each have a following from their own work and I want to let their fans know about this project.

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I’ve just noticed that the project has been selected as a Staff Pick. Has that surprised you? Have you seen an uptick in pledges due to that after the initial rush settled down?

B: The staff pick happened on Day 2. I was indeed surprised, but in all honestly, I can’t really say it has really affected the number of donations, yet. As of today, about 90% of the pledges are from friends or friends of friends. That, of course, might be related to the nature of the project. The old footage I’m going to recut and process has an admittedly amateur feel. I think the people that know me trust that my subsequent 15 years of experience will be put to good use transforming that material. People who don’t know me might be more skeptical. Perhaps if a more contemporary project got the same attention it would yield more immediate contributions, but perhaps not. I can tell you that in my initial email, I asked people that if they thought they were going to eventually contribute to go ahead and contribute in the first three days. That initial influx of support may have grabbed the attention of the Kickstarter curators, but there’s no way to know. The real benefit of the “Staff Pick” may be from indirect means. I’m currently drafting letters to contact bloggers who might be interested in different aspects of my film. I am making a point of letting them know that the project is a “Staff Pick.” I’m guessing that might make them more willing to click my link. Perhaps that’s a more realistic place to find value from the “Staff Pick.” It could lead to more visiblity from external sites.

I notice that you’ve backed quite a few projects yourself – what do you look for in a project to support?

B: People that I want to see flourish.

Based on Brent’s answers to my questions, there are a lot of things going right for this project apart from the video. Some other thoughts:

Time. He’s put a lot of time into the project. This isn’t something that came together over a weekend. I think the more time spent planning, the better, but as Brent mentions, at some point you have to make a decision and move on to the next step, whether that’s with editing the pitch video or putting together other aspects of the project.

Fast start. It’s easy to get buried on Kickstarter if you don’t build some momentum, and that’s something that Brent addressed in his initial email to backers.

Rewards. I think last year I would have commented on the number of rewards, but after having run one myself, I’m of the opinion that (especially for smaller projects run by one or two folks) less is more. Mirza the Miraculous has a nice range of rewards that should be relatively easy to fulfill.

“Synergy.” I put that term in quotes just because it’s often bandied about meaninglessly, but what it really means is kind of a coming together of different energies, a confluence of influences, and I think that Brent has that – the video does a great job of highlighting all the different actors and artists involved. That makes it easier to tap into different networks when promoting the project – Brent can reach out to Quintron fans, fans of Iva Gueorguieva’s art, and fans of Paul Soileau/Christeene. That’s all on top of his immediate and indirect network of friends, the ever growing group of filmmakers in New Orleans, and the target market of lo-fi sci-fi film enthusiasts. This is a really important element to consider before starting a Kickstarter – what kind of people will I be approaching with this project?

The project’s top image has me really curious! It looks like Brent replaced the green screen with some of the planned background. I’m a sucker for making-of documentaries, so maybe there will be some of that in Kickstarter Updates.

I look forward to seeing how this develops, and I hope it gets funded! It’s 40% of the way there after five days, so things are looking good. As of writing, you can see from Kicktraq that there has been a small uptick in funding, perhaps due to the Staff Pick (or maybe even just the delayed reaction to Brent’s initial email).


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