Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BLOODSWORTH: AN INNOCENT MANThe Evening Class Interview With Gregory Bayne

Quite possibly, Gregory Bayne might know more about alternate funding strategies for independent film—including crowd funding—than most Idaho filmmakers. This "faithful pragmatist" has funded four successful Kickstarter campaigns for three separate films (A Person of Interest, Jens Pulver / Driven, and Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man), negotiated a hefty distribution deal through video on demand and streaming aggregates, has written columns for Filmmaker magazine, and has been cherry-picked as an expert panelist to discuss funding for independent film at this weekend's Idaho Cineposium Film Conference (May 18-19, 2012).

Keen to the association between crowd funding and audience building, Bayne follows-up his successful Kickstarter campaign for documentary-in-progress Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man with an evening with Kirk Bloodsworth at Boise's Egyptian Theater on Thursday, May 17.

As part of a suite of research interviews conducted for an overview piece for Fusion magazine on Idaho film production, Bayne and I sat down to discuss Bloodsworth late last month.

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Michael Guillén: Gregory, you started with a feature and have now shifted to documentaries. Does that mean that documentary filmmaking has become more your medium or are these simply the stories you want to tell right now?

Gregory Bayne: Well, you can easily get pigeonholed. For me it was more like, "What's the most reasonable thing for me to do after Driven? What will people be waiting for? Likely a documentary." I like documentaries. I like the stories that I can tell through them that maybe I can't tell through narrative features. It took me a long time to even say, "I'm a filmmaker", but that's what I do for a living and that's how I spend my time. But I guess I want it to be more encompassing? I want to be format-agnostic and genre-agnostic, y'know?

Basically, filmmaking is just storytelling for me. For example, my next project is Bloodsworth because Kirk's story really intrigued me. It's a great story to tell. Somebody had been looking into making his story into a feature; but, I liked him, I liked him as a person and I thought that the best way to tell his story was to do a documentary and let him be the star of it. Stylistically, it will be different to a degree than Driven; but, they're the same in that they're both stories centered on their subjects. I feel that the State of Maryland has told their version of the story several times at court, people have read it in the news, but what does it feel like to be a guy ripped off the face of the earth and thrown into prison for something he didn't do? What's that story? I can tell that story better as a documentary through somebody's true experience rather than trying to dramatize it.

Guillén: Clearly, finding the story is essential to building an audience. And a story of direct human experience has a better chance of having an audience relate to that direct experience through a shared humanity. But your decision to tell that story through documentary involves many choices along the way that intrigue me. For example, with Driven—and, I anticipate, with Bloodsworth—I respect that the story is told through the voice of its subject. You don't have a lot of talking heads in Driven, for example, to tell Pulver's story. Jens Pulver tells his own story. And it sounds like you're taking a similar approach with Bloodsworth? In some ways, it might be considered a no-no to give one face so much screen time; but, in the case of Jens Pulver, it revealed an emotional authenticity that engaged the audience. You can run with emotional authenticity for hours, I think.

Bayne: I totally agree. To be perfectly honest, I mostly watch narrative films and mostly just wanted to direct narrative features. That was my initial impulse. But then I fell into editing documentaries and began to like that approach to storytelling. I felt documentaries gave me a greater sense of how to tell stories than all the years of writing and watching dramatized narratives. One of my major inspirations are the Maysles Brothers, especially their film Salesman (1969). I love that movie. It's so interesting and heartbreaking and real and raw. One thing that documentaries have over narrative features—unless they're genuine classics—is this level of timelessness. So the Maysles Brothers inspired me and, more recently, Errol Morris's films, and one Chris Smith did called Collapse (2009), which I watched before making Driven and thought, "Oh wow!" Have you seen Collapse?

Guillén: I haven't.

Bayne: It's about this guy that supposedly predicted the financial collapse. He's something of a conspiracy theorist and Collapse is basically a movie that's just him in a room being interviewed through several different camera angles. It's just him for 80 minutes and I thought, "Holy shit! This is incredibly interesting." The guy was totally engaging and I knew from meeting Jens and having talked with him that there would be no problem with him carrying a movie too. There was a certain amount of the trifecta going on: a great back story, a totally engaging personality, and he had something happening. It's the same with Kirk Bloodsworth. The intensity level turns up to 11 from Driven in terms of what he experienced: being wrongfully convicted, sentenced to death, having to go through that, and then being the first death row inmate in the U.S. to be exonerated through DNA evidence.

My whole point is that—through watching films like Errol Morris' The Fog of War (2003)—if you see these engaging personalities and you allow them to speak and know you have the editor's touch in the end, you can in an authentic way shape what they're saying and tell it to the audience who is watching.

Guillén: Let's talk a bit about where you are with Bloodsworth. You're doing a benefit at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday, May 17, 2012 with Kirk Bloodworth in attendance to Q&A with the audience? My understanding is that part of that event is to film audience reaction? How much longer will you need after that to finish up the film?

Bayne: I also like the process to be as simple as possible. I'm working on two tracks with the Bloodsworth story. Along with my own documentary, we're doing a short piece for PBS for some new program they're developing. I filmed him throughout February back East but I'm not sure that footage will actually be part of the film. The concept I have for Bloodsworth encompasses four elements. First is his speaking in front of people and telling his story from beginning to end. It's compelling and he's a great storyteller. He's shaped his story really well and it resonates because—even though it's second nature and a little bit rehearsed at this point—it's still very emotional and authentic. It comes back to that. So, having him in front of an audience telling his story is just engaging. I look forward to being able to shoot that.

