Sophie On: Trying to Fund "Ashes"

Hello guys,

    This is going to be a long, wordy post. There's no way to avoid it. But please bear with me, read on, and I'll show you lots of pictures in the next one!

    The first thing I have to say is a mini success story. After the efforts of my great crew and actress Sarah Lamesch (in a feat that was covered two blog-posts ago), the Ashes trailer was shot and edited, then uploaded on Valentines Day. Whether or not this date was appropriate, it has since had over 200 views on both Vimeo and Youtube. That kind of a result in the space of a fortnight is something a small-town girl like me certainly isn't used to, so thankyou all for the viewing figures!

    If you haven't seen it yet, you can add to those viewing figures here:

    Although I'm still not quite used to the idea of filming a trailer before the film itself, I can't deny the value of doing so, and these pre-trailers can sometimes serve as little films of their own, which is no bad thing. This teaser trailer was shot for one reason alone: promotion, specifically for funding.

    Without a second thought, I have set up an online funding campaign on Crowdfunder. For those of you who don't know, there are other websites where you can apply for funding from the public, but Crowdfunder served me well on two previous occasions and I now know a contact by name, which tends to help. The only difference before was that the funding campaigns I did were on behalf of other directors - Jar of Angels for Crash Taylor, and Stop/Eject for Neil Oseman.

    Both Crash and Neil are very talented, and they have years more industry experience than me (both are around a decade older), so they have a considerable amount more fans than me, and higher paying clients/contacts. Therefore both their funding campaigns were successful - each making more than our intended goal - and I think that gave me a false sense of optimism.

    Within a few hours of the Ashes funding campaign going live, £10 was donated. I knew the funder by name (my writer-colleague, Tommy Draper) but my heart still rose. I promoted it happily and regularly over the next couple of days but got on with the rest of my work as normal - with the addition of the OSCARs excitement and a pesky cold which cleared up after days. I even signed onto a couple more costume projects.

    As I write this (and I do so with upmost shame) I have had no more donations. Not a single one.

    It seems an unsual thing to admit failure online. I've spent the last few years building up my virtual persona and trying to make myself sound as talented as possible - not because I believe it to be true, but because that is what your PR and such tell you to do. However, although I am deflated, I haven't failed yet, and that's why I'm writing this blog post.

    Last time I checked - about three or four month ago - this blog had recieved about 35 views. Pretty small, but no more than I expected. I looked last week and the stats had raised to over 2000. I can't even begin to comprehend that many people stumbling upon my blog or even deciding to read it (and yes, I know it could be the same people reading it repeatedly), but it tells me that you guys are out there, and you are reading this. What's more, I love you for doing so. And if I can get just one of you to donate to my film, then this blog post will have been a success...

    I make no secret of the fact that I never intended to put Ashes on the screen. Almost four years ago, when I was doing my degree, my classmates and I were given a simple task: write about love. That's not exactly a subject I'm an expert in (not in the traditional sense, anyway) but I got a story in my head, and I couldn't get it out. I did try, though. A small drama piece about a man who goes to sexually abuse his girlfriend in her sleep, but is caught in the act, is certainly not comfortable reading. And it's not something I would've wanted to watch on screen back then (yesterday I watched 2011's Sleeping Beauty and that was much darker). But it got to the night before the assignment was due in, and I had no other ideas, so I basically said "fuck it", wrote it, and handed it in.

    It caused what could only be described as a 'micro-stir'. A couple of guys got uncomfortable - one crossly exclaimed "this should never be a movie". But someone else told me it was "rock and roll" and a girl even hugged me!

    Micro-stir over, I filled the script away and forgot about it for years. Then I met Crash Taylor.

    Crash and I had met once before but we properly talked to each other, for the first time, during slightly odd circumstances, when I slipped outside for some air before the Shelf Stackers premiere. When we chatted I explained that I was an indie filmmaker as well as a costume designer and he asked me to send him a sample of my work.

    I don't know why I chose the Ashes script. Back then it didn't have a name, and I certainly wouldn't have sent it to him as it was. Knowing his penchant for the dark and visual, I wanted to experiment with visualising emotions - such as fear - to create a short horror which was at once original and relatable. To do that, it needed a real, emotional core, and that's what the original script became. I had a little fun with it - I gave it a creative (and slightly odd) twist - and called it 'Mark II' to try and be clever. It was ambiguous - it was mark 2 of the script, the lead character's name was changed to Mark, and it was to be shot on the Canon 5D Mark II.

    Shortly after I gave him the newly-vamped script, it was shelved again. Crash introduced me to Rik Winter and we set about creating Jar of Angels for the next six months (encounting). But something about that script must have resonated because it came back around, and now I am directing a film I tried hard not to write in the first place.

    But the fact is, once you start making a film, it no longer belongs to you alone. I have a wonderful, talented crew who bring their own ideas to the table; my actors, Sarah Lamesch and Adam Lannon are both so dedicated that they always find brand new ways to impress me. None of them signed on asking me how much the project would pay - they did it because they loved the script and because they wanted to make it into a film. And now, in turn, I want to make it for them.

    Also, whenever you deal with a subject matter such as sexual abuse, the project becomes so much bigger than you. I have to portray and represent a (wrongly) large percent of the public who have had something shit happen to them, and that's a bit of a weight to have on your shoulders. But, so far, I appear to be faithful to them. When I put the finished script out there I was shocked and incredibly moved by the amount of actors and crew who told me that something similar to the events in the script had happened to them. I want to make the film for these people too. So much so, in the rare event that I make a profit on this film, I want to share some of that money with Rape Crisis.

    So those are my reasons for wanting to make this film. Here is why you should want it to get made, too:

    With retrospective, the trailer is slightly misleading. I wanted to play up the victim status of the lead character because we only had about a minute and we needed something that was sharp and shocking. We also played up the sexual appeal of the character because, again, I thought that would get it noticed. To be blunt, it sells.

    But let me be clear - in spite of the subject nature at its heart, Ashes is not a rape movie. It is neither feminist movie nor porn film. The lead character is not a victim. She is a normal girl faced simply with the moment when she doubts the person she used to trust most in the world. What's more, it is like no other film you will have seen. It's a mad little piece of original cinema - and that's a thing which is unfortunately rare these days.

    It's going to be emotional (for those watching and also for me to direct) but it's also going to be stunning. We don't just show the drama on a surface level - we go deep into the girl's mind to portray her emotions as visual truth. When she's happy, the world is filled with a beautiful golden glow, and the lovers appear perfect to one another. Then, when she starts to have her doubts, the world starts to crumble away - in more ways than one - and the once-familiar faces start to distort...

    But do you want something more solid in exchange for your funds? Presents for your generosity? You've got it. Depending on how much you give, starting at £10 (you will get something small for less), you will recieve DVDs - some with bonus features - plus posters, signed art cards, screen used props, and invites to any premiere that we have.

    Convinced? (Or just want more information) Here is the link to the Crowdfunding campaign:

    At the moment, I still can't be certain that we'll make all the money. If we don't, the sad fact is that we won't be able to make the film (at least not for the foreseable future). I have some more crazy promotional ideas ready in case it gets to the eleventh hour and it's still looking bad. For now, all I can do is keep spreading the word, wait and hope.

    Whatever the outcome, once this campaign is finished, I don't think I will fund films in this way again. Crowdfunder have been very good to me and their communication is great, but there's just too many people trying to get money in the same way now. When I did the Jar of Angels funding campaign, just last year, it was still a relatively new thing. Now with every person with a great film idea searching for funds this way (and even those without great ideas), it seems less likely that people will pick my projects amongst the masses. I can shout as loud as my little, dodgy lungs will let me, but I still won't stand out.

    Perhaps the trick is to start putting money aside for the next one. Maybe we should only rely on online funds for half of our budgets, at most. Besides, when I was at university we had lecture on lecture on all the ways to raise money, and now we all seem to be doing it in the same way.

    We work in a creative industry. I think it's time for us to get creative again.



  1. Chin up, Sophie! Like I discovered, crowd-funding is an emotional rollercoaster. You have a good point about the "market" being saturated now. Everywhere you look someone is crowd-funding something. It definitely makes it harder to stand out.

    1. Hi Neil!
      Don't worry, I always keep my chin up (not in photos, though). I just don't want to let the cast and crew down. I do now feel like I am making this more for them than for me - the reward for me will come much later, I think. Perhaps when I'm directing on set again, or when I see the finished film on a big screen.
      I do now understand why you and Katie looked so down half way through the funding campaign for Stop/Eject, though!
      £50 has come in this morning so hopefully that's a taste of things to come!


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