My favorite quote about documentaries is from Errol Morris who said that the best thing and the worst thing about documentaries is that they can be about anything. I love that and it's one of the things that draws me to documentary filmmaking over narrative filmmaking. That principle could be inherent in narrative filmmaking as well, but there's still formulaic storytelling tropes that one way or the other you have to fit in. With documentaries you're bound to a degree with the tenets of storytelling but the way in which you present the story is wide open.

So, the first element is filming him in front of an audience. Then there's the second element of interviewing him, much like I described the Collapse interview, with several cameras. I'm going to sit down with him for four solid days, which is what I did with Jens, and go through the whole story, hoping through that process to get beyond the technical aspects and go deeper. The third element is archival footage from day one of the murder, all the coverage around it, his arrest, his conviction, his appeal, prison.

Guillén: That sounds like a costly element of the film?

Bayne: Yeah. I don't know how costly it's going to be yet. It depends on how much of the archival footage I'll actually use. First, I have to pay a fee to get the footage to look at and then—once I actually use it—I'll have to pay money.

Guillén: You have earned a reputation as being something of a master of crowd funding. How successful were your Kickstarter campaigns for Bloodsworth? Could you use a Kickstarter campaign to offset the costs of securing archival footage?

Bayne: The original Kickstarter campaign for Bloodsworth was fully funded. The way it works in the documentary world—which I'm sure you're fully familiar with—is that you can't get any money from any agencies or granting organizations unless you're already way deep into the process. I raised the original money to get through the initial production process to come up with 20-25 minutes of good footage that tells a story, gives the scope of what I'm making, and present it to people at Sundance, at the Ford Foundation, to people at PBS, etc.

I didn't want to do the Kickstarter campaign because it was already my fourth, all of which have been successful. That's nice, but, I do perceive a burnout. So I was really nervous about the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodsworth. I had tried other ways to raise the money. The initial seed money I was supposed to get fell through but I knew there were a lot of things I needed to do that would require money, because the budget for Bloodsworth would probably be larger than it was for Driven. So I went ahead and did the Kickstarter campaign and I did it for various reasons. First, a lot of people just think about the money-making aspect of Kickstarter; but, if you treat crowd funding right, if you respect the process, and follow through with what you say you're going to do, Kickstarter can be a pretty amazing audience-building tool.

I had a nice track record already. For Person of Interest, we did what we said we were going to do with that movie and it got out. With Driven, there were two campaigns and, again, when the movie was done and it was released, everyone got what they were promised. So with the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodsworth, it was nervewracking and yet it worked. It also gave me the opportunity to create another level of audience for this new project that I didn't have prior. It's always good to do that. It gets the conversation rolling.

The campaign kind of sucked because it had the Thanksgiving holiday right in the middle of it and I thought it was going to be very hard to make the funds happen. But the story got picked up all over the place—there was a tidbit in The Washington Post and coverage in all the major online magazines—and the reason the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodsworth got picked up all over the place was because the Idaho State Tourism Board sent out a press release for me. I called them and I said, "Hey, remember that time you said that you really liked what I was doing and to call on you if you could ever be of help?" And they said, "Yes!" I was a little nervous towards the end of the campaign but then one day this writer who I've never met threw in $5,000 and that was the last little chip that needed to fall and then it was done.

The nice thing about this experience was this it was my quickest Kickstarter campaign. Ordinarily, to get a campaign 10% funded early on is the best strategy possible. If you can make it there, oddly enough you can get it funded the rest of the way. Within 24 hours, the Bloodsworth campaign went past 10% funded and then the work really began. Still, again, it went the fastest of all my campaigns in achieving the 10% but, again, I think that had to do with all this work I'd done prior, had delivered on my promises, and people were beginning to trust that I wasn't an asshole.

Guillén: So any sense of when the film will be ready to be released?

Bayne: Well, I'll have the bulk of the footage I'll need by the end of May, but then the animation aspect is a new element for me that I've never worked with before and I'm assuming that's going to take more time than I imagine it will. Half of the film will be animated by Matthew Wade.

Guillén: How did you decide to film this story? Had you read some news coverage and that's what lured you into the project? How did you then contact Kirk Bloodsworth?

Bayne: A friend of mine in Boise was friends with Bloodsworth and she had read Tim Junkin's book Bloodsworth: The True Story of One Man's Triumph over Injustice. She contacted me about the possibility of making a film about him, gave me the book and I started reading it, and I thought, "This is a great story." Then Bloodsworth and his people all watched Driven and thought I was pretty good at what I was doing so I sat down with Kirk and decided we would make a documentary about his story. That's how the process began. It was very simple.

Guillén: When you approach a prospective subject, what do you offer them? What do they get out of your telling their story?

Bayne: With Jens Pulver / Driven, because it's a first person movie, Jens owns half the movie. I think that's totally fair. I put in most of the equity, I made the movie and all that, so I should get something; but, then, Jens put in his life story. If Driven is making money right now and Jens isn't getting some of that, I would be a total asshole. So that's how I approach it. It's not like making a movie about Japanese whaling ships. When you're making a movie that's so specified and it's so definitively about one person and their story and they're investing their time to be with you and to tell their story and to allow you the creative freedom to make and own the movie, it nonetheless at the end of the day has to be shared. If there's a financial benefit, it's a shared financial benefit. I don't really see any other way to do it. You can litigate a project to the end of time, but there's a right and a wrong. If you're going to tell a story about a specific person and they're on camera for 90% of the movie, you both share the money, period.

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